Tuesday, August 2, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 12 (Falling for Wasted Tatsumi)

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.

Falling for Sahara
Dir. Khoa Do
Running Time: 81mins

Turns out there really is a first time for everything! Finally a Khoa Do film I actually like! I never saw last year's Mother Fish, but The Finished People is the worst kind of let's-use-non-actors-and-people-won't-notice-the-bad-filmmaking filmmaking and the less said about Footy Legends, perhaps the worst Australian film I have ever seen, the better. With Falling For Sahara he has assembled a charming cast of African teenagers to tell his rather sweet tale of refugees experiencing first love.

Following three boys who live in the housing flats of Flemington (the ones along the Upfield line for those who do or who have lived on that particular train line like myself) who all have eyes for a girl who moves in, albeit briefly, and whose stunning beauty has seen her scheduled to be shipped back to Ethiopia for an arranged marriage. Most of the characters here are thoughtfully written and even if the acting is a bit hit and miss - the young debut actress that plays Sahara, Mekdes Getachew, lights up the screen - the film is largely more successful than Do's previous films due to its combination of the sweet without the overt saccharine.

Despite an occasionally negative look at the life that refugees find themselves in, this actually gives it a unique place in Australian films. Never grungy and depressing in its representation of refugee life, it's ultimately hopeful and smile-inducing finale make Falling for Sahara a welcome addition to Do's career. Also of note to local AFL fans is that the film was partially funded by the Essendon Football Club and one of their players, the quite good looking Andrew Welsh has a small role as a footy coach. B+

Natural Selection
Dir. Robbie Pickering
Running Time: 90mins

One of the finest surprises of the festival by far is this delightfully funny film from debut writer/director Robbie Pickering. Rather than trading in tired quirk like so many American indie comedies, Natural Selection instead fills its thankfully short (perfect comedy runtime of 90 minutes!) with genuine jokes and, at key moments, sweet pathos. I'm not ashamed to say that I actually shed a few tears at the end of this film as the wonderful Rachael Harris - an actress that has mostly worked on TV and improv, but who is probably known by most as from The Hangover and Diary of a Wimpy Kid - realises her truest needs.

Natural Selection takes a great many potshots at religion, class and mismatched romantic comedies, but never feels like it's allowing a mean-spirited voice from overtaking the material. Harris is particularly wonderful in one of my favourite performances of the festival, revealing layers to this sad, lonely woman. Matt O'Leary, too, is good for many laughs as the son Harris' Linda never knew her husband had fathered. Natural Selection won seven awards at this year's SXSW festival and I can see why. I can only hope that it is allowed to venture outside of the arthouse that it's thorny subject matter suggests it could be relegated to. A-

Wasted Youth
Dir. Argyris Papadimitropoulos & Jan Vogel
Running Time: 99mins

There came a moment in the late stages of Greek drama Wasted Youth when yet another scene began of its dull lead characters boozing and skateboarding where I quite visibly and audibly sighed. My viewing partner turned, chuckled, and nodded in agreement. Earlier in the film he had awoke from his act one slumber, looked over at me and noticed that I, too, had drifted off into the land of forty winks. For you see Wasted Youth is the worst film of the festival so far. An absolute misfire in every way, enlived only by some interesting visual and music choices. Wasted Youth is a big fat dud.

Vogel and Papadimitropoulos' film follows two storylines that, as dictated by the laws of cliched screenwriting, must intersect by film's end. One storyline follows a husband and father who works night shift in his job as a police officer on the streets of a rowdy Greek town. The second storyline follows a group of teenagers as they traverse the city from one scintillating encounter to another. Many of these adventures involve girls, drinking, skating or sweating in the balmy Greek sun.

That the filmmakers thought that audiences really needed to be told that the youths of today (or, ya know, any day) like to rebel and drink and have sex and all sorts of dangerous stuff is not the biggest worry of Wasted Youth. No, the biggest problem is that there is no electricity to the film, no energy. It just flaps about from one tiresome scene to another, before finally limping to a ridiculous - and, might I say, offensive to the principals of storytelling - ending of indulgent "importance". Seriously? Another scene of these kids skating? Enough already! D-

Dir. Eric Khoo
Running Time: 98mins

An animated biopic of a renowned manga artist, Tatsumi is Eric Khoo's ode to Yoshihiro Tatsumi who excelled in the art of gekiga manga. Despite it's stunningly gorgeous animation of various styles and forms, Tatsumi is an omnibus film of sorts that is diluted with each subsequent tale. It took me a while to actually figure out what on Earth was going on, but I know for certain that it opens with a wonderfully done World War II sequence that is evocative in its pained drawings (did the animation team take their cues from Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 for the Hiroshima bomb victims?). Unfortunately, later segments range from lovely to the dull to the downright uncomfortable.

Perhaps those "in the know" of manga and specifically Yoshihiro Tatsumi, but I suspect many others will find it as difficult to crack open as I did. C

I had a discussion this evening after Wasted Youth about the nature of applauding films. MIFF audiences are good at clapping for films, even if somebody involved in the creative process isn't there. They like feeling like the screening means something and so applauding their approval is, I guess, an extension of that. But as we discussed the curious nature of anybody applauding that woeful film we'd just seen, we recalled that nobody clapped after the extraordinary Martha Marcy May Marlene. Were people just too numbed by the experience to clap? I was all set to clap, but then nobody else did so I chose to keep my hands apart (wait, what?)

Speaking of creative people being in the house for their film, two of the cast from Falling for Sahara gave a Q&A afterwards and, curiously, it was the debut actress Mekdes Getachew that came off most natural of all. She could do quite well for herself in this business if she keeps that natural charm.


Giuseppe Mangiare said...

I was at Tatsumi, and I admit I was overtired before I got there, but it just bored the pants off me. My partner and I ended up leaving after 40 minutes. The reward of a good night's sleep was significantly greater than the feeling of accomplishment I get from sitting through a dull film.

Jesue Valle said...

Natural Selection sounds like my type of film. I can't wait to see it.

Jesue V