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Posted Wednesday 24 July – Saturday 10 August
Posted Monday 12 August (Festival Wrap-Up)
* * *
by Anthony Carew
Kathleen Hanna was working with obvious satirical intent when she came up with the Le Tigre anthem “Mediocrity Rules”, but, yet, over the course of the 26 features I saw before MIFF 2002 and the 47 I saw in some 17-day sleepwalk, it became a kind of personal motto of mine. This year, in viewing terms, was a profoundly flat experience. In fact, it took until the second-to-last film that I watched, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s astonishingly beautiful Millennium Mambo, for me to see a film that I completely loved. So much Festival time was filled with merely ‘good’ fare; and it provided a fair share of disappointments: from labouring through Jean-Luc Godard’s truly-woeful In Praise Of Love to realising that nothing in the Kim Ki-Duk canon was going to come anywhere near the accidental-artistry of The Isle. As for the much-discussed screening mishaps, through some stroke of serendipity this was the first year that I encountered absolutely no major projection problems. The only screening qualm I have is that the American-independent-comedy Just A Kiss was shown perfectly right in its scheduled timeslot. From that, I’m still trying to recover.
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2001)
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001)
Manic (Jordan Melamed, 2001)
Eyeball To Eyeball Program 2 (Errol Morris, 2001)
Dark Water (Hideo Nakata, 2001)
Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
Paradox Lake (Przemyslaw Reut, 2001)
Wild Innocence (Philippe Garrel, 2001)
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
Night Shift (Philippe Le Guay, 2000)
walkout wonders (in order of how quickly I felt the need to flee the cinema and reclaim precious minutes of my life):
Just A Kiss (Fisher Stevens, 2001)
Flash of a Dream (Robert M. Fox, 2001)
Buried (Kathryn Bucher, 2001)
Wanderlust (James Keitel/Scott Hessels, 2000)
Ray Bang (Jang Hyun-Soo, 2001)
Wild Animals (Kim Ki-Duk, 1999)
Mostly Martha (Sandra Nettelbeck, 2001)
The Isle (Kim Ki-Duk, 2000)
In Praise Of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001)
If I Should Fall From Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story (Sarah Share, 2001)
Recurring Themes & Images
The Coincidental Drawn Together As Some Nebulous List Of Cinematic Trend: Misogyny-Chic, Rape, Self-Mutilation, Trying To Cut Off One Of Your Own Hand, A Knife Through The Hand, Ritualising Pain, Animal Slaughter, Butchery, Food Preparation, Fish, Noodles, Song/Dance Numbers As Easy Comic Device, Smug Documentaries About Stupid Lower-Class Americans, “Robin Williams In An Eerily Atypical Role”, Chase Sequences, Drunken Artists, Mobile Phones Ringing At ‘Hilarious’ Moments, Crumbling Metropolis In-The-Not-Too-Distant-Future, Really Really Old People Having Sex For Apparent ‘Shock’ Value, and the old favourites Prostitutes, Cops, Violence, and Cigarettes.
* * *
by Michelle Carey
Unknown Pleasures (Jia ZhangKe, 2002)
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001)
Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)
Wild Innocence (Philippe Garrel, 2001)
Experimental Shorts program
Take Care of My Cat (Jeong Jae-eun, 2001)
Derrida (Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Hofman, 2002)
Killing Pig (Jung Kang-woo, 2001)
* * *
by Adrian Danks
15 best films (in preferential order):
The Girl Chewing Gum (John Smith, 1976)
Sunday too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975)
Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
Line Describing a Cone (Anthony McCall, 1973)
Film Ist 7-12 (Gustav Deutsch, 2002)
The Pilot/One in a Million Trillion (Errol Morris, 2001)
Dream Work (Peter Tscherkassky, 2001)
What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001)
Domestic Violence (Frederick Wiseman, 2001)
To Be & to Have (Nicolas Philibert, 2002)
Y tu Mamá También (Allonso Cuarón, 2001)
Mist (Matthias Muller, 2000)
B-52 (Hartmut Bitomsky, 2001)
Secret Ballot (Babak Payami, 2001)
The Orphan of Anyang (Wang Chao, 2001)
5 pleasant surprises:
Tribute (Rich Fox & Kris Curry, 2001)
Love and Anarchy: The Wild Wild World of Jamie Leonarder (Brendan Young, 2001)
Blue Vinyl (Judith Helland, 2001)
Rainbow Bird & Monster Man (Dennis K. Smith, 2001)
Take Care of My Cat (Jeong Jae-Eun, 2001)
2 major disappointments:
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2001)
Wild Innocence (Philippe Garrel, 2001)
15 worst films (in least preferential order):
A number of the shorts screened but particularly Behave (Bart Borghesi, 2002)
The Happiness of the Katakuris (Miike Takeshi, 2001)
Nabi: The Butterfly (Moon Seung-wook, 2001)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me (Nicholas Triandafyllidis, 2001)
Wild Animals (Kim Ki-Duk, 1999)
Marie-Jo & Her Two Loves (Robert Guédguian, 2001)
My Beautiful Girl, Mari (Lee Sung-Gang, 2002)
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 2001)
Big Mama (Kon Ichikawa, 2001)
Chicken Heart (Hiroshi Shizumi, 2002)
Dead or Alive (Miike Takeshi, 2001)
Address Unknown (Kim Ki-Duk, 2001)
Deep Breath (Damien Odoul, 2000)
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)
Flash of a Dream (Robert M. Fox, 2001)
A few conclusions based on the 70 or so sessions I saw. A good year for documentaries; a poor year for features; too many Korean films of dubious quality; I hate most of Miike Takeshi’s films; Japanese cinema has little to offer at the moment (I could be wrong); despite 3 of my 4 favourite films being made in the 1970s, the retrospective component of the Festival leaves a lot to be desired; most of the films on cinema were of average quality (even Scorsese’s highly enjoyable Il Mio Viaggio in Italia lacked an expansive vision and its project to me seemed surprisingly pessimistic – rather than encouraging audiences to see the ‘excerpted’ films it presented condensed versions of the films intended to stand in for the act of watching them in full); Greater Union is definitely not a venue appropriate for the screening of 16mm prints or archival experimental programs; this wasn’t a particularly good film festival (too many bad films).
* * *
by Spiro Economopoulos
My festival faves (in no particular order):
The Son (Dardenne Bros., 2002)
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002)
A Wedding in Ramallah (Sherine Salama, 2002)
Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (Martin Scorsese, 1999)
Waiting for Happiness (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2002)
Deep Breath (Damien Odoul, 2000)
The Happiness of the Katakuris (Miike Takashi, 2001)
Devil’s Playground (Lucy Walker, 2002)
* * *
by Mark Freeman
MIFF 2002 seemed to take longer to yield the pleasures and surprises that characterised last year’s Festival, with the standard a little lower. This year, lumbered with an awkward but topical theme of “Crossing Borders”, the selection featured an inordinately skewed selection of films that tried hard and failed. Indeed, for the first half of the Festival, film after film aimed for something new and just rehashed something old – not too many borders crossed there. In the later stages, though, much stronger work surfaced, cinema that was simple and never pretended to be otherwise, or work that was complex and still managed to maintain that complexity without resorting to easy answers or faux edginess. The end result for me, at any rate, was an even slate – inspiring, evocative works like Tsai Ming-Liang’s What Time Is It There? and Damien Odoul’s Deep Breath, balanced out by ho-hum efforts like Sono Sion’s Suicide Club and Mostéfa Djadjam’s Borders. The following list of films, at least, reminded me of why I love cinema, and the way MIFF succeeded, in part, to sate this city’s hunger for interesting, intelligent works.
The Son (Dardenne brothers, 2002) If the Dardenne brothers’ earlier film Rosetta was one of the best things in cinema over the past couple of years, then The Son more than ably lives up to its predecessor. Too often handheld realist cinema feels overly fabricated or artfully orchestrated yet the Dardennes consistently manage to erase obvious style while also ensuring it remains a significant element in our gut response. This story, simple in its narrative, is presented with such a lack of artifice that the film really does suggest that any occurrence, any outcome is possible. The camera may jostle and bump at the characters shoulders, but within minutes The Son erases its erratic movement and becomes our own personal vision as we jockey for position to eavesdrop on a slowly unfolding drama. The success of the film stems from our growing suspicion of the motives of the characters – their intentions are inscrutable, but only in the way strangers often are. The result is something perfectly simple yet emotionally complex. Beautiful stuff.
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001) Another film that is brave enough to let itself play out in its own time, What Time Is It There? has a beautiful fluidity, slipping through spaces, locations and time with grace and often biting humour. It’s the seemingly casual connections that bond people together that makes this film, sometimes by a brief conversation or an idea or concept, yet the apparent tenuousness of these connections become powerful, virtually unbreakable. Tsai turns time around, exposing the concept in all its facets, its role in longing and loss and yearning for things past, its function in making us feel trapped, boxed in, impatient for a future. And it demonstrates the circularity of things, the way time seems to spin and return upon itself, repeating and revisiting prior experience and tweaking it slightly, as if the characters are part of a lengthy joke – and perhaps they are. There’s more in this than one screening can grant – it is not just a film about time, but one that requires it.
Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) There are those dismissive of this film simply because it is, as they say, a crowd pleaser, as if somehow such a concept were a dirty word in cinema. But forgetting such preciousness and enjoying Y Tu Mamá También for what it is provides the key into this invigorating, funny Mexican film, which has deservedly garnered praise overseas following a theatrical release. The great thing about Y Tu Mamá También is that it takes very simple, obvious generic traits (the road trip, the teen sex comedy, the experienced older woman and the eager-to-learn horny teenagers) and turns it into a frank, mature exploration of teenage machismo and sexuality. Cuarón’s film just proves how impossibly infantile much of the American approach to similar themes has been: the sex is clumsy, but tender, the boys bravado slowly stripped away as their maturity grows. It’s funny and sweet without being puerile and nasty – a film that sets itself some clear parameters and beautifully traverses areas so rarely explored in other films of this ilk. Cuarón’s ability to use the frame to both bind and separate Luisa from the boys is one of the film’s finer pleasures.
Deep Breath (Damien Odoul, 2000) This was the surprise highlight of the Festival for me – my decision to see it based purely on a desire to get a decent seat at the subsequent screening of Scorsese’s Il Mio Viaggio in Italia. As it turned out, Deep Breath proved to be one of the best things I saw. Magnificently shot and intelligently constructed, it follows its teenage protagonist David through one day on his uncle’s farm. Odoul presents this boy/man through the spectrum of masculine identity and David, on the cusp of manhood himself, seems lost and unsure how to behave, understanding little of what is expected of him as a man. Odoul slips David’s history into the narrative almost unobtrusively, a simple photo of the boy surrounded by women is all the information needed to contextualise his existence away from the farm. Odoul presents the boy’s search without sentimentality, but with enough care that we want him to succeed – it’s just that his choices for role models on the farm are so limited. Interspersed with the realist drama are stark dreamlike images, sequences that stem from modern dance, choreographed like a ballet; rough masculinity expressed as performance art. It’s not just the subject but its mode of expression that is so bold. This was a tremendous film – more provocative and insightful, it turned out, than the Scorsese film that inspired my decision to attend in the first place.
Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002) This had a wonderful, wry humour reminiscent of Tati that slowly builds into something else by the film’s conclusion. Exploring the nature of territory and occupancy, Suleiman uses humour on the micro level then slowly builds drama on a much wider scale. It’s a film that knows how to use space and pattern, clever repetitions, looming emptiness that is suddenly filled with form – it’s a very knowing approach to storytelling. And whilst it may appear initially rather light, as Divine Intervention continues its purpose is unveiled slowly and delicately – with the comedy comes fear, anger, revolt, triumph. It’s almost a silent film, but its use of visual language made it one of the more carefully communicated films of the Festival.
Others I really enjoyed: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000); Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water (2002); Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001); Miike Takashi’s insane, absurd The Happiness of the Katakuris (2002); and James Ellroy’s Feast of Death (Vikram Jayanti, 2001). And The Tracker (Rolf De Heer, 2002) was damn close to being terrific, if only it hadn’t pushed its message so insistently. It was still an impressive, thoughtful approach to a subject we just can’t quite seem to get right on film. Scorsese’s Il Mio Viaggio in Italia certainly achieved its aim – to demonstrate Scorsese’s love for Italian cinema and to convey the director’s enthusiasm for his favourite directors. It is, though, fairly superficial in its discussion, and I wanted a greater insight into exactly what things these directors did that really got Marty all excited in his formative years – much like he does in his discussion of Visconti’s Senso. But this is more of a love song than an intellectual exercise – and to his credit, Scorsese is up front about his intentions on that score.
There were also some inclusions in the program that ran the middle ground – or sometimes lower. Mostéfa Djadjam’s Borders seemed to get a showing because of its relevance to this year’s theme rather than for anything particularly exceptional in the film itself. There were some OK documentaries – the Maya Deren was fairly interesting – but others like The Tramp and the Dictator (Kevin Brownlow, 2001) seemed to be squeezed into a premise that prevented anything beyond the basic concept to find a way in. Teesh and Trude (Melanie Rodriga, 2002) was a white trash lower class comedy for blue trash middle class mentalities. Condescending, uninteresting, and not terribly funny, it’s designed so we laugh at them, because thank God that’s not (and never could be) us. I did enjoy Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002) despite the fact that it’s a bit all over the place as a film. It captures the mood and the music, and not much else, but the mood and the music were good enough for me to disengage my brain and enjoy the songs, even if I learnt next to nothing about the people that made them. Other films like Fausto 5.0 and Suicide Club looked like they were going to be something truly exceptional but squandered everything except their nice production design – they were disappointing.
Overall this year, an OK festival, let down I thought by too many films with too few ideas and not enough gumption. This is not to deny that there were some great films on show – just not quite as many as I might have liked. The ticketing system was much improved this year, and those working at the cinemas were patient, helpful and kept their sense of humour: a great job. I did feel the lack of interaction this year, with the Q & A’s a little more sparse, and often more difficult to attend with every session running late for most of the Festival. A number of films also have an imminent release – Y Tu Mamá También, The Tracker, Insomnia and others will appear over the next month. It makes their inclusion in the Festival seem a little redundant. And, if I were to make one request, it would be for fewer films and more screenings – the breadth of the selection makes MIFF almost feel bloated, and more particularly this year with the inclusion of some substandard fare. Greater access to fewer films would make me a happier, more contented filmgoer, and would eradicate my concern that I had to overlook Fred Wiseman’s Domestic Violence (2002) for a chance to see Yi Yi. Still, another fine effort from the MIFF team in juggling films, times and tempers: we look forward to next year (and a really good retrospective, please!).
* * *
by Rhys Graham
Films that made my pulse quicken at this year’s MIFF:
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001) Tsai Ming-Liang seems unrivalled in creating narratives of solitude. With the lightest touch and performances so tightly honed even the slightest motion or breath seems carefully choreographed (I had a moment where I was sure the goldfish must have been following directions, too), What Time is it There? is my pick for most soulful film of the Festival. The resonance of dreams across distance, romantic yearning, loss and superstition intertwine in the lead character’s lives as Tsai explores contemporary isolation in a similar landscape to The Hole and The River. What takes this a notch above his other extraordinary works is that it is also a love song for cinema and his use of Truffaut’s Les Quatre cents coups as a kind of spiritual medium between a young man in Taiwan and the woman he might have loved in Paris is truly beautiful. Film bliss.
The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, 2002) Taking the kinetic, visceral observations of Rosetta to the point of almost bucking the viewer off, The Son is another Dardennes Bros. film that lingers closer to the skin than any other film I can recall. The precision of the narrative in this film leaves me speechless; information is revealed in tiny, shining increments, each moment heightening the emotional intensity to almost unbearable levels. Despite its other strengths, despite its portrait of self-destructive and obsessive compulsion, I could love this film for one scene alone: that in which the young boy physically measures the distance between himself and the man who is separated from him by an unbridgeable emotional abyss.
Divine Intervention (Elie Suleiman, 2002) Perhaps for a Palestinian filmmaker, any filmmaker, only surrealism and absurdity can really articulate the events of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I found this to be an unbearably tense film; moments of stylised violence and conflict, moments of humour, and moments of sheer absurdity compounding to create a sense of frustration, confusion and despair. Intelligent use of CG effects add to this unique film, and the way that it explores the movement of characters in space as an emotional terrain suggests the films of Tati, while the dreamlike surrealism seemed to suggest something of Buñuel. A forceful political statement.
Sleeping Rough (Eugenie Jansen, 2002) One of a number of simple, impressive realist films in the Festival. This story of the strange association between a Sudanese boy and an elderly Dutch war veteran is quietly observed, sensual, and deeply humane. Moments unfold carefully and the growing friendship is never overplayed. A mythic bookend to the film might have been clumsy but seemed natural emerging from the camera’s concentration on the possible inner lives and thoughts of the two very different men. Interestingly, Sleeping Rough, with its effortless naturalism, is directed by a documentary filmmaker whose work emerges from the rich tradition of Dutch documentary making. Sadly, I can’t imagine this film getting a release.
In Praise Of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001) While I have to confess to missing large portions of the narrative, it was exciting to see Godard doing what he does best; living and breathing through the rhythms and images of his filmmaking. At times, I am sure the hypnotic pace in the first section (black and white film) was best perceived as an organic experience – cuts like heartbeats, images that kept me halfway between waking and dreams. The second part (saturated video), on the other hand, had such intellectual precision in tying together Godard’s propositions that I wish I could have the film script to reread. Given Godard’s extensive use of video it is not at all surprising to see him using DV in this film in a way that truly exploits and enhances the qualities of the medium rather than trying to use it as an excuse for film.
A Wedding In Ramallah (Sherine Salama, 2002) A truly great Australian documentary, funny and touching in its exploration of love and marriage under siege in the occupied town of Ramallah. While two brothers emigrate to the USA, their wives wait in bullet-riddled apartments for visas to join them. Both marriages are arranged and there is an impressively candid exploration of the pressure of creating an emotional bond out of social formality. Senora and Mariam, the two cynical, witty and hardened wives trying their best to hold onto dreams of happiness, love and family, are compelling characters and their dim perception of the doco-maker is highlighted during one great scene. Their lives, viewed at a distance, seem grindingly bleak, and their husbands are almost comically unpleasant, but their strength within their surroundings is deeply affecting.
Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000) Something like the experience of an epic family novel, this film took me, with measured, beautiful visuals and striking performances, deep into the heart of a Taiwanese family and the troubles that dwell quietly beneath the surface of their daily interactions. Worth all the praise heaped on it.
Borders (Mostéfa Djadjam, 2000), Baran (Majid Majidi, 2001), Delbaran (Abolfazl Jalili, 2001) These three narrative features have a resounding impact in the bitter, hostile little world we live in around these parts. Majidi transcends the simple tale told in Baran of the love between an Iranian boy and an Afghani woman into a statement of the impossibility of love in a world in which human values are made meaningless (by the burkha, by laws regarding refugees). Djadjam’s Borders is an involving character drama about a group of African men who pay to be people-smuggled into Europe but, of course, end up in tragic circumstances. Delbaran, the weakest of the three, combines poetic visual sequences and narrative minimalism with moments of documented observation, to tell of a remote road stop where illegal Afghani refugees take shelter. Each of these films displays a complex perspective on issues that are ridiculously oversimplified in this country. Baran and Borders particularly, are emotional statements that, viewed in the context of the political currents of the last year, reveal much about the disparity between human experience and state policies. I would suggest Baran and Delbaran be placed against Arnie’s Collateral Damage as a study in post-September 11 cinema!
To Be and To Have Beautiful documentary study of wisdom and pedagogy – characters that seem to come from another time.
Deep Breath Simple, lyrical and sensuous portrait of a reckless young boy living in rural France.
Unknown Pleasures Digital filmmaking at its best; careful character studies and a charged impression of the bleak industrial surrounds of northern China.
* * *
by Chris Howard
An interesting if not spectacular but nonetheless exhausting MIFF for yours truly, with some of the films I’d most been looking forward to proving ultimately a little bittersweet in the experiencing, not for any qualities intrinsic to the films themselves but rather with regards my experiences with MUFF (perhaps too) immediately prior to MIFF. As a programmer of the former, the Miike titles especially were a mite frustrating to view, as I had sought them out myself for MUFF, and could not entirely cast from my mind niggling thoughts pertaining to my thwarted efforts in securing them.
Also, seeing such heartily-attended sessions for films such as these led me to contemplate the much smaller audiences that frequented MUFF screenings, and to reconsider, for example, what I had thought a terrific coup for MUFF, obtaining a brand new print of Walerian Borowczyk’s extraordinary La bête (1975); while it drew a good crowd at MUFF, surely, had MIFF have programmed and promoted it in their somewhat shabby (certainly by festival’s end!) catalogue, full houses of the order of that which left the unsubtitled screening of Avalon I attended could all have appreciated the considerable trouble gone to in bringing the great maverick Polish-born director’s erotic surrealist masterpiece to Melbourne for, as frugality demanded, but a single screening. Ah well, perhaps this will also help ensure that more folk are more attentive to MUFF’s programming in future.
So these sort of tired musings were to affect my MIFF 2002 experience – some though serving to encourage me with my MUFFing (seeing MIFF cock-up and in damage-control mode projected large with such as Avalon helped me feel better about on occasion having to do the same for lesser-witnessed cock-ups for MUFF!), but also other times impinging upon my enjoyment, whether piecemeally or wholly, of some of the films, nonetheless my highlights of the 51st MIFF, listed below in no particular order:
Brothers Quay In particular, the extremely beautiful and enigmatic Street of Crocodiles, which I could happily watch, utterly entranced, if it were looped for hours. A good thing – the Quays’ films are largely available for home watching through Zeitgeist Films in the US.
Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh Especially for the casting of someone who looked uncannily like a demented Jack Palance, and for his part in that dance sequence. And for just being so joyously inconsequential!
Dead or Alive For its hyper-kinetic first reel, for the Douglas Sirk on Heat middle section replete with irregular and mostly irrelevant deadpan irruptions of Miike craziness and for its truly preposterous finale, which, unlike for some people I spoke to, for me brilliantly capped off a terrific film rather than spoilt it!
Dead or Alive 2 Much bitsier than the first, but with some great moments if a less cohesive film overall. This one made me think of Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, 1993), with gangsters playing silly games beach-side in their downtime, yet with violence never far away. And I loved the justification for their work as hired assassins – to save the starving millions! This also though worried me – as I feared awhile that it almost made sense, after a Milo Minderbinder-esque fashion… It also had a very funny cameo at the start from Shinya Tsukamoto. I’m far from accustomed to him being funny!
Happiness of the Katakuris Just plain silly and very scattershot – so lots of fun, and lotsa laughs!
Georgie Girl A terrific doco on New Zealand’s transsexual MP Georgina Beyer, and timely too – just post-screening, she’s been re-elected by even greater a margin than that with which first saw her installed in The Beehive. A rather inspirational piece I should think, especially to any out there whose otherness might at times weigh upon them. With great archival footage of a Wellington ‘exotica’ scene I was rather too busily involved with seeing out my infancy to have been greatly cognizant of at the time! (I grew up in Wellington.)
Dark Water Hideo Nakata turns it on again – and provides once more an object lesson to contemporary horror filmmakers in economy, pacing, the benefits of full characterisations whilst working with ‘types’ and conventions, and in the gentle accumulation of dread.
Donnie Darko Wonderful first feature, which reminded me of Better Off Dead (Savage Steve Holland, 1985) in its successful amalgamation of quotidian teen goings-on and concerns with a little grotesquerie and hyperbole – and yet with a Twilight Zone-like twist to it all, which could perhaps lay the ground for a sequel missing its eponymous lead character!
Film Ist 7-12 Most enjoyable, occasionally very droll montage of silent movie clips from much farther and broader afield than the MIFF catalogue promised (just because the director’s name was ‘Deutsch’ doesn’t mean all the material he was working with was likewise!). Great soundtrack too.
Take Care of My Cat A perfectly charming slice o’ life piece from a Korean first-timer. I think it could happily have gone on for considerably longer – I’m the more convinced of this for feeling this way despite my exhaustion with its being the final MIFF film I saw, on the very closing night of the festival!
Love and Anarchy: The Wild Wild World of Jaimie Leonarder This I’m listing more for its subject matter and for some wonderful archival footage than for any great finesse in its crafting, which I felt was slightly lacking. But having met Jaimie just weeks previous, when he and partner Aspasia came down from Sydney to co-present some fun sex education and hygiene screenings with Jack Sargeant at MUFF, I got quite a kick out of this doco, for Leonarder is one of the most charming and caring people I’ve ever met (refer Jim Knox’s write-up on this film in the Daily Reports, who summed him and his work up beautifully). With Jaimie and Aspasia having just presented some more screenings in Melbourne just last week, perhaps now is their time and some long-overdue recognition outside of Sydney’s fringes theirs to enjoy, after so many years of tirelessly championing culture and society’s marginalia – most encouraging for all struggling like-minded folk!
Making Venus Very enjoyable, documenting the protracted production of a local low budget feature film that somehow one knew was doomed from this doco’s outset. This film also had the good grace not to revel too much in the irony of its own successful, wholly epiphytic existence… While more and more of other people’s money was forever being thrown at The Money Shot and its changing personnel and titles, blowing out by the film’s close to over a million big ones, Making Venus ultimately was made for… how much?
* * *
by Jim Knox
Favourable portent, second night of the Fest’: prior to SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! London Underground, waiting in the foyer of Greater Union’s Russell Street cinema, I make an innocent remark about the background music (predictably obtrusive, some sorry character’s discordant bellyache) to one of the cinema staffers. Segue to NWA (and always nice to hear the word “fuck” broadcast at nonchalantly queuing white folks!) then damnit here’s a delicately lilting female vocal and faux-celtic acoustic instruments: vaguely familiar, inna middle conversation I half-consciously fight to recall. Lord help me, is Britt Ekland’s lyric from The Wickerman! A genuine moment of sonic surrealism – pagan sex-music plays to politely milling petty bourgeois, and the atmosphere ripe with the promise of exotic enchantments. (and, freak-of-serendipity, the most recent e-mail from Mark Webber’s ‘Secret Cinema’ had announced. a showing of The Wickerman!)
Too far busy (and frugal!) to take in so much of MIFF, but here’s choice moments.
1) SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! Most of this stuff was a complete revelation, and heaps more engaging than I’d expected. Shame about the diminutive audience; there’d be less pedestrian digital work if contemporary artists chose to make informed viewing of their precursors (many of whom were very far in advance of them.).
2) Brothers Quay Retrospective Magical and haunting, these films are among the most confoundingly great cinema since the earliest Buñuels. A rare treat to gain repeated close viewings of their animation – I fell into the act of collating an incomplete inventory of their obsessions (telegraph wire, disembodied hands, ladders, cross-hatching, fur etc). I had to weep at the humility with which they so beautifully honour their mentor in The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer; In Absentia still stuns after repeated viewings, but definitely benefits by its score being played-back at an appropriate volume (i.e. loud – this isn’t some anodyne rock promo clip, it’s actually intended to communicate *distress* to its audience). Most surprising here was the dance work, Duet, which made me long for the inclusion of their absent ETA Hoffman adaptation, The Sandman. Other omissions: their advertising commissions – award winning works for Fox and Honeywell are more inventive and inspired than any of their rock-clips (expedient day-work, these last; which play like a less-able animator attempting to imitate their visual style).
3) Jeunet and Caro Retrospective Inconsistent, but welcome nonetheless. Some of their titles might have been translated by Systranet (Le bunker de la derniere rafale is The Bunker of the Last Burst of Gunfire, not The Last Burst Bunker!), but the works themselves impress as a triumph of visual imagination. Foutaises is a delightful catalogue of likes and dislikes, with an audacious edit; but Le bunker. was the rare gem in this collection – the most studied interrogation of a crypto-homo/post-Bauhaus/Nuremberg aesthetic I’ve ever seen, with brutally crafted musique concrete sound design by the Parazite group (and nice to see French cartoonist, Bruno Richard, in a rare cameo!).
4) Film Ist. 7-12 I was ambivalent about Gustave Deutsch’s preceding Film Ist. 1-6 when it screened at MIFF in (I think) 1998 – despite some occasionally evocative imagery, it just seemed too long for its initial premise. Film Ist. 7-12 is refreshingly fun and funny – a game with cinematic discontinuity that builds startling new narratives from some historical trends in silent cinema. While always sensitive to his source material, Deutsch has created a playful dialogue with cinema’s origins; and Fennesz’s score is perfectly counter pointed to the image.
5) Blue Vinyl Disappeared to its single, Saturday am screening, this one passed almost unnoticed. Guerrilla-doco in the style of Mike Moore; very warm and human; co-director Judith Helfand applies a light, self-deprecating touch – beautifully balanced to the often chilling fruits of her enquiry.
6) All About Lily Chou-Chou Couldn’t make it to this one myself, but my Asian-cinema-aficionado little Sister tells me it was the best thing she saw!
1) The new Miyazaki anime, Spirited Away. Apparently even better than Kiki’s Delivery Service (screened in MIFF’s Studio Ghibli retrospective, 1998); after last year’s successful release of Princess Monoke, this would’ve pulled thousands. And sure, it’ll most likely receive a commercial release but in the context of the existing anime content, its absence defeats programming (and commercial!) logic.
2) The new Chytilova, Expulsion From Paradise. The IMDB rap promises astonishing new assaults on reason by the Daisies-helmer; this one screened at BIFF a week-and-a-half prior – Melbourne audiences will probably never get the chance to see it.
3) New works by Michael Snow, Alexander Sokurov, Peter Watkins, and Seijun Suzuki. Ditto the above.
• The author acknowledges that his previous posting to this site was an ill-conceived diatribe; instead of serving any documentary purpose, it merely illustrated the writer’s complete exhaustion (after organising the Mu-Meson Archives screening, regular film society screening, etc). To the writer’s discredit, it contained several inaccurate and offensive statements – specifically in relation to Adrian Martin’s criticisms of the Thomas Pynchon documentary in The Age, which Martin did express criticism on three times throughout the Festival. Forgiveness is very sincerely asked of all persons who may have suffered any undeserved grief or harm as a result. And while the author maintains that cinema is a necessary subject for serious and dedicated enquiry, he has never believed that such enquiry should compromise upon the principles of civil fellowship to which he, more usually, aspires. Sorry.
• Senses of Cinema also apologises to Adrian Martin for erroneously publishing the inaccurate and untruthful criticisms made against him in Jim Knox’s previous entry.
* * *
by Sam Pupillo
I enjoyed this Festival immensely, if only on a mini pass. The Melbourne film community is the closet I seem to get to some kind of feeling of communality in this town. Here is a best five list from the 19 or so films seen:
To Be and To Have (Nicolas Philibert, 2002) Cinémathèque please show Rouquier’s Farribique and Biquefarre or Luc Mollet’s The Comedy of Work again very soon. This was another film like Elia Suileman’s Divine Intervention that is too beautiful for this world!
Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhang-Ke, 2002) Wow, what can you say, but this guy has to be the most interesting director around at the moment. Tsai Ming-Liang shows the forces of emotions, Hou Hsiao-Hsien the forces of history, and Jia Zhang-Ke the forces of economics and its fun. Straub does Cassavetes! I’m not going to forget the “smoking kisses” in a hurry: two of my coolest moments in films at the Festival this year. I’ve started using Unknown Pleasures as a yardstick, so I’ve been pretty tough on “existential” and romantic focused films. After Unknown Pleasures, they have to be pretty focused and honest to escape the criticism of “belly gazing” for me.
What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2001) This is not just a crazy spirit story of loneliness and alienation. This is a movie about life, death and time passing á la Ozu. Worthy of sitting next to Ozu’s I was Born But…, There was a Father and A Story of Floating Weeds (silent).
Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000) Another wow. One my greatest movies of all time I think. Antonioni does Ozu of Ohayo (Good Morning)! Dysfunctional family story, like the recent Moretti’s The Son’s Room, but richer, more ambivalent and a not so “happy ending”. Clocks in at nearly three hours, but a beautifully paced and constructed movie I felt.
My Brother the Vampire (Sven Taddicken, 2001) Getting My Brother Laid is the cynical, nasty title that this incredibly inventive, energetic and sweet movie got but does not deserve! The sort of film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape could have been if it was made by a healthier and more honest film culture. Like in To Be and To Have, turtles will rock cinematically!
Honourable mentions to Divine Intervention, Take Care of My Cat and Address Unknown.
* * *
by Angelo Salamanca
Please find below, in alphabetical order, my favourites out of the 70 odd sessions attended at MIFF 2002.
The Bench For its no-nonsense depiction of a lost soul pickled in alcohol.
Cry Woman For a remarkable central performance by Liao Qin, the script’s dry humour, and the gut-wrenching final scene.
Deep Breath For its uncompromising bleakness in its study of bored, doomed youth.
Every Day God Kisses Us On The Mouth For making me care about the fate of a contemptible human being
The Execution of Wanda Jean For its love story angle between an Afro-American lesbian on death row and her white middle class male attorney.
Getting My Brother Laid For its irreverent humour.
In the Mirror of Maya Deren For introducing me to an extraordinary filmmaker, artist and humanitarian.
Minor Mishaps For its incisive study of a family in flux after the death of its matriarch.
Night Shift For its unrelenting menacing quality.
The Orphan of Anyang For its ability to engage its audience paradoxically through the technique of keeping them at a distance.
Paradox Lake For affording some of the best micro-budget independent filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time.
Red Satin For its constant playfulness and superbly subtle performance from its principal actor.
The Safety of Objects For its restrained treatment of dangerously melodramatic material.
The Son For its simple but powerful message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Song for Martin For its multi-layered and eminently flawed central characters.
Take Care of My Cat For its intelligent, melancholic and moving depiction of friendship, love and disillusionment amongst young South Korean women.
What Time is it There? For its poetry of both word and vision. A wonderful example of how slow pacing and minimal dialogue can convey all that’s meditative, all that is in conflict within the human heart.
Y Tu Mamá También For giving the road movie an extra lane and affording clear directions into the unknown, defaced sign-posts notwithstanding.
* * *
by Fiona A. Villella
From MIFF 2002, I took away numerous precious film experiences:
What Time is it There?
Il Mio Viaggio in Italia
In Praise of Love
Take Care of my Cat
Stephen Dwoskin short from SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT: London Underground
The Street of Crocodiles, Brothers Quay
And those perhaps less precious but just as prized:
Waiting for Happiness
Luckily, I had had a chance to catch many other precious, prized films at other film festivals earlier in the year: Silence…we’re rolling; Dream Work; In the Memory of Maya Deren; Yi Yi; Tape; Wild Innocence.
A few comments on the Festival overall and its editorial line. I would so much prefer a festival that was less consumerist and much more political, daring, and genuinely bold in all aspects. There is no denying the reality of finance and meeting costs, but surely the inclusion of films with distribution or the ‘crowd-pleasers’ means the equal inclusion of those films that are non-mainstream or ‘difficult’. Though retrospectives of young, contemporary filmmakers are valued, it is just as important to feature retrospectives of ‘important’ filmmakers from the past. This recognition and celebration of film history is a vital ingredient to any film festival that truly aims to serve the local cinephile or film enthusiast community. One thing that MIFF certainly does, however, is to bring out and bring together the local film community; and most of all, to generate discussion, criticism and feedback. In this way, we experience that fleeting but wonderful moment where people are articulating what they love and what they hate about cinema, culture and criticism. Always a good thing, and what this local film culture could benefit so much more from.