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first dispatch (including Tabu, Love , Teddy Bear, etc)
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My first session of the day (8th June) took me to a set of Romanian shorts, three of which impressed: firstly, the Romanian/Hungarian Infinite Minutes (19m) by young director Cecilia Felméri is an elegant and clever circular time-defying dance around events in a hospital; the second, Sink (36m), a hilarious look at several young folk, ranging from the daffy to the sad, planning, via social media, how to spend their New Year’s Eve; and the final grim Are you Sick? (Va e Rau? – 15m) an unadorned bird’s eye view of what happens to an unknown man lying in obvious distress on a city pavement through a long evening and night. A grim view of contemporary life to end the programme, but overall a spirited and optimistic set of work by up-and-coming film makers from whom we hope to see more.
KILLING TIME [5½/10]
Romania 2012: Florin Piersic Jnr: 99m: seen at Cinema Florin Piersic, 8 June
Tarantino has a lot to answer for. Dress two anonymous hitmen in sharp suits, put them together waiting to do a job, see them while away the time chatting about irrelevant things in a way that is kind of comic because of its irrelevance, dissipate suddenly with shocking violence… and, voilà, a recipe for a film. Except, not everyone has Tarantino’s flair and timing, and once done a few times the formula wears thin. The variation here is that the hitmen are not so beguiling as those murderous pussycats of Pulp Fiction, and the violence to follow is more drenched in sadism. Making one hitman a vulnerable family man who by curious coincidence is awaiting life or death information about his baby son, the other a psychopath beyond the range of your usual job description, gives the whole caboodle a different flavour. Director Florin Persic Jnr (son of the actor in whose honour the cinema we’re seeing it in is named) makes a decent fist of the ‘good’ hitman, while Cristian Gutau jokes and menaces as his greasy popinjay of a partner, but the acting honours are carried off by Florin Zamfirescu in the impressive introductory to-camera monologue. It all leaves a nasty taste but isn’t really sharp enough to hit the nihilist depths it’s aiming for.
THE STONE WEDDING [9/10]
Nunta de piatră : Romania 1972: Dan Piţa, Mircea Veroiu: 77m: seen at Cinema Florin Piersic, 8 June
Sometimes at a festival something turns up which is truly remarkable, like no other, something you would almost certainly have seen nowhere else. Based on the work of Ion Agarbiceanu centred on life in the Apuseni mountains, it’s formed of two separate stories of very different mode, both set in the same small town, and both with a wedding reference as a central point and the timeless quality of old folktales. The first is a highly stylised and tragic story of a widow and her dying daughter, bleak and with a pulsing, slow rhythm, every shot beautifully framed, in the stark mode we’ve since come to associate with Béla Tarr. The widow struggles to survive, hacking then hauling crates of stone from the goldmine on the hillside to the processing factory.
When the daughter, inevitably, dies, she must sell her horse, and thereby only possibility of work, to give her the traditional funeral of an unmarried girl – dressed in bridal finery. Despite the exaggerated and ritualised mode, details of small town and working life are almost documentary and fascinating in their own right. The tremendous cinematography, by Iosif Demian, helped by dramatic landscape, is perfectly complemented by a quite amazing sound track of primitive chant-like song by Dorin Liviu Zaharia, a kind of Greek chorus which describes and meditates on the action.
The second film is different in style, more naturalistic and with some humour, telling the story of a wedding party at the town attended by two travelling musicians, one an opportunistic, though charming, army deserter. The sad bride is unbeguiled by her rich but gross groom, and roving eye contact with the bona fide musician leads to exactly what you expect. Again the strange, rather disturbing music adds a haunting dimension to this tale of escape and incidental tragedy. There is nothing quite like this film. Later I see…
THE STONE MEMORY [4/10]
Memoria de Piatra: Romania 2010: Iosif Demian: seen at Cinema Arta, 9 June
Made by the cinematographer of The Stone Wedding almost 40 years later, this is a tremendous disappointment. The director returns to the town, Roşia Montana, where the film was shot, purportedly to see what has happened to the place and to talk to people who remember its being made. A screening of the film is arranged in the town square. But it’s a wasted opportunity, as little constructive is said or followed up, there’s no real investigation what it’s like to live there now, or what is its current economic situation (has the mine closed down?), and no properly ordered attempt to talk to people about their memories of former times.
ITALY: LOVE IT, OR LEAVE IT [7/10]
Italy/Germany 2011: Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi: 75m: seen at The French Institute, 8 June
This delightful film traces the debate between its two charming directors, residents of Rome, as they travel their country trying to decide whether or not to leave it. Disillusioned with many aspects of life in Italy and aware many of their friends have decamped to points all over the globe, they visit people places and events throughout the land to investigate the things they hate and things they cannot live without – Mafia control, government corruption, unemployment, a general oppression of the young by the old, and the many-tentacled phenomenon that is Berlusconi; and scenery, food, and inspirational people and, well, just Italianness. They make quirky and amusing travelling companions in their iconic Fiat 500, Gustav doubtful and wrily pessimistic, Luca against the odds longing to stay. The people they meet range from the gruesomely hilarious (the ghastly old ladies celebrating their hero Berlusconi), heroic (the small businessman in Sicily who is holding out against continual attacks from the Mafia) austerely philosophical (writer Andrea Cavallieri) and optimistic icons of, maybe, a future worth staying for (the gay communist mayor of Bari). But despite all the gloom there’s hardly ever any real doubt which way their decision will go. After all, as they say, life’s too short not to be Italian.
HUNGARY 2011 [5/10]
Magyarország 2011: Hungary 2012: various directors: 75 m: seen at Cinema Florin Piersic, 9 June
This cooperative-based anthology produced by Béla Tarr amounts to a scream of anguish against the current increasingly oppressive right wing regime in Hungary. It’s an austere and difficult film, admirable but hard-going, ranging from the highly stylised symbolic to the naturalistic, the highlight for me being the plain and simple account of a day in the life of a mild-mannered female street sleeper whose job, living place and unexpected source of friendship are taken away from her. Several of the rest are too earnest and self-conscious for my taste – the introductory shots of individuals intoning ‘Cogito ergo sum’ in their own languages make their point a good while before they make their exit, Márta Mészéros’ tale of frustrated motherhood is more simplistic than symbolic and Győrgy Pálfi’s crazy variation on end credits had people heading prematurely for the exit. All clearly heartfelt. But.
USA 1992: Tom Kalin: 89m: seen at Cinema Arta 9 June
Leopold and Loeb murder case has twice before been the basis for films – Hitchcock’s 1948 Rope and Compulsion in 1959 by Richard Fleischer, both based on fictionalised novels. This version is a reconstructed biography, but much embellished by an artful brooding sense of malaise. Nathan Leopold (Craig Chester) appears to be the dominant partner, but their relationship is a complex one, a gay folie à deux. The grainy, dreamy, stylised black and white is frequently beautiful but doesn’t hold back from the seedy horror of their deeds in comparison with their grandiose illusions. The teenagers, rich and hyper-intelligent kids obsessed with Nietzschean notions of superiority, work up from petty crimes – breaking windows, minor arson – to the ultimate challenge of kidnap and the perfect murder, picking up a young boy known to them whom they brutally kill, disposing of the body and phoning a demand for money to his family.
All too fallible Ubermenschen after all, they’re soon caught. Convicted but saved from the death penalty by Clarence Darrow’s skilful defence, who blames it all on Nietszche, Richard Loeb (Danile Schlachet) was murdered in prison 12 years later, while, surprisingly, Leopold survived to be freed after 33 years, moved to Mexico and married – and lived to see both films based on his case. Darkly, sickly cloying, it’s a clever and troubling film, and the surprise is that Tom Kalin made no more features until the equally disturbing Savage Grace, fifteen years later.
TAXI DRIVER [9/10]
USA 1976: Martin Scorsese: 113m: seen at Cinema Florin Piersic, June 9
I have no intention of reviewing this film, only of saying how splendid and undiminished it is, still completely engrossing and unnerving. And, incidentally, how surprising that I’d forgotten the ironic ending.
Sweden/Denmark/Finland 2011: Ruben Östlund: 118m: seen at Cinema Florin Piersic, 10 June
As in all west European towns, at weekends groups of children hang out with their friends in ‘safe’ city centre streets and malls buzzing with people. This is the story of how that innocent activity can go very wrong, when streetwise groups intimidate younger children to rob and terrorise them, while all around safe middle-class life goes on. A scam based on trying to separate a young boy from his mobile phone by clever and practised role play becomes extended to a day-long game of intimidation. That the victims are white and the aggressors black is a troublesome point – how significant is this meant to be, and how significantly will it be interpreted? A secondary plot where black children are victimised maybe is meant to counteract this – I’m not sure about its purpose otherwise, nor of the running gag of the cradle left on a train to which we keep returning. We as adults neglect our children? Hardly, as the events here show more that childhood is something that exists almost on a separate plane, parallel with adult life. Bullying is always hard to watch, and this I found one of the most unsettling films I’d seen here, all the more so for its setting in pleasant familiar territory. Violence is never used, though neither does it ever seem far off, particularly towards the end when the aggressors seem to have run out of ideas as to what to do with their victims – echoes, for British audiences of a certain age, of the James Bulger case. Brilliant performances all round from the young non-professional cast make this a nervy experience that probably taps into all our memories of powerlessness.
WHORES’ GLORY [6/10]
Germany/Austria 2011: Michael Glawogger: 118m: seen at Cinema Arta
Glawogger’s documentaries always find perverse beauty in squalor and deprivation, and this is no exception. A triptych featuring prostitution in 3 different countries, from the squeaky clean ‘fishtank’ girls in Thailand, where international clients sit ever so politely in comfy chairs to select the girl of their dreams and discuss her qualities like gentlemen with the proprietor, to a squalid brothel in Bangladesh run by a martinet madame, to a rundown drive-in area in Mexico, women’s flesh is on sale, and there’s a non-stop supply of men to buy. The women talk about their experiences, with regret, boredom, resignation, and some humour – the men are despised or looked down on and often bossed, as much as feared, but for all that there’s the grim despair that this is not a life they would choose. Women in the Bangladeshi brothel often seem on tender terms with their customers – though it is also the place where we see one young oppressed girl actually being sold to the brothel for a year, and where we witness the most disturbed behaviour. Rough and squalid though the Mexican cabins are, at least the women there are ballsy and seem more in charge of their own lives. In a way the Bangkok example is the most disturbing, the primped and perfectly presented girls there functioning in an almost industrialised setting – a modern, clean and pleasant workplace it may be, but the normalisation itself in its own way perhaps more shocking. Though such safety and care must be the dream of those frightened girls in Bangladesh. Glawogger’s method of showing rather than preaching is as powerful as ever, but there’s a kind of overload here which breeds an exhaustion that paradoxically reduces the effect.
JOSHUA TREE, 1951: A PORTRAIT OF JAMES DEAN [5/10]
USA 2012: Matthew W Mishory: 92m: seen at Cinema Arta
It’s no surprise when director Mishory declares Tom Kalin’s Swoon (see above) as one of his formative influences when making this film. The same sickly languor and grainy artiness imbues a portrait of the icon and object of desire in the days before he became famous. James Preston, a former model (why, who’d have guessed!) , looks pretty and quite resembles Dean, but sensually pleasing though the film is, I learned little about him that I did not already know, what drove him, what he really wanted beyond fame, what made him special. OK, so he loved Hemingway and Le Petit Prince – the latter an easy shorthand for the child-like aspects of his nature, though he can hardly have taken on board its message advocating altruism and responsibility for others. Only one scene impressed: in the actors’ studio class he takes part in an improvisation and sets the place alight with his animal physical force. Otherwise it’s a dreamy, rather sanitised version of an amoral bisexual life, where no one is unattractive and Dean himself, pretty and self-absorbed as he is, is frankly a bit of a bore.
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So, another TIFF ended, with yet more violent storms rolling overhead for several hours. And another wonderfully varied selection of new films from among which I could have made quite different choices of viewing. It was a little sad that the three films I’d thought were outstanding were all around 40 years old – Love, The Stone Wedding, and Taxi Driver – though without TIFF I may never have seen the two former.
Best Film and Best Screenplay awards went to Joachim von Trier’s Oslo 31st August, Best Director to Maja Miloš for the Serbian Klip, Romanian Days Award to Radu Jude’s Everybody in Our Family (Toată lumea din familia noastră), Best Performance to the mighty Kim Kold in Teddy Bear, Audience Prize to Russian Sergei Loban’s Chapiteau Show, and the FIPRESCI prize to Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur - Romanian film again failing to make the big waves of earlier years of TIFF, but who knows, if the Mungiu had been shown…? And there’s always next year.
16th June, 2012
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first dispatch (including Tabu, Love , Teddy Bear, etc)
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