LATAURO @ MIFF #1: THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, RED, BUBBLE, MIDNIGHT MOVIES
Recently in Melbourne there's been talk of introducing a new International Shopping Festival, where punters can come to our fair city and enjoy the joys of shopping... a lot. Love or hate the idea, the most amusing part of it for me was the fact that they don't know when to have it. There are so many arts festivals and sporting events here, there's no room for an extra festival in the calendar. Yes, Melbourne is a busy place.
Odd, then, that if I wasn't the film-obsessed social retard that I am, I wouldn't know that there was any kind of festival happening at all. The banners that usually adorn the street lights and buildings whenever there's a major event in town are notably absent. Only by heading to the box office at the Forum, or to one of the cinemas playing host to MIFF would you see any indication that the thing was on at all. It's not like the Melbourne International Film Festival is having trouble selling tickets or anything, but a little pomp and ceremony would be nice; particularly for those of us who feel like it's Christmas in July.
I have to admit to being a little nervous at MIFF starting. I've booked so many films, and I have so many work deadlines approaching, I'm worried about the complete lack of time I'm going to have. I've already cut down on sleeping and eating... what will one to four films per day do to my habits?!? All my fears disappeared on Thursday night when I came out of my first session and remembered how much I love having those virginal film experiences. Everything else we see, from Pixar films to superhero films to Oscar-bait films, has quite a bit of expectation attached. MIFF is all about letting the lights go down and having little-to-no idea of what's about to come up.
The festival kicked off on Wednesday night. The Opening Night film was not only one of the worst-kept secrets in the city, but was also Murali K. Thalluri's 2:37, which played recently at Cannes. No solid word yet on the audience's response, but I'm looking forward to seeing it later this year.
In the meantime, here's what I kicked off the festival with...
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
As someone who is fairly wary about how the OFLC here in Australia rates films, I was interested to see THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, a film that delves deep into what it is the USA's MPAA actually does, how it operates, and why some films are given more restrictive ratings than others. It's a very funny film that had the audience in hysterics most of the way through. Humour is quite important (but not essential) in documentaries such as this one, where the ludicrousness of a situation like the MPAA's supreme secrecy needs to be underlined.
Kirby Dick sits somewhere between the Michael Moore/Nick Broomfield school of documentary-making, and the other kind; the one that doesn't turn the filmmaker into the focus of all the attention. Most of the time he takes a back seat to the action, but there are times when he's required to be front and centre. In one of the film's best sequences, Dick submits the very film we're watching for ratings approval. As my friend pointed out, making a film about the process of making the film you're making is about as postmodern as it gets, but damn it's entertaining. It also helps to underscore how bizarrely cloaked the process of receiving a classification is, and how the appeals process is basically a joke.
The private investigators hired to find out the identities of the people who make the decisions are entertaining enough, but it's not until we find out a bit more about their personal lives that they become something more than comic devices. The way their personal lives suddenly and unexpectedly reflect one of the issues that Dick brings up about an aspect of classification is actually quite poignant. It's a lovely reveal that is cleverly underplayed.
The interviews with directors who have had similar dealings with the MPAA (notably Kevin Smith, Trey Parker and Mary Harron) reveal much of what we suspected all along: violence is fine, sex is not. But it's the way these facts are revealed, both through the Dick's directing style and through the interviewees' anecdotes, that make this film so essential and insightful. Essential viewing.
This was the short film played before BUBBLE, and I think it was a brilliant choice. Not because RED is particularly good, but because its long, ponderous nature helps underscore the fact that Soderbergh really knows what he's doing. RED is a film searching for a point, and given it takes sixteen minutes to do what it could have easily done in eight (and I don't think the pace would have suffered much), you tend to get a bit annoyed when the filmmakers stop the film instead of ending it. I like the use of colour (particularly, wait for it, red!), but metaphors and subtexts are useless unless you have a film to hang them on.
My love for Steven Soderbergh is not something I bother hiding (I've already trained some of my friends to refer to him as "Sodergod", which even I think is going a bit too far), but I recently acquired a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Whenever somebody tries to dismiss my adoration of the man as irrelevant because I love everything he makes, I point them to my ball-tearing review of OCEAN'S 12, which suitably proves my objectivity to be sound.
There's just something about the way he presents his films that appeals to me, and BUBBLE is certainly no exception. The script is written by Coleman Hough, who also wrote Soderbergh's FULL FRONTAL, a film I am always happy to openly and loudly defend. BUBBLE is a different fish, though, and it's probably the most complex and simple film I've ever seen. I don't think I've ever encountered a story that was so simply laid out as BUBBLE, yet the motivations and the character dynamics are so incredibly complex, you could discuss them for days and still have barely scratched the surface.
The biggest revelation the film has to offer is in its casting. You've never heard or seen of any of these actors before, and we witness perhaps the most naturalistic performances ever committed to film. Dustin Ashely in particular seems perpetually uncomfortable in his own skin, yet never so self-conscious that you don't believe him. I'd call it a strike of lightning if every actor in the piece wasn't as impressive. The fact that these "actors" really seem to be these people in real life actually enhances their performance, instead of causing a problem due to their lack of experience. I really didn't think the acting would be as good as it was.
With the notable exception of Michael Winterbottom, Steven Soderbergh is the only A-list director who is constantly challenging himself. Every time he makes a film, you feel as if he's trying to reinvent it. He doesn't do it in a showy way, but he always finds something new that hasn't been done to death. In BUBBLE, all of his experiments pay off, and I'm once again left awestruck. He's one of the few people who's really trying to do something new, and for that alone he should be commended.
BUBBLE is a film best seen without any prior story knowledge, as a big part of its effectiveness comes from the element of surprise. You might not be sure of where the film is going for a large part of its running time, but it never pauses or stagnates for a second. It's incredibly dense, even when it appears as if nothing is happening. It's a film that didn't manage to find its audience, but if you're willing to dig a little beneath the surface, you'll find one of the richest films of the year thus far.
MIDNIGHT MOVIES: FROM THE MARGIN TO THE MAINSTREAM
This is the film that would probably serve as the training video if AICN ever becomes a school or workplace. I didn't expect to see so many documentaries about the history of film, but I'm glad I did. MIDNIGHT MOVIES looks at the key films that formed the midnight movie phenomenon, including EL TOPO, PINK FLAMINGOS, THE HARDER THEY COME, ERASERHEAD and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. It includes interviews with the directors of all of those films (including John Waters talking about how he was so excited when he saw ERASERHEAD that, in all of the interviews he gave to the press about FLAMINGOS, he just ended up talking about how great Lynch's film was).
The film is presented in a fairly straight-forward manner, exploring each cult hit as it evolved from the previous one. It concisely shows how a film can completely lose its momentum when it becomes such a cult hit that the mainstream tries to take it on.
If the film has a failing, it's that the way it explores each of the films is so interesting, you crave more information. It would perhaps be better suited to five-part TV series, but that's really just the part of me that wanted to see more. If anyone ever asks you for a list of films that will provide them with a cheap film education, put MIDNIGHT MOVIES on the list, and do what you can to catch the next session.