AHLAAM -- Mohamed Al-Daradji’s impressive drama about the March 2003 invasion of Baghdad doesn’t point fingers and humanizes the everyday people of Iraq. Its ending is especially poignant. I expect this to get some sort of release in the States.
ANALIFE -- I went into this press screening trying to curb my juvenile instinct to pronounce this thing “ANAL life,” as in “of the ass.” Surely, it had to be ‘ah-nall’ or something European sounding. One hour later, walking out of the screening room (the film runs ninety minutes), I was able to confirm that my initial instinct was correct. I don’t know, man, perhaps someone can explain it to me, but I feel aligned with the other thirty or so walkouts in wondering what was the fucking point of this thing? Like, I don’t know if it was ironic, humorous, dead serious, or what. I have NO IDEA. Perhaps it deserves points on that alone. The fact that I was utterly unable to relate to or connect with anything in this bizarre experiment at least implies some sort of originality. And I didn’t even make it to the epilogue involving outer space and a furry bear? I don’t know, call me uptight, but for me, ass rape is simply unworthy of attention, even to denounce it.
BATTLE IN HEAVEN -- I acknowledge the fact that the circumstances surrounding my viewing experience surely could have been better (I watched it in the film library), but this film still left me feeling not much of anything. I LOVE a lot of the dreamier long takes, but the blowjob bookend and naked fat people fucking didn’t seem to feel as natural as those other, more subtle moments. It was kinda like the hummer in BROWN BUNNY. I felt it betrayed the subtler film that both directors had beautifully established in other moments. Still, it’s definitely got a distinct flavor.
THE BLOSSOMING OF MAXIMO OLIVEROS – A very fine representation of world cinema, this award-winning film breathes fresh new life into the coming-of-age genre.
BY THE WAYS: A JOURNEY WITH WILLIAM EGGLESTON -- This was the only Eggleston documentary I saw at the festival (there were three, I think), and though I have no complaints and thought it painted an interesting portrait, I wonder why more of his photographs weren’t included. I could have used more of them and less rolling footage. Though, as I said, this is nitpicky, because the film looked so beautiful.
CINNAMON -- I’m not the biggest fan of “video art,” and that’s what this is. I was expecting something completely different, and that sense of expectation tended to get in the way of my appreciation of it. Shame on me.
COCAINE ANGEL -- All herald the most striking new voice in American independent cinema! I can’t wait to see what this Michael Tully figure comes up with next. Damian Lahey is the frontrunner for next year’s Best Actor Oscar. This is, objectively speaking, one of the best films I have ever seen in my life. I’m actually driving down to Austin for next month’s South by Southwest Film Festival for the sole purpose of seeing it again three more times! I’m determined to get Michael Tully’s autograph this time around, as he was swarmed every time I saw him in Rotterdam.
THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU -- I already wrote about this after last year’s NYFF, but I had to see it again to confirm its brilliance. I stand behind my statement that this is the closest to Dostoevsky celluloid has ever come, and it remains atop my list of The Best Films of the 21st Century.
THE GREAT ECSTASY OF ROBERT CARMICHAEL -- Moments of sheer brilliance, but by the end it had careened into TWENTYNINE PALMS-land, where I think I was supposed to be stomach-punched but instead I had a sweeping grin across my face at Thomas Clay’s audacity. Or was it supposed to be pompously over-the-top and funny? That said, the first rape scene at the drug dealer’s apartment is absolutely electrifying. I almost wish this had been a short of that scene alone. Then I’d threaten to break out the ‘masterpiece’ label and stick it all over this thing.
GUCCI CRACKHEADS BATTLE NIHILISM -- Unfortunately, personal baggage got in the way of this and I wasn’t as entertained by Julie as I probably should have been. Though, in that context, the portrait became even sadder. I’m quite glad that Molly Lynch followed her to Louisiana, where she appears to have gotten clean. But I fear that those days are already behind her.
INTO GREAT SILENCE -- A nearly three-hour visit to the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, where there ain’t a whole lot going on except silent introspection, doesn’t seem like the most exciting film in the world, but I was quite riveted throughout. Apparently not everyone else was, as there were constant walkouts in the screening I attended, but I actually don’t think the film needs to be watched all the way through for it to be appreciated. I’m just the type of weirdo who’s into that shit.
J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE -- Sorry, Monsieur Garrel, but this one didn’t really work for me. It almost felt like a parody of a pretentious French film. I don’t know how I draw that line--it’s all instinct--but there’s definitely a line to be drawn, and this one’s on the opposite side of the good side.
THE LIVING AND THE DEAD -- I walked out of this film telling the one-and-only Wendy Mitchell that if the film had ended at the ninety-minute mark, I would have been thoroughly behind it, yet by lagging on for another twenty minutes it ruined itself. But then I looked at my watched and I realized that the film WAS ninety minutes long. Huh??? I don’t know how this could be. But I will say that it provided an invaluable lesson in pacing, or, rather, how not to pace your film. The audience had the same collective response. For some reason, it felt like there were at least nine or ten endings. By the end, I fear that Simon Rumley had completely lost the audience that was there with him for the first hour of the film.
LONESOME JIM -- Simply put, one of the best scripts I’ve experienced in many years. A really fantastic example of low-budget filmmaking. If I were in charge of the world, this film would be getting the response and recognition that GARDEN STATE got. But I’m clearly not in charge of the world. Either way, I recommend you seek out LONESOME JIM if you get a chance. I think it might have limited distribution at some point, so hopefully it’ll be out on DVD sooner than later. Like BUBBLE, this is a film that doesn’t need to be seen in a theatre to be appreciated, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t deserve a theatrical release. Either way, it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
NEXT: A PRIMER ON URBAN PAINTING -- Pablo Aravena’s film is an entertaining ride and a must-see for graffiti artists. But, like SCRATCH, it should also be seen by those individuals who wouldn’t think this subject would interest them.
NORTHERN LIGHTS -- One of my goals in attending Rotterdam was to screen as many films in the Tiger competition as possible, but that didn’t really happen. One of the few that I did manage to see, NORTHERN LIGHTS, quite impressed me. The performance of the father was phenomenal, and I liked the overall look and tone. The general feedback was that it was typical and ordinary, but, having gone through the experience of making a film myself this past year, I was really pulling for it and I think it’s far better than average. So there.
OLD JOY -- I really like Will Oldham’s performance, and I’m in support of OLD JOY, but I have to say that it felt a tad undercooked to me. Though it did cast an interesting spell in a 70's experimental cinema kind of way. As for the metaphor for the confused state of liberals in America, not really buying into that one. To me, it’s a portrait of two guys who, for different reasons, are insecure and afraid to confront the realities of adulthood. Hopefully they’ll wake up and take responsibility for their lives in the sequel, NEW JOY!
THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA -- In introducing this film, the director told the audience that the project was never intended to be shown in back-to-back hours. After watching ten minutes of it, I understood why. WHOA, MAN. This guy is absolutely insane! I can’t describe him, so I won’t begin to try to. What I will say is that I heartily enjoyed the first hour, laughing uncontrollably at many moments, but when the screen went black in order to prepare for part two, my buddy Josh suggested to me that the director was actually taking him seriously. I laughed him off, but as the second part started, I began to wonder myself. The Q&A confirmed it for me. He's supposed to be taken seriously. This world is fucking weird.
PUSHER 3 -- The third part in Nicolas Winding Refn’s trilogy (or is he making more?) features an astonishingly solid performance by Zlatko Buric. Shot in a docu-style, the film builds to a grotesquely obscene, and blackly hilarious, third act that is all the more haunting in its matter-of-fact presentation. Pretty good shit.
REGULAR LOVERS -- Another film that I saw in New York last fall but had to see again, if only for the dance party sequence set to “This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks. Still, I am an absolute sucker for the French New Wave (when it’s on, of course), and this film deserves its place in that canon, although it was shot in the 21st Century. Another screening with mass walkouts. I don’t understand this. Do people randomly buy tickets for films and not know what they’re getting into? The program clearly stated that this was a 180-minute film. People seemed to be shocked by that. I don’t get it.
SAUVAGE INNOCENCE -- Of the three Garrel films that I’ve seen, REGULAR LOVERS is clearly the masterpiece, and while this film has its moments, compared to that one, well, it doesn’t really compare.
THE ALUMINUM FOWL -- It’s hard to be objective about this one because I’ve become friends with James Clauer, but I will say that I think it’s really quite beautiful. I watched it on video while in Nashville on New Year’s Eve, and at that point it felt a little unfocused, but watching it a second time it felt really right and poignant. I look forward to seeing the shorter version (which screened at Sundance), just to compare.
BEGINNINGS -- One of the Tiger Award winners for best short. I would have to vote in the nay category, I’m afraid. Though it’s hard not to pull for a director who confessed in his Q&A that the reason the film shifted tones and he incorporated behind-the-scenes footage was because he taped over the majority of the actual footage and instead borrowed footage from someone else’s camera. And he won the Tiger Award! Ha!
THE BOY WHO WAS DUBBED -- Musician Patrick Freyne’s first attempt at filmmaking is a gloriously ingenious crowd-pleaser. I’m glad to have befriended him, and can’t wait to see his next effort, a prison musical that he hilariously pitched to me as, “’The Wizard of Oz’ meets… ‘Oz.’”
BURKA BOOGIE WOOGIE -- A slight, but amusing, animated work.
IVY -- I don’t really remember much about this, except that it confirmed my problems with shooting period pieces on video. I really think the medium needs to reflect the time in which it was shot (which is why I’m demanding that PING-PONG SUMMER be shot on film), and I couldn’t really shake that from my mind. But I do remember thinking it was a nice effort.
MANMUSWAK -- I never said I was a genius, but I simply didn’t recognize that it was a passport that was being exchanged by the characters (I thought it was a random flyer--yes, I am an absolute idiot). Still, without the more profound understanding, I really thought this was a well-made, interesting short.
TASTE THE WORLD -- Visually interesting, but I confess I didn’t get the point it was trying to make, whatever that might have been.
TES CHEVEUX NOIRS IHSAN -- I saw this one at last year’s NYFF, but was glad to see it again, as it is quite ambiguous and difficult to process. The first time, I thought it was about the father of a little boy, but the second time it seemed to be about the little boy who had grown up and was revisiting his past. Tala Hadid is clearly interested in inventing a new cinematic language (precisely in reconstructing the concept of time) and for that I applaud her.
USO JUSTO -- Coleman Miller puts his own English subtitles over an old Spanish melodrama and makes a hilarious commentary about the pretension inherent in experimental cinema. Strangely, I caught myself understanding much of the dialogue, which detracted from the overall experience. If it had been in Dutch or Portuguese, I could have given myself over to the subtitles completely. Guess I did pay attention in Spanish class after all.
A VERY BORING CONVERSATION -- I really, really liked this short. I don’t know if I ‘got’ anything out of it, but it just felt completely honest and alive and real to me, like DUCK SEASON or RAISING VICTOR VARGAS.
WHO I AM AND WHAT I WANT -- Slight, but clever and interesting enough.