Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Four. By Simon Miraudo.
25%. One quarter. Half a half. That is how far I am into the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival 60 Films in 17 Days challenge. Thankfully, only a fifth of the films I’ve seen so far have been out and out clunkers, whilst a number of them have emerged as potential end-of-year Top 10 contenders (including Submarine and Senna). Day Four comprised of only three films, and they ranged from wonderful, to inexplicable, and to mildly enjoyable yet ultimately forgettable. These are their stories…
14) Win Win
When you see the Fox Searchlight logo before a film, you know what you’re getting yourself in for. For some people, it’s a portent as ominous as a black cat straddling a rabid red-eyed dog as it races under a ladder and into a nearby mirror shop; those dual spotlights may as well be a giant sign that says: “here be quirky”. Personally, it makes my heart go all-a-flutter. What can I say? I likes me some good-natured quirk. Beyond that signature trait of a Fox Searchlight production, I find their most notable films (Juno, Sideways, 500 Days of Summer) to have that element of humanity missing from so many other features. Thomas McCarthy‘s Win Win was no different. Paul Giamatti stars as a New Jersey lawyer fallen on hard times; he’s having trouble making ends meet, and the high school wrestling team he coaches finds themselves staring at the ceiling more often than [insert public figure currently embroiled in sex scandal]. To earn some extra coin, he agrees to be the legal guardian of an elderly client with early onset dementia (Burt Young), and then finds himself also looking after his bleach-blonde grandson (Alex Schaffer). Never a burden, the surprisingly level-headed kid becomes the star of the wrestling team … until his druggie mum (Melanie Lynskey) re-enters the picture. Win Win is a warm, wonderful comedy, smartly written, full of great performances (including supporting superstars Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor) and bad haircuts (yeah, a lot of the characters have bad haircuts).
15) Post Mortem
Congratulations, Post Mortem! As it stands, of all the MIFF sessions I’ve attended so far, yours enjoyed the most walk outs! And lest we forget, Sion Sono’s Cold Fish featured a number of rapes and some of the goriest vivisections committed to film. So, what was so horrible about Pablo Larrain’s latest feature? It certainly wasn’t that violent; although our “hero” Mario (Alfredo Castro) works in a morgue, the autopsies he reports on aren’t too graphically depicted. It certainly wasn’t that incendiary; despite living amongst the 1973 military coup d’etat in Chile, Mario feels no real political persuasion or passion regarding the state of his nation. All he cares about is his cabaret dancer neighbour, who indulged him in a night of passion and earned his unquestioning, obsessive adoration from that point forward. Perhaps the audience just didn’t want to spend two hours with such unlikable, repulsive protagonists (Mario’s predilection for young boys and necrophilia are touched upon, but never, thankfully, explored). Maybe life is too short for such an obtuse film about terrible people. I wasn’t nearly as bored or offended as those who abandoned ship, but I certainly feel Larrain could have taken advantage of such a pivotal time in Chile’s history and told a more interesting story. I don’t understand Mario, and I don’t quite know what there is to take away by having this political upheaval relayed through his warped prism. As such, the whole exercise feels weird for the sake of weird, and not really that weird enough to even be novel. (Side note: one gentleman began walking out, and whilst halfway down the stairs, a sex scene began on the screen. He slowed down, almost to a halt, no doubt wondering whether or not to slide into another seat and see how it played out, or commit to his gesture of leaving the cinema. He left. Eventually.)
16) The Unjust
I’m a big fan of Korean cinema, and feel that directors Park Chan-wook and Honh-jin Na are some of the best and most exciting working today. The South Korean film industry is booming, and has been for over a decade; but even the bravest, boldest industry must churn out some mainstream crowd-pleasers. Enter: Seung-wan Ryoo’s The Unjust. When the police cannot find a serial child-rapist/murderer, they hatch an elaborate conspiracy to pin the crimes on a patsy, and bask in the public’s approval when he is captured. However, a nosy prosecutor suspects the cops of foul play, and tries to foil their plan despite his superior (and the public) wanting him to let the case rest. In this post-CSI/Underbelly age, in which true crime stories and gunshots to the face are about as shocking as tea parties, this tale of police corruption and child murder feels about as far from transgressive as any tale can be. Frankly, I find it hard to really even see the difference between a film like The Unjust and an American studio thriller like The Lincoln Lawyer; both I like, but they’re conventional genre entries that won’t linger long in the mind. Although The Unjust has a kinetic energy, I suspect that’s merely to distract from the overly-convoluted plot, and the film’s one wildcard – that bizarre sense-of-humour apparent in even the darkest South Korean drama – disappears after the first hour.