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MIAF 2014 DAY 10: 3 Days In Paris – Historical, Best Of The Fest

30 Jun

3 Days In Paris – Historical

clinic

As the last Paris experience didn’t go as well as expected, I thought I would give the French another chance. As I explained in my last Paris post, French animation is generally very well done. France is a nation that is not only passionate about the art form, but they have a widespread understanding of its purpose and relevance, which is why we are going to continue being blessed with its presence. So imagine my disappointment from once again being let down by sub-par French animation. I probably shouldn’t have got my hopes up about this session being “historic” seeing as the earliest film was from 1990, but in the past the historic session have been among my favourites and since this year’s festival didn’t have much in the way of history I was hoping that this session would fill the void. It did not. It’s bewildering, really. I don’t know whether it was a poor selection of films, or maybe the top studios in Paris were missed, or maybe Paris isn’t where France’s decent animation comes from (it is a very big country after all), but these films were soulless and lacked substance. The animation itself wasn’t bad, but it was pretty standard when compared to the rest of France and the rest of the festival. My biggest issue was that most of these films seemed utterly pointless. Too often when a film ended I asked the question “why would you bother going to all that effort for this?” I’m hoping there is something cultural that I am missing; that maybe you have to be from Paris to understand these films because right now I am lost. There were only two films from this session that even remotely tickled my fancy and they happened to be the two oldest films (now I really need my history fix). They were:

Le Balayeur

Clinic – Alexander Bubnov. Totally psychotic animation about medical fears. There’s the GP whose immunisation needle snaps off in the posterior of a patient, an optometrist who plucks eyes out patients and pins new ones in, and a whole lot of medical horror we can only wish will never happen to anyone. The animation is cartoony while being darkly humorous.

Le Balayeur – Serge Elissalde. Well drawn pencil animation about one freaky ape-looking street sweeper who attacks everything that comes near his sweeping area. He smashes things with his broom then shoves them down the drain. A young girl’s ball goes down the drain and the freaky man tries to fish it out, taking out everything he had shoved down there in the first place. He then goes to jail. The morel of the story is: assault and vandalism with a broom is not the best way to avoid prison.

 

Best Of The Fest

elephnats garden

All good things must come to an end. Best of the Fest is a joyous time where the greatest films of the festival are honoured. It is also a sad time because as the final credits of the final film reach the bottom, the festival disappears like a mirage. Attempts to organise an official after party ceased years ago, presumably because it took energy away from the more important event – the festival. Anyway, the festival is what we came for and the festival is what we get. This year’s MIAF brought some intense mixed feelings. Where there is normally a lot of variety within the session creating an overall feeling of “very good” or “not so good,” this year’s festival had more of an extreme feel to it where some sessions were “amazing” while others “sucked.” Those Paris showcases were nowhere near as good as anticipated and were the major disappointments of the festival. Late Night Macabre and Quickdraw’s 30th Anniversary (even with its positive back story and purpose) suffered from too many sub-par films. But on the other hand, the quality of the South American showcases was a very pleasant surprise. This year also had the best Australian Showcase, Kids Program, and Late Night Bizarre that I have witnessed in my 5 years of attending the festival. And let’s not forget the International Competition Programs that were packed with fantastic films, and International Program #2 being arguably the best single session of anything I have seen during my time at MIAF.

I am very proud (and a little bit smug) to announce that this year the judges got nearly everything right, many of the honoured films being those that I either predicted or mentioned as standout films. I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything, but come on; you got to admit it’s a whole lotta fun predicting the winners at award ceremonies. Pity no one was taking bets here.

The Best of the Fest session begins with festival director, Malcolm Turner, announcing the best films and honourable mentions of each competition category, and then an assortment of the films are screened. After we view a handful of the top films there is a break where the judges announce the best Australian student film, the best Australian film, the best international student film, and then the grand prize of “Best of the Festival.” As I mentioned above, every film that won I have already written on, so feel free to Ctrl+F the film’s title to see my earlier review of them. The list of the festival winners can be found at the MIAF website.

It made me exceptionally happy to see the films To This Day, Land, and Ex Animo win their international programs as they truly were in the top tier of films for the whole festival. I was incredibly excited about The Elephant’s Garden being hailed as the best Australian film as part of me didn’t think it would win. That film winning best Australian film is like a David Lynch film winning the Academy Award for best feature – it’s that strange and different film that has a strong cult following, but deep down you know the award is going to go to the obvious biopic or drama that wins every year. Well done The Elephant’s Garden!

MarilynMyller

Marilyn Myller winning the Best of the Festival gave me some initial mixed thoughts. “Best of the Festival” means that this one film was of a higher quality than any other competition film. I have a history of allowing the Best of the Festival to go straight over my head; as in, I remember being in the session while the film played but the film did not leave an instant impression on me. This does not mean that I feel the top pick was inferior, just that many of these animated films don’t instantly slap you in the face with their awesomeness; they take a bit more understanding.

Thankfully MIAF does something that every award ceremony should do – explain why the winning film deserved to win. The judging for MIAF comprises of real industry professionals who are not part of a secret organisation and who are not afraid to reveal their identity. These are people are animators themselves who live animation. They travel around the world visiting many animation festivals and hence are given the opportunity to witness a lot of the competition films on multiple occasions. It also gives them the chance to dig deeper with certain standout films. To simply sum up the case of Marilyn Myller, the film was basically technical mastery on a level that is difficult to comprehend. Firstly, director Mikey Please used a type of foam as his animation medium; something that is insanely complex as it involves carving new sculptures for pretty much every movement. But the interesting lighting that I mentioned in my review of the film is ever more complex. Please’s lightning setup to create his amazing shadows and scattered patterns over a completely white landscape was so advanced that pretty much every frame has its own unique setup.

This explanation would divide the audience right down the middle for two reasons. Reason 1) The bonus knowledge of this film may give it an unfair advantage and for a film to be truly deserving of winning then it should have widespread appeal and not need to rely on all the behind-the-scenes extras that only then make you understand its worthiness. Reason 2) Here is an animation festival created by and attended by true animation enthusiasts and therefore the most unique and complex animation (with the explanation to help those less familiar to understand) should be more than deserving of the top prize. Admittedly I was initially in the first category. I felt that it was an interesting film but not my favourite of the festival. I have since come to change my mind on the matter; not that I now believe it is the best film of the festival (I still stand by my To This Day pick) but I respect the decision to name Marilyn Myller the best of the festival because if festivals like MIAF don’t publicly honour the tireless efforts and technical genius that some true artists of capable of, then who will?

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Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF) 2014

20 Jun

Ahoy film fans! It’s that time of year again to celebrate the eclectic art form of animation. For the next 10 days animation will be filling ACMI cinemas in Melbourne’s Federation Square; and I’m talking REAL animation. The kind of animation you have not seen but absolutely should. This is a unique film festival in the way that the screening session are made up of a compilation of around 10-18 short films with a particular topic or theme. These topics can range from the competition films (which are in the running for the best of the festival), to national focuses (this year being France and South America), to studio focuses (this year being Canada’s Quickdraw Animation Society and France’s Sacrebleu Productions), to technique focuses, to a special screening for children (which I made an effort to see every year, being the big kid that I am).

Last night I attended the Opening Night gala screening, with complimentary sparkling wine. I felt so fancy. The purpose of the Opening Night is to get a taste of what the festival will be serving. The opening film was the incredibly beautiful Sonata directed by one of the festival’s special guests, Nadia Micault from France. Her film is a modern spin of the rotoscoping technique of animating popularised by Disney’s feature films. We then saw a couple of Australian films from the competition programme which are always so special to watch because contrary to what many may think, Australian animation is quite impressive and well worth a watch. Following these were some more foreign films, a film from the kid’s programme, the token abstract film, and some humorous CGI.

MIAF really is something special. It is supposedly the third largest animation festival in the world. Why not help it reach that number 1 spot? If it’s not as great as I’m making it sound, feel free to hurl abuse at me.

Check out the website for more info.

Review: To The Wonder (2013)

1 Jul

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick – Screening from July 4 – Exclusively at Cinema Nova, Carlton, VIC

Image

Review By Paul Anthony Nelson.

Terrence Malick is a genius.

 

But don’t just take my word for it: the guy’s a Rhodes Scholar, and a summa cum laude graduate in Philosophy from Harvard, no less. But it’s his compact, astonishing filmography which puts this point into further relief: three of his first five feature films, BADLANDS (1973), THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and THE TREE OF LIFE (2011), are bona fide masterpieces, with the hugely underrated THE NEW WORLD (2005) and physically breathtaking DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) not far behind. Malick is an auteur of singularly intuitive style, and, thus, his elliptical narratives, searching cinematography and dreamlike voiceovers aren’t for everybody. But, to this reviewer’s mind, he is a master of image and mood; his films’ avoidance of conventional dialogue delivery, and dependence upon human faces and natural vistas, somehow navigate a more direct, mightier pathway to emotional truth.

What’s more, the auteur is famous for shooting endless reams of film, taking his sweet time to put these things together: one became accustomed to greeting a new Malick film as an event, as — look at those years of release again — they generally land but once a decade. So, when a new Malick picture arrives just two scant years after the last (particularly as he has three more films shot and in the pipeline, presumably to whizz their way to us over the next few years), is it cause for celebration… or suspicion?

After seeing TO THE WONDER, it pains me to suggest the latter.

TO THE WONDER plays very much in the TREE OF LIFE sandbox, throwing out questions of love, spirituality, a world in turmoil and humanity’s effect upon it. We begin with Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), a couple clearly in love, travelling by train to Mont Saint-Michel, the picturesque monastery near Marina’s childhood home. They’ve been together in Paris for some time, with Neil even ingratiated to Marina’s young daughter from a previous marriage, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). Their life seems wonderful, when Neil gets an enticing job offer in Oklahoma, and Marina agrees to move her and Tatiana with him. However, upon arrival in the US of A, they’re greeted by the prison of white middle class American suburbia – depicted with quietly efficient scorn – and the couple’s relationship instantly begins to deteriorate.

For a while, Marina takes solace in the church of Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), but he’s grappling with his faith more than anybody. Soon, Marina and Tatiana must return to Paris, where she continues to be depressed by their situation, while in the US, Neil reunites with an old friend, Jane (Rachel MacAdams). This situation is further complicated some time later, when Marina resolves to return, and Walt Whitman’s maxim “you can never go home again” becomes brutally apparent.

While the story is loaded with potential, and touches on some compelling themes – how can true love and faith endure in this world when we’re surrounded by so much self-inflicted suffering – Malick, for the first time in his stellar 40 year career, seriously fumbles the ball.

The main issue is the story. While his past films carry the gravitas of elemental forces like war, love, violence, history, changing landscapes and spirituality, TO THE WONDER has all the emotional heft of a third-rate television melodrama. This particular treatment of these themes, as written and performed, just doesn’t justify the weighty Malick imprimatur and, more often than not, just comes off as silly.

It doesn’t help that his cast don’t seem particularly up to the task. Affleck’s limited range is exposed here, and Kurylenko, while obviously beautiful, is limited to a couple of vacant expressions – and not helped by the fact that her character, set up as a free spirit, dumbs down to the point of near-intellectual disability by film’s end. MacAdams, too, adds little but physical beauty to a nothing role. Of the performers, Bardem is the most accomplished, but is given little to do but mope about with a “why hath thou forsaken me??” look on his face. With each action, it becomes increasingly difficult to relate to anybody.

Absent are the beautifully observed, infinitesimal details of Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken’s heartbreaking performances in TREE OF LIFE, or Jim Caviezel in THIN RED LINE, or the grace notes of BADLANDS’ Sissy Spacek or TREE’s Jessica Chastain. Everybody is given one note to play and drive into the Earth. What’s more, the film’s voiceover is in French (supplied by Marina), which is fine in isolation, but merely adds to the film’s unfortunate aura of Malickian parody when coupled with the “woe is me” melodrama, whooshing camera and random digressions. Malick’s juxtaposition of natural imagery and human emotion is strangely tone deaf here, even laughable at times, as if the relative speed of this production has thrown the compass of his peerless intuition off course.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is customarily gorgeous – this film has more beauty in its natural little fingernail than, say, the CG-splashed LIFE OF PI has in its whole body – but his method of constantly rushing his camera toward the actors here feels particularly annoying, like a creepy birthday clown running up to people to tickle them. Too much of the film feels like it was cobbled together from TREE OF LIFE outtakes – and indeed, as the end credits reveal, some of it was – and quickly assembled into a more abstract companion piece. While this is fine in theory, TREE OF LIFE was such a gigantic, powerful, definitive take on these similar themes that TO THE WONDER seems minor, sketchy, woefully underpowered and scarcely necessary.

Sadly, TO THE WONDER will be to Malick’s career what, say, THE TERMINAL is to Steven Spielberg’s –the exemplar of an auteur’s every perceived negative directorial trait in one film, providing unfortunate fuel to their detractors’ fire. Yet Malick is one of American cinema’s greatest artists and I, for one, remain confident he will bounce back with his next film… just, not too quickly, okay?

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: Fruits Of Paradise

27 Jul

By Christopher Mildren

Czech director Vera Chytilova is renowned and revered outside of her homeland largely because of the wonderful freewheeling swipe at good behaviour for girls Daisies from 1966. Thank MIFF for resurrecting one of her other too-rarely screened films, the Eden story phantasmagoria Fruits of Paradise.

A retelling rich in obscure symbolism, it has more of a direct narrative thrust than its more familiar ancestor, but it’s hardly an unambiguous affair. It begins with one of the most intoxicating montages I’ve seen, a five minute strobing of flora close-ups and psychedelically imposed Adam and Eve figures. The hallucinatory mood is retained through out the main body of the film, a stylised tale of Eva, her husband Josefa and the charismatic serpent like figure of Robert, who may or may not be a murderer of young women. It is almost entirely shot outdoors in those overgrown fields and forests, quarries and swamps that seem to afford such dark menace to films east of the curtain.

The plot, such as it is, is told in typically clever Chytilova fashion, in stylised dramatic sequences, often with jarring in-camera effects, giving the film a dreamlike mood. Despite the overriding concern with dangerous desire and a cavalcade of beautiful nudes, it is not a heated film, instead more childlike with a sinister undercurrent. The visual invention sags a bit towards the end, but a climactic chase through a twilit forest involving a long piece of blood red material is astounding.

Chytilova’s way of exploring murky psychological complexity through arresting imagery is a treasure, and I hope this screening opens the way to more of her unique work seeing the light of day.

9/10

MIFF 2011: 33 Postcards

26 Jul

By Mia Robinson

97 Minutes, Mandarin and English.

Director Pauline Chan presents a beautifully told, original story with 33 Postcards.  

Mei Mei (Zhu Lin) grew up in an orphanage in China.  Sponsorship from Australian Dean Randall (Guy Pearce) meant that she could receive an education and a sense of family that care for her, however remote.  The orphanage choir travels to perform in Sydney, and it’s Mei Mei’s one chance to meet the man who has been sponsoring her and writing to her for years.  Once in Sydney, she runs away from the group and endeavours to meet Randall.  Along the way she meets and befriends Carl (Lincoln Lewis), falls in with some bad company, has a few Aussie adventures of her own, and all beliefs about Randall’s supposedly “Brady Bunch” life (as depicted in his letters) are confronted.

This is a story that deals with belonging and redemption, but most importantly it explores what these two people from very different worlds have in common – a feeling of being alone.  Mei Mei’s demonstrative nature develops as a perfect balance next to Randall’s restraint.  An Australian and Chinese co-production, the film employs iconic imagery of Sydney and the countryside of China, along with a wonderfully melding of Australian and Chinese music.  However, 33 Postcards should not be limited to either nationality, it’s a universal story that is sure to please any audience.  You many need to take a tissue.

7 out of 10.

For trailer please visit:

http://33postcardsthemovie.com/

33 Postcards is out through Titan View.  It should get a general release in November.

MIFF 2011: Three

23 Jul

German film Three presents the viewer with Hanna and Simon; middle aged, middle class, bored, and in for a whole lot of changes. Independently to each other they each start an affair with the same man- Adam. Hanna knows him through work (both are scientists though Hanna also has an art program on television, why? Who knows) and art engineer Simon meets him at a pool and later installs a sculpture at his work.

After Simon’s mother dies of pancreatic cancer and he himself goes through chemotherapy for testicular cancer, he and Hanna decide to marry on their 20th anniversary and in the midst of each of their affairs. Naturally things get complicated, very complicated, and as their lives become more and more intertwined all learn that some things cannot be reversed.

Honestly, I was expecting a little more. Tykwer’s previous films (Run Lola Run, Perfume and The International) all seem to have more to them which is odd because Three has a lot of unnecessary sub-plots and general ‘stuff’. It also passes into moments of mental fantasy that is never fully explored or evaluated, disappointing for this is done well in Run Lola Run.

The directing is fine, so is the acting and the music. The use of a split screen throughout works, though it does introduce more clutter into the film. Essentially; whilst the premise is good the execution is lacking.

Film review (2nd take): ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2010)

4 Jun

by Anna Sutton

Oranges and Sunshines  is an understated and intimate film about the tragic legacy of the “forgotten Australians”, child migrants who were the product of a forced resettlement scheme conducted by the British welfare state until 1973. The scheme, in which children were removed from state care and shipped off to Commonwealth countries, was Britain’s answer to a post-WWII welfare state, at a time when the White Australia Policy still blighted this country.

Director Jim Loach (son of Ken) tackles the issue with the compassion and complexity that it requires.

We meet Margaret Humphreys (played with great humanity by Emily Watson), a Nottingham social worker who in the 1980s blew the whistle on a saga that the Australian and British governments had conspired to veil for decades. Inspired by one of her clients, Humphreys embarks on a 2-year investigation that results in her attempts to reunite hundreds of adults with their estranged families, and the establishment of the Child Migrants Trust. Continue reading

Film Review (1st take): ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2011)

3 Jun

By Chris Harrigan from ChirspandAllen

I’m not sure who thought up the scheme at the centre of Oranges & Sunshine but they must have been one of those rare Cruella de Vil-esque evil geniuses.

Britain’s welfare system was busting at the seams; meanwhile its colony on the other side of the world was desperate for white immigrants. A lesser villain wouldn’t have a drawn a link between the two problems, but the British Empire was no lesser villain. In a two-for-one special they decided to shift tens of thousands of kids under the care of the state off to Australia, where they enjoyed all the fruits of a regular childhood such as building churches, working farms, and fending off sexual assault. As an added corker, many of them were told (falsely) that their parents were dead. (You just got punk’d, kids!).

It is this miscarriage of justice – made all the worse by the denial by both British and Australian governments that it ever occurred – that Oranges & Sunshine sets out to tell. Or at least purports to. In actuality the film centres foremost on Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), the social worker whose tireless efforts to uncover the truth reunited thousands of ‘lost children’ with their parents and siblings back in Britain, and brought about an official apology in 2009.

But while Orange’s intentions are good, in focusing so exclusively on Humphreys something of the enormity of the story seems lost. Hugo Weaving is terrific as a recovering lost child searching for his family, and this is where the heart of film should lie. But it’s Humphreys who gets the spotlight, and to the film’s detriment. Her story almost feels like the sub-plot to another film whose main arc has been accidently left on the cutting room floor.

Oranges scatters moments of catharsis amongst the otherwise banal scenes of Humphreys’ bureaucratic work, but the effect is uneven, and many character’s epiphanies are too easily drawn, too lacking in context and delivery; their stories almost told in shorthand. And it’s a shame, because it’s their stories that are not only so compelling, but which need to be told.

Thanks to Nic Scott and the rest of Chirsp’s friends for their eagle eyed editing of this piece. You know who you are.

Film Review: Here I Am (2010)

24 May

By Mia Robinson

87 minutes

Written and directed by Beck Cole (First Australians), featuring Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) as cinematographer.

Karen (Shai Pittman) is a single mother and a lost soul.  We follow her journey as she is released from prison with nowhere to go.  She attempts to reconnect with her mother, Lois (Marcia Langton) who has taken custody of her daughter.  Karen’s real struggle is in convincing her family that she has changed and being forgiven for her past involvement in drugs and abuse.  The film also portrays the cycles of behavior in the family unit and the challenge to break this cycle.  Taking refuge in a women’s shelter, Karen connects with other women in circumstances similar to her own.  This is a film about motherhood and trying to reform ones life, and having the strength and self-esteem to do so.

Focusing on the plight of Indigenous Australian women, it portrays the hurdles that women of this background have to deal with.

Watching a drama of this sort, I would hope that the film would help me to see something with a different perspective, or at the very least portray an original character or an original narrative.  Instead of writing to a stereotype, I would like to watch something that rewrites and plays with the stereotype.  Whilst this film did not deliver on these levels, it was enjoyable enough and had many some touching and funny moments.

Set in Port Adelaide, the film’s strength is the cinematography; its portrayal of old pubs and buildings and a broken-down town instill an idyllic sensation in the viewer.  In this regard, the crippled but surviving town seems to mirror the plight of the struggling characters.

7/10

For trailer please visit:

<http://www.hereiamfilm.com/trailer-page/>

Here I Am is in cinemas nationally June 2nd, 2011.