Film Carew: Melbourne International Film Festival Edition 3

10 August 2012 | 1:51 pm | Anthony Carew

No one is suggesting that gunning down the rude is any kind of answer...

FILM CAREW 10/8/2012

There's a scene in Bobcat Goldthwait's obnoxious, profane piece of provocation, God Bless America, where the self-styled Bonnie-and-Clyde of the piece —out to take down everything hateful about modern, reality-televised America— turn around and gun down some annoying cinemagoers sitting behind them; the kind of people answering their phone, gabbing loudly, and being righteously rude in a temple built for hushed politeness. It's a genuinely shocking image, now, in the wake of the recent tragedy in Colorado; but what's most confronting is the way that it taps into the darkness lurking in everyone who'll be watching it; in the most disturbing fantasies of those who sit in the cinema, bristling at the idiocy of those sitting around them. No one —least of all Goldthwait— is suggesting that gunning down the rude is any kind of answer, only a piece of satire; but, maybe, dear people filing into MIFF, you may pause before deciding to talk out loud, answer your phone, etc, and think of the anger it could be inciting in your fellow dwellers amidst the vinyl cushions of Russell Street.


Friday 10 August

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Beijing Besieged By Waste (9pm, ACMI 1): Wang Jiuliang's series of landfill landscapes is an incongruously beautiful documentary: the photographer's eye rendering illegal dumps and toxic sludgepiles in glorious pixels. It's also a stunning, symbolic portrait of the state of the planet in the third millennium: in which disused refuse is beginning to outweigh available resources.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (6.30pm, GU 3): Fredrik Gertten's 2009 documentary Bananas!* was a chronicle of lawsuit dealing corporate malfeasance in extremis, in which agribusiness monolith Dole were found to have willingly doused Nicaraguan banana plantation workers with a pesticide known to cause sterility. For daring to point a camera at corporate culpability, Gertten —as seen in Big Boys Gone Bananas!*— was met with the familiar riposte: dragged through the newspapers and the courts, his film and freedom-of-speech completely suppressed by the weight of a multi-national empire's armada of lawyers.

Chicken With Plums (4pm, Forum): Marjane Satrapi's original graphic novel is a brutally-sad shrine to death-by-broken-heart; the stark black-and-white watching on as an elderly musician lies down to die. Adapted to screen in a live-action/animated hybrid —starring Mathieu Amalric, Golshifteh Farahani, and Chiara Mastroianni— there's a little more colour and cutesiness to the picture; its tragic love softened by the shift from page to screen.

Faust (6.30pm, ACMI 2): When Aleksandr Sokurov is hailed as some great auteur, but, man, when he's bad, he's horrendously crap. At a MIFF long ago, I walked out of Sokurov's horrendous Dolce... due to its unimaginable suckitude, and the unbearably fruity Faust is on that level. Avoid, for all eternity.

Patience (After Sebald) (1.30pm, Forum): Grant Gee's ambling essay movie takes the walking pilgrimage that's becoming a beaten path for fans of cult writer W.G. Sebald; his oddball novel The Rings Of Saturn finding a narrator walking a circular path through Suffolk in which his thoughts spiral out through European history. And fans of cult writer W.G. Sebald are the people Gee's servicing; the inside-baseball theorising of the devotees, herein, a discussion best kept amongst fans.

[REC] Genesis (11.30pm, GU 5): There's a symbolic moment 15 minutes into the third [REC] movie, where the ever-watching camera is thrown to the ground and smashed; this Paco Plaza turning on the found-footage genre he helped build into an empire, and what must've become —after two prior pictures— a stylistic straitjacket. Thereafter, Plaza runs wild with a million edits, bright colours, and jumps through visual formats —night vision, CCTV, shaky cam, classic cinema— and completely subverts expectations. Gone is the sustained tension and terror, in its place is, basically, a zany zombie comedy.

Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap (9pm, GU 5): Hip hop acolytes will likely be thrilled by the range of subjects —rap 'masters' from Afrika Bambaataa through Kanye West— interviewed by Ice-T; at the way that they —as evoking the film's title— are invited to spit to camera, with nary a beat in earshot. Yet the conservatism of the genre lingers in the subtext, and occasionally bursts forth outright; like when Ice-T amazed that a white man (Eminem) could've ever turned out to be a great rapper.

This Ain't California (6.30pm, GU 5): Just as stone-wash jeans may've helped bring down the Iron Curtain, skateboarding proved a persistent symbol of Western individualism and lingering liberation. This Ain't California is a documentary shrine to the kids who first picked up 'rollerboarding' in East Germany; filled with back-in-the-day home-movie footage of shredders from the East Berlin equivalent of Dogtown. It's a picture of equal parts nostalgia and sadness; giddily celebrating the past yet lamenting what became of its youthful charges.


Saturday 11 August

Crazy Horse (11am, Forum): Frederick Wiseman's career-long study of institutions at work has found profundity plenty, but Crazy Horse is pure fluff; brightly-coloured bubblegum starring semi-naked burlesque dames. Were their backstage blackmail and dance rivalries, political pressures and personal struggles, the film may've leapt to life, but there's none of it; nothing beyond the shiny surfaces and copious skin.

Falkenberg Farewell (11am GU 4): Jesper Ganslandt's ambling, drifting debut is a portrait of smalltown claustrophobia, early-20s ennui, and friends falling out. It's tragedy tinged with sweet, sunkissed nostalgia and genuine tedium; an impressive (2006) debut made by a guy and his friends that, it must be said, hasn't lead to subsequent success.Holy Motors

Holy Motors (9.15pm, Forum): One of the true motion-picture highlights of the year, Leos Carax's return from the wilderness is a piece of profound cinema; which draws —via the rubbery form of ol' Carax muse Denis Lavant— from the slapstick of Chaplin and Tati, yet places them with a surrealist, delirious, delicious dreamworld; the most beautiful visual work in Carax's career.

Miss Bala (6.30pm, GU 5): Gerardo Naranjo's endlessly impressive film is an action-thriller by name only; instead comparable to pieces of hailed multiplex-art-cinema like Children Of Men or The Hurt Locker. It's close to a POV portrait of its titular heroine, a beauty-pageant hopeful whose daytrip into Tijuana turns nightmare as she's turned into collateral in a turf-war skirmish between a drug cartel and the DEA. Naranjo sits his camera behind her head, almost as in a first-person video-game; except instead of being a shooter, she's shot at, held hostage, promised as sexual bait, and, oh, crowned contest winner in a ceremony dripping with gleeful irony.

Palaces Of Pity (6.30pm Kino): As wildly symbolist, narratively-evasive, and utterly odd as any film in the program, Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt's portrait of Portuguese cultural culpability uses symbolic twins —sisters, doubles partners, homosexuals— to author an inscrutable essay on Empirical history and cowed now; on the Ottoman incursion and the colonialist expansion. “The country has changed, but we are the same,” someone solemnly intones; and a dying matriarch and her coming-of-age granddaughters are seen as spectres of the same haunted history.

Ruby Sparks (6.30pm, GU 6): Films in which the main character is a struggling writer are rarely good; especially when that struggling writer than gets to live out some kind of tedious male fantasy. Ruby Sparks pitches that set-up —struggling writer types up dream girl, who then, Mannequin-style, comes to life— and then slowly poisons the notion from within; going from fluffy rom-com to dark satire as the male fantasy is revealed not to be wholesome and romantic, but a work of egotism, control, and masculine dominion.

Tropicália (8.45pm, GU 4): The backbeat section of MIFF is often one of my least favourite; a passage of poorly-made films serving fans of overrated establishment rock acts. Marcelo Machado's shrine to the Brazilian psychedelic epoch of the late-'60s is the antidote to this: a brilliantly kinetic carnival of cut-up images and righteous archival footage chronicling the awesome jams of Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa et al.

Violeta Went To Heaven (1.30pm, Forum): The musician biopic is a tawdry pursuit —witness how Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox was a succession of easy parodic marks— that rarely makes for satisfying cinematic returns. Andrés Wood's portrait of Chilean folk-music heroine Violeta Parra has to function under a great cultural weight; it feels akin —in both subject, form, and execution— to Olivier Dahan's Édith Piaf biopic, La Vie En Rose.

¡Vivan Las Antipodas! (11am, GU 6): Where the documentary travelogue often turns into a shrine to globalism, Victor Kossakovsky's picture is a study in distance, in difference, in opposition; a study in four sets of geographically-exact antipodes (tiny, rural map coordinates in Spain/New Zealand, Russia/Chile, China/Argentina, Hawaii/Botswana) that, save for their simple humanity, don't share a whole lot in common. In many ways, the human figures herein are minor; Kossakovsky's gymnastic camera, tumbling in circles to evoke the rotating planet, capturing natural wonders that will delight those who use MIFF as a proxy passport unto the world.

When A City Falls (1.30pm, GU 5): There's a moment in Gerard Smyth's 'people's portrait' of the Christchurch earthquakes where a policeman asks him, if a little half-heartedly, to stop filming. Symth never even considers it: defiant in the fact that this moment in history is the history of all of Canterbury, and that to document what humans did and how they live in the face of environment tumult and social disfigurement is its own kind of survival instinct.

The Wild Ones (1.30pm, ACMI 2): Poetic yet brutal picture of a gang of small-time adolescent crooks who flee into the wilderness, and treat to a near-animalist state of simple survival; Alejandro Fadel's picture placing the figures as tiny, transient, utterly mortal —if teenaged and obnoxious— beings in vast, desert landscapes. The debt to Terrence Malick's '70s movies is almost as vast as the environment, but it's still a plenty assured debut.


Sunday 12 August

Beijing Besieged By Waste (6.30pm, ACMI 1): See above.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (9pm, GU 5): See above.

Boy Meets Girl (9pm, GU 4): Leos Carax's debut picture is, in some ways, his most simply enjoyable; a loose, love-filled portrait of Parisian street-dwellers, artists, oddballs, and circus freaks whose gloriously-stylised black-and-white photography is both nouvelle vague homage and something above and beyond.

Certain People (11am, GU 4): When a group of early-30s friends gather in the countryside for a birthday party, the drama is heading in only one direction: down. Soon enough, Levan Akin's film finds each successive drink dredging up old grudges and secrets, with confrontations brewing before the sun comes up. It's sweetly photographed, but the godawful light-jazz score feels like a self-made burden for the film.Hail

Hail (6.30pm, ACMI 2): If the Australian crime docudrama is a genre —and, for the love of God, let's hope it's not— Amiel Courtin-Wilson's narrative debut subverts every expectation thereof; its portrait of toothless, tattooed bogans living in society's, um, underbelly having naught in the way of kitchen-sink socio-realism but plentiful transcendent dreaminess. Courtin-Wilson confirms himself as one of local cinema's most interesting artists; captured images of pure cinema that linger in your memory, like an actual horse falling from an actual airplane, hurtling towards its imminent demise like Hail's failing protagonist.

Headshot (11am, GU 6): Pen-ek Ratanaruang went from mildly-interesting genre-perverter to inspired freeform auteur through the '00s; cresting with a run of films —Invisible Waves, Ploy, Nymph— that made ever-more provocative challenges to familiar film form and narrative convention. Headshot, sadly, feels like a return to his earlier, crimier days; the tale of a hitman whose attempts to do righteous work invariably piss people off, and lead

Las Acacias (4pm, GU 5): For those who have the rare ability to see major greatness lurking in film's condescending called 'minor' pictures, Pablo Giorgelli's Las Acacias is a MIFF film to savour; a hyper-minimalist, achingly humanist portrait of a long-haul truck-driver transporting a Paraguayan single mother over the border into Buenos Aires; in which long stretches of silence carry countless sentiments, and become their own kind of conversation; turning, eventually, endlessly touching.

A Respectable Family (11am, GU 5): The title of Massoud Bakhshi's study of the cultural burden of family 'honour' has a title that rings plenty ironic; his austere, defiant picture carefully straddling time-frames —including terrified childhood flashbacks to the Iran-Iraq war— as it portrays an increasingly-conservative country bordering on surveillance state; in which bureaucracy becomes a form of cultural asphyxiation.

Two Years At Sea (4pm, ACMI 1): Whilst experimental filmmakers have long explored the artistry and emotions of emulsion —where the chemical process becomes paint splattered on canvas— there's been far less of it in narrative cinema; especially when compared to music's long obsessions with vinyl crackles and degraded tape sheen. Ben Rivers' brilliant Two Years At Sea is only gently a narrative film; a near silent piece of slow-cinema that watches a bearded drifter fashioning a Thoreauvian life in the Scottish wilderness. Yet its media is magical: the film shot on old black-and-white 16mm stock and processed by hand in Rivers' kitchen; its dancing grains and developer splashes a thing of true beauty.


Monday 13 August

Alps (9pm, Forum): Expectations can be a bitch, and with Yorgos Lanthimos coming fresh off Dogtooth —one of cinema's truly great artworks of the 21st century— they're certainly weighing hard on Alps. But Lanthimos barely buckles, his latest film another work of maniacal, fastidious, unbowed provocation and symbolism; a droll, deadpan, dystopian worldview that makes the artifice, alienation, and theatricality of modern life into a veritable weapon.

The Blindfold (11am, ACMI 2): Whilst it plays, in some ways, as a family soap-opera built around pained mothers and lost children, this study of teenagers roped into aggressively-recruiting religious cults —the female flipside to those same groups budding militias— is a study in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia. Its social crusade is unbowed and proud, but the drama is sometimes a little sudsy in comparison.

Children Of Sarajevo (9pm, Kino): Aida Begić's direct-from-Cannes latest confirms her status as auteur on the rise; the 30-something Bosnian making a piece of profound cinema that plays as both delirious, dark dream and stark socio-realism, with echoes of Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. Her portrait of modern-day Sarajevo suggests a war very much alive; its struggling siblings —though drowning seems as apt— the symbolic 'children' of a generation or orphans.

Happy End (6.30pm, GU 4): Turgid slice of frowny-faced depressive cinema, a parade of domestic violence, in-house prostitution, and barely-repressed familial hatred; every bit as stupid and simple as the most cliché council-estate kitchen-sink realism.

I Wish (6.30pm, Forum): I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller, I wish Hirokazu Kore-eda's latest flick was anywhere near as good as his towering wonders —After Life, Distance, Nobody Knows— that made his glory days so glorious. I Wish may share a preponderance of pre-adolescent protagonists with Nobody Knows —may be a study of how children survive and persist in the face of parental failure— but there's precious little of the same profundity; this film jaunty and feelgood to the point of banality.

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (11am, Forum): Matthew Akers' portrait of the performance-art titan in the leadup to her career retrospective at MOMA in 2010 catches the artist at the peak of her career; climaxing at the apex of the titular exhibition, in which Abramović sat still, all day every day, and stared at the general public, an individual at a time; becoming a foil, foe, mirror, mother, or lover depending on whoever was staring back.

Modest Reception (1.30pm, ACMI 2): Mani Haghighi's provocative parable depicts a pair of urbane Tehranis touring through the rural mountains, throwing bags of cash at the impoverished locals, who treat them with reticence, suspicion, and, sometimes, disinterest; for some the cash seems like the benevolence of God, for others the temptation of the devil. The identity and motivations of these mysterious interlopers are never answered; they may be Robin Hood figures, grifters, or fans of Brewster's Millions. Haghighi never tips his hat, and that makes his film —which is loaded with black comedy, satirical bite, and evasiveness— all the more powerful.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. (9pm, GU 4): The vague terrain of 'breast cancer awareness' is a nefarious business; the fundraising behemoth Susan G. Komen an oppressive, neo-con empire that does as much for filling corporate coffers as it does contributing to anti-cancer research. Léa Pool's profound documentary peers behind the pinkwashed façade of wooooo!ing positivity and finds the repressed anger; interviewing cancer survivors that resent the establishment, and terminal cases who are denied their simple humanity by the endless rhetoric of positive-attitude! battles.

Rampart (6.30pm, GU 5): After the moving-macho form of his Oscar-nominated The Messenger —in which military death notifiers become hugely symbolic figures, carrying the conflicted emotions of the country— Oren Moverman makes a mighty-crappy misstep with Rampart. The James Ellroy-penned screenplay could, possibly, make for some kind of minor pulp pleasures, but Moverman misjudges the delivery hilariously: dressing down his celebrity actors in pantomimed socio-realist grit, and then whooshing his camera around like some hellish, speed-addled take on that old NYPD Blue shaky-cam cliché. Possibly my least favourite film in MIFF.

The Rest Of The World (4pm, ACMI 2): In what could be a career-transforming performance, Emmanuelle Béart shakes off an unending history of roles as the willowy waif in the frocked-up arthouse fluff, and submits a saucy turn as a sauced old slag; her, how you say, 'knifed-with' face seeming near demonic as she sprays venom at the family she's a tenuous, reviled part of. Damien Odoul's picture has other big names in the cast —Charles Berling, Mathieu Amalric— but they're tiny players, supporting a trio non-professionals who play out the three main characters; siblings sorting through the skeletons in the family closet, dealing with grief and loss and the very nature of their identities.

The Student (6.30pm, ACMI 2): Ultra-verbose Argentine film is a psychologically-loaded study of arcane University politics at a bombed-out Buenos Aires college; in which the endless conversations are the ripples across the surface of waters deep and churning. The copious, specific references to Argentine political history and fictional in-movie parties are like a dense load of course work, but there's also a friendly simplicity to its portrait of one's 20s: university days so much studying, discussing, drinking, fucking, and profound self-discovery.

Undefeated (6.30pm, GU 3): It's Inspirational Movie time with this tale of a down-and-out gridiron program and their down-and-out kids, banding together to win games and triumph at the game of life and etc.etc.; the racial undercurrents —benevolent white people help poor black people because they're good at sports— making for a film that's uneasy at best, maudlin and manipulative at worst. Also: it won an Oscar, which is rarely anything to recommend a film by.