Posted Monday 12 August (Festival Wrap-Up)
Posted Saturday 10 August (Roberto Succo)
Posted Friday 9 August (The Son)
Posted Thursday 8 August (What Time Is It There?, Suicide Club)
Posted Wednesday 7 August (Derrida, Paradox Lake, Wild Innocence)
Posted Tuesday 6 August (Yi Yi: A One And A Two, Volcano High)
Posted Sunday 4 August (Il Mio Viaggio In Italia, What Time Is It There?)
Posted Saturday 3 August (Domestic Violence, Love and Anarchy: The Wild Wild World of Jamie Leonarder)
Posted Friday 2 August (B-52, Mostly Martha, In Praise of Love)
Posted Thursday 1 August (Divine Intervention, Suicide Club, The Happiness of the Katakuris, Chihwaseon)
Posted Wednesday 31 July (Divine Intervention, Dead or Alive)
Posted Tuesday 30 July (The Tracker, Address Unknown, Bad Guy, The Safety of Objects)
Posted Monday 29 July (Unknown Pleasures, The Unknown)
Posted Sunday 28 July (Borders, In The Mirror of Maya Deren, The Tracker)
Posted Saturday 27 July (Take Care of My Cat, Address Unknown, SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! Cinema Programs)
Posted Friday 26 July (Animation Shorts Programme 1)
Posted Thursday 25 July (Night Shift)
Posted Wednesday 24 July (Opening Night, The Tracker)
Comments by Aaron Goldberg
Roberto Succo (Cédric Khan, 2000) Cédric Khan follows up his previous character study of a sexually obsessed man, L’ Ennui, with a no less intense character study of a psychotic killer. Roberto Succo is based on the truly bizarre and violent exploits of Roberto Succo, whose spree of mayhem, theft and slaughter shocked Europe in the early ’80s. Apparently Stefano Casseti who plays Roberto and looks remarkably like Vincent Gallo, is a non-professional actor – hard to believe as his fractured and intense performance is remarkable. Unlike the usual slew of either amoral or incredibly moral portrayals of psychotic characters, Khan’s film neither explains nor glamorises Succo’s notoriety. Rather, we see a frustrating and fragmented portrayal of a really explosive and elusive individual. Succo runs around like a wild and scared animal, trying to survive by any means necessary within a society that he quite simply doesn’t fit into nor has the mental capacity to comprehend and thus conform to. Roberto Succo reminded me of Badlands, Dog Day Afternoon or even Chopper – films that portray dangerous and incendiary personalities that live in their own psychic worlds and can only communicate and get what they want in the most incomprehensible means known to humankind: murder.
Comments by Aaron Goldberg
The Son (Jeanne-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2002) The Dardenne brothers follow up their highly praised Rosetta with The Son. Considering Rosetta was possibly the most critically praised film in recent times (except for Mullholland Drive and the combined works of Abbas Kiarostami), the whole expectation/standard thing was incredibly high, especially when you have a highly educated, supposedly ‘in-the know’ audience watching. The Son once again uses the incredibly shaky and physical visual style that the Dardennes pretty much trademarked in Rosetta. This time the story revolves around a carpenter who trains wayward teenagers, and his obsession with a new student. We soon learn why he spies so insistently on the new kid, and the film evolves into a gutsy and deeply humane study of grief and redemption, that isn’t too dissimilar to Sean Penn’s underrated The Crossing Guard. The main thing that lets The Son down, I feel, is its lack of dramatic development, which too often gets compensated by too much shaky and physical camera work. Not a masterpiece, but would probably have been better if it didn’t exist in the dogmatic context of its predecessor.
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001) One of the many splendid things about Tsai’s latest feature is that it continues with even greater precision and clarity his unique aesthetic and preferred thematic terrain. Tsai has boldly created his own unique style of film realism that’s intrinsically tied to rhythm and framing: characters are defined not by what they say but what they do where the process of ‘doing’ emphasises repetition, rhythm, detail and texture within the frame. Tsai’s precision here means his films work almost as silent cinema, and their success in this regard can be measured by the hypnotic effect on the audience or the hilarious moments of comedy throughout his films, which derive from his particular emphasis on the body and its acts. What Time is it There? develops its own overall rhythm through the rhyming and echoing of characters in different but similar situations. Any concept of space and time is ultimately and resolutely confused and collapsed, however, in the final moments of the film. A film about loneliness, the theme of absence is built into its formal core: not only are all the characters defined by loss (a husband, a sense of place, home), where their grief and mourning is obsessive and comically so, but everything from the way shots are framed to the overall structure, echoes that the connection between these people is spiritual and metaphysical but never ‘real’ in the material sense. Such beautiful shots as the young woman sandwiched by commuters in a train in Paris captures with exquisite, haunting precision the nature of being alone in a foreign city, and the exact weight of heaviness, isolation, and despair that comes with this experience. A masterpiece.
Suicide Club (Sono Sion, 2001) For a film in which the idea of death is a consumerist ‘fad’ started by a group of young, extremely cute kids via the mass and ‘silent’ technologies of the Internet – well, all I can say is, yes, of course, it’s Japanese and overall it’s very entertaining and clever!
Comments by Michelle Carey
Derrida (Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering Kofman, 2002) Jacques Derrida must be one of the world’s living intellectual treasures and we are fortunate in this Festival (indeed in these times) to bear witness to his deconstructivist thought practice through the medium of film. A truly philosophical film, rather than a documentary about a philosophical subject, Derrida is an engaging, mysterious, stimulating and at times humorous textual foray into love, life, truth and intent. The film overtly explores what it means for a text (of any medium) to portray a subject through facts only and why we are concerned with such facts in the first place. What I liked most about Derrida is that it took a multi-pronged, holistic approach to the way this man thinks. A project spanning three years and 200 hours worth of interview footage, the filmmakers use key paragraphs of Derrida texts to flesh out what the man says in his conversation. I found this fascinating as it subverts the usual ‘talking head’ mode where the subject, through the interview process, merely reaffirms and complements his/her theses.
Not merely a film for intellectuals or students of philosophy, Derrida is a warm portrait of how a great thinker thinks in the everyday. The camera does not move as he is put on the spot when faced with such questions as ‘What would you like to see in a documentary about philosophers?’ or when asked about his thoughts on love. The audience is transfixed as his eyes dart about, we are literally viewing thought germinate. As a lovely surprise, the man is humorous and very likeable and responds with clarity at all times. As one viewer responded afterwards, this film helps illuminate many of the ideas and dialogue in Godard’s Eloge de l’amour and would have made a great double feature. I for one would have liked to see more of this type of filmmaking, both in subject and form, in this year’s Festival. It certainly created the desire to know more about Derrida’s thought. I’m not sure whether I loved the various elements of this film (the approach, the players, the music, what was said) or the film in itself, but I know that I approached life differently the rest of the day.
* * *
Comments by Anthony Carew
Paradox Lake (Przemyslaw Reut, 2002) The work of New York-based Polish director Przemyslaw Reut, Paradox Lake is the kind of film you most certainly don’t expect from the American underground. Opaque, quixotic, and essentially amorphous in its ways, it takes great delight in flirting with current filmmaking practices via an ad-hoc approach and assemblage. By way of a working process that seems, at best, impressionist, Reut manages to court both realism and surrealism as he tries his best to blur the lines between fiction, documentary, and presented ‘vérité’. Bringing together footage shot largely on hand-held cameras, the director apes home-video, documentary film, current affairs TV, and Dogme-like didacticism as the camera goes from observer to implied witness to interactive party to first-person perspective. These visuals go with the fluid, free-flowing, almost-awkwardly shifting ways that the story treads. Essentially telling a tale of a dispassionate New York youth who-through a chance meeting with a stuffed-toy monkey-becomes a counsellor at a summer-camp for autistic teenagers where he “learns so much about himself”, somewhere along the line Paradox Lake becomes so much more than such a simple story, reaching a profound place that it arrives almost in spite of itself. Often, Reut seems confused about what kind of film he wants to make. And, there will surely be questions raised about the involvement of a real-life cast of autistic kids who, themselves, aren’t acting. But as the film wanders its way through various fractured tales, there’s something intangibly beautiful about it all. Some of this is the result of good writing; best seen in scenes in which the counsellors use ‘their child’ as an emotional tool to make some petty point to another counsellor. Some of this is of personal, ‘real’ significance; as in what becomes the main story, a developing communication between lead character Matt Wolf (Matt Wolf) and 12 year-old autistic girl Jessica Fuchs (Jessica Fuchs) that assumedly came only from their own emotional involvement. But, a lot of Paradox Lake‘s success comes about only as a product of some kind of cinematic serendipity, the sort of experience between screen and viewer that is hard to relate in syntax.
* * *
Comments by Aaron Goldberg
Wild Innocence (Phillipe Garrel, 2001) Dragged along by a more cinematically educated friend, this film was a real punt. I went along knowing only that it was made by a guy who was connected to French junkie-chanteuse Nico and that there are more articles written about him in Senses of Cinema than anywhere else. The pretence meter was flashing in full effect, and to make matters worse, it was some sort of junkie movie (always a draw for boho-ghetto types)! Anyway I sat down, held my tongue, and let the meandering but luminous images of Wild Innocence float over me. In fact they were so hypnotic, audible snoring could be heard in the seat behind me. Regardless, this was quite an interesting, elegiac film, and it seems that Garrel’s experiences with both heroin and the creative process gave what could have been the usual drug-war movie type scenario a mature and measured edge. Basically Wild Innocence revolves around the trials of a young guy that looks like a reject from the ‘Melbourne Mafia’ (a circle of world famous Melbourne musicians and filmmakers who revolve/evolve around Nick Cave) who is trying to make an ‘anti-drug’ film after the death of his model girlfriend. Yes it’s all in the realm of the best Calvin Klein photo-shoot, but things becomes interesting when the filmmaker has to totally compromise himself by picking up heroin in order to ultimately finance the film. In a masterful and subtle turn, Garrel shifts the second half of the narrative away from the main protagonist and focuses on the actress in the film, the young man’s lover, and her eventual demise as a result of the whole creative process and emotional game that is involved. It never ceases to amaze me that these aging French guys can still make films about ‘young people’ that are more energetic, intense and powerful than anything that today’ s hot film-school 3-picture-deal-enfant terribles could forge in their wildest, postmodern dreams.
Comments by Anthony Carew
Yi Yi: A One And A Two (Edward Yang, 2001) Unlike the dysfunction and alienation that runs rife through works on show at MIFF 2002 by directors who could roughly be assembled as his peers (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-Liang, even Jia ZhangKe), with Yi Yi, Edward Yang uses his quietly-composing ways to paint a sentimental, romantic, almost grand-scale treatise to the most humanist essence of ‘family’. Making like a novel as it walks through its three-hours with nary a scene out of place, Yang makes a really-long-movie that manages to keep its sprawl thoroughly in check; his universe one in which disparate incidents-the pitching of an idealistic dream of future computer applications, a teenaged boy’s conception of what the cinema gives to people, a news report on a murder-are all inextricably linked. Commencing with a wedding, going via a birth, and ending with a funeral, Yi Yi features the kind of ‘life signposts’ that any film attempting to be ‘epic’ seems to see as necessity. Throughout its tenure, the director explores what it means to be a specific member of a family; the burdens that are placed upon, the things one is expected to do, and the hopes/dreams that often are left to go by the wayside; all as prescribed by the familiar template of the family-tree. Occasionally, the director can seem to be laying on the heart-fluttering sentimentality a bit too thick-like when he montages a father’s recollection of his first-romance’s first-date with his daughter’s simultaneous experiencing of the same thing; or when he exploits the innocence of the cute-kid of the flick to familiar comic or emotive ends; or when he uses the grandmother-in-a-coma as a confessional vessel. But Yang never falls into the trap of letting sentimentality dictate proceedings, instead marking out a world within the film that works with its own artistic logic.
Volcano High (Kim Tae-Gyun, 2001) Whilst, stylistically, it’s heavily under the influence of the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix, this Korean action effects-pic ditches any of the self-important heavy philosophising and plays it strictly for laughs. The film seems happy with serving up a fun-filled 100 minutes that never relents into anything more than the most superficial story. And, in doing so, this is assumedly to cater to what is the film’s apparent audience: 15 year-old boys. Condensing familiar kung-fu movie clichés into an MTV-like spectacle that uses a slew of familiar post-post-modernist devices (an intrusive narrator, freeze-frames with character-names imposed on screen, addresses to camera, knowing winks to popular-culture at large), Volcano High goes straight to the heart of its adolescent target-market by setting up a war, in a school in some unknown place-and-time, between students and teachers. The students, initially fractured into special-interest groups (the kendo team, wrestling team, weightlifting team, etc), have to band together to overcome this scourge; with hero Kim Kyung-Soo-a willing outcast, and identifiable-to-the-target-audience as an awkward dork-the key to defeating the scourge of evil ring-ins. This sliver of a story is really all the film hangs itself on; concentrating on dressing-out its cast in sharp threads and flamboyant haircuts, and coming up with fancy new ways to deliver the same-old high-kicks. Working with the kind of massive production-budget which makes it leap out amidst the shoestring efforts on show in a festival setting, the film plays out as a spectacle courting an M-rating; going light on the blood, absent on the emotions, dispatching death throughout, and even reducing romance to a kiss-in-the-showers as the high-kicking comedy keeps coming with enthusiastic energy.
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Il Mio Viaggio In Italia (Martin Scorsese, 1999) There’s been a good deal of criticism against this film, but when all’s said and done, I don’t think anyone can doubt the good intentions and rationale behind the project: Scorsese’s desire to share his love of Italian cinema with the audience and his plea to young filmmakers to widen their field of vision to incorporate film history and to cultivate a true love and understanding for the art and craft of filmmaking by experiencing the magic and power of ‘classics’. What struck me about Il Mio Viaggio in Italia was its honesty and emotion. So although it may be comprised of a series of excerpts from various films, our engagement with them is always mediated by Scorsese who contextualises the flow of images, guiding and directing us to the grasp the essence and heart of certain scenes. For many familiar with the films, it may all seem excessive and drawn out. And there’s no doubt that the documentary is best suited to those not yet fully conversant with post-war Italian cinema, and, true, Scorsese could have attempted to suit both demographics by tailoring a less linear, more inventive approach. Yet overall the film is a tribute to Italian cinema and is thoroughly enjoyable on that level. If anything it encourages people to see the films again, and watching them in full is totally different then partially. For me, the highlights were those moments where Scorsese’s personal and professional sentiments came into view: details of his family history, archival footage of New York City’s Little Italy early 20th century, and his passion for key films (Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, Fellini’s 8½) and the hint of his own personal experience when he discussed 8½ and the “pressure” of being a world renowned filmmaker, “pressure” that comes from everyone: admirers, enemies, producers, critics.
* * *
Comments by Anthony Carew
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001) At a film festival sorely lacking, so far, in highpoints, Tsai Ming-Ling’s softly-stepping, often-silly, slyly-romantic exercise in cinematic stillness is certainly a standout. With echoes of Bresson, Warhol, and, most notably, Hou Hsaio-Hsien, the Taiwanese director constructs a monument to absence with a carefully-composed film whose lack of action implies the scale of all that isn’t there much more forcefully that it depicts all that is. Strikingly, the film commences with a scene of near silence, leaving the sounds of the audience – chewed apples, creaking chairs, throats being cleared – entirely audible as his first scene unfolds with near nothingness. Given that it depicts a death (if only in implied measures), it’s clear that Tsai is starting with scenes that are like clean-sheets of paper with volumes of ideas scribbled in the margins. Working with the familiar movements of human capacity for romantic-projection, Tsai’s absence of early-events is designed to deftly deliver that favourite aphorism: absence makes the heart grow fonder.
After he sells a watch to a girl bound for Paris, Hsiao-Kang (Kang-sheng Lee) pines for a girl he never knew in comic ways: obsessively changing clocks to Paris time, and hiring out French films (including The 400 Blows). His mother grows more irrationally obsessed with bringing back the spirit of her dead husband, who now no doubt takes on far more significance than he did whilst alive, after the first scene shows him as an almost neglected figure. Meanwhile, in Paris, the girl, Shiang-Chyi (Shiang-Chyi Chen), feels the absence of Taiwan itself, enduring the kind of torturous foreign-living experience that audiences will certainly identify with. As the film progresses, Tsai slowly shifts the story from Hsiao-Kang to the object of his affections; and, with this, the director starts to use the more familiar functions of ‘event’ to tell his tale; the film slowly becoming more profound as it does. It really hits stride when Shiang-Chyi meets another Chinese traveller in a café, at which the two embark on a beautifully depicted conversation of stilted, excruciating small talk. Nevertheless, feeling alienated in a strange land, Shiang-Chyi accepts an invitation to stay with this girl. Ensconced in their own enclave in a foreign land, the two use the lack of all that’s familiar to timidly test the sexual boundaries that exist within the borders of their home islands; their nervous, awkward encounter one-third of a three-way sex-encounter climax that the film peaks at close to its sufficiently-circumspect ending.
Comments by Jim Knox
Domestic Violence (Frederick Wiseman, 2001) Domestic Violence is a considered study of damaged people in the act of repairing their lives – the occupants of a Florida shelter for the survivors of abuse. Wiseman (mercifully!) prefers not to exploit his subjects’ considerable personal traumas; rather, his concern is to document a laudable initiative in progressive social welfare. If these survivors share a naked intimacy with the camera, it’s Wiseman’s gentle sensitivity as an editor that honours the strands of their frayed humanity. There’s pathos in abundance, but it’s punctuated by the survivors’ wry, self-deprecating humour, and occasional flourishes of charming whimsy. I’m bewildered, however, that this film’s catalogue entry essayed so little of its appeal.
This is a masterful work, from a documentarist with an assured command of the form; so it’s with dismay that I report further problems with the screening of this film. Having loaded the film incorrectly, the projectionist ran the first half an hour evidently out of synch – provoking indignant outrage among a large part of the audience. Having decided at last to stop the film, the projectionist failed to dim the bulb – resulting in a freeze fame that melted off the screen. Regrettable and disappointing stuff.
Love and Anarchy: The Wild Wild World of Jamie Leonarder (Brendan Young, 2001) This is among a number of works unspooling at MIFF 2002 which have benefited from SBS funding; happily, each has won considerable favour from their sizeable crowd. Love and Anarchy celebrates the inseparable life-and-work of humanitarian cultural maverick, Jamie Leonarder; briefly charting the life of a habitual outsider through his multiple expressions in film, music, and performance. A zealous champion of marginal folk-arts in all their obscured forms, Leonarder lends his energies to the construction of a creative community – with a welcome mat prominently outstretched to societies’ “forgotten people”. He and his partner Aspasia aren’t alone in their avidity for startling analogue media; but it’s rare and refreshing to witness the affectionate affinity they have for their dispossessed peers. I hesitate to describe this as an inspirational film, but Leonarder’s portrait surely suggests a challenging paradigm for contemporary cultural workers – in which reiteration of the appropriate platitudes, over a café latte, are a hopelessly insufficient measure of social conscience.
What are perhaps Leonarder’s most legendary creative activities are at the helm of the Mu Mesons – a mottled crew of outsiders he’s met over years of social welfare work. Leonarder’s affectionate baton doesn’t attempt to contain the inspired theatricality of his collaborators; instead, he seems content to provide them a context and be working in their raucous midst. Arresting performance footage is embellished by documentation of the Mumeson Archives micro-cinema, and ‘Sounds of Seduction’ nightclub, which Leonarder and Aspasia run as dual forums for fringe culture. Testimonials from the likes of Thurston Moore, Graeme Revell, Jack Sargeant and Jon Rose valorise these endeavours, while applying more conventional criteria by which to determine their importance. With its abundance of dynamic charm, Young’s work is a crucial document; illuminating several secret histories of Australian culture at the
Comments by Richard Raber
B-52 (Harmut Bitomsky, 2001) You know you’re in for an interesting ride when viewing a documentary on an American subject directed by a German filmmaker. But for the first half-hour of this film, director Harmut Bitomsky doesn’t quite give his entire agenda away. This is partly because he is in love with the hardware itself: the B52 bomber planes, in all their Gigantaur proportions and straight-line minimalist design. Bitomsky’s camera slowly scans and pans over these flying war machines with respectful affection and a sense of awe. But it’s also partly because he refuses to hit you over the head with overt simplistic messages. Slowly, with a similar non-confrontationalist interviewing technique to that of Claude Lanzmann, my suspicions that this would be an anti-American movie were confirmed.
B-52 is the documentary appendage to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick exposed the absurdity of the U.S. Strategic Air Command’s slogan – “Peace Is Our Profession”. Bitomsky’s B-52 shows us that the American military machine is still convinced (and would like to keep convincing the rest of the world) that peace is their mission, their priority, their goal, and that civilians are never their targets. Bitomsky soon smashes this senseless double-speak with incredibly vivid Vietnam War (known as the “American War” by the Vietnamese) footage, exposing the barbaric relentless bombings committed by the American forces against civilians.
B-52 meanders somewhat but on the whole is a stunningly crafted film which reveals itself as not only anti-American (although its revelations are more than pertinent in light of the WAR-ON-TERROR-PARANOIA culture fast spreading by the Bushists), but also anti-Cold War and ultimately anti-war itself. I pray for a double screening season of B-52 with Dr. Strangelove at a local cinema near you ASAP!
* * *
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Mostly Martha (Sandra Nettelbeck, 2001) We may not be getting a view of recent innovative trends in contemporary German cinema at MIFF 2002 but at least we’ve got Mostly Martha. This film charmed me from the first frame/the first sax note on the soundtrack. Martha, an attractive youngish woman who lives alone in her one-bedroom apartment, has the type of personality one would classify as ‘control-freak’ or ‘perfectionist’. She is the head chef at a glamorous restaurant and creates masterpieces out of the minutest attention to detail and almost military execution of recipes. This is of course a metaphor for Martha’s approach to life: she prefers discipline, order and control over unruliness and unpredictability; work over play. It’s an approach that is challenged when a family tragedy occurs and Martha is forced to take care of her orphaned niece, the young Lina. At roughly the same time, Mario (the sublime Sergio Castellitto), an Italian, is employed as Martha’s partner chef at the restaurant. The rest of the story is practically archetypal: Mario’s passionate Italian ways contrast Martha’s German repressive stance; Mario’s joy of life is what brings Lina out of her sullenness that Martha constantly fails at; ultimately, they form a family unit and Martha goes from loneliness and repression to learning to love and share. Though Mostly Martha is unashamedly ‘romantic’ – the saxophone music and Italian songs, for example – the film is so heartfelt and genuine, it all works sublimely. Everything is real, genuine, and understated, from the performances to the story to the characters, making it a total work of art with an indisputable woman’s touch. Sure the kind of emotion I derived from Mostly Martha may be a world away from that I took away from Godard’s Praise of Love: but the reality is I wouldn’t want to live in a world that denied either.
* * *
Comments by Aaron Goldberg
In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001) Waiting in a lengthy queue for the latest Godard Odyssey, a few things struck me. The first was the ultimate irony of the situation: here I am, seeing a film that is fiercely anti-American, anti-Hollywood, and I am waiting in a queue that curls around the block. Godard’s film was a genuine blockbuster, strangely enough. It didn’t give much chop that I was queuing up with the limo-leftie society of Melbourne, all resplendent in their funky haircuts, fashionable black attire and network-friendly mates that will possibly aid them with their film careers Anyway, watching a Godard film is an ordeal by most people’s standards, and the rewards are only through patience and an open mind. In Praise of Love is split into two halves; though I find Godard’s narratives by definition difficult to decode, it’s the actual shape and texture of the ideas inside them that resonate more than anything. The film starts off in black and white, and Godard’s use of glacial, static imagery seems to tell us that he’s giving us a passing nod to the Mack-Daddy of non-American cinema, Robert Bresson. In fact his juxtaposition of a Matrix poster alongside Bresson’s Pickpocket impressed me. Of course there’s politics – Kosovo and the ‘commercialization’ of history and personal pain into a modern form of entertainment especially. But the real treat in In Praise of Love is Godard’s use of Digital Video in the second half; his manipulation of light and colour with DV is masterful, and like no other film I have seen in this format, takes the imagery into the realm of the truly transcendent.
Comments by Mark Freeman
Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002) A Festival highlight so far, Suleiman’s film is both sly comedy and a moving portrait of a people who see themselves as trapped and constrained by territory and border issues. It splits fairly evenly into two halves, concentrating on the battle for territory on both a micro and macro level. The first half centres on a Palestinian suburb where the community’s outward grace hides an intense resentment of their neighbours. Divine Intervention is essentially a silent film, belonging to a Tati-esque comedic tradition as people battle the physical and social structures around them. In the second half, this comedy gives way to a more intense battle centring on a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Suleiman has a wonderfully droll comic touch (my favourite is the smoking sequence in the hospital corridor) whilst maintaining a balance with the more pressing desires of the Palestinian people. I’m still not quite convinced the Palestinian Ninja sequence was an absolute necessity, but the rest suggests one of the more interesting new talents in world cinema.
Suicide Club (Sono Sion, 2001) If you were giving awards for the best opening sequence at the Festival, this would be right up there with Divine Intervention and The Happiness of the Katakuris. But for all its great ideas and compelling images, Sion’s film completely loses its way about half way as it tries to explain the curious events which form its core. The nadir arrives in the inclusion of a Dr. Frank-N-Furter character with a blond dye job and a campy musical number – a sure sign this is starting to get itself lost. Its technophobia, echoing Hideo Nakato’s Ring films, seems like it has something to say, but then it all ends up about positive affirmations and connections, seeking to comment upon Japanese values and spirituality. Like so many films at the Festival this year, Suicide Club has some tremendous, thrilling moments, but fails to follow through with them. If only the rest of the film had maintained the skill, and the thrill of that brilliant opening sequence on the platform of Shinjuku Station.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (Miike Takashi, 2002) Mercifully free of the dubious joys of piano wire, Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris is a delirious, absurd smorgasbord of moving, squealing and crooning. It’s a film that seems to just throw all boundaries out the window; when one of the first lines you hear uttered is the astonished cry “My UVULA!” you know you’re in a very weird, Miike place. It’s a sort of Sound of Music/South Park/Michael Jackson’s Thriller/Jan Svankmajer/Fawlty Towers hybrid that just tosses up ideas that work and don’t work: it’s a mess, but generally a pretty enjoyable one. We’re still working through Miike’s love of the human body and all the squishy wet gushy things it hides, but this time the violence is tempered by animation (which is particularly brilliant in the wonderful ‘food chain’ opening sequence) or kitschy production numbers. In fact these diversions consistently prevent his poor characters from feeling anything: if they’re horrified they are forced to dance and sing, choreographed by a reject from Young Talent Time; if they declare love for each other than can only do so by falling, fainting or flying, or worse, through really bad karaoke. You do get a bit tired of the same shtick about 3/4 of the way through, but its conclusion is pretty terrific, and the whole mood is so manic and upbeat you can’t get too grumpy with it. Silly and inane, but still absurdly good fun.
* * *
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Chihwaseon (Im Kwon-Taek, 2002) This film is, and I’m assuming, Im’s 97th or 98th, a consideration that immediately places him alongside filmmakers like Ruiz and Oliveira. His flair for the cinema, specifically the propensity for storytelling and characterisation, is fully evident in Chihwaseon: a visually gorgeous, sumptuous biopic of legendary artist and ‘madman’, Ohwon, who lived and worked in late nineteenth century Korea. Im begins in the present, on the cusp of the Peasant Revolution, before an extended flashback that traces the flowering of Ohwon’s unique talent, his emergence as an artist and the constant difficulties and prejudice he suffered because of his ‘rank’. It then resumes, about half way through, from the point in the present from where the film began. Chihwaseon interrelates Ohwon’s life with the political developments of Korea and the feudal system itself (before being overthrown) so that the repressive class system itself is responsible for ‘shaping’ Ohwon as a sometimes arrogant, callous man with a strong appetite for ‘earthly’ things such as women and drink. And of course, his best artwork is realised when he is connected to these ‘earthly’ things rather then denied them or repressed. Though the film suggests that Ohwon’s artwork is clearly for and about the ‘people’, his character’s connection to political events of the day is nothing more then incidental. And so consequently, Chihwaseon – though enormously entertaining – seems overall a little fragmented: despite the ‘framework’ of Korea’s political history in which it is told, the film is really about a uniquely gifted artist who happened to love alcohol and women, who was generally pretty arrogant and stubborn, and the relationship between art and life, the creative capacity of the artist and the society in which he or she lives. The film’s insistence of politics however left me expecting a deeper exploration of the relationship between the artist and his time.
Comments by Spiro Economopoulos
Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002) One of the Festival highlights for me. The film opens with a man dressed up as Santa being chased by a group of kids, funny enough until we see the knife sticking out of his stomach. What follows is a series of vignettes that range from the mundane (a man waits at a bus stop for a bus that never comes) to the surreal (an avenging Palestinian superwoman wrecks havoc ninja style on a group of Israeli soldiers) and where a simple neighbourly spat is anything but. Director Elia Suleiman’s humour comes from a sense of anxiety that he exploits to great effect and the film’s ultimate image of a pressure cooker boiling on a stove resonates powerfully in its closing moments. One curious thing about the screening was the warning Village had up before the film started about some scenes offending viewers. The film had no extreme violence or sexual content and Kim Ki-Duk definitely didn’t direct it! It’s pretty rare that a film would have a warning due to ideological content but it appears that’s what’s happened with Divine Intervention.
* * *
Comments by Aaron Goldberg
Dead or Alive (Takashi Miike, 1999) Miike’s Audition was a winning punt for me at MIFF 2000 and triggered my personal obsession with this nutcase who really seems to be pushing the parameters in terms of extreme content and pure visceral thrill. The only place where film cults can exist these days is in the worldwide psycho-sphere of the web, and it’s here that I learned about his other sick delights and especially this one, and probably his best, Dead or Alive. Made in 1999, this sick little puppy of a movie has been doing the festival rounds for some time and is available on DVD. A basic yakuza/crime scenario, Dead or Alive focuses on the cat and mouse game between a Chinese mobster who joins his buddies in Japan, and a Japanese cop who will bend over backwards to get his adversary. An over-the-top slapstick opening scene paves the way for a meandering story that saves the film from outright exploitation. The main drawcard in a Takashi Miike film is his transgressive imagination, and if anything, he could be the dumb mutant relative of Michael Haneke or at worst, an X-rated Quentin Tarantino.
Comments by Albert Fung
The Tracker (Rolf de Heer, 2002) Although described by Jonathan Rosenbaum as an Australian version of Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995), The Tracker nevertheless offers a simplistic and safe approach to the treatment of indigenous people in Australia. Almost as backward as the period in which the film is set, 1922, The Tracker‘s character representation is simplistic to the core. Four men go on a journey to track an Aboriginal fugitive: the Fanatic, middle aged remorseless racist; the Follower, a young police officer and thus new to this kind of work; the Veteran, the seasoned one who plays the quiet wise man; and the black tracker, who cracks the occasional joke and thus plays the loveable and charming black man. The racism is severely watered down, as there is virtually no swearing in the film at all. But more significantly, although Rolf de Heer’s use of paintings to depict violence is interesting, it only adds to this dilution effect, as it fails to convey the brutality and ugliness of racism. The use of painting aestheticises the violence and thus creates an otherworldliness of indigenous oppression that exists in Australia to this day. This is a type of film text that one would expect to be taught at secondary school. I dread to see the next so-called “progressive” Australian film that attempts to deal with indigenous issues.
Address Unknown (Kim Ki-Duk, 2001) Part of a retrospective of Kim Ki-Duk at this year’s MIFF, Address Unknown would have to be, for me, one of Kim’s weaker films. Set in a small Korean village in close proximity to a US airbase, the various characters negotiate through issues of US imperialism, love, loss, desire etc. Kim is known for presenting a nihilistic and provocative representation of the human condition, but Address Unknown seems to be merely a series of outrageous and gruesome acts. The US soldier characters are extremely shallow and poorly acted and certain occurrences in the film are laughable excuses to progress the narrative. However, this film does serve an ideological purpose as the futility of US presence in South Korea is conveyed through the slapdash army training exercises and the violence can be seen as a result of this US presence.
Bad Guy (Kim Ki-Duk, 2001) Along with The Isle (Kim Ki-Duk, 2000), Bad Guy is definitely one of Kim Ki-Duk’s stronger films. The image is much better to look at than Address Unknown and his characters carry more substance. Hang Gi, a pimp who becomes attracted to college student Seon-hwa, devises a scheme that forces her to become a prostitute. Issues of desire and possession are dealt with here as Hang Gi’s scheme can be read as an attempt to posses and thus control Seon-hwa. Hardened by his lifestyle, Hang Gi uses violence with expediency but Kim manages to reveal some affection in this character. So given Hang Gi’s personality and the extremely problematic situation that he has forced onto Seon-hwa, we still witness some moments of tenderness between the two characters. Kim Ki-Duk’s provocative and confrontational style is seen here once again, but it’s presented with more substance in Bad Guy, whereas in Address Unknown it seemed that he was flogging a dead horse (which is probably something he’ll literally do in his next film!)
The Safety of Objects (Rose Troche, 2001) Rose Troche’s third feature is a breath of fresh air after watching the films of Kim Ki-Duk and the misogyny that’s so prevalent in South Korean films (or most national cinemas for that matter). The Safety of Objects is co-produced by Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler and Katie Roumel’s progressive production company, Killer Films, which also produced Troche’s Go Fish (1994) and other films such as Swoon (Tom Kalin, 1992), Poison (Todd Haynes, 1991), Office Killer (Cindy Sherman, 1997), and Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998).
Troche’s The Safety of Objects is quite dynamic in both narrative structure and character representation. The film concerns itself with several households in suburban America whose family units do not conform to the structure of the nuclear family. In contrast to the uniformity of suburbia, the concerns of its inhabitants are diverse and multifaceted: a single mother struggles to take care of her kids while dealing with the loss of a younger lover, Paul Gold, who lives next door, but is now in a coma, whose mother is the only one in the family who still cares for him; a workaholic yet clueless lawyer who fails as a father and husband; a young gardener who briefly kidnaps a young “boy” as a substitute for his deceased brother (just to name a few). Troche comfortably negotiates through the various lives of these families while simultaneously presenting regular flashbacks that gradually link all these individuals together.
Like Go Fish’s appropriation of the romantic melodrama into a lesbian context, Troche appropriates the idea of the conformist and banal suburban middle class family and gives it an added inflection. Rather than concerning herself with “sexual dysfunction” or frustration and superficial romances, Troche injects this film with aspects that subvert conventional representations of the suburbanite. For example, an androgynous young girl whom we are led to believe is a boy throughout the most part of the film and a boy who’s in love with his sister’s toy doll, but later discovers his attraction to a male doll. Thus there are aspects in this film that displays Troche’s tendency to reveal the fluidity of human sexuality. Although these expressions of human sexuality, which are counter to conventional representations of sex and gender, are obvious in the film, they are subtly presented. So rather than choosing to shock the audience on these aspects, Troche still effectively presents a diverse human sexuality.
Troche’s nuanced approach allows for a certain believability of the genuine struggles and behaviours of her characters as the myth of the American Dream is critiqued. Although films about the failure of the American Dream and its detrimental effects are plenty, the critique provided by The Safety of Objects is poignant, especially at the end, as a young family who’ve just recently moved into the neighborhood at a welcoming lunch expresses how hard they’ve worked to get to where they are. This line is quite tragic given that we’ve just witnessed the various struggles of their new neighbors.
With The Safety of Objects, Rose Troche shows that filmmakers do not necessarily have to shock, as seen in Solondz’s Storytelling (2001), in order to confront the vicissitudes of middle-America. However, I’m not undermining the value of shock as I also advocate of the importance of shock in cinema.
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Unknown Pleasures (Jia ZhangKe, 2002) Beautiful and poignant. It’s not enough to simply say that Unknown Pleasures is excellent political and social allegory, that ZhangKe’s films document modern China (where the challenge is to work out what character represents tradition or modernity, country or city, East or West etc). ZhangKe has his own cinematic ‘grammar’, as a member of the audience put it post-screening, distinctly influenced by Hou Hsiao-hsien, and that is sumptuous, fulsome and magisterial. Though its rigorous formal aesthetic pretends otherwise, Ziao Ji and Bin Bin could be classified as the film’s central characters. They spend their days ‘hanging around’ the regional province of China in which they live. The most obvious label to give them is ‘disaffected youth’, which is of course, apt; however, they’re certainly not nihilistic or aggressively anti-social. Their state of being reflects more the world around them and its failure to offer them anything. And one senses – along with the other youth in the film – a melancholia, a longing for pleasures that remain ‘unknown’. One possible reason for this modern condition of alienation could be the historical disjuncture of modern China: the waning of tradition before American popular culture, the loss of contact or affection with parents and older generations. There emerges throughout Unknown Pleasures a gap between the lives of these characters and the world around them, one that is marked whenever consumerist references enter the frame or audio track. ZhangKe’s particular brand of realism continues in this film. Although Unknown Pleasures is less monumental then Platform, the style of realism is just as powerful, keyed as it is to detail. Above all, his sense of pace and rhythm is flawless. As a hint of the political atmosphere, ZhangKe leaves unexplained a sabotage bombing of a state government building but makes explicit the fact that our young heroes imitate Pulp Fiction protagonists in their attempt to rob a bank. What a pretext American popular culture is: the desires it arouses only confirm the unreachable ‘unknown pleasures’.
* * *
Comments by Aaron Goldberg
The Unknown (Michael Hjorth, 2000) This Swedish neo-Dogma style horror film really takes a large bite out of the post-modern pie to serve up an interesting stylistically but ultimately empty excursion into the horror genre. It surprises me that since the success of the Blair Witch Project, directors haven’t run with the notion of verite-style horror and re-invented the form, much like Hooper, Craven, Romero et al did to mind blowing effect in the ’70s. If you are into that verite style then The Unknown might entertain, but the thing that lets it down is it’s obvious by-a-mile-away references to great and obscure horror films of the past. The basic premise is lifted from The Thing – both the original and the later version – and other major concepts lifted from Cronenberg’s Shivers, and of course the lazy Blair Witch Project comparison (coz its DV). Also it’s really hard to get scared by a roast chicken (which is the actual ‘monster’!!), and the film would’ve benefited from more subtle effects even if they were trying to ‘keep it real’ on DV.
Comments by Mark Freeman
Borders (Frontieres, Mostefa Djadjam, 2000) Djadjam’s film assumes greater importance in light of events in Australia 2002, as well as exemplifying the ‘crossing borders’ concept of this year’s Festival. Concentrating on a band of refugees seeking to escape their African homelands for a range of reasons, their quest to slip undetected into the south of Spain and then the rest of Europe drives this film. Djadjam throws up consistent moral questions, demanding judgement on the decisions and actions of his characters; even the most sympathetic become ruthless and callous in their quest for freedom. Borders confronts such complexities, but still manages to drift away from its core, and it becomes dangerously melodramatic for a film that aims for a realist aesthetic. It lacks the hard edge it needs, and displays little ingenuity or interest in its approach: the direction steps through the script carefully without doing much else. The film only gains its real weight from its application to Australia’s own refugee problem, and its inclusion in the program almost smacks a little of tokenism, a deliberate counter to the Howard government’s stand on our own refugee crisis. I wonder whether Borders would have found its way on its own merits into the MIFF program this year, without the topicality of its subject.
In The Mirror of Maya Deren (Martina Kudlacek, 2001) A rather traditional approach to the life and work of Maya Deren, churning through clips and talking heads and audio tracks. A fascinating woman, to be sure, but the documentary doesn’t want to do anything but offer a checklist of biographical details. Of more interest are the audio recordings of lectures given by Deren; these offer a greater insight into her process, her approach to film. Jonas Mekas (cheeky and engaging) and Stan Brakhage offer commentary: as I watched I thought of how wonderful a retrospective of these three filmmakers would be in the MIFF program next year. An hour and a half later, similar sentiments were echoed in a Conversation on Film with Adrian Martin, Simon Field and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Kudlacek’s film whets the appetite for Deren’s work, and provides some interesting insight into one of the more radical post-war filmmakers. I just wish there had been something that had surprised or excited me, or maybe a tougher investigation of this woman who by all accounts was incredibly complex. The vision we are presented with, however, is infinitely more straightforward.
The Tracker (Rolf de Heer, 2002) While the government stubbornly looks the other way, the filmmaking community seems to be working on exacting social change in relation to Australia’s Aboriginal history. In recent months we’ve had films such as Rabbit Proof Fence (Philip Noyce, 2002) and Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) and now de Heer’s The Tracker and the Festival’s Closing Night film, Australian Rules (Paul Goldman, 2002). But there’s an uneasy gloss that seems to temper these films, de Heer’s The Tracker included. Arising from a desire to make amends for past injustices, the films adopt an easy, sloppy PC tone that blands out all the questions, all the problems, all the contradictions in their attempt to appease white guilt. Sen’s film, for my money, made the best fist of this without quite succeeding. The Tracker treads a similar line to Rabbit Proof Fence (with David Gulpilil again acting as the tracker), and falls into similar traps to its predecessors. There is a lot that’s terrific about the film: I like the way it offers its narrative as a mixture of approaches. Complete songs by Archie Roach are played out against the images, commentating on the action much as musicals can – there’s a sense of interruption as we begin another musical number. Its attempts at humour work, for the most part. And it offers an interesting take on the depiction of screen violence, cutting to paintings by Peter Coad that represent the scene rather than glorying in a more traditional brutality. But the Gary Sweet character is too far to the right, practically twirling his moustaches and tying every aboriginal he encounters to the train tracks. It makes it too easy a passage for us, packaged nicely in polarities, with the attractive bow of appeasement on top. The relationship between the tracker and his white companions develops well, but you can’t help feeling this is aimed directly at a white audience to make them feel good about their stand on the issue, rather than posing something more difficult to swallow. It’s good, but has a shimmery squeaky quality like all the wrinkles have been ironed out of it.
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Take Care of My Cat (Jeong Jae-Eun, 2001) A festival, if not 2002, highlight. This was for me one of those special film experiences after which you feel you have actually lived those places, really known those characters and, of course, become sentimental about them and changed because of them. The film follows five young women in Korea, who were all close friends at school, tackle life post-graduation. Each one is different somehow to the other: Hae-joo, the most self-centred and materialistic, aspires toward success in the corporate world; Ji-young, whilst living close to poverty with her grandparents, dreams of a textile career and is worried about her options; Tae-hee, who feels alienated at home among her conventional family, has no distinct plans for the future but finds solace in her relationship with a paralysed poet. Then there are the two twins who seem constantly happy; one would assume, because they always have each other. The perfect casting and excellent performances make each character totally believable, and director Jeong Jae-Eun, presents them and their interrelations with a disarming naturalism, life and depth of feeling. Slowly what emerges out of this ‘leaving school’ genre is a portrait of different ways of being in the world, different individuals in society. As the story unfolds and the young women encounter life, learn about each other and themselves and a tragedy occurs, Take Care of My Cat stays way clear of sentimentality, evoking a breath of fresh air and insight into life that one associates with Ozu.
Address Unknown (Kim Ki-Duk, 2001) Though the world he presents is a bleak one – loneliness, violence, no sense of community, loss of innocence – Kim Ki-Duk must be one of the most sensitive filmmakers working today. In fact, Kim goes to such places of desperation and isolation in order to find true longing, emotion, and existence of the soul. Address Unknown focuses on a wide range of characters all living close by within a region of Korea. It quickly becomes apparent that this region is scarred by the legacy of the war and the ongoing presence of a US army base. And so, Kim’s portrayal of violence (evident in all the characters on various levels) is hardly gratuitous or glib: rather it reflects the perversity of war. The microcosm that’s presented here includes a woman haunted by the past who longs for her US husband, her confused and angry son who wants to cut ties with the past, a young woman whose eye is damaged after her brother carelessly shot at her with a makeshift gun, a young man who secretly desires her, a US army soldier gone AWOL who pursues the young Korean woman, and a generation of older Korean men who fought in the war. Address Unknown is clearly Kim’s exploration of a country scarred by a war and the threatened identity and tradition of Korea – the motif of the gun versus the bow and arrow is a potent symbol as is the rusty US army bus as is the connection between generations of women (‘raped’ by US soldiers) and men (ongoing violence and nihilism). Whilst overall the film falls a little too easily into allegory, Address Unknown is certainly one of the most intelligent, sensitive and beautiful films to see at the Festival.
* * *
Comments by Jim Knox
SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! Cinema Programs Mark Webber’s ‘Secret Cinema’ is Britain’s most inspired and exciting forum for the exhibition of marginal cinema. A Festival guest, Webber’s SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! programs are a rigorously curated survey of English experimental works from the 1960s and ’70s
London Underground Towers Open Fire (Antony Balch, 1963) is the cinematic realisation of William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, but it also begins to approach a hauntingly non-linear biopic of this writer, junkie, and genius-ratbag; lost in a desolate solitude and pacing, against the tide, some otherways “swinging” streets. Striking work, from Balch, in the chopped-about opposition of Burroughs’ broadcast disturbance to the corporate hypnotists of the Nova Mob. Poverty row special effects are perfectly realised, and the calligraphic talents of Brion Gysin are in animated evidence. Pinnacle of the Burroughs/Balch collaborations (in advance of Ghosts at No. 9 and a handful of screen tests) this is a special thing; somewhat ‘available’ on video – I commend it to you Marvo Movie (Jeff Keen, 1967) is confoundingly busy; a chemically enhanced anti-cartoon that describes some revelatory Pop Art precedents of simultaneous narrative and single-frame editing. A compelling and colourful work, well-served by Bob Cobbing’s aggressive concrete poetry on the soundtrack Speak (John Latham, 1962): stop-motion of chromatic felt shapes – a pleasingly organic abstraction that unspools like a frenzied basement-remake of Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema in cheerfully lurid technicolour; it gathers a vertiginous momentum across its brief length Soul In A White Room (Simon Hartog, 1968) is a one-joke film, but the humour that hinges on its single, central edit (and reinforced by the ironic title) remains sharp and confronting, a quarter century later Hall (Peter Gidal, 1968-9) intermittently cuts from its central static view, of the eponymous hallway, to some curtly estranged details of that location shot (a smudge on the wall, vegies on the table, etc). After 5 minutes there’s a briefly darkened respite, before it begins again (seemingly ) exactly as before. This is a challenging work – which demands of its audience that they interrogate the psychological apparatus obliquely distorting their reading of cinema – but one that rewards a concentrated viewing, and it amply confirms Gidal’s formidable reputation Reign Of The Vampire (Malcolm Le Grice, 1970), alike to its predecessor, probably daunted those viewers suffering plummeted expectations borne of its creator’s uncompromising theoretical writings. We end as we began – contesting the emotional engineering of Hollywood pigs. Le Grice’s film marries a densely woven tapestry of looped audio to some conjunctions of ‘capitalist realism’: commercial pornography, combat footage, a solarised horse (familiar from another Le Grice flick?), the flight of a hovercraft. It’s a chilling mix; and because none of these dynamic parallel narratives ever achieves any kind of resolution, it provokes a thrilling tension in the viewer.
In summary: refusal of the narrative strategies of epic spectacle – instead, all these works are artfully hand-made; the complete absence of psychological ‘realism’, or the arbitrary imperatives of 3-act structure – so stick that up your ‘central conflict theory’ (!); and considered as a whole – completely enchanting, a treasure to behold and hear alike. Perhaps more importantly, these films chart a suppressed legacy of this historical avant-garde – a defiant pose to that cinematic representation which serves to promote “consensus reality”.
Structural/Materialist These films would have been a discouraging thing more than 24 hours previously; but after the revelation of Gidal and Le Grice’s work in ‘London Underground’, they assumed the promise of singularly exciting cinema. Essentially a celebration of works produced at the London Film-makers’ Co-op, this program illuminated an unfamiliar panorama of UK celluloid experiment. Shepherd’s Bush (Mike Leggett, 1971) is a startling black and white abstraction, advancing from the deepest black – through frenetic gray-scale contrasts – to a luminous white, in its several repetitive loops. Soundtrack is a pleasingly electronic burbling possibly produced with an early EMS synthesiser Film No 1 (David Crosswaite, 1971) renovated several unwanted sections of reality through the inspired use of an optical printer; the serial mattes, and deranged colour balance, might suggest the exotic floral arrangements of a febrile botanist Key (Peter Gidal, 1968) is an inspired reverie on the numinous significance of light and optics – a work of stark and captivating beauty The consistent feature in these, and most of the other works, was the clearly rhythmic character of their composition. Even – perhaps especially – in the silent works, I imagine I can find a clearly musical logic informing the film’s structure. Two nights later I’m struck by the way the Quays’ use of shifting focal planes is so prodigiously influenced by Structuralist experiment (the specific precedent may be the work of Michael Snow, about whom Atelier Koninck has produced a documentary). My personal suspicion is that the succeeding vogue for postmodernism is largely responsible for the horrible obscurity of these dual cinematic styles.
Admittedly, I suffer “consciousness creep” after about an hour of such intensively experimental work – it’s akin to gorging yourself on delicate foods to the point of exhausting your palate – and I wonder if the almost-90 minute duration isn’t a somewhat arbitrary length in expedient analogue to commercial feature film. This duration is something I doubt the fighteous Gidal and Le Grice would endorse – and suggests another issue for continued contestation.
Intervention and Processing The failure of sound for this projection marred what surely promised to be another epiphanous experience at the Festival. The previous night’s screening, of “The Epic Flight” at Gamma Space, had already suffered cancellation through a faulty projector and the inadequate attentions of technical staff. Frankly, I feel personally ashamed by this: Webber is among the Anglophone world’s foremost champions of cinema experiment, both contemporary and historical. On the eve of the opening of Federation Square, MIFF and Experimenta can only imperil the future of local film culture by alienating such a figure. This city’s International Film Festival should afford us the guarantee of a sympathetic context for the viewing of creative cinema. That it cannot is an issue that mandates fuller discussion at a later juncture
Comments by Jim Knox
Animation Shorts Programme 1 An undistinguished bunch until I walked out, halfway through. The striking exception was Shh (Adam Robb, 2001); and happy surprise: it’s a VCA student work! Almost never that animation this savagely comic is screened, let alone made, in Australia. The structure is perfect: gorgeously rendered cel-work, of a caterwauling tot, won peals of approving laughter from the audience – before it convulsed into withering critique of every regrettable social convention you can think of. The barbs are tough and targeted, and by force of implication choked off the chuckles in our throats. There’s some debt to the stick-figure brutalisms of Don Hertzfeldt, but huge technical advance on Hertzfeldt’s primitive style. Powerful stuff! Among the most intelligent and artfully composed works which will screen in this Festival – I hope Adam Robb enjoys all the success his considerable talent deserves.
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Night Shift (Philippe Le Guay) Night Shift, along with films by Breillat, Dumont and Cantet, partakes in the realist tradition of contemporary French cinema. In these films, style is seemingly ‘invisible’ as the focal point remains the evolving drama, finely and meticulously traced. Though these films are about everyday characters and immediately recognisable situations, Night Shift, very much like Cantet’s Human Resources, is distinctly ‘leftist’ in its concern and setting: the working-class family and the politics of the workplace or, more accurately, the factory floor. Whereas Human Resources explored generational and class differences within the one family, Night Shift examines bullying in the workplace. Pierre, a rather gentile, calm man, has recently started work at a bottle factory, where he is harassed and bullied from day one by Fred, a large, stocky, volatile, hostile type. Director Le Guay observes the spaces of Pierre’s home/family life and workplace with a detailed, delicate and genuine regard: remaining very true to their everyday reality. The heart of the film however is the relationship between these two men and how they respond to each other. Through this, Le Guay presents us with two versions of masculinity: aggressive and unreasonable vs. submissive and conciliatory. Interweaved throughout is the character of Pierre’s son, who vacillates between the two ‘father figures’. Though Night Shift is an excellent ‘character’ study, it fails to penetrate deeper or further then its stereotypes: the rough male and the effeminate male. And these stereotypes are pushed to the extreme: Fred for no apparent reason has targeted Pierre; Pierre stills takes a conciliatory approach toward Fred even after he’s lied to him, punched him, smothered his face in vomit, stolen his money and threatened his life! However, Night Shift was a joy to watch thanks to the casting and excellent performances and Le Guay’s superb direction – offering us an elegant, graceful, and irresistible realism.
Comments by Fiona A. Villella
Opening Night, The Tracker (Rolf de Heer, 2002) Many festivals post-September 11 are taking the political awareness approach – evident in their programs that include a Middle Eastern focus or sentiments that underlie their official ‘welcomes’ and overall program themes. Just as films respond to a changing world, so do film festivals, I guess. Whether it’s a marketing strategy or a genuine gesture is another thing however. For MIFF 2002, the theme of cultural exchange and global understanding is evident in the ‘crossing borders’ motif – a more explicitly political and humanitarian variation on the ‘window on the world’ theme that it usually adopts.
MIFF 2002 opened with the usual red carpet, gala formalities. The idea of cultural exchange in the ‘village’ as a metaphor for the festival experience itself in Executive Director James Hewison’s opening speech extended into the choice for the Opening Night film, The Tracker by Rolf de Heer. Whilst this film worked exceptionally well as a drama – examining the complex ‘personalities’ of and shifting allegiances between a core group of white law enforcers and a black tracker – its overall tone and dealing of race relations issues struck me as terribly politically correct. To its credit, the story moves along in a very unconventional sense: less a matter of classical narrative ’cause and effect’ and more a result of psychological dynamics. At the centre is the character, The Tracker, played by David Gulpilil, and it’s this contradiction – black man going against his people to work for whites (a common phenomenon in colonial Australia) – that the film is most concerned with and that it expertly explores, particularly thanks to the very fine performances.
However, overall The Tracker‘s ‘politics’ seemed opportunist. Most black-white encounters in the film show the white man to be brutal, savage and grotesquely violent. Tactfully, instead of explicitly portraying such violence, de Heer cuts to tableau paintings that depict the events, an effective move. But many of the film’s key scenes and characters are informed by middle class, liberal contemporary attitudes toward Australia’s colonial past. As a result, The Tracker fixes on cultural stereotypes and preconceived notions – we know Australia’s colonial history is wrong, we know the violence committed is brutal and savage – without exploring indigenous cultures and colonial history in any real sense. The film assumes a knowing, white liberal, politically correct audience – so that these attitudes are built into the film. Strangely, in the end, it becomes a feel-good story, almost a comedy at times, about the black tracker as hero, always smarter and cleverer then the white man. A formula that exists across any number of films and subject matter. Whilst I do not disagree in the slightest with the films’ politics, its problematic aspect remains the way it is built on stereotypes, convention and political correctness.