Six feature films and two documentaries got three stars from me. This includes my three biggest disappointments of the festival I had really been looking forward to the first three features in this list based on their reception at the Cannes Film Festival. There you go; responses to films, like all art, is such a personal thing! I’ve put the feature films first and then the documentaries; no real order of preference. All had good bits but overall I was disappointed in one way or another with them all. Although awarding stars is so arbitrary. I’ve included my contemporaneous tweets; which are funny to reread as I was trying to be as positive as possible!

Cold War
Beautiful, elegiac take on a bygone – not so long ago – age. Wonderfully shot, great leads, beautiful score. But leaves the question – why would you leave Paris – unanswered.

I was terribly disappointed with this film for two reasons. First, because I had enjoyed Pawel Pawlikowski’s earlier film Ida so much and so expected the same from this. I’d found it very moving. Second because all of the critics at Cannes this year had raved about it, as international critics continue to do. So I was really looking forward to it which is why it was one of the first films I booked. It was beautifully shot and I loved the black and white cinematography. There are lots of incredibly beautiful scenes that could be art house still photographs; everything in perfect proportion, perfect attention to every little detail. Both indoor and outdoor scenes. But the story of the two lovers left me completely unmoved. The two leads are very attractive and both have great screen presence. But I couldn’t have cared less what happened to them. Their relationship happens too fast and too easily. Too black and white in fact; not enough shades of grey. There’s some great dialogue but it never fits together to reveal anything about their inner lives. There’s virtually nothing about their back stories; which is a change for me, mostly I think you get too much back story but you do need some! And while the cold war is certainly the backdrop to their lives, it really doesn’t affect their romance. Perhaps that’s the point; they’re the combatants and it’s their private cold war. If so there’s just not enough to explain why that’s the case. They’ve got an unbreakable attachment but they’re breaking it all the time! As I said in my tweet the music was great and . But overall this was incredibly disappointing. Here’s the trailer.

Happy As Lazzaro
Adriano Tardiolo’s performance as angelic Lazzaro was great to watch. The harsh life of indentured share croppers and the greed of those above them portrayed beautifully. More magic from Lazzaro in the present day would have been welcome.

Great MIFF experiences. When the whole audience at the fully booked Forum gasped in the middle of this film. Tremendous cinematic moment.

This is another that I was really looking forward to based on the reviews coming out of Cannes. And it was stunning for the first half. As I tweeted, Adriano Tardiolo, playing Lazzaro, has the most beautiful face; truly angelic. Check out the trailer below. If he is an angel his purpose here on earth is a bit obscure. We’re in a rural community in Italy where everyone is working as they and their forebears have always worked; as indentured labourers, forced to labour for the local nobility, the feared marquise. She, aided by her accountant, is happy to let them continue to suffer what is a delusion. Because we’re in contemporary Italy and indentured labour has been outlawed for years. She’s ripping them off big time. The people, a motley collection of adults, children and babies live in both material and spiritual poverty. They’re working so hard there’s no time after their labour to savour anything finer in life. And they treat Lazzaro as basically a work horse. He’s bossed around by everyone; required to do the heaviest and most menial tasks day in day out. As the marquise says, she exploits them, they exploit Lazzaro. This part of the film is beautifully rendered. Then comes the cinematic moment I tweeted about. At a particular point, the whole cinema gasped as one. In the next half we’re in the present day, the marquise’s scam has been rumbled and her estate is deserted. A few of the folk we’ve met before are living hand to mouth in a modern city. Unlikely as it seems Lazzaro, recently re-emerged into the world, finds them and and is allowed to stay, despite misgivings by some. Angel that he is, he’s not much use to them on the streets where they fleece gullible passers-by. It’s here that the film really disappointed. The set up reminded me of the movie Jupiter’s Moon that I saw last year at MIFF. This also asked the audience to suspend disbelief to embrace an angelic figure; one with mystical powers. The angel in that instance brought justice to some and redemption to the main character. It’s as though the director here, Alice Rohrwacher, couldn’t bring herself to fully embrace the consequences of Lazzaro’s innocence. Shouldn’t it bring him, and those who support him, some benefit or allow them to experience something out of the ordinary; something magical. There’s just one instance of the latter. Lazzaro and the group enter a cathedral only to be shooed away by sanctimonious nuns. As Lazzaro leaves, the soaring organ music being played for the nuns, follows him out into the street. Beautiful. Unfortunately Lazzaro doesn’t improve the lot of those around him at all, or save himself. Maybe a critique of capitalism is intended but it was too opaque for me Disappointing. Here’s the trailer.

Ash Is Purest WhiteEverybody Knows
Striking gangster setting starts strongly with two charismatic leads. But slows down in the second half. Captures China’s rapid growth. Some striking scenery.

Again I had high hopes for this film following the reviews out of Cannes. I also like the woman who plays the main character, Zhao Tao. I can’t remember what I’ve seen her in, but she has a compelling screen presence. The first half of this film was also compelling. Showing gangsters at work; doing deals, swearing loyalty, looking after their own. At the centre an attractive young couple. He’s the leader of the pack. She’s his girl. It rattled along taking you into this world completely. Then things fall apart. Our strong man is not as strong as he seems. But she is. Problem is, her loyalty isn’t rewarded. After a sacrifice on her part she goes looking for him.This is where you see the striking scenery I tweeted about; in particular around the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and the town of Sandouping. There’s some neat double dealing along the way. Our heroine is robbed and in turn does some stealing herself; she’s nothing if not inventive and prepared to risk all to achieve her objective. Which she finally does. The confrontation between former lovers is quietly compelling. Through all the personal encounters in this film you get the feeling that life in China is hard; you are on your own and have to make the most of the little that you have. The enormity of the change taking place in China is also a constant backdrop to the action. Our heroine takes a train back to where it all began. And meets a fantasist en route. Her brief encounter with him provides one of the most moving bits of the film. Back in her familiar milieu she returns to what she does best. She’s a compelling character. Things don’t go where you expect and isn’t particularly satisfying, even now I’m not sure what it meant. But writing this and remembering the film, I wonder whether I shouldn’t have given it four stars after all! It’s worth a look. Here’s the trailer.

Edhel
This was a little gem of a film. Who doesn’t want to believe in fairies? About grief, acceptance, fitting in. Nice.

This was a beautiful film; part of the MIFF schools program. I’m not sure why I was so measly with the stars. Probably because it was all a bit predictable. Its about Edhal, a girl with misshapen ears. They look like Galadriel’s in Lord of The Rings. The question asks itself – is she an elf? She wears a hood to hide them. Of course she’s bullied at school. There’s a doctor ready to operate but Edhal is not very co-operative, to her mother’s frustration. In fact Mum is getting increasingly frustrated about her daughter’s hostile attitude to everything. Horse riding is the only thing Edhal likes; and she’s good at it. Her father was killed riding one so her mother’s not keen. The horse trainer is a sympathetic character; for both mother and girl. The young man employed as a cleaner at Edhal’s school befriends her. He spends his spare time drawing elves and fairies and is a regular at the local warhammer games workshop (brings back memories). He’s delighted with Edhal’s ears; she’s obviously an elf! He encourages her to investigate; especially to see whether she can access the fairy world through a mysterious portal in the woods. Is he up to good or evil? This all pans out pretty much as you’d expect. Of course there’s a horse that plays a big role; the one that killed her father no less. Edhal has to learn to deal with life as it is, and on her own. As I said; it’s all about grief, acceptance, fitting in. There is some quite beautiful cinematography; especially in the woods. Here’s the trailer.

Everybody Knows
I’ve loved Afghan Farhadi’s Iranian films and this one had the same focus on looking at the reactions of individuals to moral dilemmas. But this was uncharacteristically melodramatic, making it hard to care for the characters.

I really didn’t like this much at all. The set up is okay. Penelope Cruz plays Laura who is returning from America to the Spanish village from whence she came to attend her sister’s wedding. She’s brought along her daughter and son but not her husband. In the lead up to the wedding Laura and her daughter meet up with family members and old friends. The usual cast of characters: cranky Dad, Aunt and Uncle who may be having financial difficulties, cousin who may be having matrimonial difficulties, old boyfriend Paco (played by Javier Bardam) who has taken over the family estate through fair means of foul?, his wife who’s wary of old girlfriend Laura. During the wedding revelries the daughter goes missing and so all of these people and their relationships with each other come under the microscope. Laura is hysterical and, of course, turns to Paco who becomes the lead investigator. Leading to some tension when Laura’s husband turns up. They seek assistance from a local retired police office familiar with kidnapping tropes. He suggests an inside job; unusual to have taken the older girl from a room where her younger brother was also sleeping. Suspicion falls on this one and that one. Old secrets and old enmities are resurrected. Of course everyone knows them all. It was all a bit histrionic for me. Everything gets neatly wrapped up and there is a subtlety to the ending that I liked. But I wouldn’t really recommend.
Here’s the trailer.

Blaze
Loved the music in this and the two leads, Benjamin Dickey and Alia Shawkat, have great screen presence. A familiar trajectory well told. A pity I couldn’t hear most of the dialogue.

I did love the music and have purchased quite a bit of it since I saw the film; just the sort of maudlin country music I like. And I loved the performances from Benjamin Dickey as Blaze Foley and Alia Shawkat as Sybil Rosen his long term lover. Its her book about their relationship that’s the basis of the film and she also co-wrote the screenplay. Sad story. As it says in the MIFF program Ethan Hawke nicely captures Foley’s musical gifts, self destructive exuberance and his tender relationship with Sybil. He died at the age of 39; being shot by the son of a man he’d befriended and who he was trying to help. Senseless and probably unintentional. The whole period and milieu was captured nicely. There was one over-riding difficult for me and that was that I couldn’t decipher a word of what was being said. A combination of mumbling on film and also poor audio at the Forum I’d suggest. Anyway it ruined the film for me. Those with perfect, or even good, hearing should enjoy it a lot. Here’s the trailer.

Three Identical Strangers
What price is worth paying to resolve the nature versus nurture debate? See this thought provoking film and see where you line up. Incredible story.

There’s quite a lot of information out in the internet about this story. And somehow or other we knew that there was a big reveal in the film itself; probably word of mouth at the festival as there’s nothing in the programme notes to this effect. It’s hard to talk about the film without giving the plot away. Its known from the trailer and other publicity that its about three boys, identical triplets, separated at birth who find out about each other by accident. It’s compelling viewing seeing them meet up. Their story gives rise to a whole lot of moral issues; about nature versus nurture, adoption practices, research practices, human rights. There are some amazingly frank interviews with people involved. My family members had some very interesting discussions about all of these things afterwards. In the end we all agreed that the film-maker, having elucidated the problems, in fact fails to do justice to the complexity of what he’s uncovered in the final observations made in the film. That’s why its only got three stars. We also agreed that the title of the film is accurate; despite appearances these three individuals were strangers. Despite our misgivings about the ending, this is thoroughly recommended viewing if you get the chance. An amazing story. Here’s the trailer.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco
Great to see and hear familiar folk from past MIFF fashion films in this. Bill Cunningham, Grace Coddington. The 60s and 70s were another age altogether.

This was fun. I always like to see at least one of the fashion documentaries at MIFF. This year I saw two. I only gave this three stars but its enjoyable all the same. The 1970s are captured in all their glory! The interviews are all good, especially the singular Bill Cunningham. There’s footage of Mrs Rupert Murdoch in her heyday; Jerry Hall was certainly exotic. As were the other models who came to the fore at this time. Antonio was a bit of a chameleon and I’m not sure the film really gets to who he was. Obviously a charismatic fellow but I’m not sure he was a great artist. Apparently his illustrations changed the way fashion is depicted. Maybe its all too familiar, but I didn’t think it was so exceptional. But I’m not a fashionista. Its all great fun to watch. Wouldn’t be so great to be living it; appearances to the contrary. Here’s the trailer.

 

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