Wednesday, July 27, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 6 (Tomboys and Film-Noir in Oregon)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

If you've missed other days just click the "MIFF" tag at the bottom of the entry. I also wrote a dispatch for Trespass Mag on the first four days of the fest.

The Third Man
Dir. Carol Reed
Running Time: 104mins

Carol Reed's masterpiece The Third Man was released two years after his exceptional Odd Man Out, and together the two make a rather stunning double. The chance to see The Third Man, the story of Harry Lime and his mysterious death in a road accident outside his Vienna apartment, on the big screen was far too good to pass up. Even more so when I knew it meant not necessarily having to watch the film with my critical brain on. Having already seen it and thought of it as one of the greatest films ever made, I was able to simply soak in the beautiful Italian locations (yes, even the sewers are beautiful!), the perfect Oscar-winning cinematography by Robert Krasker, the crackling chemistry between all four lead characters, the dazzling looks of Valli and revel in the excitement and thrills of the final 40 minutes, one of the greatest chase sequences ever put to celluloid.

Unlike Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy on day one of the festival, there is no need for me to request my dear readers hail The Third Man as a newly minted masterpiece as it has been hailed as one since the day it won the Palme d'Or in Cannes (or, as it was known in 1949, the "Grand Prize of the Festival"). I can only suggest you watch it (or watch it again) and agree with the masses. A

I Wish I Knew
Dir. Jia Zhangke
Running Time: 138mins

This peculiar film comes from the director of Still Life, which reminds to this one of the two or three greatest films I've ever seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Perhaps that's why I keep going to his films - perhaps? it is - but neither of the subsequent Zhang films have been, well, good. While this long, meandering testimonial documentary is certainly better than Useless, I Wish I Knew failed to grab me and resulted in a long series of walkouts. I was never offended or truly annoyed by the film to walk out sooner, but I did have to leave several minutes before the end due to another session. To be honest, I don't think I missed much.

The film follows an unnamed woman as she trudges about the city of Shanghai. As she does nothing of note, we are greeted to lovely footage of citizens of Shanghai going about their daily routine: mahjong, a young child running around looking for a fight to show off his "muscles", shopping for produce at a market. Throughout the movie are dozens or interviews with subjects ranging from the recognisable (Hsiao-hsien Hou for instance) to the not (I'm not sure if they were all supposed to be famous. were they?) as they recall memories about the city of Shanghai. Occasionally these interviews produced some wonderful stories, but others (like one man who talks about moving a sofa lounge? I admit to probably dozing off during that one!) are unfocused and uninteresting.

My favourite interview was Wang Tung/Wang Toon who directed the 1997 film Red Persimmon. The film is interlaced with film clips and locations sequences of Shanghai are gloriously lensed by Ke-Jia's frequent cinematographer Nelson Yu Lik-wai in his trademark colour palate of sea green and smoggy whites. The heavily synthesised score by Giong Lim is a highlight, but eventually becomes repetitious. Like I said, it's hardly offensive enough to my sensibilities, but there lacks any serious bite to really engage. C-

How to Die in Oregon
Dir. Peter Richardson
Running Time: 107mins

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not sure I am quite ready, willing and able to discuss this documentary about dying with dignity. Peter Richardson's deeply moving How to Die in Oregan follows a few cases of people wanting to die with dignity after contracting debilitating terminal illness, as well the Washington state's proposition to legalise it like it is in Oregon. Richardson mainly follows one case, however, and that's the beautiful Cody Curtis, a mother and wife with liver cancer. After the movie I tweeted this, and it's entirely true:

It knocked me out.

I don't really want to use my blog here to get into a big theological discussion about whether dying with dignity is a basic human right or not (I think it is, ahem), but I honestly don't know how anyone could watch this documentary and not be moved. There's a sequence in the film that shows religious protesters who believe when we die is the matter of God and God alone, but it's probably quite easy for them to say that when they're not the one dealing with crippling disease and pain. Hmmm. A-

Dir. Céline Sciamma
Running Time: 82mins

"Sweet" is the word that I - and I presume many others, too - keep coming back to when deciding what to write about this French childhood comedy, the first film by Céline Sciamma since Water Lilles in 2007. Tomboy follows a young girl, Laure, whose family has recently moved to a new area. She has a younger sister and her mother is pregnant. Laure, as played by the wonderful and touching Zoé Héran, does "the boy thing" - cuts her hair short, wears boys clothes, and actually passes for a boy in the presence of others.

The performances by Héran, Malonn Lévana as sister Jeanne and Sophie Cattani as their mother are uniformly excellent. Héran especially gives a beautiful performance and one that goes deeper than the rather shallow waters of the screenplay. It's one of the finest child actor performances of recent years. Unlike many other viewers though, I suspect sweetness is Tomboy's major thematic virtue. Does Sciamma's screenplay have much else to say on the matter of androgyny and even, though never explicitly discussed but certainly raised, homosexuality in young children? I'm not too sure. In fact, I happen to think that Tomboy works best as a look at sisterly bond than anything relating to a girl dressing up as a boy. B

Today was the first day of the festival where I didn't feel like I really wanted to just stay in bed and take flu-fighting drugs. I actually felt like perky today. Perhaps I've got the initial wind that most people had on the first day of the festival? That or I'll wake up tomorrow feeling like crap again and I'll wanna punch myself in the face for jinxing myself.

It's gotten to the stage of the festival where I truly, honestly, don't know what day it is or even what time it is. It's also gotten to the stage where I start to see and hear things. During yesterday's films I couldn't help but watch boring paedophile drama Michael and see Buster Bluth! Today, as I was watching The Third Man I routinely got the theme tune to Curb Your Enthusiasm in my brain! That zither music does weird things to the brain, I swear!


Debbie Ann said...

I should've gone to How to Die instead of Tabloid, darn. Ahh but it is showing Aug 1, I will see it then.

It was so great to see Third Man at ACMI, what a stunning film, somehow, I had never seen it before and it was great to see it that way for my first time.

On Tomboy - I must be the total minority, but it was horrible to see a mother do that to her child. I felt the kid identified as male and the parents should accept that and make it possible instead of shaming and bullying that child - it was heartbreaking. Maybe I have too many FTM friends to read this film as sweet. the title seems wrong for what is shown. there are tomboys, who are happy to be known as girls, but there are kids who already know they have the wrong body. I felt this was the latter, as shown on the screen.

claire said...

Devastated I couldn't attend the screening of The Third Man - it's my all-time favourite film.
I feel I must point out though that the locations were Austrian, not Italian - the film was both set in, and filmed in Vienna. :)

simon said...

Yep, Vienna is not in Italy - you are excused on the basis of Film Festival Brain.