Saturday, August 18, 2007

It was the best of MIFFs, it was the worst of MIFFs - Really it was the best of MIFFs

Firstly, to get the mediocrities out of the way, in order from least offensive to most:

10. I Served the King of England
The man who made Closely Watched Trains has evidently run out of inspiration, resorting as he has to this cutesy, hollow quirkfest about a Czech Nazi collaborator.

9. Zoo
It's important of course to acknowledge the sadness, mourning and displacement of 'zoo's. But how about the utter bizarreness of a man dying from being anally penetrated by a horse. Devor sees none. If there ever was a pink elephant in the room..

8. The Man from London
Based on my first exposure to a Bela Tarr joint, I refuse to worship at his crowded altar. An indescribably indulgent, self-important wank-fest. The wrong way to mount a mood piece.

7. My Friend and His Wife
From a silly but likable rom-com it devolves into a silly, malnourished melodrama.

6. Hana
I'm not among Hirokazu's devout followers, but I appreciated both After Life and especially Nobody Knows to some extent. This - his attempted plunge into the mainstream - bored me shitless.

5. Khadak
Look at the tree! It's crying!

4. The Mourning Forest
Naomi Kawase blends two film festival staples: the glacial pace that symbolises the unwieldy vastness of life; and the unlikely inter-generational connection formed between two grieving, alienated (and wooden) strangers. She also hopes that you'll mistake alternately serene and eerie vegetation for alternately serene and eerie filmmaking.

3. Times and Winds
The perfect afternoon for your arthouse-loving grandma: solemn fathers, cute children, an exotic but thoroughly hygenic setting and antiseptic postcard imagery.

2. 4 Elements
Or was it "Filthy Men Performing Soul-Numbing Labour in Isolated Regions of the World"?

1. Bella
Essentially a feature-length student film. You can just feel the misguided lecturer telling his misguided disciple: 'increase the stakes! make her pregnant! make her unemployed! make them brothers!' That this won Toronto disturbs me to no end.

Now on to the quality stuff, which was abundant across the 19 days. Difficult as it was to come up with 10 films I utterly disliked, it's near-impossible to narrow down the ones I liked and/or loved to a list of the 10 best. So, first I must give honorable mentions (in ascending order of honour) to:
- Beauty in Trouble
And Jan Hrebejk's uncanny sense for juicy material.
- Away from Her
Sarah Polley's lovely, touching elegy to the love between Julie Christie and her committed husband as she succumbs to Alzheimer's.
- Time
Another clever little concept by Kim Ki-duk, pulled off with signature skill.
- Reprise
I went into this movie based on a Slant Magazine thumbs-up, and even so, I was dreading it as I'll always be dreading the notion of first-time filmmakers exploring the lives of twentysomething writers/painters/photographers/performance artists. But this was a lovely surprise.
- Red Road
I adore women but another thing I inevitably dread is first-time women filmmakers exploring female protagonists with troubled sex lives (not because they shouldn't - in fact, they ought to - but because they often turn out derivative of each other), but Andrea Arnold is no hack. Her first feature is certainly flawed, but superbly crafted and very promising.
- Still Life
Jia Zhang-ke's Golden Lion winner is underdeveloped in the script and characterisation departments, but its visuals are startling. The evocative gorgeousness of every frame of every composition catches you offguard because it's so low-key and unshowy.
- Half Moon
Bahman Ghobadi is one of my favourite working filmmakers, even more so after this odd, mournful and remarkably well-acted (by non-actors!) ode to his fellow oppressed Kurds.
- You, the Living
Ditto, Roy Andersson - a singular, underworked talent, here essentially delivering more of the same (as his striking Songs from the Second Floor [2000]) and bringing me much joy.
- The War Tapes
Deborah Scranton's urgent, thought-provoking documentary, where with great care and deliberation she assembles footage shot by several members of the National Guard, while on service in Iraq. It benefits enormously from not being yet another variation on the self-serving, aggressively leftist, preaching-to-the-converted Iraq doc (which has now become a genre in itself).
- The Night of the Sunflowers
It's disturbing that the satisfying feeling that a clever, tightly plotted, thoroughly entertaining thriller gives is today rare enough to make it a revelation.

I'll post my Official MIFF Top 10


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