Sunday, August 7, 2011

MIFF 2011 Summary

That's it for 2011. It was a richer experience than  the past few. Highlights? I've already reviewed each film I saw so I'll start with something phsyical and trivial. I all but gave up queueing this year. Over last few years I've obviated something that used to make me gnaw things. I sit at the front. Third from is best but if that's gone the very front row is fine, too. As long as it's central. At that short distance your position gets very important.

It took me years to realise and relax about the fact that most people choose the middle rows and many even prefer the back. Now I only have to count every occasion when I've lined up around the corner on Russell St for a film at the Forum, standing for forty-five minutes in the cold and rain only to get the exact seat I wanted. I never failed to get my ideal seat this year only this year I only queued for three films. The rest I was able to swan in close to the screening time and take up my post.

This means that the sole attraction of membership has now disappeared. On those few occasions when I stood in queues outside the Russell and saw the members gathered at ease around a blazing privilege I thought I probably should have .... but no... Also, this year there was a lot more avoiding long unmoving queues by allowing people in a little ahead of time.

I've read on other blogs and heard in conversation with fellow punters of some atrocities of scale among audiences. I'm happy to say I didn't witness any. Some vague growls at the behaviour of the kind of goose who cannot tell cinema from loungeroom, perhaps but nothing egregious. Oh, well there was that guy with the dark ages body odour which made me find another seat but apart from that not even feet on the backs of seats. Are people getting used to cinema etiquette again or is it just old and/or gentle people like me who sit at the front?

I should also point out here that crowd control has not only got more efficient this year but that they seem to be a much nicer bunch. I hope that whoever did the recruiting for the misanthropes of previous years had a chance to catch some flix at this years' turnout. Eyes open.

The range was good for me, including two new ones from a favourite director, an exhilarating gut punch of a horror film that might suggest that the country that both consolidated and castrated the genre can still produce serious and powerful examples of it. The Woman is my pick of the bunch with its unironic embrace of tough eviscerating horror. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I don't have to elaborate on that statement to suggest why it might be my best of the fest. Maybe the way o' the future? End of Animal delighted both with its courage of its central conceit and faith renewal in what South Korea has brought to the table of imaginative and grotesque cinema. A debut feature I'll be hunting down and then seeking further work from the same. Attenberg provided a quite beautiful last movement to the festival. Was it really from the same team that produced the scarifying Dogtooth?

Even the middling entries had some merit. I didn't hate anything outright though I was increasingly unamused at Morgan Spurlock's new self promotion and wince at the extra luggage Errol Morris added to his otherwise tight story of scandal and elusive truth, Tabloid. Innocent Saturday worked a street level view of a major disaster and made some sly points about the society that allowed the disaster to escalate. The Silence of Joan struck me as Kubrick's lessons learned and applied.  Play, The Solitude of Prime Numbers and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia all show enough promise for me to follow the careers of their creators at least beyond the toe test. The urban folk of A Stoker passed easily, keeping within its welcome with a brief running time and plain rather than dull script.

Strange to see Sion Sono straightening up with two classical three act narratives. Both Cold Fish and Guilty of Romance played out in more or less linear fashion developing their themes efficiently along with their stories' momentum. Both good, engaging works but I was missing the weird flamboyant blend of grotesque and often anti narrative style of Strange Circus or Noriko's Dinner Table. I know, I should stop being such a fanboy, grow up and realise that every artist needs room to breathe and develop and this can often necessitate some relief time from the very thing that brought attention to them in the first place.

These two films reminded me of another occasion at a long gone MIFF when I was disappointed at Takeshi Miike's One Missed Call. I did my damnedest to imbue the film with great irony as the shock meister's take on J-horror. But really, it was just him trying it out. Good film but he came from and continued to better and more original. See also Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Loft and Doppelganger. Both disappointments I actually felt embarrrassed by. Gone was the singular grip on horror that he used on Kairo, Cure and Kourei and here were goofy winks that put distance between him and what had made his career.

A reversal of this directed my choice away from seeing Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse. Yes, I go on about how much I appreciate filmmakers who can reduce or abandon narrative structure and forge strong works of fiction. But it was seeing the water-treading Man From London a few years back and then the seven plus hours of his more acclaimed Satantango that had me finally nixing the new one as a choice (right up to the hour of its first, reportedly disastrous, screening). My somewhat uncharacteristic circuit breaker was a preemptive zombified boredom at two and a half hours of worthy nothing. I know better than this. Uncle Boonmee which does very similar things is a favourite of mine from the past few years and Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies is one of my favourites from the last two decades. Both of those have what most of Tarr's films lack, and it ain't long takes and careful studies of landscape and human behaviour however still it can get (I love seeing that work); they have warmth and whimsy to enrich what is already rich but never fulsome. So, no Turin Horse for this bum on seat.

All up a fun fest, catching up with folk o'er a hot flick and quenching it with an ale at the Forum lounge (always a pleasure). Oh, kudos, too, to the makers of this year's festival promos which proved well conceived and actually funny (and after more than one viewing). For once I didn't dread the next iteration of the inspired by committee promo after the still ads. The MIFF Tales 60th anniversary vignettes were also good but usually screened when the audience was still gobbling and texting. I only heard the audio of these on about two occasions. Start times were pretty much observed (memories of being full-bladdered in the queue for INLAND EMPIRE while the previous session's Q&A dragged on ... then there was the three hour film to get through). I did notice the lack of shorts before features this year but if that means that screening times were easier to organise then I'll put up with that. Still...

I initially frowned at the uncharacteristically high number of US indies in the program but then remembered that without a real arthouse scene in this city even these will probably plummet into obscurity without festival support, as much as any Armenian noir or Peruvian ghost tale.

Joke of the festival goes to my friend Tatiana who texted from the mangled screening of The Turin Horse that the endless long takes were like "waiting for Godard". I'm ashamed to report that I, Godard fan, Beckett fan and mashup fan, didn't think of that myself.

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