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MIFF 2013: Stoker

8 Aug

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Chan-Wook Park, 2013

By Julia Mann

My strategy for MIFF is to book a whole lot of films I know little about, then sit back and enjoy the unexpected. Keeping this in mind, I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I anticipated some vampiric action in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker. It’s funny how the mind plays tricks, makes mental associations and perceives clues where perhaps none exist. Park does hint at the supernatural – the distant figure watching over the funeral (is it India’s father, back from the dead?), the multi-coloured, incandescent eyes shared by India and Charlie, and his tendency to appear without warning. I mean, the guy doesn’t eat, what’s more vampiric than that?

Ultimately, despite my misguided yearnings, this is not a film about undead bloodsuckers. It is instead a tense, twisting tale of family, of inheritance and of shoes. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) turns eighteen and loses her beloved father in a fiery car accident on the same day. In spite of her new adulthood, she behaves much like a child, using defiance and discordance as immature weapons. Widow and mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) futilely appeals to India, losing the battle with her own demons as well as the one bubbling within her child. The arrival of Uncle Charlie further fuels the fire between these two women as both are seduced by his powerful charisma. Matthew Goode is a revelation, impressing as the mysterious Charlie and in control of the fine line between sexy and psychotic.

While clearly set in the current world, Stoker rarely references modern times. The film takes on a timeless quality, combining costumes, cars and chattels from different eras. It’s a beautiful piece to watch and the pace is slow and seductive. Gorgeously constructed scenes are punctuated by violence, by slashes of crimson, but this is not the bloodbath you’d expect from Park. The film relies more on innuendo than gore and the questions it poses are even more disturbing. What lies behind Charlie and India’s matching, menacing eyes? What deep connection draws them closer? And finally, is your identity your own or nothing more than family inheritance?

Julia Mann likes all kinds of films, but mostly ones with Steven Seagal. She writes for US-based website Digital Hippos when the mood strikes.

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MIFF 2013: The Act of Killing

1 Aug

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013)

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By Patricia Tobin

The Act of Killing is not meant to be an enjoyable film. It defies any notion of the conventional good-versus-evil dichotomy and instead, director Joshua Oppenheimer poses a few questions: why does man commit acts of evil? What sort of repercussions are formed from such crimes?

In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military and anti-Communist resentment was on the rise. Gangsters Anwar Congo and his friends were employed by the army to execute suspected Chinese communists in North Sumatra. Today, Anwar is a rich and powerful man in his community. He is now a rather dapper aging man, often seen in bright, well-dressed suits. He has close ties to heavyweight political leaders and is seen as a role model for young paramilitaries. Anwar and his associates have not been punished for their crimes against humanity. They appear on glossy talk shows and are cheered on at political rallies; their community wholeheartedly celebrates their “victory” against communists.

As a response to their incessant boasting about their past murders, Oppenheimer gives Anwar and his friends an opportunity to reenact their experience of the killings. However, as with every good documentary, The Act of Killing neither sympathises with these killers, nor does it paint them in a bad light. These killers are seen as very human characters, yet their responses to their past deeds are shocking, gross and offensive. There is hardly any gory or graphic imagery shown on screen, but their cavalier stance towards their past crimes is appalling. When the group is reminiscing about the past, they discuss the best age to rape women ¡ªfourteen. “Sedap!” one member happily cries, meaning “delicious”. It is this sort of awfully sickening behaviour that is hard to digest, but the film’s uncompromising position forces the audience to make their own opinions about these mass murderers.

The retellings by Anwar and his friends present an attempt by The Act of Killing to understand their openness towards their acts of genocide. It gives a deeper insight into the minds of the killers, and in particular, Anwar’s own personal feelings towards his past deeds. From the gun-touting cowboy John Wayne to the slick dance moves of Elvis Presley, these killers are great admirers of Hollywood cinema. They recreate an interrogation scene by drawing from Al Pacino and mafia mobsters, and surreal dream sequences are akin to lavish musicals. The fictional scenes are interwoven with Anwar’s narrative and his reactions from watching the finished products. The deliberate blurring of the lines between fiction and reality micmic Anwar’s own failure in his endeavour to escape the past. The film gradually reveals his vulnerability, hypocrisy and eventually, his sheer inability to properly grasp the true dreadfulness of the crimes he has committed.

The Act of Killing occasionally presents a bleak sense of humour, giving the audience some breathing space between all the talk about devious and dreadful crimes. In one scene, a politician invites the camera crew into his home. Flaunting his wealth, he brags about his massive collection of crystals. “Limited edition…they are all very limited,” he says. His kitsch crystal collection, ranging from a Tinkerbell figurine to a model of a duck, is all hideously gaudy. His flamboyance becomes rather humorous, as he also gleefully shows off a latex bass singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

Stretching at a hundred and sixty minutes, The Act of Killing‘s steady pace is not meant for an easy viewing. The documentary also unveils that the killers’ pride is a result of a much more complex problem that is deeply rooted in a corrupt society. Political leaders freely extort money from Chinese shopkeepers, editors of newspapers publish one-sided reports and votes for parliamentary election are all rigged. The North Sumatra community is so entrenched in immorality, and any unscrupulous behaviour appears to be the norm. The Act of Killing is a very powerful film, and presents the terrifying truth that murderers are mere products of a debased society.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at http://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

Melbourne Cinematheque- The Youth of the Beast: One Hundred Years of Nikkatsu, week III

25 Jun

Having made over forty films for Nikkatsu studios, Melbourne Cinematheque is closing their retrospective with two films by Seijun Suzuki. Making many Yakuza/mafia B-genre films, Suzuki became more and more interested in the surreal and created an extremely distinct visual style, drawing the ire of the studio which eventually got him fired and black listed for ten years.

Kanto Wanderer (1963) portrays two relationships in one man’s life; his romantic interest in an unattainable woman from his past, and his devotion and contempt to the all-male Yakuza groups of Japan. In a world where honour is everything, Katsuta is thrust into situations where tensions escalate throughout the film, finally coming to a head over a rigged card game.

Made directly after Kanto Wanderer, The Flowers and the Angry Waves (1964) looks at the corruption of honour and tradition in the face of commercialism and modernity throughout early twentieth-century Japanese society. There is a forbidden love story too, adding to the frantic and frenzied plot of one of Suzuki’s least known films.

MIFF 2011 Film Review: SWERVE

12 Aug

Swerve

By Melanie Ashe

Swerve is the new feature film by Australian director Craig Lahiff; a thrilling genre romp set in the outback of South Australia.  A drug bust gone wrong, a suitcase filled with money, a relentless villain who will stop at nothing to get the cash, a seemingly vulnerable femme fatale type character – these are all-too-familiar narrative devices, but the idea here is that we have not seen them before through the off-kilter and sun-blasted lens of Australiana.

The notion of the Australian bush as oppressive and tyrannical has been explored in films like Wake in Fright or Wolf Creek, and the swollen and blistered hills surrounding the Flinders Rangers do make for a tremendous and isolating backdrop for the film.  However, the characters themselves do not need to be understood in relationship with the landscape, and seem incongruous with it at times, like the story was simply supplanted into the outback.  Despite commendable acting from protagonist Colin (played by David Lyons), the policeman and his wife (Jason Clarke, Emma Booth), the narrative diverges at too many twists and turns and becomes a bit too ridiculous.

That said, the film definitely makes for fun watching.  What begins as a frivolous and cliché opening sequence does follow through with some genuinely well-crafed moments of Hitchcock-style suspense and frightening violence, not to mention a very impressive stunt car-crash sequence that harks back to the glory of something like Mad Max, shot with one take and multiple cameras.  The film has an undercurrent of dark-humour that accentuates the sometimes backward or absurd nature of the Australian country town served as a constant reminder at what the film was for – to have a bit of fun.

6/10

MIFF 2011 Film Review: THE FUTURE

7 Aug

By 

I tried to get into see The Future on Wednesday 27 July but it was sold out in Greater Union 6 (which holds over 700 people) and the stand-by line was too long and so I went home. I tried my luck again on Monday 1st and was more successful. Again, it was playing to a packed house in Greater Union 6. On Tuesday 2 August I wrote this message on twitter; “Upon reflection: I did indeed hate The Future which I saw last night at #miff11. All of the other 735 viewers were wrong in liking it”. Since then I have listened to people defend the film in the form of various reviews and overheard conversations. One friend and I have had quiet the heated argument over it. Yet I stand by my original tweet and am refusing to back down!

The film is by Miranda July (whose other films I have not seen*) and is about 30-something couple Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July herself) who, having decided to adopt a terminally ill cat (Paw Paw) realise they have thirty days in which to live the rest of their life before being saddled with responsibility. Both quit their jobs with Jason becoming a door-to-door representative of an ecologically-minded charity and Sophie trying, and failing, to film 30 dances of herself on YouTube- one for each day. Interspersed with this is the narration of Paw Paw who talks (IN THE MOST IRRITATING VOICE I HAVE EVER HEARD!!!) about the ‘darkness’ and being wanted.

Naturally both characters gravitate away from each other, seeking companionship (Jason’s is non-sexual, Sophie’s is) with other people. The real turning point of “this is a meh film” to “this film is wasting my time” was when Jason (all of a sudden!) can freeze time and talk to God. The consequences of this though turn out to be disastrous for him, for Sophie and for Paw Paw. And then, the film ends.

I don’t rate films in pictorial form (stars, a scale of 1-10 etc.) because I don’t think reviewers can sum-up a film in such a way and I think that people who read reviews should read the review and not look at rating but rest assured if I did do this, the pictorial rating would be low. Very low.

(*You don’t want to -ED)

MIFF 2011 Film Review: THE TURIN HORSE

6 Aug

By 

The Turin Horse is a precise execution of modernist nihilism, drawing the last slither of slow-cinema grey-lead down to the bottom point of art cinema, forcing it until it snaps. This may or may not be Bela Tarr’s final film, but it certainly demonstrates he has given up on cinema.

Opening with an ominous narrator (most films would be accused of adding this after the fact to add focus/meaning/anything) who describes the famous incident of Nietszche violently embracing a whipped horse and shouting “Ich bin dumm/I am stupid”. Cue horse, old crippled man, his daughter; stark black and white, doom laden music, and the empty repetition of their desolate lives. Any beauty which can be found in the images is simply a side effect of the rigorous detail of black and white cinematography. Otherwise, there is nothingness in abundance: shots held on a wall, then minutes later someone stumbles in to barely perform a menial task. Add an unsubtle storm. Repeat. Cinema as dead weight. The film is a stoned asthmatic slowly wheezing and mumbling: “How can we become ubermensch when we cannot even be mensch. We are trapped at the level of beasts.” I just saved you 146 minutes.

This festival has seen the berating of Jan Svankmajer for being past it and failing to make a film which engages its audience. Clearly he should have taken notes from Tarr and put less into his film, Surviving Life, than there already was. The Turin Horse dives into profundity in absence. Its either/or take on the destructive effects of modernity, plunging the world into a nothingness which is stylistically embraced, allows for considerable debate as to what it means. It isn’t worth it; any debate would be a waste of breath that could be put to a million acts or thoughts of anti-nihilism. Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies carefully demonstrated an enigmatic and complicated approach to slow cinema and the difficulties of modernity. Now, Tarr has devoured minimalism to cover his lack of anything to say. It is back pedalling into a form of cinema which has been a clichéd joke for decades. It is lack of imagination or care. The Turin Horse is nihilisism, and a truly successful demonstration of why nihilism is useless bullshit. It is the ossified corpse of cinema, absent of everything but physical presence, deified in its solemnity. Go find Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth instead, a film which deals with identical issues of modernity, poverty and the loss of the past and place. Its longer and just as slow, but it finds meaning and purpose in the emptiness, refusing to slip into a cinematic dead end.

MIFF 2011 Film Review: The Day He Arrives

5 Aug

A Review by Mia Robinson

Korean with subtitles, drama, 79 minutes

Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, The Day He Arrives is a strangely amusing, refreshingly different and at times dull and tedious film.  Shot in black and white, along with clunky and obvious camera work, this film feels like a throwback to the “golden years” of cinema.

The film follows middle-aged, boyish in spirit, retired filmmaker Director Yoo, also known as Sang-Joon, as he spends a few days in Seoul to catch up with a close friend.  He also has several run-ins with people from his past and others who recognize him for his work.  For most of the film, we watch Sang-Joon with a friend or two – talking, eating and drinking.  During his stay in Seoul, he frequents the same bar and restaurant, walks the same streets and repeated moments are played with and built upon creating a groundhog-day type effect.

This film is ambiguous and largely left to interpretation; it explores notions such as coincidence and subsequent imposed meaning.  The superficial similarities between people who communicate on a surface-level are exploited and cause an enjoyable laughing-at-yourself-as-you-relate-to-the-characters type humour.

7 out of 10.

MIFF – The Solitude of Prime Numbers

5 Aug

The beauty of character defined stories, lie usually within the portrayal of one personal journey.  As viewers or readers we find identification to their uncertainties, fears, melancholies and achievements, playing their choices against ours and perceiving, perhaps, chances lost or possibilities gained.  ‘The Solitude of Prime Numbers’ (directed by Saverio Costanzo) gives us more, let’s us look at the other side, the unknown perception of the person other, both sides of love and loss, both sides of opportunity and chance.  Layered through delightful imagery so cleverly appropriate to the time and feeling of the place the character is currently journeying through.

This is the story of Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) and Mattia (Luca Marinelli), two lost souls that should have been destined to reign their lives alone.  But who meet by chance when young, and through her persistence remain seemingly distant friends.  Both suffer disillusionment from their families, through guilt and neglect, presenting scars that haunt them throughout their lives.  Mattia (young: Vittorio Lomartire) presents himself an isolated being, filled with guilt for the loss of his sister, he scars his body in punishment; perhaps for the lack of association from his over protective, yet distant parents.  Alice (young: Arianna Nastro) suffers a similar fate, a lone child, her father pushes her to grow to fast, using her as trophy display for his uninterested friends.  While his wife fills her body with alcohol and silence, leaving Alice with no true affection or guidance.  Alice is scared also, physically by an accident caused through neglect, and in her heart by a lack of acknowledgement and affection.  She craves these, and seeks out Mattia, almost through an instant identification of their pains.

It is through their friendship and quiet understanding that they begin to accept that forgiveness is possible.  That there is a chance of belonging and happiness, no matter how distant it may seem, as long as you allow another into your past.

‘Prime Numbers can Only be Divided by Themselves and One’

Based on a book by Paolo Giordano

Score:  9/10

MIFF 2011 Film Review: Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

5 Aug

Shut Up Little Man is a particularly pertinent picture in this day and age. Focussing as it does on one especially convoluted instance of Intellectual Property Law and its hazy grip on reality, it is telling of the current climate for any artistic-renegade wannabes. Lesson to be learned: don’t be a hypocrite.

The matter in question is the series of audio tapes called ‘Shut Up Little Man’, recorded by Mitchell D and Eddie Lee Sausage, but spoken by Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman. These two drunks had their arguments recorded without their knowledge and it became the prototype for viral media way back in the 80s.

The tapes are interesting enough, but I have to commend the film makers here with their skilful crafting of the material. At first everything seems to be fun and games, all freedom of information and found-object artistic justification. But as it goes on you subtle begin to feel contempt for these people, their lust for credit and admiration. The guys who recorded the tapes retroactively claimed ownership of something they didn’t in fact ‘create’, and generally behaved like small-fry record company sleazebags in the process. The clever thing here is we see that transformation, all the better the revile the suckhole of depravity the concept of ownership in Art has become.

Watching Eddie gloss over the question of how he ethically justifies selling copies of Peter and Ray’s Death Certificates is worth the price of admission alone. You’ll laugh, and then you’ll be a little disgusted, and then you’ll think.

7/10

by Lizzie Lamb

MIFF: Detroit Wild City

4 Aug

Go easy on Detroit: fifty years of hard times have left a mark, and decennial attempts to rejuvenate the city have just prolonged the suffering. Nothing has worked.  This Kiss song didn’t fix anything. Robocop never came to take out the trash. After the glory years of making all of the cars for America, Detroit’s wheels (figurative) fell off in a post-production lull from which it has never recovered. And now it’s almost as famous for being a ghost town as it ever was for industrial prowess/Motown/that Edward Furlong film.

If you had to pick one (hyphenated) word to describe the cityscape, you might pick post-apocalyptic. God knows others have. Virtually every hipster and xyr photojournalism blog drop the phrase, and frankly it reeks of laziness. But it also reeks, in part, of the truth, so here we are.

Detroit Wild City, a French documentary on the abandoned city and the few who still call it home, examines the abandoned buildings and weed strewn streets, and asks whether life ends when industry moves out. Director Florent Tillon attempts to steer the film away from perpetuating the post-apocalyptic cliché by showing the resilience of those left behind as they attempt to make the most of what is left for them. Overlong and a little meandering, Detroit Wild City is nevertheless a quietly engaging film, showing a city and its people fallen on hard times, but not dead yet.

7/10.

Side Note: Screened immediately before Detroit Wild City was the tiresome short The Future Will Not Be Capitalist, a stagnant ‘cinematic tour’ of some building inFrance. I am not sure why this film was screened. I am not even sure why it was made. Suffice it to say that it is a film only in the very loosest sense of the word (there were sounds; the occasional moving picture), and it had the unsettling effect of making me question whether I had entered the wrong theatre.