Wow, I'm so much behind my schedule with this blog, it's scary to even start. But I figure I owe you a report on how the Festival went and what I thought about some of the key movies. I probably saw more from the programme of this year's festival than I will ever again. Most of the films were good, too, with very few bad ones.
The Opening Film:
Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque)
Like the director Joann Sfar, I also am fascinated by Serge Gainsbourg. The dude was a real cultural institution, yet also an anarchistic tour-de-force constantly flipping the bird to the government. Kind of like my hero Jörn Donner in Finland, but with more musician skills.
Anyway, the film isn't a traditional straight-forward biography flick. The familiar highs and lows do appear, but the movie advances mostly in a spiral-like pattern. Gainsbourg's life was fueled by his muses and constantly finding a new one shifted his life's gear multiple times. I also like Sfar's idea to mix fantasy sequences which remind of his own cartoons. Unfortunatelly, these start to repeat themselves toward the end. The spiral-structure thus works as a weak point as well. But as the music is top-notch and the main character suitably enigmatic (the film doesn't concern itself in solving the mystery surrounding Gainsbourg), this is a suitable epic to begin a festival with.
Love & Anarchy Gala Film:
The Killer Inside Me
Michael Winterbottom's latest film is a hard one to put a finger around. I was expecting a gritty film exposing the twin moralistic life in a mid-american small town. I got that to an extent - the film's violence truly is hard to take.
Unfortunately, Winterbottom wants to make a modern noir in the vein of the Coen brothers. This means to him the use of ironic 50's country ballads and Over-The-Top black humour. This creates a bizarre athmosphere to the film where one can't quite know whether it should be taken seriously or not. The end sequence in particular feels like a slap to the face for everyone that raised an actual concern in the film as a story - not merely a meta-level noir satire. It's sad to say that this doesn't work entirely - the first half of the film was very good. It's best to stick to the real deal and keep waiting for True Grit.
The Surprise Film:
The reveal of Love & Anarchy's Surprise Film was a pleasant gift for finnish fans of genre cinema and a lump of coal for the non-finnish speaking ones. Nevertheless, the first finnish screening of the first feature film by Jalmari Helander was greeted by an enthusiastic full theatre of friends and film-lovers. And boy, the response the film got certainly was the most ecstatic I've ever seen in my short life.
I'll have to promote this film too - it's one of the best genre films ever made in this country. In fact, it's not a film just for us finns. It's a film fans of cult movies and genre cinema everywhere can and should enjoy. Basically, this is a children's horror film (like the Goonies etc.) about a mythological, evil Santa Claus. The film's ridiculous premise is played mostly straight, but with just enough one-liners and comedy to keep things interesting. This is not a small feat. Helander proves himself to be a capable director to deliver both this, as well as great cinematography, good performances from his actors and a good number of memorable scenes and quotes. To see this film should be on the Christmas wish list of all good boys & girls.
The Closing Film:
The Festival closed at a grandiose note with the ponderous sci-fi from the Dutch director Jaco van Dormael. I didn't in fact see the film at the closing ceremony, but later on when it premiered in the finnish theatres.
Mr. Nobody is a quite good tale, that is still less than the sum of its parts. The central idea of examining the routes in life every choice we make opens, is a good one. However, the film is too long and a little up its own ass with cleverness. We wouldn't need Kaufman- and Lynch-like surrealism from others while these two are still at large. Plus, I still don't like Jared Leto, even though I must admit, he does pull a pretty good role in this one. The film is OK, but not essential.
I saw most of the candidates for the competition for a distribution deal in Finland. In the end the winner was the japanese Summer Wars, but with the more worthy Winter's Bone also getting an additional distribution.
This satire of New York's art circles is carefully made - most of the OTT art seen in the film could pass as modern art in a museum. But for me, the actual jokes in the film didn't work that well. It's a cute film all in all, just didn't tickle my ribs. Plenty of other people seemed to enjoy it more.
All That I Love
This Polish film about a young punk rocker is based on it's director Jacek Borcuch's own memories of the days of summer in the 70's. It's kickass that the punk rockers oppose the communist regime, even though by western standards the punk may be a bit tame. There is also a nice love story of kids from different social structures.
The new film from Bong Joon-Ho was my favorite to win the price, but as some screenings had to be cancelled because of subtitle problems, it didn't have that big a chance. Shame, as no-one can mix family drama, comedy and suspense quite like Bong. This time he has chosen to do a murder mystery, from the point of view of the mother of the main suspect. The focus of the film is maintained throughout the film and the cold cinematography of a Korean small town is as bleak as the film's outlook.
This took the prize, which no doubt was orchestrated by teenaged anime freaks. I liked the director Mamoru Hosoda's previous film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but this just aggravated me. One should respect other cultures when watching foreign movies but this glorification of japanese families just feels wrong. The film embraces a culture where everyone who isn't constantly getting approval of their life choices from the family is immediately shunned upon. Sounds more like the mafia than an ideal community to me. It doesn't help that most of the characters are super annoying too. I wasn't even that interested about the virtual reality the film offers, but the end of the world scenario near the end a least brings some excitement to this dud.
I'm happy to see this film got recognition. It's almost like a modern companion piece to the upcoming True Grit, as this one also is about a teenaged girl taking matters into her own hands when her father isn't there anymore. She must find her father to pay off a debt that threatens to take their home. The journey goes to the dark corners of midwest america, to drug labs and to the mercy of gang members. If Mother was bleak, this is absolutely nihilistic.
Some films pulled in full theatres and stirred interesting conversation. Here's a selection of these.
Life During Wartime
The latest from Todd Solondz walks along paths already crossed. I haven't even seen Happiness, but this still feels like an epilogue. As I've understood, this one's predecessor handled quite sick subject matters. This one, however, is almost sickeningly sweet. The satirical looks on the effect on suburban life such matters as homosexuality, the reveal of a father's paedophilia and the confusing foreign policies of the Bush administration bring only few laughs and insights.
This documentary about the New Age art movement in New York packs steam as it goes along. The beginning is not that interesting, but once the chronology gets to a point where the artists are ready to experiment, and the film shares some of these experiments, it is a fascinating piece.
The Secret of Kells
The Irish animation earns all the acclaim it has recieved. The animation doesn't resemble too much of anything I've seen before. It's highly stylized and the historical roots of both the film's artwork and its story keep things interesting. But still the screenplay has a share of flat scenes and some characters who aren't fleshed out properly. It's still a good yarn.
Life and Death of a Porno Gang
Pretentious shit that made even me nauseous.
Some more pretentious shit, but this is more fun. In fact, I'm not sure whether Bruce LaBruce's latest should be seen as a Korine-like "fuck you" to his arthouse audiences. He mixes gay pornography with arthouse filmmaking in his films. Yet, in this one, he does both of these sloppily. The story concerns a hunky gay zombie who fucks the dead back to life. These acts are clearly staged, as the zombie's black semen-spurting member doesn't even look real. Nor is the art side of this particularly insightful - more the most obvious symbolism and camera angles and pretentious music. I think La Bruce is laughing somewhere.
The Danish war documentary suffers a little from being published only now and not two years ago. Now that we've had actually good fictional films pondering about the point of the war against terrorism, the film seems old. But it's not the film's fault itself. rather, the work of Janus Metz of getting both insightful quotes about the war and high-tension fight scenes captured while being at the frontline, is nothing short of magnificent. And even the delay hasn't wiped off all the controversialism - after all the futile war is still raging. For no reason.
In addition to the preseen films I had in the previous article, I saw some great films during the festival, which deserve a mention as well.
Love & Anarchy has a knack of introducing me to my new heroes. The latest one is the japanese comedian Hisashi Matsumoto. I've talked the love I have for Big Man Japan in this blog before. However, this is something else. Symbol is an even bigger WTF-trip that goes its way to parallel a film a grandiose as 2001: A Space Odyssey. You woudn't believe it from the start, when it just seems to be two opposing stories: one of a mexican luchador preparing for a match and one of a japanese man trapped in a white room without an exit. It gets much more surreal soon after this. The film requires both a broad mind for surrealism and an enjoyment of fart humour. Just my cup of tea, then.
I used to hate Jacques Tati. I still wouldn't watch his films as I think he's about as funny as cholera and about as poignant today. But it takes a genius like animator Sylvain Chomet to shatter these perspectives. In his lates film, Chomet has taken an old, unfilmed script by Tati and created it into a beautiful and mournful animation about the passing of times. It does feature some of Tati's weaknesses such as some lame "jokes", but in an animated world the laconic and little-gestured slapstic actually works better. Even if a joke falls flat, one can admire the beautiful backgrounds or the smooth animation. I also didn't see any Tati films which have an ending as sad as this. Maybe he got better with age.
The White Stripes Under The Great White Northern Lights
Of course I love the White Stripes and would love to see them play. The closest I got was to view this documentary which goes its way pretty far to explain what makes White Stripes the band it is. Improvisation and inventiveness are the key words as Jack and Meg tour Canada and do concerts in bizarre places, such as a bowling alley, an old folk's home and a small ship near the pier. There is also interview pieces and concert footage. In the latter I would hope the songs could be played all the way through, but at least this way the running time isn't too overwhelming.