WFF Round-Up (Friday Through Sunday)
Well, the 5th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival concluded yesterday evening (the last screening I attended, Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten
, had the festival’s latest start time on Sunday, so I officially attended the first and last event of the WFF); it was a really solid festival, especially with the Saturday and Sunday offerings (as usual). There’s no way in hell I’m going to write my typical lengthy posts about all these films, but here is a brief (for me at least) recap of each movie I watched between Friday and Sunday (since this is starting to get long, I’m going to divide it into three posts for each day):
(d. Chantal Akerman, 2000, France/Belgium): Based on The Prisoner
, the fifth volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past
, none of which I have read; however, many critics have picked up on the definite homage to Vertigo
, particularly in the film’s themes of voyeurism and obsession (though Akerman also cribs shots from Hitchcock, especially early in the film, when the protagonist tails his lover through the streets of Paris). Simon is a sickly Parisian man (though here, instead of some really serious respiratory ailment, he’s got serious allergies, guess they couldn’t fit in the TB angle in a modern-day adaptation) whose passionate curiosity regarding his lover Arianne turns to obsession, as his knowledge to know her (she’s an enigma, compliant, malleable, always acceding to Simon’s demands and wishes) drives a wedge between them, or at least it drives a wedge between his feelings and her. Basically, Arianne is a blank onto which Simon projects his own fantasies and anxieties upon (she may, or may not be a lesbian). Sadly, the film ends on what could be Arianne’s suicide, though it is ambiguous as to whether her drowning was an accident or intentional. If it was intentional, it was Arianne’s only act of agency in the entire film. Akerman utilizes a rather minimal style, a script that emphasizes banal and repetitive dialogue, and an excellent ear for music (Mozart, Schubert, and especially Rachmaninov, whose music haunts the film). Personal Awards (aka the Shroomy’s): WFF Film With the Two Most Androgynous Actors and the WFF Film With the Weirdest Sex Scene (Simon dry humps a half-naked, sleeping Arianne while wearing pajamas).
(d. Anat Even & Ada Ushpiz, 2001, Israel): A Documentary shot in the weeks and months preceding the Al-Aksa Mosque Uprising and the start of the second intifada. You may have heard the term “double discrimination” used in conjunction when discussing the plight of African-American women, who suffer both from racism and sexism. Now imagine being a widowed, Palestinian woman living under Israeli occupation. Asurot
chronicles the life of three Palestinian widows who live in the same building in Hebron; the catch, the building is exactly on the dividing line between the Israeli and Palestinian Authority controlled sectors of the city, so that the front of the building is controlled by the Israelis and the back by the Palestinians. Even though the film was shot during the time the Oslo Accord was in effect, and Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were supposedly, buddy-buddy, tension and resentment remains on the West Bank. Already afflicted with the stigma of being a widow, the women and their children must also contest with all the petty indignities of living under the occupation (the Israelis decide to make the roof of the building an observation/guntower): curfew, joblessness, checkpoints, constant IDF patrols (many of whom act in an obnoxious manner, chanting profanities in the middle of the night; in one scene, they arrest a drunken Palestinian man who was shouting profanities and begin to beat him, though the presence of an Israeli camera crew causes them to take it indoors), the soldiers on the roof urinating next to water tanks, leaving trash, and shell casings strewn about (it’s kind of funny seeing these soldiers with assault rifles nervously scanning the cityscape below, while the women do laundry). The worst has to be the Jewish settlers who march provocatively through the Arab neighborhood (especially during the Purim parade, when they carry racist effigies). I know I couldn’t live under those conditions. Resentment and anger carry the day (when the women aren’t cursing the “Jews” they lash out at each other, and at the larger Palestinian society) up until the start of the Intifada, when the women are turned into refugees. The only scene that gave me hope was when a freak snowstorm dumps a ton of snow on Hebron, and the Arab children and teenagers engage in good-natured snowball fights with the IDF patrols, though even then, one mother is worried that her teenaged son will meet a “cruel soldier.” Very sad.
(d. Elia Suleiman, 2001, Palestine/France) An interesting companion piece to Asurot
, continuing the theme of the growing Palestinian rage, though the rage has been re-directed internally into petty squabbling and barely concealed contempt, or alternately, elaborate revenge fantasies (the funniest being when Suleiman throws a bit of garbage out the window, blowing up an Israeli tank; I actually though the Matrix
-style fantasy was ho-hum, though I did like the Christlike imagery of the bullets surrounding Manal Khader like a halo or crown of thorns), turning the West Bank of Nazareth and Ramallah into a theater of the absurd. The Tati and Keaton comparisons are apt, stylistically (Tati) and performance wise (Keaton, Suleiman, in a completely dialogue free performance, uses his impassive, yet sad, face, which even resembles Keaton, to his advantage). Divine Intervention
really had no narrative, being basically a series of vignettes, woven together with a few strands emerging: a sweetly chaste love affair frustrated by the Occupation, a sick father, and a stalled screenplay. Sad, yet very funny (the funniest bit being the tourist who asks the Israeli policeman for directions; he then proceeds to get a blindfolded, Palestinian prisoner out of the back of his van to give her directions; this sequence is then repeated later, but the policeman learns his prisoner has escaped). On a side note, the Academy’s refusal to even consider Divine Intervention
for an Oscar proves two things: the rules for submitting Foreign Language Films for consideration is really fucked up, and the endemic American one-sidedness to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Personal Award: A Shroomy for the least subtle usage of a visual metaphor (the concluding shot of the pressure cooker getting ready to blow).
Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in DaeRaeKoh
(d. Nam Ki-woong, 2000, South Korea) Absolute horrible. The only two good things about it were that it was mercifully short, and that the title does not lie (yes, there is truth in advertising). A high school aged hooker is betrayed, raped, mutilated, and murdered by her principal and his band of apparently retarded sidekicks; she’s turned into a cyborg killing machine, with a gun where her vagina is. After a ripping off La Femme Nikita
, she proceeds to kill her attackers. Fucking garbage. The weirdest part of the movie was that the Principal’s face looked like that of a vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
was preceded by two Finnish short films made surreptitiously during the Pyongyang Film Festival (note to anyone reading this, if Pyongyang can have a film festival, there’s absolutely no reason why your hometown can’t have one either). Pyongyang Robogirl
is a documentary short about the policewoman who mechanically direct the sparse Pyongyang traffic, all to a techno beat. Children’s Palace
is a documentary about the building where young children go to be indoctrinated into the cult of Kim Il-Sung; bizarrely, it’s a rather cheery place. Neither film outstayed their welcome, but other than a relatively well-made glimpses of Pyongyang, these two shorts were largely inconsequential.