Here are the remaining films I saw at MIFF. More or less written at the time without much editing. So first impressions. I will do another note on my favourites next, which will be more considered.
A gentle tale of a down and out couple and their down and out neighbours helping a refugee boy. Sort of a modern fairy tale. In-house references to earlier French classics passed me by including a long performance by an elderly female rock star Little Bob (shades of Joan Kirner’s rock star performance some years back!). All these probably resonated more with French cinema-goers. Some people really liked it for depicting working class characters – pretty rare I suppose – but I felt this was pretty contrived. I relly liked the main character and his immigrant occasional sidekick. But I would have liked more back story. The relationship between husband and wife, and wife’s illness was presented as a fantasy. The subject – the dire circumstances of refugees and how they are treated, the risks they take – was noble and nicely done. And I understand why people would like a touch of fantasy about the fate of a refugee boy. Interesting the risks taken to get to the UK which seems to be based on fact. Pleasant enough, but not truly engaging.
The Piano in a Factory
Great depiction of contemporary life for people living on the margins in contemporary China. Showing the speed of change, the impact of rapid industrial restructuring on people and their families, relationships between frands scrabbling to keep their heads above water, snippets of how people manage to live in a totalitarian state. The impact of this way of living on personal relationships. So all of that good. But not put together in a very compelling way. Characters are in a band so there is quite a lot of music, including some fantastical music scenes – flamingo dancers in the deserted factory! But it does not quite gel. Plot involves friends banding together to make a piano in a disused steel factory – all quite realistically portrayed. Just okay.
Nice little talking heads documentary about troubadours – singer / song writers who got their start in the LA venue of the same name. Focussing on James Taylor and Carole King but with a smattering of others who seemed to be randomly selected, maybe they were the ones available at the time. So nice because I liked the music. James came over as a lucky survivor of serious drug addiction, Carole as an incredibly strong individual always in charge of her own life, and not be pushed around by record producers or sidetracked by the lure of fame.
The Eye of the Storm
Beautiful looking film with stunning interiors and great landscapes – in the city, country and beach. Completely satisfactory account of the storm at the heart of the back story. Great performances from the three main characters – the appalling, self-centred Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling) and her two love-starved children Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis). All characterisations very true to the book and stood the test of time. Some (male) reviewers could not see Geoffrey as irresistible to women, but I thought he captured the aging roué well. Others held their own really well – including Alexandra Schepisi as Flora who tries (and fails) to entrap Basil, and John Gaden the loyal solicitor who has seen it all. I think the only fault in the film is it’s too faithful rendering of Patrick White’s contempt (in all his novels, including this one) of the philistine heart of Australian society. I didn’t like the okker accents or the crass behavior of the ‘Australian’ characters – politicians, society hostesses. Obviously a deliberate directorial choice. The film would have been better served for a modern audience if this had been more subtly done. Not faithful to PW but more effective in making the point. A good film, but unfortunately not a great one.
Sing Your Song
I didn’t know Harry Belafonte was so involved in the civil rights movement. He was great. Supporting Martin Luther King, pressuring the Kennedy’s, going personally to deliver money to Mississipi at the height of the struggle – at great personal risk. Humour in the memory of it – he took Sydney Poitier, Sydney says looking back, he said don’t call me again! Taking the young black activists risking their lives in the South over to Africa where they mingled with black Presidents and political leaders. Organizing support from other famous artists at critical times including a concert by the famous Bridge on the outskirts of Montgomery. He did all this while maintaining his mainstream popularity and creating incredibly successful television shows. Taking artistic control. Refusing to be cowed by television moguls who wanted to stop him having white and black artists performing together on his shows – he closed down the show. supporting the anti apartheid movement in South Africa from the start – lovely scenes of him with Mandela on the latter’s first trip to America after being released from Prison. Supporting Haiti and arguing with Bill Clinton about it. A serious political player. I didn’t know. And all the time that amazing voice. Lots of silly songs, but some great ones. And what a physique! Still handsome at 80, onto his third wife. Kids all seem pretty good. He attributes that to their mothers. Still campaigning for progressive causes – this time The Gathering to address unacceptably high levels of violence and imprisonment of black Americans. Highly recommended.
Very revealing about the creator of Everyone Loves Raymond, Phil Rosenthal. Maybe unintentionally so; he seems a bit of a neurotic. Just like Raymond. Certainly his parents are the models for Raymond’s parents. It delivers what it promises – revealing deep differences in cultural approaches to comedy and entertainment in Russia and America. But overall there is an uncomfortable feeling Phil is looking down on his new colleagues, and taking the mickey out of them, especially in the early stages. One of the most interesting bits was when he visits the Moscow Actors Theatre, home of the father of method acting, Stanislavsky. With a current Director who actually knew him- and who is quietly implacable in refusing to release an actor to be Raymond. Phil dropped his smart guy persona and seemed genuinely moved. And nicer for it. There is a surprising ending – at least I wasn’t prepared for it. Interesting.
Mia Wasikowska is good at portraying Jane’s isolation and self sufficiency. It is very evocative of the place, the wintry moors and isolation, then lovely blossom and blooms in Spring, big uncomfortable interiors, modest houses with limited comfort. But not enough passion really. Early cruelty to Jane is glimpsed only briefly so not enough back story to make us feel deeply for her. The encounters with Rochester are all just witty sparring, no real sense of menace or repressed desire. So pleasant to sit through but in the end, upon reflection, disappointing.
No doubt about the Finns, they are serious people, dealing with the big issues. How to safely dispose of their own nuclear waste, in a way that does not endanger those who come after us – thousands of years after us. Great shots inside the repository as they call it. Dramatic monologues from the film maker, striking a match and proferring a deep philosophical question. At the end though you wonder whether all this effort is worth it. All very worthy, but a lot of energy is being expended on this project.
Disappointing. Lovely scenery somewhere in France. Three young boys trying to cope on their own. Unsurprisingly they don’t do too well, being fleeced of everything by local criminals. Ends with them drifting down the river, accepting their abandonment. Pretty pointless. But I loved the soundtrack by The Bony King of Nowhere, who it turns out is a lone troubadour. Great music. But disappointing film.
Slow, very slow, Japanese story of a woman torn between husband and lover. An oft repeated tale of mountains fighting over the love of a woman became tedious. Too little background, too elliptical in the telling. The possibility that the lovers were replicating the experience of their grandparents was too slight, but we had a fully formed ghost wandering around, and shots of insects devouring a corpse. Beautiful setting. But ultimately unrewarding.
Great story, well told. Plenty of archival footage made it easy perhaps,but supplemented in clever ways by excerpts from old television shows and clever captions. Joyce McKinney, The former beauty queen, whose story this is, was mesmerising, leaving viewers to ponder what those involved in the “manacled mormon” furore also debated – was she villain or victim? As the caption said, she was certainly not a dumb blonde in how she went about her escapade – but the obsessiveness with which she pursued the object of her desire suggests otherwise. Great fun.
The Forgiveness of Blood
Mad middle European blood feud, wreaking havoc on the lives of women and children. Great performances, but the central point of the futility of it all was made quite quickly and never really expanded on, despite the 105 minutes running time. You feel for the young people caught up in this senseless and seemingly never ending cycle. Great performances by the young actors in particular. A sad ending.
The Kid With A Bike
A crazy boy with real issues caused by abandonment by his feckless father; ‘Pitbull’ was an apt nickname. REally amazing performance by the young boy playing the central role. Circumstances set up nicely, but motives of characters never fully explained and not really credible. Who would really take such a character in, and give up their boyfriend for so little return. The ultimate resolution was not credible either, the boy’s problems too quickly resolved. So unsatisfactory.
Beautiful film from the director of About Ellywhich screened at an earlier MIFF. Exploring the same thing – how the oppression of women in Iran impacts on all elements of life, and makes simple things ruinous. Iranian middle class, a woman wanting to emigrate, a husband refusing to leave his elderly father, an eleven year old girl caught in between the two stubborn adults. The wife’s decision to leave for two weeks results in catastrophe, largely because of the way women are treated, the secrets that they are forced to keep, the behaviour expected of men and mostly the pig-headedness of men who have the right, the responsibility, to determine things. Religious belief, honour, honesty – are all put under the spotlight. Great movie. Second best after Melancholia.
Page One: Inside The New York Times
Great documentary, taking us inside the workings of the paper and the people who work for it. Lovely portrayal of journalists at work. A fairly predictable rehashing of arguments in favor of, and against, the continued existence of the mainstream media. Some great characters. Good vox pops from a range of interesting and articulate people including Carl Berstein, people from the New Yorker, the Atlantic and elsewhere. Great scene with the whole staff assembled to hear Bill Kelleher read out the Pulitzer prize- winners for whatever year it is. Then they didn’t tell us who won. That was disappointing! But overall very informative and entertaining.
Sweet film, about a man whose father, at age 75 after his wife’s death, announces he is gay. Concurrent story about the man’s own tentative steps to commit to a relationship. Unconventional story telling. A talking dog, narration and flash backs could be a muddle but it all hangs together. Strongest when dealing with the father and son story. Lovely performance by Christopher Plummer as the father. Fun moments involving his boyfriend. Based on the real life experience of Director Mike Mills and his father. He gave a talk and then did a question and answer – not greatly illuminating.
The Turin Horse
The seven days leading up to the moment when Nietzsche fell on the horse being beaten by his owner and then lapsed into madness. I bailed out on the second day! Long, silent shots of the harsh life of peasants! Striking black and white photography. Howling wind adding to their woes. Terrific, eerie music to suit the mood by Mihaly Vig. But day, night and morning was enough for me. I was one of the first to leave, and read later that thereafter there was a fairly steady stream and then problems with the screening! So a good decision.
Strange film. I didn’t think it fitted the description in the program – “provocative study of young female desire”. Two sisters, the older in thrall to discipline, self control and holding her emotions in check, comes under the spell of a blonde pony-tailed rival at the pony/gymnastics club. Throughout the film you think either of them are going to do violence to the other – and I didn’t much care if they did, finding both characters completely unsympathetic. I liked the bits with the younger sister much more. She was gorgeous and lit up the screen. In love with her baby sitter – unreciprocated! She was trying to sort out her place in the world and finding it hard to understand. No mother, no context made it all a bit strange. Ultimately unsatisfying.
Our Idiot Brother
Sweet little film about a naive fellow whose desire to do good and truth telling lands him in trouble more often than not. His three sisters live in the real world and are generally mucking up their lives. A lonely mother rounds out the family. It was good on sibling relationships. Director Jesse Peretz, in attendance, said the studio wanted the film lighter rather than darker. But there was an underlying humanity and deeper feeling that stopped this from being too schmaltzy (just). Very pleasant entertainment.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Loved this slow, lyrical movie about the lives of men living in rural Turkey. Beautifully shot with lots of stunning composed images reflecting the Director’s skills as a stills photographer. Humorous dialogue between men trapped in a never ending journey overnight, looking for the body of a murder victim. The man who has confessed to the crime is meant to be showing them where the body is buried. The police chief is under pressure. The Prosecutor world weary. The Doctor unhappy and alone. Over time details of the lives of each are revealed, adding depth and poignancy to the characters. Over the course of the film in brief snatches the Prosecutor tells the Doctor a story, that is clearly his own, and the Doctor provides an answer to a riddle. A meal in the house of the local village mayor gives an insight into ordinary life in rural Turkey. Very beautiful.
A Slovenian film. Opens on a lone house in a plain where war has recently raged. A mother dead, father and children grieving. During the night more strangers descend on the farmhouse. Fearful Father hides the children and prepares to defend his territory with his single rifle. Not necessary – the intruders are a circus troupe. (Members of Cirque du Soleil). They stay and help out the farmer and take time to regroup themselves. The Ringmaster is dying – a terrible breathless, racking death. Over time friendships are formed. A tank appears and the Strongman entertains it with tricks. The tank competes with tricks of its own, spinning around, bowing. A terrifying end to that interlude reminds us that war still rages. A circus performance for the old man presages his death. His grave soon sits beside the mother’s and the others move on together. Stunning circus acts. No speaking throughout adds to the strange mood. Strangely compelling throughout.
The Fourth Portrait
People living on the edge in Taiwan. A boy left alone when his father dies. Draws the first portrait – the dead father. Befriended briefly by the school janitor then packed off to live with his mother and her new husband and baby. Mother working as a ‘hostess’ in a club made out of shipping containers. We’re living on the edge. Boy draws his second portrait – his new friend, a charming no hoper leading him on a life of crime. Sympathetic teacher calls in the mother who tells her story – coming from the mainland, seeking a better life that was not to be. The mother was a great character. The boy dreams of, and then draws the third portrait – an older brother walking by the sea. Suspicion falls on the new husband, but justice is left hanging as the boy draws his fourth portrait – himself. Overall the film had some good characters, and some good elements, but didn’t come together to a satisfactory whole.
Two incredibly beautiful Iranian girls are drawn to each other. Spend a lot of time going to underground parties, drinking, dancing, avoiding the Morality Police. Atafeh has secular, professional parents who fought for the overthrow of the Shah – current circumstances their fault according to their daughter. The boy of the family is a reformed party boy, turning religious. Wires up the house to spy and eavesdrop on everyone. Invites in the mullah. Marries the other girl and immediately exercises his control over her. Pretty depressing. All is lost when you see the father join the son in prayer. The daughter leaves for Dubai, leaving her friend to her miserable fate!
Heartwarming story of Kevin Clash, the man behind the Sesame Street puppet Elmo. Taken with puppetry from a very young age, you see Kevin creating his early puppets, choosing the right voice and personality. Withstanding derision of his peers he begins the long climb up the entertainment ladder, until he lands in the company of puppetry royalty, Jim Henson and the Muppets and Sesame Street. All pretty seamless, apart from a failed marriage. He was a very engaging character and the conclusion with him giving advice to aspiring young puppeteers (versions of himself as a young boy) is very sweet.
Certainly seemed like an eternity. I was not sure where we were – would have helped had I read the program blurb beforehand. A spirit looking back over the happiest moments of his mortal life in Thailand. That would have helped (maybe). Very slow moving, people talking, telling stories about their lives, playing around in the river, visiting a cemetery. Then fast forward to Wit’s own family after his death. Then the end. Too obscure to be satisfying on any level.
Position Among The Stars
An Indonesian ‘Seven Up’. Two previous films following this family’s fortunes are sketched briefly and effectively before we get into the story. Grandmother is returning to Jakarta to look after Tari as she finishes high school, hopefully to move on to college. A compelling look at the lives of people eking out a precarious living in the hustle and bustle of the city. The role of the Neighbourhood Leader, operation of the welfare system, importance of religion, lives of young people, attraction of Japanese fighting fish, even public health measures (fumigation against dengue fever) get a look in. Also shows life in the villages. Wonderful glimpses of makeshift solutions to daily problems, including a particularly ingenious motorbike contraption for traveling along the railway line. A very warm and engaging documentary that enhances cross cultural understanding.
The Mill and the Cross
A beautiful looking film depicting how the people in Brueghel’s paintings would have lived, their clothes (fantastic detail), what they ate, where they slept, how they carried their bread, transported their produce to market, how the children played, all under the the terror imposed by the Spanish redcoats carrying out the cruel (inhuman to us) punishments decreed by the church. Fantastic tableaux recreating actual scenes in Pieter Brueghel’s paintings. Individuals up close, couples going about their daily business, groups moving back and forth. Interspersed with the backdrop to the painting with tiny figures moving around in different bits of it. Cute. Director Lech Majewski was on hand to describe how he did it. The attention to detail, research, building up the whole from small pieces. Very articulate and interesting. The mill on the top of a fantastic rocky outcrop (non-existent in Flanders) full of symbolism (on this rock I build my church etc) was fantastic, including the inner workings – massive wooden cogs, wheels and endless stairs. The miller, representing God, looking out on all the people and activities on the plain below. Majewski is taken with Brueghel’s penchant for distracting the viewer away from the really important moment. A recreation of the way of the cross and the crucifixion concludes the film (and I agree with the reviewer who felt this took away from the overall charm of the film). Charlotte Rampling as the mother of Jesus! There’s a turn up. She looked the part.
On Borrowed Time
Beautiful documentary about Paul Cox. Made at a time when Paul thought he was likely to die from liver cancer. Comments from Paul, relatively sparse, interspersed with brief interviews with well known figures like Phillip Adams, Bob Ellis, Davis Stratton and the like. Along with comments from his actors including Wendy Hughes, Chris Hayward and others. The whole linked by slabs of his films which look great, though the quality of the extracts is not because they didn’t use the original film (too expensive). A great retrospective. And a happy ending. Paul got a liver transplant (amazingly filmed, with vox pop by the surgeon while he was doing it!) and is alive and well today. But not at this world premiere of the documentary because he was at the Byron Bay festival talking about his book Life in the Cancer Ward that we see him writing during this film. Director David Bradbury talked too long, but his prerogative I suppose!
Little Tailor / A Useful Life
Little Tailor, was a beautifully shot black and white French short film. Looked lovely but had a silly script. I left the main film. Also in black and white. From Uruguay. About the closure of a cinema. Slow and boring when I left which was about a quarter way through. Don’t expect it would have improved.
Good fun. And less played for easy laughs, than looking at loneliness and integrity in the unlikely milieu of insurance salespeople. A naif abroad in the world of insurance sharks. One of the messages being insurance assessors play an important role after natural disasters! You don’t here that often anywhere, let alone in a comic film! Another was that women could play up on business week-ends just as men could. And the loud mouthed blaggard could be a good guy. So not quite a “by the numbers” comedy. Great scene with a fan of The Wire put his television viewing to good use. A lovely, warm-hearted film.
A Life In Movement
Beautiful and moving documentary about the dancer and choreographer Tanja Liedke who was killed in a traffic accident when she was just 29. She had just been appointed Director of the Sydney Dance Company. Just the right mix of footage of her dancing (amazing!), interviews with dancers who had worked with her, and her family and partner. Great.
A friend didn’t like this, but I did. A gentle, meditative look at a brother and sister living ordinary and somewhat unsatisfactory lives as best they could. The ‘familiar ground’ of the title. Great depiction of winter in a small Canadian town. A little bit of fantasy with a ‘man from the future’ warning the brother about something that was going to happen. All nicely done I thought, and I was close to being filmed out at this stage!
Great cast, but pretty pedestrian story. Predictable – even for one like me who is happy to suspend disbelief at the drop of a hat. I read an online review that said Sam Worthington was a weak link. I think his part was a weak one, both the young version and the old. I really loved Sam in his first major role (I think) Gettin’ Square (a great Australian film that barely gets mentioned in dispatches these days). So I think he has the capacity to play strong roles. None of the actors had much to work with, even Helen Mirren. All round, upon reflection disappointing, but the actual experience of watching it in the cinema passed pleasantly enough.
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