AICN Downunder: LATAURO @ MIFF 08 #7: THE SAGA CONCLUDES
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #1: THE SAGA BEGINS...
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #2: IT AIN'T ALL WINE AND ROSES
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #3: EVERYONE'S A CRITIC? REALLY?
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #4: THE LESSER UNION
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #5: THE ROAD WARRIOR RETURNS
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #6: THE CINEMATIC OLYMPICS
LATAURO @ MIFF 08 #7: ...THE SAGA CONCLUDES
The final Melbourne International Film Festival wrap-up! Below are the five films I saw on MIFF's last day, and a wrap-up of the best and worst of the festival.
I didn't actually know anything about Derek Jarman, the English experimental artist who died from AIDS in the 1990s, so I had no real frame of reference to judge the film by; anything I needed to know about him would need to be contained within the doco. Written and narrated by Jarman's friend Tilda Swinton, this is a terrific and enlightening film about what it meant to be a gay artist in Thatcher's England. The film's real strength is that the majority of Jarman's story is told by Jarman himself, in archival interview footage. This very personal telling of the man's story (intercut with pieces by someone who knew him very well) made for a great watch, and my ignorance as to his work became irrelevant. A fascinating doco that's worth the time.
ASHES OF TIME REDUX
I haven't seen nearly as much as I should of Wong Kar Wai's films, but everything I've seen, I've loved. ASHES OF TIME REDUX was, therefore, an automatic must-see for me, despite the fact that I'd not seen the original. Unfortunately, my weekend was beginning to catch up with me, and the minimal sleep I'd had over the past two nights caused me to nod off during about half of this film. Not the fault of the film; I was just exhausted. What little I saw looked like a well-shot martial arts film that's laden with melodrama if I want to be kind, or soap operatics if I don't. I won't pass too much judgment due to my unavoidable napping, so I'll move quickly on...
I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW
The tale of two fans obsessed with pop singer Tiffany sounded good on paper, and the two certainly deliver. Both of these guys are convinced that they're destined to be with Tiffany, and it's fascinating to watch their obsessions manifest. One has Asperger's Syndrome, and the other was born an hermaphrodite, and has clearly suffered from some serious gender identity problems. It's impossible not to feel a lot of sympathy for these guys, but the film doesn't really emphasise this. Far too often, it feels like the filmmakers are making fun of these two, inviting us to laugh at them by lingering on a shot for too long, or adding some heavy-handed juxtaposition. That's not to say there isn't a great deal of amusement to be gained from the situation of these guys, but the way we're invited to laugh at them feels mean-spirited, and made everyone I saw the film with leave with a pretty nasty feeling. There are also a couple of instances where it's obvious the filmmakers have directly interfered; these two guys get in contact with one another with no explanation of how they came to meet, and the whole exercise is obviously orchestrated to give the doco a decent ending. It's an amazing tale, but that amazement comes from the subjects themselves; their stories should probably have been told with a little more restraint.
DEAD ON: THE LIFE AND CINEMA OF GEORGE A ROMERO
I was joking to my friends that after writing an evisceration of the Greater Union venue in an earlier MIFF column, events had been contrived so that every one of my films save for DEAD ON would be played in Greater Union. We approached the Capitol and discovered that DEAD ON had been moved to Greater Union. Sigh. Back we went in the cold that was bitey even for Melbourne, and made our ways into the cinema. The film was marred by projection problems (not the fault of the projectionist himself, a friend of mine, who was hamstrung by circumstance and equipment), and a ridiculously noisy crowd. The film itself, with missing titles and temp narration, did not seem like it was in a proper finished state to be played at MIFF. A few weeks earlier, I'd watched an earlier cut of the film on DVD to prepare for an interview with its director, Rusty Nails, and I have to say, the earlier cut was superior. Both are obviously a work-in-progress, and as such, it feels a bit inappropriate to review something that clearly isn't finished. There is a great Romero doco in there, but this wasn't it. Hopefully, in the future, I'll get a chance to review the final version.
In previous years of MIFF, the closing night film has been a big affair, but it's been complemented by surprise sessions. Me, I always preferred the surprise sessions. Two years ago I was blown off my feet by Fabian Bielinsky's beautifully understated EL AURA; last year I got to see Ingmar Bergman's amazing THE SILENCE. I was a bit disappointed that this year didn't have the same surprise fringe shows, so I booked in for [rec], the Spanish thriller that's just been remade for US consumption as QUARANTINE. My friends and I took a row of seats, discovered one of the seats was faulty, and moved back a row. I then discovered that my seat was essentially broken, and spent the whole film on the edge of my seat, both for thrilled and practical reasons. (I would say that one in every ten chairs at the Greater Union is busted, and that's a conservative estimate; I know I keep going on about it, but seriously, what a shoddy venue for what's supposed to be a top-notch film festival.) [rec] owes an awful lot to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but that doesn't detract from it at all. It's an amazing thriller/horror, one that eschews the usual bad characterisation and stupid third act, to give us great characterisation and a brilliant third act (I know, amazing, huh?). As some of my friends pointed out afterwards, usually in these films, characters are lazily put in danger through acts of utter stupidity; in [rec], everyone acts the way they're supposed to, as they work their problems reasonably, despite being in a state of terror. Though I did begin to question why the cameraman continued to film instead of help during moments of mortal danger, this is but a minor, niggling issue. The film is brilliant, and a great note to end the festival on.
The wrap up...
And that's it. I only made it to thirty-seven films; a lot more than previous years, but still not as many as I would have liked (a friend of mine hit fifty-eight, and I am envious). I hope you've enjoyed the coverage. I made a conscious effort to not just review the films, but describe the experience of the festival. If it were just a matter of watching a lot of films, we could do that at home with our DVD player. MIFF is about seeing a bunch of films you would otherwise not see with a like-minded community of film lovers. The mad dashes from one venue to another is part of the fun; the frantic search for a good coffee between films (not a difficult thing to find Melbourne, happily); being bleary-eyed and exhausted after multiple consecutive films, and yet still feeling fresh and excited when a promising film begins. The final day of MIFF as chronicled above had me watching five films in a row, and I was still left feeling a bit sorry it was all over.
No MIFF is complete without the post-festival drinks with other attendees, and, after [rec] a group of us gathered at Federation Square's Time Out to dissect the previous seventeen days. There was a general consensus amongst us as to what the best and worst of the festival was, and here's my list:
The Best Retro: The B-movie glory of SPIDERBABY: DIRECTOR'S CUT was pipped by the 35mm print of MAD MAX 2. I'd planned to see much of the Ozploitation programme, and managed to miss practically all of it (always tempted away by a viewing of something "new" that might not get a DVD release locally). MAD MAX 2 made up for this, and seeing it with a crowd and on the big screen was possibly the best experience of the festival.
The Best New Narrative: GARDENS OF THE NIGHT, LEMON TREE, THE WACKNESS, SON OF RAMBOW, SOMERS TOWN and [rec] were all amazing, but I think PERSEPOLIS gets the gong here. Brilliant film that is extremely rewatchable, and surprisingly entertaining. Weighty without being too heavy; funny without being too disrespectful. Essential viewing.
The Best New Documentary: The running theme of MIFF this year, amongst my peers at any rate, was documentaries. None of us considered ourselves particularly disposed towards docos, certainly not over narrative films, and yet the overriding majority of the films we saw tended to be non-fiction. Adding them up now, it's nineteen out of thirty-seven, which doesn't seem like that much when you say it like that, but it certainly feels like it. Docos such as ROCK'N'ROLL NERD, PLANET B-BOY, MAN ON WIRE, GLASS (the Scott Hicks doco on Philip Glass), DEREK and BRANDO were all terrific. TRUMBO, my first film of the festival, was an amazing work, almost spoiling me for the rest of MIFF; you cannot rest until you see this film. ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a brilliant Werner Herzog doco filmed in Antarctica that is one of my favourites of the year. PLANET B-BOY came out of nowhere, and is one of the most superbly paced and energetic docos I've ever seen. There can be only one, however; MY WINNIPEG, which I've decided is a doco even though it's largely up for debate, is looming large as one of my favourite films of 2008, but even Guy Maddin's latest work of sublime brilliance is pipped for this spot. The best documentary of the festival, and likely the year, is the opening night film, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. The film about Ozploitation films is as great upon reflection as it was on first viewing; it is the film that the term "must see" was invented for.
The Worst Film: Tempted to give it to the French wankery that is PRIVATE LESSONS (avoid), and the misfire that is SURVEILLANCE, but Jennifer Lynch's film isn't so much bad as it is utterly misguided. No, the worst film of the festival goes to WORDS OF WISDOM, the cruddy documentary about William S Burroughs. Clearly operating on the (sadly correct) assumption that making a film about a brilliant writer will get you into a big film festival no matter how bad it is, the filmmakers cut-and-paste a handful of interviews and some footage of a friend of theirs into a how-to guide on what NOT to do when making a documentary. MIFF selection committee: I know you programmed a lot of films this year, but please watch all of them before you flash the green light. Leaving out things like WORDS OF WISDOM will allow you an extra screening of PRIVATE LESSONS or THE MAKING OF A STEINWAY or any number of superior films that only got a single showing.
The FANTASMA Award For "Does This Even Qualify As a Movie?": And the winner is the retrospective showing of WR - MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM, the 1971 "film" that manages to take Stalinism and pornography, and mesh them into something that could only be enjoyed if you took a lot of drugs and then watched something else instead.
And I'm done. A brilliant festival; not quite the life-changing experience that the 2006 one was, but still a total blast that's left me counting down the weeks until 2009's MIFF.
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Aug. 11, 2008, 6:20 p.m. CST
Aug. 11, 2008, 6:24 p.m. CST
latauro's cool btw
Aug. 11, 2008, 7:26 p.m. CST
Aug. 11, 2008, 7:47 p.m. CST
Now take a deep breath... and sleep. <P> But seriously, loved your coverage here. Made me wish even more so that I wasn't house-bound. <p> Cheers
Aug. 11, 2008, 7:48 p.m. CST
Next year, buy a festival passport, quit your job, and drink coffee for fifteen days straight. You won't regret it, I promise!
Aug. 12, 2008, 1:42 a.m. CST
Thanks a lot for the coverage, L. I really enjoyed the whole shebang, and even though I will never get to see 97% of these movies, I can live vicariously. </p> Oh and "something that could only be enjoyed if you took a lot of drugs and then watched something else instead"? Good stuff, sir.
Aug. 12, 2008, 3:32 a.m. CST
by half vader
Did that one a coupla columns ago. Yes, it's a bit deflating. <p> Lat, thanks for the soldiering on despite an eternity of of uncomfortable seating. You shoulda treated yourself to one of those haemorrhoid cushions from the sound of it though.
Aug. 12, 2008, 6:57 a.m. CST
Thanks, guys. And I know I banged on about the dodgy chairs a bit, but I really couldn't get over such a high-profile event using such a shoddy location. The mind boggles. Good call on the haemorrhoid cushions, although I might just tape pillows to my body for the entire festival next year. Much more sound.
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