Monday, August 1, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 10 (The Turin Tales)

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.

Tales of the Night
Dir. Michel Ocelot
Running Time: 84mins

After seeing Michael Ocelot's bright, candy-coloured 3D animation Tales of the Night [Les contes de la nuit] I described it as like being a collection of those 5 minute filler cartoons on ABC1 strung together. Turns out that's exactly what it is! As three people put on plays in their, I'm assuming, magic playhouse during the depths of the night, they invent fantasy worlds with princes and queens who fall in love in front of sets of yellows, greens, reds and blues. It's visually dazzling, but ultimately rather nothing.

The use of 3D is quaint and only in one or two of the stories does it actually serve any use to the story. The animation is quite lovely and found myself getting quite touched by the imagery of the Tibetan story as sun rises over the Himalayan mountain tops. The characters, all animated in silhouettes with slightly bulging 3D eyes, are odd creations, but there are moments of humour to distract and the backdrops are lovely to look at. I dunno, it felt inconsequential in the end. C+

The Turin Horse
Dir. Béla Tarr
Running Time: 146mins

The first potato arrives 20 minutes into Béla Tarr's latest - and apparently last - film. The potato motif continues throughout The Turin Horse [A torinói ló], as does everything else that Tarr decides to show us of the repetitive lives of two Hungarian farmers. We watch multiple times as they awake, put on their masses of clothes, fetch water from the well, decide whether or not to leave their windswept farm or not, boil potatoes, eat potatoes, sit at window, undress, go to bed. This father and daughter live the most humble of existences and this is clearly evidenced by the weathered faces they carry around. Their faces are like bust statues, they're so unmoving and stoney.

As a storm rages around them they must learn to cope with being cooped up inside. He grumbles a lot. It's all very hypnotic and the old cliche line "it's good if you're into that sorta thing" applies here a lot. I was surprised to find that after the disastrous The Man from London that I was, in fact, "into that sorta thing", as I got quite invested in their travails. The Turin Horse's idea of a thrilling dramatic twist is the arrival of gypsies to the land. It's a welcome surprise, dramatically, as well as a sign of Tarr's deeply wicked sense of humour.

The Turin Horse supposes to follow the final days of the horse featured in the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche's eventual insanity. The horse, beautiful creature that it is, does have a pained, powerful screen presence as its bulky frame with spotted fur takes up the majority of the screen. Erika Bók, the actress who plays the daughter, is also a fascinating study. Her face fraught with emotion - or, the lack there of as it sometimes feels like due to her muted actions.

The real star of the film, however, is Fred Kelemen's sublime cinematography. Sitting mostly still for long uncut shots for the majority of the film, Kelemen and Tarr continue to find new spots to place the camera and we eventually learn every nook and cranny of this homely residence. There's always something happening on screen if you allow your eyes to navigate; Kelemen and Tarr reward investigative viewers. Occasionally the camera drifts about the place or flows, following a character out to the well or to the barn, and it moves like magic. Picking focus on something unexpected and following it to its end place. It's a wonderful technical exercise that is perhaps only bettered by the claustrophobic sound design. The wails of the wind are a constant on the soundtrack and there's an oppressive feel to them, too, that almost made me feel like I was there. It attacks from all sides and its a marvel.

Of course, with a film such as this one is bound to find curious stuff to pick at. Like, how about why they don't eat all of the potato? They pick at it and then discard most of it! You spend all this time boiling potatoes without a lid on and then you eat a quarter of it? Seems like such a waste! But observations like that feel needlessly silly by film's end, which - from what I saw of it (more on that a bit) - is a deeply melancholic and troubling conclusion. B+

So much drama!

A two film day became a three film day became a two film day. I decided to cancel on Bullhead on Saturday evening due to exhaustion, and picked up Tales of the Night on Sunday to make it up. Alas, my train was late/cancelled and so I missed the beginning of my evening session - Florent Tillon's Detroit Wild City [Detroit, ville sauvage] - and was subsequently locked out. They'd given away my ticket to standby Miffsters. Dissapointing, but understandable I suppose.

However, the biggest MIFF tale of all came later in the evening at The Turin Horse. Much worse than the man a few seats down from me who appeared to be making a bad for himself to lie down on or the re-appearance of the scary wheezing death man for a very brief moment early on, last night's screening of The Turin Horse was fraught with unforgivable errors.

Firstly, the final reel was projected half off the screen for somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Apparently everyone in the projection booth at The Forum was asleep because nobody would fix it! Even more annoying was that nobody towards the front of the cinema would get up off their lazy butts to tell the staff. It was eventually fixed to a round of applause, but by that stage the dramatic alien reveal was ruined and the horse's big moment was destroyed.

Shamefully, that wasn't the worst incident of all! You see, once they'd finally fixed the projection the final 15 minutes of the film was beset with a series of house light errors. First The Forum's weird blue heroin lights turned on and then they started flashing like a gay disco. Various other lights began to strobe and it was like being in several sequence of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (with thankfully less plastic)! From there on various lights throughout the cinema would flicker, strobe, dim up and down, turn on and off and eventually even a big flood light was turned on to the screen making it even more impossible to view what was going on on screen. Streams of people were walking out - 30 had walked out by the 2hr mark and I'd hazard a guess and say the same number walked out during those final 20 minutes out of pure frustration with the issues - and others were hootin' and hollerin'. None of the staff seemed aware of what was going on, either, although I did see one poor volunteer running up and down the stairs several times.

To make matters worse, the lights finally stopped with their impromptu light show and turned off DURING THE CLOSING CREDITS! Yikes. And on top of that, when I asked an usher if we were getting an apology of some kind he chuckled and said to "ask a supervisor". The staff apparently were more interesting in setting up a booth outside to take people's names and numbers than actually fixing the problem at hand. Apparently anybody at the screening can call 9662 3722 for ticket exchanges. Still doesn't help anything when the 2 and a half hour film's final scenes were ruined. The Turin Horse is not a film you should just watch a couple of scenes of. It's a mood piece and to watch the final 30 minutes without the first 120 would be dissatisfying to say the least.

Lastly, there's an all too brief rundown of the festival's days 5-9 by me at Trespass Magazine wherein I discuss my highlights of the period.

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