a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

PFF: Days 4 - 7

Trekking on...

Day 4

Ambiance: It has been sunny, breezy and very much Spring for the last week. Today is no exception. The fourth day of the fest and my second day of going to it has been an insurmountable struggle against the elements: namely, lovely sitting weather, friends heckling me about same, and, of course, food. Regardless, the screenings are largely packed. Glad to see other people have priorities.

/I Know Where I'm Going! (1945, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, UK)
Several good reasons for nixing other quality pics in favor of this Powellen Pressburger [sic] trifle: hadn't seen it in ages; had never seen a P&P on the big screen; Thelma Schoonmaker would be present. A quickie made in between heavy-hitters, Going! isn't as densely layered as any other P&P, but that's a high standard to live up to. The two litter the film with regional touches: Gaelic is sporadically spoken; Roger Livesey refuses to enter a castle as none of his ancestors have; stray references to WWII. But the film flounders in the middle section and Wendy Hiller -- with her prominent upper cheek bones that jut off the screen -- is never given much of a character arc. It's no Local Hero is what I'm saying, though it's frequently more lovely. Grade: B

Murderball (Henry-Alex Rubin & Dana Adam Shapiro)
I might have responded to this fluff piece on the world of quad rugby a little better had it come out two years ago. But after Spellbound, it's hard not to look at it as the latest in a new doc trend: the focus is on being entertaining rather than insightful, where the mix should, given the subject, ideally be about half and half. Rubin and Shapiro keep nothing but the funny and/or sentimental moments; why these men feel compelled to take part in a violent, belligerent sport is entirely ignored. Strong moments are littered about, but I wound up getting the usual case of the queasies, particularly anytime the American defector ("I'm not Bennedict Arnold. His betrayal resulted in the death of many people.") was popping veins. Quick! Someone write a paper on how reality television is seriously dilluting documentary cinema! Grade: B-

The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
Hard not to flash to Michael Sicinski's opening sentence on this evocative mood piece. ("What a subtle film!") A good deal less ostentatiously mannered than La Cineaga, Martel's turning into an auetur on the level of Wong Kar-Wai, making films that stroke your face lightly, even when viewing its subject from a respectable distance. Her frames -- faces off-kilter, much play with background/foreground, hazy light -- bewitch, even if the substance never elicits more than casual interest. Bits involving air fresheners being sprayed suggest she could be our next Richard Lester, if that's what she's into. Grade: B+

Izo (Takashi Miike, Japan)
"Miike's 8 1/2" is how a fellow film cricket described it immediately once the credits ended. Sorry, can't top that. Luckily, the inspired redundancy -- putting to shame Survive Style 5+ -- leaves much time for other interpretations to bounce around in the cranium, leaving room to wonder if our time-travelling, serial murdering samurai is a virus, a nihilist's wish-fulfilment fantasy or, every fest writer's favorite notion, a Metaphor For Man's Cruelty Throughout the Ages. (Or simply a piece of sadism on par with Don Hertzfeldt, seeing how our anti-hero grows more ragged throughout.) In any case, great fun and, bizarrely enough, my first forray with Miike the Goofy Violent Guy, which might explain the high grade. Takeshi Kitano hilariously wasted. Grade: B+

Today's Vague, Inadvertent Theme? Exhaustion will fuck you in the end.

Day 5

Ambiance: Same, only most people are at work. Really nice out and I keep running into people who want to talk shop. Very unusual.

L'Amant (Ryuichi Hiroki, Japan)
Happily doesn't dip into the sex-as-equivalent-of-knife-stabbing nadir, but its gradual humanism can get icky: big explanation towards end never really takes hold seeing as the X, Y and Z seem more than happy to get at our forlorn Japanese schoolgirl. Not as perverse as it thinks but Hiroki's plangent pacing is ingratiating. Probably overrating it as, only days later, I have little memory of it. Obviously, right? Grade: B-

The 10th District Court, Moments of Trials (Raymond Depardon, France)
Depardon's semi-cryptic claim at the beginning -- "The director has chosen the scenes shown here: we feel you should know this" -- sets you up for some good time interpretation, but it just seems like he got a solid cross-section of Paris, even if almost all are found guilty. Pretty hilarious at first, morally tangled in the middle, and triumphantly venge-filled towards the end -- we grow from liking our unflappable Judge Judy to nearly loathing her, without barely noticing our identification shift. Never less than entrancing, though, if just not exactly Frederick Wiseman. Grade: B

Lakeside Murder Case (Shinji Aoyama, Japan)
Surely not the best place to start with Eureka's Aoyama (on why this one's not "arty": "That's what the producer wanted," sez he), but it's an auteuristical thing: the thing's slick, but with open spaces and a tangled moral quandary clearly laid-out. Middle section's the best, with a body-disposal sequence for the ages, but the plot mechanics are rickety and the finale turns into canned lines and talking points that made me more fidgety than Wednesday's Henri Langlois doc. Grade: C+

One Missed Call (Takashi Miike, Japan)
Unless the rumors about The Three turn out to be true, the best giant meta- joke in ages. Excepting a girl being torn apart, it's impossible to find Miike in this straight-faced J-Horror entry, and what's more, he doesn't seem to be kidding. It's no Cellular. Grade: C+

Today's Vague, Inadvertent Theme? Try harder next time, bud.

Day 6

Ambiance The. Sun. Won't. Stop. Shining.

The World (Jia Zhang-ke, China/France/Japan)
Wears out its perfect-symbol-for-globalization with over an hour to spare, except that Jia's not that pat: his film lets you wallow in the claustrophobia, mostly ditching trips around the Epcot-Center-only-bigger and gawdy international Vegas shows for cramped spaces and dimly lit scenes. Fun story of the day: no doubt aggravated by the increasing randomness and lack of storyline, patron started bolting with ten minutes to spare, one couple of which came back in no doubt after seeing the clock. Grade: B

Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
Thanks, Armond White*. Luckily, Park's such a whiz with ratchetting up the tension that even knowing Le Grand Twist did nothing to dispel my permanent state of cat-like readiness. Calling South Korean films nutty and tonally restless has become a cliché by now, but the sometimes aimless plot maneuvers and strokes of dark comedy make it all the more unique, and Park's knack for not indulging in graphic close-ups seems less hypocritical than it did in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the complexity of Vengeance: our villain's too smugly cackling to get behind, even when his backstory's complete, and there's not enough of a compare-and-contrast with Choi Min-sik's pre-imprisoned self and his crazed one. Hallway scene not at all a let-down, though I'm still on the fence over Choi's Pacino-level implosion towards the end. Grade: B

Today's Vague, Inadvertent Theme? The bigger picture rarely comes into sharp relief.

Day 7

Ambiance I'm late for everything, and yet nothing's ready for me when I get there. Late for speaking about life post-Temple University at Temple University. Late getting to Monk's afterwards. Late for Henri Langlois. Late for The Big Red One. Also I overslept in the morning. The sun should stop.

Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémàtheque (Jacques Richard, France)
A better 3 1/2 hour survey than the Cassavetes-centric A Constant Forge, if only because Langlois is, at least in the first half, used as more of a jumping off point, a way to explore the way he spread cinephilia throughout the land. Great stories, too -- love the one about the guy who pleads till M is shown, then complains when the print turns out to be Losey's version, only to be greeted with "It's the Losey version?! I've always wanted to see that!" -- though the last hour seriously drags, the rambling interviewees hitting the same talking points finally exhausting all patience. (No less because I had to be at The Big Red One shortly -- very shortly -- after it ended.) Obligatory gripe: obliquely mentioning Langlois' homosexuality with five minutes left is dumb on two counts. Grade: B

The Big Red One [Corliss' "Reconstruction" cut] (1980, Samuel Fuller, USA)
Doesn't so much add depth as just add more, though it's really a case of pacing: Fuller's episodic WWII picture has zero forward thrust, so it's really about getting into its rhythm. I did, and as such further appreciate it as one of the more unique WWII pics, refraining from most of the usual sentiments and tropes and simply throwing out kernels of truth, as well as great yarns. Hitler, the Holocaust, et al. are simply things Lee Marvin's troop wanders by; most of the time, it's about surviving, which in most cases means living with the knowledge that you've committed horrible deeds. Entirely avoid self-importance, nor tries to be the Definitive Anything, except that it's the definitive portrait of Fuller's time in the war. As usual, his generosity is wide, and I miss his abrupt cuts to close-ups of faces, as well as his way of spinning a great tale. Fun story of the day: roughly an hour in the theater's fire alarms went off, but the Ritz -- the Ritz! -- neglected to stop the movie. This persists for ten minutes, during which half the audience stays in their seats, covering whichever ear is closest to the alarm while trying to make out what's happening around the kerfuffle. When this stops, the film finally stops too, and the City Paper's Sam Adams can be heard screaming seriously pissed profanities at the theater's unusual lack of logic. Ten minutes later, the film springs back up but this time without sound, causing some audience members to provide their own. We laugh, though I wonder if the alarm -- with its deafening sound and strobe lights -- would have actually helped had it occurred five minutes later during the D-Day sequence, thus allowing us to truly experience Fuller's claim that the only way to accurately portray war would be by shooting at the patrons from the wings. See? Fun.

Today's Vague, Inadvertent Theme? Mini-stories that add up to a very tasty pie.

* The ever-self-righteous Mr. White decided he'd spoil the twist because...oh, who knows? Not linking to it, as I don't want anyone getting stung by the curiosity bug. Of course, even mentioning the review in question means being stung by said bug.


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