Monday, October 12, 2009

CIFF 2009 Diary, Days 2-5

Day 2: Saturday, Sept 26

Tetro (2009, USA, Francis Ford Coppola)

Family again. But this time the family does not deal with the mafia but instead with the arts -- music, theatre, opera, ballet and literature. A tale of 2 brothers forms the core but there is also a second rivalry of 2 brothers (the two brother’s father vs their uncle) around the nucleus. Women, the love interests, left standing by.

The Black and White gives La Boca a beautiful sensual feel. It starts with a blinding light and ends with a similar light. Flicker, flicker, off.

Houston, We have a problem (2008, USA, Nicole Torre)

Oil. Wars and boardroom deals. Politics and foreign policies, all about oil. The black gold has driven humanity forward and it may prove to be their downfall.

Good to see the ideas that one reads about in books and papers given coverage on film. It is essential that people watch this film but what good will come out of it? The film covers the emergence of alternative forms of energy in the latter half and that is where hope lies for humanity. Hopefully, the politicians get that message as well. Otherwise, the clock is ticking and more wars may await.

The White Ribbon (2009, co-production, Michael Haneke)

In The White Ribbon Haneke displays the same keen observation towards society and culture that was evident in Cache, although the methodology between the two films differs in terms of images vs words. In the absorbing Cache, it was solely the images that gave clues to the character’s true feelings and the audiences were required to derive their own conclusions. But in The White Ribbon, the character’s words clearly spell out the hatred and feelings of disgust. On some occasions, the images do convey the hatred & fear but words are the real weapon here.

The White Ribbon does take a while to catch fire though. The first hour appears to be devoid of much drama as we get a dry glimpse into the character’s daily lives and activities. But after the first signs of the horror and hatred in the village are revealed, then the purpose of those earlier scenes which depicted the mundane activities is made clear. After that point, the film is a riveting pulsating catalogue of the hatred and evil that would be unleashed beyond the borders of a single village and across the European landscape.

The use of a narrator to carry us through the small town tale in The White Ribbon feels a bit like Lars von Trier from Dogville and Manderlay. In fact, Dogville and The White Ribbon have quite a bit in common as both films use the story of a few selected characters to stand in for a nation -- in both cases, the directors are trying to depict their understanding of the psyche of a larger group of people by focussing on a selected few characters. While von Trier set his film on a stage set thereby eliminating any feelings for the character’s environment, Haneke uses a real environment to depict the character’s daily routines thereby making his film feel like a living breathing case study.

Day 3: Sunday, Sept 27

Crackie (2009, Canada, Sherry White)

Ah Newfoundland. Beautiful landscape but devoid of jobs. Not a stereotype but a reality as documented by the large number of people that leave the place to head west to look for jobs, especially in Alberta. Sherry White’s film also picks up on this aspect as the young Mitsy is abandoned by her mother who heads to Alberta to etch out a better living. Crackie is an engaging coming of age tale garnished with a mix of humour and drama. The humour is provided by Mary Walsh who plays the strong outspoken grandmother who looks after Mitsy.

Revache (2008, Austria, Goetz Spielmann)

I had been looking forward towards this movie since it made the cut for Cannes back in 2008. And I was not disappointed as this beautiful bank heist + moral tale certainly delivers. Also like in Spielmann’s previous film Antares, steamy sex is thrown in for good measure. Having now seen two movies each by the Austrian film-makers Goetz Spielmann and Ulrich Seidl, there are overlapping similarities in both film-makers style, especially considering both film-makers start their recent films in sex centers before expanding to a larger canvas.

Police, Adjective (2009, Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu)

Serious conversations between characters regarding the meaning of words and grammar forms a rich cinematic experience. Things are presented in a simple easy to absorb manner with long takes mixed with precious moments of humour. The film builds up on Corneliu Porumboiu’s previous film 12:08 East of Bucharest and also has a nod towards The Death of Mr. Lazarescu as it depicts another example of the bureaucratic circle of paperwork hell.

Day 4: Monday, Sept 28

The Happiest Girl in the World (2009, Romania co-production, Radu Jude)

Winning a free car was supposed to usher in new freedom for Delia Fratila. All she had to do was act in a 35 second car commercial and drive away with her new car. But things don’t turn out to be that simple. Her parents want to exchange the car for money to finance a better future and the commercial shoot turns out to be an artistic and physical challenge. Funny and engaging. Another vintage film from Romania.

Day 5: Tuesday, Sept 29

The Last Lullaby (2008, USA, Jeffrey Goodman)

This was a real discovered gem of the festival. Originally there was only a single screening of this film (Sunday 7:15 pm) which I had intended on seeing but unfortunately missed. Scott, a true film buff, raved about this film later on and I wondered when I would get to see it. But thankfully a second screening was added on Tuesday and true to Scott’s words, The Last Lullaby is indeed a treat.

Price (Tom Sizemore), a retired assassin for hire, rescues a girl from a bunch of kidnappers and demands a ransom from the father for his opportunistic rescue effort. Price disappears after he collects the money but things get interesting when the girl’s father tracks him down and offers a hit job with a lot of money. On paper, it looks to be easy money. But in the tradition of film noir, it turns out to be anything but. Stylistically shot and nicely acted (Sasha Alexander looks immensely charming), The Last Lullaby is easily superior to a majority of what Hollywood has to offer. So you can be sure that this film won’t play in a multiplex any time soon, but it is one that has to be seen.

St. Nick (2009, USA, David Lowery)

The last few years have seen a richer and different America depicted on screen thanks to film-makers such as Ramin Bahrani’s (Man Push Cart & Chop Shop) and Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy). Now, David Lowery’s name can be included in that list as his St. Nick is a beautiful addition to the new American cinema that is emerging despite the dominating presence of the mostly suffocating one-dimensional Hollywood cinema on the North American screens.

While the main story of St. Nick is about two young run away kids, the film also highlights the current America where empty abandoned houses reflect the tough economic times. At the film’s start, the young boy examines one such abandoned house and gets about making it habitable both for himself and his younger sister. While it is engaging to watch such a young boy go about fixing the house, it is also heart breaking to see these two kids skip past childhood and head straight into the struggles of adulthood. Since the two have no money, they have to resort to stealing to feed themselves. In this aspect, the film is related to Wendy and Lucy as both films examine the young character’s struggle to make ends meet while on the road.

St. Nick is also another shining example of a film that does not need to drown the screen with dialogue and instead lets the powerful visual language of the camera convey its thoughtful story.

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