Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 13 (Once Upon a Time in Uruguay)

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.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Running Time: 158mins

At 160 minutes, the first film I have seen by acclaimed Nuri Bilge Ceylan is certainly a long-haul flight of a movie. For at least two acts of Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia [Bir zamanlar Anadolu'da] I was more or less entranced. Featuring stunning night time cinematography by Gökhan Tiryaki the gorgeous look of the film is matched by buoyant performances by actors who wrap their tongues around the twisty dialogue almost with relish. The central story of the police driving around two men charged with murder as they try to find the location (amongst a countryside full of identical locations) of a buried corpse is handled with deft skill. The screenplay by Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Kesal weaves non-sequitur conversations peppered with light comedy throughout that strikes a wonderful balance.

It's a shame then that Ceylan takes a different tact with the final third of the film and amps up the comedy. Shifting tones with the rising sun, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia ends up feeling somewhat disjointed with broken rhythms. A lengthy autopsy sequence at film's end, while a fascinating study of the sound editing craft, feels superfluous, although the very final moment is great. It's a hard film to observe, but ultimately a rewarding one. B

A Useful Life
Dir. Federico Veiroj
Running Time: 67mins

A tiresome, dreary and dull look at a Uruguayan cinema, A Useful Life [La vida útil] is as slow a snail's pace and features one of the most sour-faced lead performances I've ever witnessed by Federico Veiroj. What a load of garbage! There is so little to this film that I don't even know how to write it up. At less than 70 minutes I actually don't even know if this technically counts as a film, but a film it gets called. I mean, it was certainly made on film and features actors and there is music in the background so if that's what constitutes a movie then A Useful Life is a movie! Success!

Everybody walks around in this movie at such a slow pace and does their terribly menial jobs with all the enthusiasm of a corpse. By the time Jorge's playdo-faced cinema employee finally escapes the dungeon that is his career the proceedings become somewhat more loose and free-flowing, but then he's more just an idiot doing idiotic things. And do I have to mention the radio sequence? I know the whole scene is meant to be a joke, but good grief... A Useful Life is certainly in love with cinema - of that I have no doubt - but the filmmakers seem to have no idea as to what actually makes cinema so great. There's none of the innovation, energy, dynamism, explosiveness or sumptuousness that so many classic films have. In the end it just ends up as a forgetful nostalgia trip. Terrible. D-

A Useful Life screened alongside Louis Garrel's 44 minute "short" The Little Tailor [Petit tailleur]. This was a grinding faux-new wave film with dishclanger acting and idiot characters. I snoozed through a lot of it, but what I saw was flat. D

I also saw Beauty [Skoonheid], but can't discuss it right now. I really haven't the time this evening to think about it so hopefully I'll include it amongst one of the packages in coming days.

It was so great to see a nearly sold out crowd at this morning's 11am screening of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. It really does give one a peppy bounce at that time of day to see so many people who aren't seeing 60 films during the festival taking the time out at that horrendous time of day for an 160 minute European film. I found my seat right at the back, where I prefer, in an empty row and throughout the film's running time found myself in almost any position you could possibly consider to make myself comfortable. My knees don't work at the best of times, let alone when I've been sitting down for over 40 films in a barely 2 week period!


Tom Clift said...

A USEFUL LIFE sounds pretty abysmal, but I'm keen to see ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, which I've got on Saturday evening. I am a little worried how I'll fare with the two and a half hour runtime though, given it'll be my fifth film of the day.

Glenn Dunks said...

Well, several others really enjoyed it so perhaps it's just me...? Actually, no, there were about 20 walk outs last night so I know I'm not all alone in finding it nigh on insufferable.