Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Three. By Simon Miraudo.
We’re three days into the MIFF Blog-A-Thon challenge (in which myself and five other bloggers attempt to watch/review 60 films in 17 days), and I realise I’ve yet to offer a status report on my state of mind and physical wellbeing. In regards to the former, well, that thing is always on the brink of meltdown; riddled with panic, self-doubt and screaming voices making me second guess every decision. If anything, watching all these movies is merely silencing my horrible inner turmoil; I’ve not been this psychologically sound in months! As for the status of my mortal shell … it’s seen better days. Having already watched 13 films so far (and spent roughly 26 hours in the cinema), my legs feel constantly cramped, my gluteus maximus has been tenderised by the Jigsaw-style torture chambers that are the seats at the Greater Union, and my dietary intake has been reduced to popcorn chicken and chicos. I made a cursory attempt to embrace healthy eating by purchasing an apple and some nuts at the 7/11. I really don’t know which is more disgusting. But still! You shan’t find me complaining (except above) about having the opportunity to enjoy all the cinematic delights the Melbourne International Film Festival has to offer.
9) Norwegian Wood
More like Snorewegian Wood, am I right? *High fives nobody*. This adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name is practically the definition of the pits: moody teenagers staring longingly at one another before succumbing to either mental illness or suicide. Apparently the book is much loved, and I pray that it’s better than this MOR, adult-contemporary, soppy film; otherwise, we’re gonna have to emancipate all those poor, unsuspecting people in Oprah’s international book club. Kenichi Matsuyama stars as Watanabe, a young Japanese man who leaves his hometown to run away from a tragedy, only to find pain and sorrow follow him wherever he goes. Such is life! Director Tran Anh Hung and cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin know how to make everything look very pretty. They go to great lengths to paint the period (1967, amidst student protests), but absolutely nothing is done with it; these massive cultural events have no effect on our tunnel-visioned protagonist. Norwegian Wood moves at a glacial pace. A more apt Beatles’ song title would have been Golden Slumbers.
10) Fruits of Paradise
OK, my wires may have gotten a little crossed, because I walked into Fruits of Paradise thinking it was another Sion Sono film. What can I say? I had stayed up to 3:30am the night before writing about the day’s exploits. I was tired, and I knew I had purchased tickets to two of Sono’s films at MIFF, having already seen the first, Cold Fish, the other evening. I could have sworn this was the second. As I learned, upon leaving the cinema, his other film was called Guilty of Romance and wouldn’t screen for another few days. You can imagine my surprise when I was greeted not with a hyper-violent Japanese black comedy but rather a Czech new wave reinterpretation of Genesis from 1970. Unfortunately, I was mostly unimpressed with Vera Chytilová’s Fruits of Paradise (also called We Eat the Fruit of the Trees of Paradise), which felt more like Baby’s First Beckett rather than a truly transgressive piece of avant-garde cinema. We are immediately thrust into the Garden of Eden (which kind of looks a regular garden, if viewed whilst under the influence of acid) with the nude, frolicking Adam and Eve enjoying their shameless existence. Their lives, and the film, take a turn for the worse when they eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Suddenly, they’re living in a mansion; Adam (or Josef, as he’s referred to here) enjoys a beach holiday with a variety of kinky swingers, and Eve, who suspects her partner of sleeping around, hangs out with a guy called Richard (who might also be the devil). She plays the drums for a bit and learns to smoke; Richard spends an inordinate amount of time trying to roll a large rock down the hill; everyone plays with a giant balloon on the shore. I swear that my description makes the film sound like it has much more form than it actually does. I don’t mean to be dismissive of experimental cinema or theater (I’m a fan of the aforementioned Samuel Beckett), but contemporary, sexy takes on the Adam and Eve tale are about as rare and necessary as Shakespeare plays set in modern ganglands. Its worth is as a document of the era, and as an integral piece of the Czech new wave movement. I’ll leave it to the Czech new wave experts to explain why though.
11) You Are Here
I’d be lying if I said I totally understood what went down in Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here, but I feel pretty confident that somewhere within its collage of thought experiments, brain teasers, flights of fancy and psychological conundrums lay … an explanation to the ending of Primer (kidding!). If You Are Here has a narrative, and I’m not sure it does, it involves an archivist (Tracy Wright) obsessed with collecting and documenting a variety of abandoned objects, as well as attempting to order them in a way that makes sense. She struggles. The film similarly feels like a mishmash of disparate stories and found footage; that is, until it all comes together in an ending that convinces you it makes sense, but in all actuality is just as confounding as what came before. Although it revels in its eccentricity and esotericism, You Are Here never feels pretentious, thanks to the good humour of writer/director Cockburn and his cast. One for fans of John August’s highly underrated The Nines.
12) Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side) turns his eye to the former Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, in his latest film. Once the self-proclaimed ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ and on track to become president, Spitzer’s dalliances with a VIP escort service saw him toppled from power. Like all good Greek tragedies, Spitzer was victim to his hubris, and his secret shame plastered newspapers across America. But, Gibney posits, perhaps a good politician is worth some questionable sexual peccadilloes. With Spitzer out of the picture, Wall Street was able to roll back some of his stringent regulations, leading directly to the market crash of 2008. Did his powerful, and very rich enemies, target and track Spitzer, hoping to catch him in a scandal and out him from office? So suggests Client-9, which is a fascinating, if occasionally fawning, character study of the man who would be king. Gibney offers some nice touches, opening and closing with artists describing the state of New York, and setting the scene for one of the biggest political scandals of recent years. As has already been mentioned, the parallels with classic Greek tragedies come thick and fast, but they’re not unwarranted. Gibney’s biggest coup is his one-on-one interview with a mostly-candid Spitzer, who is open and honest about the situation (without getting into grimy details) and accepting blame for his situation.
13) 13 Assassins
My family has always told me that the unfairly maligned number 13 is actually lucky for Italians. Maybe it’s lucky for the Japanese too. My thirteenth film of the fest was Takashi Miike’s aptly-titled 13 Assassins. Essentially taking the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, inserting one of the most irredeemably evil and sadistic villains in movie history, and cranking up the insanity and gore to 11 (or rather, 13), Miike’s period actioner is a barrel of fun. Legendary samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is tasked with putting together a posse of hired swords to take out Lord Naritsugo (Goro Inagaki), brother of the shogun, who frequently commits unprintable acts of cruelty against his people (shooting an arrow into the head of a child is among his tamer exploits). The film culminates in a much-ballyhooed 45-minute epic battle sequence, that is, frankly, worth hooing as much bally as you can find. Too much fun.
13 films down, 47 to go. Onward!