Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Love & Anarchy 2011 Halftime Report

Image Source: Rakkautta & Anarkiaa -blogi

 Happy Festivus! It's been a pretty funky week at the Helsinki International Film Festival already, with almost all of my free time devoted to seeing great films at The Love & Anarchy Festival. The festival does still go on until sunday. Here are small reviews of six notable festival films that still have screenings during the final weekend of the festival.

Remember to also check out the blog post about this year's tips for HIFF for my previewing reviews of festival films.

13 Assassins (13 No Shikaku, Japan)
Director: Takashi Miike

Each HIFF offers at least one new film from the prolific japanese director Takashi Miike. Too bad that at least everything I've seen from him since the start of the decade has been more or less crap. 13 Assassins is hailed to be the director's return to form. This samurai epic is certainly at least worth a look. This time around Miike won't allow his signature splatter style take over the movie, and there is reasonably less blood and effects scenes than usual.

In Japan, 1844, Naritsugu, the son of a powerful shogun is a raging lunatic, who kills and maims people for his own amusement. The officials of the shogun go behind his back to assassinate Naritsugu before he wrecks the entire nation with his acts. Thus, the samurai warrior Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) hires 12 other swordsmen to lure Naritsigu into a trap to murder him. But the son of a shogunate keeps also hunderds of bodyguards with him at all times. It seems likely that the samurai won't make it out of the mission alive.

The problem with the film is, really, that virtually everything about it has been made to perfection almost 60 years ago in The Seven Samurai. I'm not actually a really big fan of the samurai genre as they tend to be boring unless done absolutely right, like Kurosawa did in his magnum opus. In Miike's film, the personalities of the 13 main characters don't really bother me, save for the obligatory Wild Card, who isn't actually a samurai. But he really likes to mouth and show off to them. The end fight scene is impressive and worth the price of admission alone. Too bad that the dramatic parts before that seem to drag.


Page One: Inside New York Times (USA)
Director: Andrew Rossi

Print media is at a crossroads, which, from the American point of view, looks bleak. Many historical newspapers have gone bankrupt because the markets have shrinked considerably. This does not go unnoticed at the offices of New York Times, perhaps the most trusted and highest quality newspaper in America. The air of fear flows through the corridors, as editors and journalists keep a close watch on the happenings in the industry and try to figure out how not to go bankrupt themselves.

But this documentary is not only gloom and doom. We have one of the most kick-ass leading heroes of recent times in David Carr. The straight-forward journalist isn't afraid to speak what's on his mind with his has-seen-it-all voice. The man used to be a crack-addict, but managed to turn his life around and is currently one of the most respected authors on the staff of NYT. He also represents the newspaper in various instances and is willing to defend it with his teeth and nails if necessary. The young punks at Vice may think they are edgy and inventive, but Carr has had it all figured out long before them.

At times the film is looking for its focus. The work that goes into developing news stories is skimmed, and most of the film ponders the purpose of old-school newsmaking in the modern world. The film takes a stand that high-profile investigative journalism is still relevant and necessary. The NYT editors think the same, and decide to battle free news on the internet by allowing their stories to be read only by purchasing a subscription. NYT is an institution, and that's something, the film argues, that we need today more than anything.


Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (USA)
Director: Rodman Flender

Another institution struggling for relevance is the talk show host Conan O'Brien. He was greedily weaseled out from his dream job hosting America's biggest show, The Tonight Show, but he earned 4 million dollars as a settlement. But money doesn't make the man happy, not by a long shot. O'Brien is desperate to entertain, and puts on a tour across America during the months he's legally obliged to appear on television. As the title implies, the performer is so obsessive about his need to entertain, that he really can't just take a vacation to clear his head and take a breather. He simply must go on, because that's what shows must do.

The film brings an insight to the personality of the comedian (who by the way is phenomenally popular here in Finland). He is proven to be hilariously funny and talented even when he's off the set. But he's also passive-aggressive, using his joking to put down the people around him from time to time. That doesn't mean that he's not a good co-worker and as the film goes on it becomes more and more apparent that his crew is like another family to him. He also insists that even the smaller pawns call him just Conan, and even important meetings have a thick air of silliness within them. For instance, Conan's assistant must speak to a banana (as to a telephone) to be heard.

The amount of fans in Team Coco is overwhelming and the tour sells out in a matter of hours. Conan feels obliged to be a good sport to the fans, and agrees to meet them personally, take photos and get them back stage access. But as the tour goes on and he gives all that he's got each day, he becomes bore and more wired. After a background dancer's extended family arrives backstage to greet him while he was resting, he acts like a good sport, but explodes after they have left. The film is a multi-dimensional personal piece of an entertainer, who might just wear himself out. The fact that Conan's film is also funny and contains great music pieces is just an icing on the cake.


Our Day Will Come (Notre Jour Viendra, France)
Director: Romain Gavras

One of the biggest surprises of the festival came with this one. I figured this was to be a big screen version of M.I.A.'s music video Born Free, also directed by Gavras. The controversial video features a dystopian world where red-haired people are slaughtered, but they also plan for an uprising. But in Gavras's feature film, there's not one note of M.I.A.'s music left.

Remy (Olivier Barthelemy) is an awkward teenager without friends. He is humiliated when revealed that his online girlfriend is actually a man (and an ugly goth). Remy decides to leave it all and goes on a road trip with the eccentric Patrick (Vincent Cassel). Patrick is a head case, doing whatever comes to his mind. He is also keen on humiliating Remy, as well as urinating in hot tubs and lighting the breasts of the girl he's having sex with on fire. Together they figure that the world is discriminating against them. Remy wants to escape to Ireland where he thinks redheads will be safe. But Patrick doesn't really know what he wants.

It is left for the viewer to decide whether the film takes place in the same world as Born Free (perhaps earlier), or if all the discrimination is just in the heads of the protagonists. The road trip does certainly have arthouse aesthetics in it, with scenes switching, people appearing and disappearing without explanation. The film plays with some heavy symbolism, that goes to pretty dark places. It's no wonder the film's colour scale is dark and grey in tone. The mundane lives of the people in the beginning are dark and greay as well, yet they can't escape the gloom, nor get anything out of rebellion either. The film is also devilishly funny, with the two misanthropic main characters bumbling and playing against each other. It's a stylish arthouse flick, but still highly reccommeneded for anyone that has ever wanted to pick a fight against the system.


I Saw The Devil (Akmareul Boatda, South-Korea)
Director: Kim Jee-woon

An even bleaker view of the human nature is on offer with this Korean revenge thriller. The film is notoriously violent, and as dark as they come. Kyung-cul (Choi Min-sik) is a psychopath, raping and murdering women he comes across. He also likes to chop the bodies of his victims into tiny pieces. This fate lands also on the girlfriend of secret agent Su-hyeon (Lee Byeong-heon). When pieces of her body are discovered in a nearby river, Su-hyeon takes a leave from work and starts to systematically find and murder predators in order to find the culprit. When he eventually tracks Kyung-cul down, he has an elaborate scheme with which to have his vengeance. But the plan has its flaws and the roles of cat and mouse may switch.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it's way over long. 1,5 hours would've sufficed to tell the story, but Kim delves on the complicated plans of Su-hyeon's revenge. Watching extremely violent scenes for merely two and a half hours is an experience hard on the stomach. Kim has truly unleashed some horrible monsters from his id. But at the same time he asks whether even the revenge of the most horribly bloody acts is ever justified. Is it right to torture a man just because he is twisted beyond repair. The main pair both give out impressive roles, seething with hatred towards each other. The script is clever ebough itself. The Devil in the title may just be within us viewers for wanting Su-hyeon's cruel games to succeed and to both humiliate and brutally torture the murderer to death.

★★★ 1/2

Tyrannosaur (Great Britain)
Director: Paddy Considine

This British thriller is also bleak as all hell, but is among the best films of the festival. Paddy Considine, who's better known as an actor, has created an impressive first feature film, even though it makes you feel like shit by the end. Considine ponders the nature of violence, what drives people to it, how the victims feel it, and how one can live with himself after resorting to it. It takes place in the suburbs, where such things are not uncommon.

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a tough-as-nails pensioner who's prone to violent outbursts. Such anger results in him killing his beloved dog, leaving the widower all alone in the world. He has to witness a family next door act violent towards each other, including the ten-year-old Samuel, and considers beating the father up. Haunted by his inner demons, one day he wanders to a flea market, owned by the Christian Hannah (Olivia Coleman), but still refuses to take any help from her. Hannah herself is living in an abusive relationship, with his husband constantly beating him up. The two broken people start to lean towards each other for support.

Considine has a clear eye to depict some of the worst parts of England, namely Leeds in West Yorkshire. The film feels so realistic that the viewer is able to imagine the smells of dog, piss and blood. The film may resemble a film like Gran Torino at first, but offers no similar redemptions for the characters by the end. There are also no moral sermons on offer here. The world is, and remains a hole filled with evil, brutality, and shades of grey instead of black and white. Saying anything more would just diminish the film's power. Just go see it.


So, there's that. I urge you to hurry to ticket offices now and buy the last remaining tickets. Have a great weekend!

Cartoon credits: Ville Tiihonen

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