Saturday, August 11, 2007

My respect for Ken Russell grew...

...or at least began existing today.

MIFF catch-up

The Man from London (Béla Tarr, 2007)
**½

Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, 2006)
***½

Half Moon (Bahman Ghobadi, 2006)
****

A Man Vanishes (Shohei Imamura, 1967)
***½


I Served the King of England (Jiri Menzel, 2006)
**½

Joshua (George Ratliff, 2007)
***

Stephanie Daley (Hilary Brougher, 2006)
***

Lady Chatterley (Pascale Ferran, 2006)
***

Strange Culture (Lynn Hershman-Leeson, 2007)
***

Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, 2007)
***

Fay Grim (Hal Hartley, 2006)
****

Comments, of course, to follow.

To my Melbourne readers

I've got a free double pass for the Melbourne Ratatouille premiere Monday 7pm @ ACMI. I won't be able to use it. E-mail me if you want it

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

**½
Thailand/France/Austria

Ostensibly another bifurcated, semi-opaque tone poem from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with a nervous courtship half-taking place in a serene country clinic in the 70s, then not taking place at all when the same characters and dialogue pop up in a contemporary, antiseptic one. One of Weerasethakul's (multiple, variously elliptical) ambitions here is to explore the impact of environment (shifting as ours is increasingly towards the sterile and non-personal) on human interaction and personal histories - and it's a worthy, intriguing one. He manages it most successfully in the contrast he establishes in the bond that sparks up between a dentist and a monk in the first variation (surely the warmest, most subtly sensual scene ever set in a dental ward) and doesn't in the second.
But in contrast to the lush, sultry visuals inTropical Malady, the tranquil-generic imagery in this case does nothing for the atmosphere. And while the earlier scenes are pleasant enough, the half that takes place in modern day is as stifling and soul-depleting as the medical set-up it depicts. This was very likely Weerasethakul's intention, but it's up to the viewer to infer whether the insight they gauge from it (which, in my case, wasn't an awful lot) justifies over a half-hour's worth of airless tedium.



(P.S. Though I should add, the projectionist may have compromised the film's impact on me. The stills I've seen online look exclusively lovely and nowhere near as bland as they did at the Regent on Wednesday night.)

Khadak (Peter Brosens, Jessica Hope Woodworth, 2006)

**½
Belgium/Germany

It's a fine line between elegy and ponderousness. Directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth mourn the suppression of Mongolian nomadism with photogenic, literal metaphors. Be warned: their picture ends on the image of a tree crying.

Intentions of Murder (Shohei Imamura, 1964)

*****
Japan

Imamura's masterpiece. Sharp, absorbing, breathtaking. Comments to follow.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tuya's Marriage (Quanan Wang, 2006)

****½
China

Having just barely skimmed the (no doubt worthy) competition titles at this year's Berlin Film Festival, I already feel comfortable in claiming the Golden Lion went to the best film. Comments to come.

The Night of the Sunflowers (Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo, 2006)

****
Spain

In stark contrast to the worryingly fashionable multiple-storyline Latin-flavoured melodramas that deliver a number of half-developed storylines in lieu of a single honestly developed one, Spaniard Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo comes up with this intricate, cleverly structured thriller, wherein six tight, meaty subplots (with each bringing to the fore and solidifying a separate character) contribute towards a gripping overarching one. It involves a pair of speleologists, superstition, rape and misguided vengeance as well as a Spanish rural setting used to great effect.

Lights in the Dusk (Aki Kaurismäki, 2006)

***
Finland

The third chapter in Aki Kaurismäki's loose 'loser' trilogy is likable but lacks the freshness and wisdom of its predecessors. It's a scramble between all the funny, warm deadpan quirks of quintessential-Kaurismäki, as well as the chilly dearth of feeling of Kaurismäki-by-numbers.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007)

***
USA

A leisurely, mournful, mannered meditation on a small-town Arkansas family feud with a rapidly escalating body count. For eschewing the obvious punchy approach and attempting instead something more personal and contemplative, writer-director Jeff Nichols is to be commended. But there are too many false, derivative notes both in his script and his handling of the actors. Perhaps his second movie might turn out more sincere and authentic if he manages to step out of the shadow of co-producer - and evident mentor - David Gordon Green.

Dry Season (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2006)

***
Chad/France/Belgium/Austria

This parched, austere parable detailing a 16-year-old's frustrated vendetta on his father's killer is a particularly frustrating experience in that it has about as many significant strengths as it does weaknesses. Chadian writer-director Mahamat-Saleh develops his observations regarding the legacy of Chad's 40-year civil war (as well as, essentially, any civil war in general) with exemplary subtlety and consideration, building up to a moving finale. At the same time however, Haroun shows the tendency of a worrying amount of contemporary film festival staples in that he mistakes oppressive minimalism, a dearth of dialogue and a glacial pace for irreproachably artful, evocative naturalism.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

To my American readers:


Stefan Krohmer's Summer '04 opens this week on your shores. I beg you, you must not miss it.
Also, Majid Majidi's trite, mawkish The Willow Tree comes out. You should probably skip that one.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

*****
Romania

Finally! In the decade of laureled mediocrities like Elephant and The Son's Room, Cannes has Finally(!!) discovered and awarded with the Palme d'or a film worthy of sharing a category with the likes of The Third Man, The Leopard, The Cranes Are Flying and Virdiana. Comments to come.

Labels:

You, the Living (Roy Andersson, 2007)

****
Sweden

Roy Andersson delivers another bunch of nutty, surrealist vignettes - less cohesive in tone than in his moody, terrific previous film, though no less delightful - wherein he infuses with absurdist humour and a joyous, irrepressible spirit the lives of an otherwise bleak bunch of people.

Hana (Kore-eda Hirokazu, 2006)

**½
Japan

Kore-eda Hirokazu swerves mainstream with this pat, decidedly conventional samurai story, with very little swordplay, bits of folksy humour and lots of irreproachably lovely people. Whereas Hirokazu's langurous pacing was justifiable in his artsy endeavors, in this case it's wearying.

Falling (Barbara Albert, 2006)

***
Austria/Germany

A palatable if not terribly fresh deliberation on the diverging paths taken by five formerly very close women when they're reuinted in their hometown at their teacher's funeral, fourteen years after high school. They exchange believably awkward pleasantries, get believably drunk, shed believable tears and divulge believable secrets that aren't as striking or enlightening as they're intended to be.

Your Mommy Kills Animals (Curt Johnson, 2006)

***
USA

A distressing look into the Animal Liberation Movement, whose actions have placed them at the top of the FBI's list of national terrorist threats (that's right, above Al-Qaeda), mirroring as they often do the very behaviour of the animal-abusers they're fighting against. Director Curt Johnson takes on too much when he brings in the SHAC7 trials and the issues they raise regarding free speech (a topic worth feature length on its own), though his refusal to plonk people into neat hero/villain boxes is commendable.

Bella (Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, 2006)

*
USA/Mexico

Essentially a sloppy, blindly derivative undergrad assignment stretched to feature-length, this cloying, feeble-minded mediocrity about a New York waitress who discovers she's pregnant (and who is portrayed as a saint because she gets fired from work for showing up an hour late two days in a row) and a failed football star who provides a shoulder to cry on (and whose years of stoic mourning over a mysterious tragedy have broken out into a bushy, Jesus-like beard) inexplicably won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.