I was disappointed with eight films in particular at this year’s MIFF. Not a bad outcome from viewing 60 films. These are those films that I gave two and one stars to. First the two star films. There were 3.
Colo started off well. It was about the impact of unemployment on a family in Portugal. Wife/Mum is having to work two jobs, Husband/Dad is trying to maintain his self esteem; Daughter is dealing with the usual teenage anxt. They seem an ordinary middle class family and life is tough, the money is running out, but they are keeping it together. Then after Husband goes missing, after humiliating himself trying to get a job, or money, from a friend, Wife decides they will have to leave their apartment and split up. Husband and Daughter to Grandma’s in the country, while she moves in with a friend and keeps working. All convincingly portrayed. But then it went completely off the rails when Father takes up with a school friend of Daughter. Weird final quarter was extremely off-putting.
School Life was about an innovative school in Ireland, and while it was fine to sit through, watching moderately interesting kids and teachers do their thing, but it’s been done much better in similar documentaries. The school is in Ireland and was likened in the program to Hogwarts but I didn’t see any connection at all! It didn’t seem that innovative a place. We didn’t get to know enough about the students to feel much when the few who did well got into Eton or Cambridge or wherever. Nor did I care much about the ones who were struggling. The focus on the teaching side was on a funny married couple; she was responsible for the school play as well as teaching literature, he oversaw the making of the school band including auditions etc. We saw them at home as well as at school but their conversations were quite opaque. Lots of quirky characters but not enough depth.
I was disappointed not to like The Butterfly Tree better. The first film from Australian director Priscilla Cameron, it looked stunning, suffused with vibrant colour. It’s set in Far North Queensland. The story was fine, albeit a bit hackneyed, Father and Son grieving separately for a dead Mother. We learn why they are estranged in a truly powerful scene midway through. Both become fascinated by a newcomer, a former burlesque dancer. All of this crackled along and was good. But the film was ruined for me by having the wrong tone concerning the boy’s infatuation with the dancer. Okay for him to dream about her, and okay for him to secretly see her through a window, but not okay for him to actually caress her breasts. There’d be outrage if it was a young girl and male adult. Ditto a boy and a woman. I also thought a side story concerning the father and a predatory student in the college at which he is a teacher was unnecessary and a distraction. It also had an unfortunate tone regarding the female student who was depicted as a sex addict. A shame, because there was a good film to be had here.
I gave one star to 5 films; two of which I walked out of.
The first was 24 Frames. I lasted until the 14th frame but should have left earlier. This was a boring, to me, imagining of moments before or after a still photograph. An original concept; the problem was that most of the photographs selected could not sustain the treatment. The settings of birds and animals and were just not that interesting for a whole four minutes!
I didn’t like On the Beach At Night Alone on first viewing. But I’m re-calibrating my thoughts regarding this film having seen another two with the same actor, Kim Min-Hee and by the same director, Hong Sang-Soo. There are three films being sort of viewed as a complementary trio. One of them was Claire’s Camera to which I gave 5 stars. The third, The Day After, I saw at ACMI and enjoyed very much. They all deal with relationships between men and women, infidelity, chance encounters, disappointment. The trouble is you need to read about it, or see the other films before getting what this film is about. It’s apparently based on the real experience of director and actress after they have an affair. She is treated badly (how surprising!) So it transgresses my rule that a film should stand alone and be accessible without the need for further study. Although I could really just sit and watch Kim Min-Hee do anything, she is such a good actor, which is what I did, but not really enjoying the experience.
I was also disappointed not to like Rabbit. This is another Australian film, the first directed by Luke Shanahan. It had a great premise; evil scientists, funded by amoral financiers, members of high society (chauffeur driven in Rolls Royces) experimenting on identical twins to determine their capacity for extra-sensory communication. Despite a great performance in two roles by Adelaide Clemens, it was too overloaded with unnecessary distractions to be compelling. These included a gothic campsite with ghoulish campers, monk like hooded guards, feral children, weird lovers and a macabre crucifixion. These distracted from the main story-line which was strong enough to sustain interest on its own. And there were some glaring holes in the thriller aspect of the story, like how and why one of the victims could suddenly kill the primary perpetrator of this dystopian horror. The result was a bit of a mish mash.
I was wary of The Killing of a Sacred Deer because I hated The Lobster, the previous award winning film by the same director, Yorgos Lanthimos. He is indeed, as the program pointed out, a purveyor of the bizarre. My wariness was well-founded. I hated it. Even with Nicole Kidman, who I love; and which is really why I went, but she couldn’t save it. It was clear from the start what was going to happen; a mistake by a successful surgeon was to be compensated for by the death of a member of his family. How that member is chosen was quite frankly ludicrous! Obviously not my thing. Lots of people, including most film critics, disagree with my view.
I didn’t like the Filipino film, The Woman Who Left. A story of a woman wrongfully imprisoned and released, she took too long to wreak her revenge, is that is what she was going to do. Striking black and white cinematography couldn’t save it for me. So I left too!