13 September, 2007

a long overdue miff post

So I seem to have dropped the blogging ball again, back around the time of the 2007 Melbourne International Film Festival. I know I know, MIFF was over, like, ten thousand years ago. But it's one of my favourite times of the year, and I like to do a spiel about it on here every year. So this seems as good a subject as ever on which to recommence blogging...


Here are the things I saw:

KHADAK - A dreamy trip through modern Mongolian culture, focussing on the erosion of the traditional/spiritual life by industrial forces. With minimal dialogue and gorgeous imagery, the narrative is stronger in the first half, but remains intriguing and thought provoking even when it shakes off conventional structure altogether.

EAGLE vs SHARK - A charming Kiwi rom-com that is capital-Q Quirky without falling into the dangerous trap of irritating contrivance. Although the characters are, to a large extent, deluded no-hopers, writer/directer Taika Cohen never patronises them, but presents them with affection and - eventually, unexpectedly - pathos.

PRATER - With it's rich history and cultural significance, you wouldn't think it was possible to make a dull documentary about the Wurstelprater - the world's oldest amusement park. Ulrike Ottinger has managed though, avoiding any kind of depth and including only the briefest moments of (seemingly accidental) insight, in his rambling, tedious film.

BEYOND EYRUV - This documentary charts the struggles of 20-year-old Moshe - who after growing up in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, experienced a profound culture shock when he decided to abandon the Hasidic life and find his way in New York City. His unsuccessful attempts to find his place in the world are uncomfortable and fascinating viewing, but filmmaker John Mounier isn't quite a skillful enough documentarian to do his subject justice.

THE WAR TAPES - Turning down an opportunity to be an embedded journalist in Iraq, Deborah Scranton instead armed three marines with video cameras, as they headed off for a six-month tour of duty. There they captured alarmingly candid footage of themselves, their colleagues, and their missions in Iraq which - it becomes increasingly obvious - have little to do with Iraqi Freedom. The resulting film is by turns shocking, funny, offensive and deeply sad.

GLUE - An intriguing young cast and some very hot bisexual making-out sequences cannot save this ponderous meditation on teenage angst in small-town Argentina. Writer/director Alexis Dos Santos has little new to add to the "kid slowly discovering he's gay" sub-genre, and chooses to shoot his film in wildly underexposed semi-darkness, and with the kind of shaky, hand-held cinematography that makes David Stratton long for a painless death.

BILLY THE KID - Jennifer Venditti's documentary about Maine 15-year-old Billy P. is a warmly endearing portrait of an extremely unusual boy going through universally familiar trials and tribulations. Billy's "issues" (as his wonderful mother lovingly puts it) are extreme, surely crossing the line into undiagnosable mental illness. However while this simple, highly skillful film is often very funny, it never mocks its protagonist. Rather, it draws the audience to identify strongly with him, highlighting the universality of adolescent experience.

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT - Another excellent documentary, this one about Marla Olmstead, who became, in rapid succession, a highly sought after artist, and then a suspiciously regarded potential hoax - all prior to her sixth birthday. Amir Bar-Lev brings the audience with him, as he begins to doubt the authenticity of his young subject, and the increasingly questionable adults around her.

THE BOSS OF IT ALL - Lars Von Trier takes a rare break from neo-Brechtian anti-American 'innocent woman gets downtrodden and repeatedly raped' narratives, to present a light comedy. No, really. Don't worry though, he hasn't given away fucking with our heads entirely. The film is shot using "Automovision", a computer program that randomly selects the camera angles, cuts and movements, and Lars himself makes bizarre interjectory comments throughout the film. It won't change your life, but it's lots of fun (which is more than can be said of Dancer In The Dark, etc.)

BLACK SHEEP - The latest entry in the return of the zombie genre is this highly entertaining film from New Zealand, in which a genetically modified breed of sheep become flesh-eating monsters. It's tightly written, well directed, silly, irreverent, gory and ridiculous. In short: everything you could possibly want from a zombie sheep flick.

CONTROL - Great performances from Sam Riley and Samantha Morton, an understated script and a beautiful visual style make this biopic of late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis a sombre masterpiece. Famed music photographer Anton Corbijn directs with compassion and restraint: there is a visceral excitement in the phenomenal recreation of Joy Division's first live television performance of 'Transmission', and an effective avoidance of melodrama as Curtis marches towards his final surrender from life, at the age of just 23.

PAPRIKA - Japanese animé at its best, Paprika is complex, vibrant, thought-provoking and logic-defying. Stunning visual design and disarmingly fun music help tell a mind-bending tale of a detective with a guilty conscience who gets involved with a beautiful scientist - part of a team who have developed technology to enter and manipulate each-others' dreams. The plot abandons reason altogether in the final act, but is a fantastic ride if you're willing to take it on its own terms.

SAVAGE GRACE - If you enjoy seeing Julianne Moore gnash her teeth and say "cunt" a lot, this film is for you. This role - a high society mother clinging to her respectability as the sanity of her family disintegrates around her - has Moore's name all over it. And she pulls it off with the kind of shattered dignity and determined poise we've come to expect. The rest of the cast are great too, particularly the intriguing Eddie Redmayne as her troubled gay son. However the subject matter, particularly towards the end of this story - based on the real-life tragedy of the Baekeland family - will leave many squirming in their seats.


So there it is. Some highs and some lows, but overall I had a lovely time as always. It was especially great this year to be sharing the MIFF fandango with Byron for the first time.

Now, I have quite a few other things to tell you about too, so hopefully blogging will continue a tad more regularly from now on (we've heard that before, haven't we!).

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