2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Monday, September 13, 2004

Venice Festival

What was this year's Venice film festival? On the level of organization, it was a catastrophe: 90-minute films in 60-minutes slots, time calculations between screenings way too small, etc. Anger & hilarity ensued (Harvey Weinstein at the 23.45 screening of Finding Neverland, which started past 2.30: "Everybody who stays till the end will get a breakfast made personally by [director] Marco Müller. If he hadn't agreed on that we'd have thrown him into the lagoon with cement shoes"). Not to mention the transcendental moment when the slight black/white-diversion of Soderbergh's Eros mind-boggingly episode gave way to a male strip club scene in full color - dispappointingly, it turned out that they'd spliced in a reel from Noam Gonick's Stryker. As for the films however, this was the best major festival I've ever been to. A rough rundown in order of preference.


L'intrus (Claire Denis). Fuck narrative. Breathtakingly sensual sound-image-poem loosely centered around a globetrotter with a shady past (Michel Subor) who goes to the caribbean at the end of his life. Fearlessly enigmatic* on a narrative level, but haptic level overwhelming - the most brilliant filmmaking of the year. The definition of a modern adventure film, in every respect.
*Example: Beatrice Dalle plays, ahem, "The Queen of the Northern Hemisphere". You may either go "What the fuck" or agree that Claire is the Queen of the Cinema, right here, right now.

Izo (Takashi Miike). A samurai dies on a cross (very bloody). Then he returns, unreconciled, sword in hand, and slashes his way through everything (including his mother, a gang of schoolchildren, and Takeshi Kitano). For two hours. Inbetween some flowers talk and spiritual and historical references abound. A film like a prayer or like a folk-punk song, or rather: both. At the same time.

Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki). Maybe the master's finest film so far, unusual for the skilfull acceleration of tempo at the end. More marvellous ideas in a minute than the entire Disney filmography. Jaw on floor, 2 hours.

Vento di terra (Vincenzo Marra). Second feature by the young Italian director-discovery (after the terrific Tornando a casa), the story of a young man entering service to support his family after the father's death. The (hardly ever strived for) ideal of a "small film": every scene dense with feeling, subtext, truth. Not a frame wasted.

Very probably masterpieces:

Rois et reine (Arnaud Desplechin). 2 1/2 hours, yet it rushes by: Epic about love, pain and the whole damn thing, impossible to condense to a plot (although, unlike the Denis film, never cyrptic) without omitting what's great about it. A free film, certainly Desplechin's most accessible, maybe his best (note to self: rewatch Esther Kahn).

Familia rodante
(Pablo Trapero). Terrific third film by the Argentinian director (confirming the high hopes raised by the masterpiece El bonarense), a family comedy about a crowded overland ride in a camper. Pure rhythm (you feel every crack in the road), brillant soundtrack and editing, very moving, unexpectedly melancholic core.

Cafe Lumiere
(Hou Hsiao-hsien). A traditional Tokyo neighbourhood (the alleged Ozu tribute here?), intersecting lives, intersecting trains. Quiet and moving, Hou, you know.

Lowlife (Im Kwon-taek). Terrific, very straight genre piece: Korea's postwar history dialectically revisited through the career of an opportunistic gangster. Best taekwondo action in ages, look and feel very much of an Asian genre cinema (60s/70s) that hardly exists anymore. Much closer to Ozu than Hou in its social portrayal, paradoxically.

The World (Jia Zhangke). Can anybody do alienation in the era of globalization with more precision than Jia? Is there a more terrific DV-DP than Yu Lik-wai? Would you want to see a film taking place in the (sur)real Beijing theme park with scale models of the world's most famous landmarks?

The Tuner (Kira Muratova). I've never seen a film by her before, so I can't say if this particular kind of craziness (offensive dubbing, ravishing b/w-photography, straightfaced absurdism, epic proportions) pays off repeatedly, but on first encounter it surely does.

(plus, already discussed here: Collateral. Might as well be called Los Angeles Plays Iself. Those visuals!)


Le demoiselle d'honneur (Claude Chabrol). The prolific master's finest since La Ceremonie, a sardonic psychological crime-drama, marred only by over-insistence on a well-worn genre trope. The pitch-perfectly timed stepping-in-shit-joke towards the end more than makes up for it. AH, the dignity!

O quinto imperio - ontem como hoje (Manoel de Oliveira). Hardcore MdO: Political allegory as historical oratory, three rooms in a castle, mannered dialogue, only concessions to an entertanment-hungry audience: a flying sword (10 seconds), two court jesters (10 minutes). Ye MdO fans, ye know who ye are.

Binjip (Kim Ki-duk). Miraculous parable by the Korean talent. As usual, it all feels a bit willed from time to time, but it all fits together in the end. Shooting started 1 month before the screening, I kid you not. Awesome.

Steamboy (Katsuhiro Otomo). It's the most expensive anime ever, so it just has to let off steam, I guess. Nonstop action, almost, very energetic.

Vera Drake (Mike Leigh). Very old-school, extremely well-done social drama, avoiding all sentimental pratfalls with ease. Not on par with Topsy-Turvy, but quite a worthy winner.

Dumplings (Fruit Chan episode from Three. . . Extremes). Classic horror motive rendered as subversive allegory. Spellbinding photography by Chris Doyle.

Vital (Shinya Tsukamoto). Second-tier Tsukamoto, i.e. better than most other things: Memory, the city and vivisection. I love vivisection movies.

The Hand (Wong Kar-wai episode of Eros). After 2046 I had hoped for another decadent excess. Alas, this turned out to be more concise, expertly stylized Wong. It was still terrific, though.

Come inguiaiammo il cinema italiano "La vera storia di Franco e Ciccio" (Daniele Cipri/Franco Maresco). Disappointing straightforward doc by our favorite crazy Palermo mindfuckers, redeemed by the subject: Italy's most succesful postwar lowbrow comedy duo unearthed for the uninitaited. See the bread'n'butter excerpt of The Last Tango in Zagarole (based on rumours and leaks about the Bertolucci script, released before his film) and declare film history must be rewritten. Then see Betrolucci wince!


Promised Land (Amos Gitai). Expose of modern girl-slave-trading, grabs you right from the beginning and never lets off, but what's the point? Still, if I had daughters to sell, I'd only let them auction by Anne Parillaud - it's as if she'd done that all her life. Line of the festvial: "She's a total virgin! 7000, anyone?"

Un silenzio partculare (Stefano Rulli). Well-thought-through digital autobiographical essay-doc. Presses too hard a few times, though.

Strings (Anders Ronnow-Klarlund). The first full-length string puppets film, it says. Not really good, probably, but the fact that it works for the whole duration is fun enough alone. Plus there's the bird flying to freedom.

Forget it:

Kuang Fang (Leste Chen). Unlike the three below, this is very easy to watch, actually. But who needs another mediocre film about alienated Taiwanese youth?

Sky Blue (Moon S. Kim). Anime that might be ok if you accidentally rent it at your videostore. What it was doing here I dunno. Often looks like cut down from a series.

Udakionny dostup (Svetlana Proskurina). Sub-Sub-Sokurov. Some beautiful shots, plotting & themes plodding familiartity is the kind that gives arthouse cinema a bad name.

Lavorare con lentezza - Radio Alice 100.6 MHz (Guido Chiesa). The curse of Goodbye Lenin: every festival now needs a "political" "arthouse" crowd-pleaser. Form says all: retro styling meets MTV cutting.
Walked Out:

Three. . . Extremes (rest by Park Chan-wook, Takashi Miike). Midnight screening, started way too late (see above), way too tired, plus Park seemed to be doing that thing again. Would have loved to see the Miike, to bad they didn't change the order here.

Eros (rest by Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni). had to leave after projection fuck-up because of schedule, Antionioni reportedly much like his last film (ugh!), Soderbergh's episode looked like an ok timewaster for 15 mins, but then came a reel of...

Stryker (Noam Gonick). That reel had looked better than the entire thing, or at least its first half hour. Gonick obviously should stick to docs about his more talented Winnipegger colleague, this one's just sloppy and stupid.

Les revenants (Robin Campillo). Will this bureaucratic treatment about the death coming back veeeryyy slowly turn to a parable (treatment of foreigners etc., probably)? Or should I get into the Miyazaki line which is probably getting longer outdoors by the minute. Hmmm...

Worst film ever:

The Terminal
(Steven Spielberg). It just insults on so many levels...

I also saw about 25-30 old films in the retrospective, but that'll have to wait.