Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cannes 2010

Almost all the Cannes 2010 films were announced today. And right on cue, the complaining has started. Already I have read the words "disappointing", "predictable" and "boring" describing the lineup.

I will tackle "predictable" first. Here's a look at some of the predictable Un Certain Regard films.

  • Udaan (India, Vikramaditya Motwane) -- yeah this is so predictable. The first Indian film in competition in 199 years and that too from Vikramaditya Motwane, clearly a household name making his directorial debut. Motwane was a writer on DevD which must have been the highest grossing film in the world because every western critic appears to be familiar with that movie and Anurag Kashyap. Yawn. So predictable.

  • Les amours imaginaires (Canada, Xavier Dolan) -- clearly everyone saw Dolan's brilliant 2009 film I Killed my Mother which is why that movie is on every best of 2009 list. His film was so popular that the Canadian Genies decided not to nominate it because they didn't want to give an award to a popular film.

  • Qu’est-il arrive a Simon Werner? (France, Fabrice Gobert) -- oh come on, everyone knew that Gobert's debut feature was always going to play at Cannes.

  • Octubre (Peru, Daniel Vega) -- when a Peruvian film won an award at Berlin in 2009 and was nominated for this year's Oscars, then everyone knew a Peruvian film would be selected at Cannes. And it is getting so tiring to see North American multiplexes playing one Peruvian film every week.

  • Then there is the new Godard, Hong sang-soo and Cristi Pulu. Expected.

    In the Competition category:

  • Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) -- just because Joe has never made a bad film does not mean his new film should be automatically selected!!! So predictable!

  • And then there are new films by Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Lee Chang-dong and Mike Leigh. Oh no.

    Then there's "boring".

    Normally I need to see a movie to decide if it is boring but I guess some all knowing critics know that a movie is boring just by the title. Nice gift to be able to judge a film by a title.

    And then there's "disappointing".

    Why is the new [insert director of choice]'s film not there? Oh my gawd. That is terrible.

    hmmm, what if the director's film is not completed? Should an unfinished film be in the lineup? Apparently so because it is by a big name director. How dare the festival programmers leave out a film by a big name director!!! Shame.

    And finally:

    In Cannes 2009, there were plenty of auteur's films in competition. Was that not predictable? And look at how many knives were thrown at the films last year. So is the rule that Cannes should only select films from certain directors? Is the rest of the world not allowed to make films worthy of selection?

    Once the festival starts, it won't be long before tweets will appear on how this year's Cannes is "average" or "terrible". And then before the year is over, someone will complain about how there are no good films being made and that since 1990 every film has been bad.

    Uh-huh. Sure.

    Personally, I can't wait for the disappointing, predictable and boring films to make their way to my part of the world. I need boring to balance out the pulsating cinematic excellence that is normally provided in my city's multiplexes courtesy of 3D green ogres and 2D autobots.


    Monday, April 12, 2010

    The Barcelona Way -- Pass, Press and Score

    Repeat words over and over again -- Barcelona are the best footballing side on the planet playing the game like no other team!

    Last week, they dismantled Arsenal with remarkable ease and this past Saturday they brushed off their bitter rivals Real Madrid without much difficulty. Messi scored another goal against Madrid but it has been his 4 brilliant goals against Arsenal that have taken the Messi debate to another level. Words cannot describe Messi anymore. Sid Lowe's previous column mentioned that the Spanish press have run out of words to describe him. In fact, they had run out of words even before the Arsenal game. But for whatever reason, the English media remained silent on Messi until after the 4-1 Arsenal win. And as Lowe mentions, it should not have taken this long:

    They said he didn't do it in big games - although goodness knows how they had the cheek to say that; did the clasico and the cup final not count? - so he did it in the Champions League final. They said he had never scored against an English team, and after a game in Santander it had been noted that he could not head a ball. Guardiola replied: "I advise you not to question Leo. One day, he's going to score a great header and shut you all up." Everyone laughed. He scored with a towering header, outjumping Rio Ferdinand.

    But still they wanted more, and more, and more. There seemed to be a strange, bloody-minded determination not to recognise him. So Messi provided it. He started racking up goal after goal but they said that anyone could score goals in Spain. So last night he became top scorer in the Champions League. For the second successive season. And, for those who had forgotten Rome, he obliterated Arsenal into the bargain. Now they're saying Messi is the best player in the world. It shouldn't have taken last night to realise it.

    A Portrait of the Passer as an Artist

    In modern football, it is mostly goal-scorers that get all the attention. But the goals have to be created by someone and it is puzzling why media and most fans treat this creator with indifference. There are exceptions of course, such as Zidane, who was a player that could not be ignored. Nor can one ignore Barcelona's Xavi. Sid Lowe has some stats to back up Xavi's achievements, although watching him in any Barcelona game is ample proof of his genius.

    Last season, Xavi completed almost 100 passes at the Bernabéu. Last week, he completed more than all of Arsenal's midfielders put together. This season he has made over 400 passes more than any player in Spain; in the Champions League, he is 400 passes ahead of anyone from any other club. Even his own team-mates are 300 behind.

    "I need team-mates, people to combine with," Xavi says. "Without team-mates football has no meaning. I am no one if they don't make themselves available." But it is not just that he sees the movement first, it is that he often sees the movement before it has happened, that rather than passing to the movement, he passes in such a way as to oblige the movement. He makes players' runs for them. "Xavi plays in the future," says Dani Alves. Coaches at Barcelona privately admit that sometimes he moves into areas that he should not – but that his technique is so good, his passing so precise, that ultimately it ends up looking like the right thing to do.

    The Barcelona Press

    Barcelona have won everything under the sun not only because of their pretty football but because they have married their passing game with some ruthless tactics. Jonathan Wilson illustrates their pressing game which reduced Arsenal to an amateur team in the two team's first leg meeting:

    After 20 minutes last Wednesday, Barcelona had had 72% of the possession, a barely fathomable figure against anybody, never mind against a side so noted for their passing ability as Arsenal. Their domination in that area came not so much because they are better technically – although they probably are – but because they are better at pressing. In that opening spell, Barça snapped into tackles, swirled around Arsenal, pressured them even deep in their own half. It was a remorseless, bewildering assault; there was no respite anywhere on the pitch, not even when the ball was rolled by the goalkeeper to a full-back just outside the box.


    For pressing to be effective the team must remain compact, which is why Rafael Benítez is so often to be seen on the touchline pushing his hands towards each other as though he were playing an invisible accordion. Arrigo Sacchi said the preferred distance from centre-forward to centre-back when out of possession was 25m, but the liberalisation of the offside trap (of which more next week) has made the calculation rather more complicated.

    Again and again, Arsenal's forwards would press, and a huge gap would open up between that line and the line of the midfield. Or the midfield would press, and a gap would open in front of the back four. What that means is that the player in possession can simply step round the challenger into space, or play a simple pass to a player moving into the space; the purpose of the pressing is negated. Or, if you prefer, it was as though Arsenal were false-pressing, without having achieved the first stage of the hustle which is to persuade the opposition you are good at pressing.

    lleig, Feo, Ugly

    And a final word about the not so beautiful side of Barcelona. They do have some players who are capable of fouling an opponent or diving to gain an advantage. Sergio Busquets provided examples of both these points in the second leg. First he kicked out at Theo Walcott because Busquets could not match Walcott's pace; second, he took the biggest dive of this season's Champions league when he somersaulted over the slightest touch. And in both cases, Busquets got the benefit of the call and got away without even a booking. Now, Busquets isn't the only Barca known to exaggerate a push or a touch. Messi used to do it a lot more in the past but in recent years he has let his feet do more of the talking. Unfortunately last Tuesday he did resort to his old ways against Arsenal on one occasion. Around the 30 minute mark, Denilson went sliding in and clearly won the ball but caught Messi after the ball was pushed away. So Messi rolled around on the ground thereby fooling the ref into booking Denilson and awarding Barcelona a free-kick. And young Bojan clearly seems to be inspired by Messi as on three separate occasions he cried foul when there was none. Thankfully, Barcelona's beautiful football covers over these ugly bits, but it does raise the point that if the most beautiful football team in the world can demonstrate unsporting activities, what can one expect from teams with limited technical abilities?

    Sunday, April 04, 2010

    Searching for Honduran Cinema

    Last year, when I decided to track down a film from all the 32 countries taking part in this summer’s soccer world cup, I had not realized that searching for a Honduran film would prove to be such a difficult task. I always expected that an entry from North Korea would be a tough find but ultimately a Honduran film was the last found title of the 32 candidates. Five possible candidates were identified early on:

  • Spirit of My Mother (1999, Ali Allie)

  • No hay tierra sin dueño (The Land of the Ogres) (2002, Sami Kafati)

  • Amor y frijoles (2009, Mathew Kodath/Hernan Pereira)

  • Corazon Abierto (2005, Katia Lara)

  • El porvenir (2008, Oscar Estrada)

  • Amor y frijoles had a limited release in the US last year but all the trailers indicated a print existed without English subtitles. Spirit of My Mother and The Lang of the Ogres were not found on DVD although prints of Sami Kafati’s feature appear to be available for film festival purposes. Sami Kafati’s name came up quite a bit in searching for Honduran cinema as he is credited with making the first ever Honduran film in 1962 -- a 31 minute short film called Mi Amigo Angel. However, none of his short films appeared to be available.

    The last two entries in the list, Corazon Abierto and El porvenir, were found for viewing thanks to DocsOnline, the documentary film library. Interestingly, Corazon Abierto is a documentary about how Kafati’s No hay tierra sin dueño finally saw the light of day as Kafati died before he could finish the film. The documentary includes footage from the film and interviews with some of the actors and Kafati's family. Corazon Abierto is probably the closest I can get to seeing anything by or about Kafati.


    DocsOnline has some films available for free viewing but all films require creation of an account. And I only found two ways to create an account -- by buying a monthly subscription (around 9 euros a month) or by purchasing a pay per minute plan. I opted for the latter and the minimum available minutes for purchase are 100 minutes for a total of 3 Euros, which depending on the day of the week might end up being anywhere from 4-5 Canadian dollars. It turned out the running time of both Corazon Abierto and El porvenir was 98 minutes so 3 Euros were more than enough to end my quest for finding not one but two Honduran films. DocsOnline has interesting documentaries from all over the world and is also a very good resource for finding films from countries with limited cinematic output such as Nicaragua, Guatemala and Bolivia (to give three examples besides Honduras). Some of the listed films have no entries in and might be co-productions but they are the closest to finding films from certain countries.

    Saturday, April 03, 2010

    4 Goals 3 Injuries 2 Reunions

    Arsenal 2 - 2 Barcelona

    Barcelona did not waste any time in establishing their superiority and from the first minute they played Arsenal off the field. It should have been 3-0 early on but Almunia, Arsenal's much despised goalie, bravely kept Arsenal in the game. It wasn't until the 22nd minute that Arsenal had their first meaningful shot on Barca's net, when a wicked curving effort by Nasri just went wide of the net. Before half-time, Arsenal lost Arshavin and Gallas through injury and then Cesc got a yellow card thereby suspending him from the return leg at the Nou Camp. He was visibly heartbroken as he was looking forward for the chance to play in his front of his friends and family.  All said and done, Arsenal were lucky to go into the break at 0-0 and not 0-5 down.

    22 seconds into the second half, a long ball found Arsenal's defense sleeping and Zlatan coolly lobbed Almunia who was needlessly out of his goal. All of Almunia's good work in the first half was undone by yet another misjudged moment of error, something that he has shown consistently over his Arsenal career. The long ball tactic worked so well that Barca tried it again 13 minutes later with the same end result of Zlatan scoring a goal. With Arsenal 0-2 at home, the tie looked over. However, the introduction of Theo Walcott changed things. His pace and wonderful goal just before the 70th minute mark sparked an Arsenal revival as the last 20 minutes were dominated by the home team.

    There was a brief respite around the 77th minute mark when Zlatan went off and ex-Arsenal legend Thierry Henry stepped onto the pitch. Henry's appearance did not change Arsenal's momentum and 5 minutes from time, Arsenal amazingly tied the game up. After Cesc was judged to be blocked by Puyol, the Barca defender got a straight red card and Arsenal a penalty. Cesc smashed the kick home but appeared to hobble after the goal. With Arsenal having used all their three substitutes it seemed the game would be 10 vs 10 players but Cesc returned to the field and continued to limp until the finale.

    For an hour, Barca showed why they are the best football side on the planet as their passes and movement was beautiful.  Barcelona are clearly the favourites in the return leg however they will be without their key defenders Puyol and Gerard Piqué both of whom are suspended. Arsenal on the other hand will be without Cesc, Gallas and Arshavin, three injuries which will have a huge impact not only on their European future but also their dreams of landing the league title . Both Cesc and Gallas are out for the rest of the season and it remains to be seen whether Cesc's brave heroics of playing with a broken leg and scoring that crucial penalty amount to anything for Arsenal's 2010 season.

    The second leg should be equally entertaining and if Arsenal have any chance of pulling off an unlikely triumph they will need Samir Nasri to be in top form as he is the one remaining fit player who has a chance to provide a moment of genius to lift Arsenal.  On the other hand, Barcelona will be hoping that Messi, the world's best player, might finally make his presence felt as his impact in the first leg was minimal.

    Friday, April 02, 2010

    Rotterdam -- Cinematic Bliss

    It was about four years ago that I started paying closer attention to Rotterdam’s International Film Festival lineups and since 2006, I have been constantly impressed by their programming and longed to make a trip to the festival. So this year I finally made my journey to Rotterdam, albeit for a very short stay. I ordered my film tickets online and picked them up at the De Doelen where the box office is located along with an amazing cafe where one can grab some delicious food and much needed drinks. During the festival the hall with its spacious seating area is normally buzzing with the sound of constant conversations in multiple languages and allows one to rub shoulders with festival goers, filmmakers and critics. The hall also has a merchandise store where one can buy t-shirts, catalogs and DVDs of films showcased in past Rotterdam festivals. Most of the DVDs (in PAL format) are films that are not yet available in Canada, so it is worth picking some of the titles up, although one has to make sure that the DVD contains English subtitles as not every DVD has that feature.

    There are 6 primary theatre venues to choose from and two of the venues (Pathe and Cinerama) have 7 screens each which means in a particular time slot one can have a choice of anywhere from 10 - 16 films. One can begin each day as early as 9:30 am and see about 5-6 films a day with the final screenings starting as late as 10:45 pm. Most of the films are repeated more than once so one can plan accordingly. My time constraints prevented me from going to multiple venues so I confined myself to the Pathe across from De Doelen. In a way, that was more than enough since the Pathe is a spacious multiplex with comfortable seating that makes it a treat to watch foreign films. For me, the giant screen of the Pathe perfectly enhanced the experience of watching Heng Yang's fascinating Sun Spots, a film shot on HD video. The large screen ensured every image looked breathtaking and crisp. Sun Spots consists of 31 long single take scenes with no camera movements, meaning no pans or zooms. This style makes the film a challenging one to watch but it is also a rewarding experience because one can soak in the on-screen atmosphere and freely observe all the details present in each frame.

    The remarkable aspect of Rotterdam 2010 was that even on the festival’s last day there was a breathtaking lineup of films available. On the final day, it was possible to start a cinematic journey in Suriname (Let Each One Go Where He May), hop over to Costa Rica (Agua fría de mar) or Mexico (Alamar), jump to Brazil (Avenida Brasilia formosa) or India (Sailor of Hearts, The Well), spend an evening in Africa (the several features that were part of the Where is Africa series) and end the night in Thailand (Mundane History) or the Philippines (two short features by Pepe Diokno & Lav Diaz). Or one could have confined themselves entirely to Europe and taken in the new Pedro Costa or Bruno Dumont along the way. Also, all the three Tiger Award Winners, Agua fría de mar, Alamar & Mundane History, were available for viewing on the final day along with the audience favourite winner, Yo, también (Spain). 10 days of such a wide array of films is enough to satisfy any cinephile's appetite.

    Over the years, Rotterdam has become a great source for discovering fascinating foreign film titles, especially Asian ones, and is not shy to show longer works, such as Wang Bing’s documentaries The Journey of Crude Oil (a running time of 14 hours), West of the Tracks (9 hours) or Lav Diaz's Death in the Land of Encantos (9 hours) and Melancholia (7.5 hours). At Rotterdam, one can find artistic films easily rubbing shoulders with some commercial offerings and since the festival is not concerned with only showing premieres, one can catch some great titles which graced the festival circuit the previous year while trying to discover new gems. And there are plenty of gems to discover. Since 2007, a few of those gems from Rotterdam have ended up at CIFF, first thanks to Angela Kempf and last year thanks to Trevor Smith, both of whom made a journey to the famous port city. Three of the best films that featured at CIFF 2009, Be Calm and Count to Seven (Iran), Breathless (South Korea) and Wrong Rosary (Turkey), were all Tiger Award winners at Rotterdam. While the Cannes Film Festival in May gets the most attention with regards to new foreign film titles, in reality, the foreign film calendar is kicked off as early as January when Rotterdam announces its lineup.

    Note: originally published on CIFF's website