Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Five

Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Five. By Simon Miraudo.

Today a woman approached me outside of The Forum – one of the primary cinemas screening features at MIFF – and asked if I was from Melbourne. Blush! Had it only taken me five days to acclimatise? Was my super cool sweater/jacket/scarf combo convincing everyone that I was a Victorian native, and not from dear old WA?  Had she noticed my Caramel Claes, assumed I was some sort of fashionista, and wondered which known-to-locals-only alley I acquired such funky wares? No. She was from out of town as well, and was just hoping I could tell her which tram to take to get into the city. Still bamboozled by her first question, I chuckled ‘No!’ and walked off. In retrospect, it was a rude way to end the conversation. Nonetheless: Melbournians be warned – I walk among you, and you don’t even know it. Here are films 17 through 20 of my 60 ‘Films in 17 Days’ challenge, as viewed on Day Five of the 2001 Melbourne International Film Festival.

17) Curling

Unfortunately, the sport of curling is only seen twice in Denis Cote’s film of the same name. It isn’t even the most prominent game of the movie, with our protagonist spending much of his time working at the local bowling alley. Still, fanatics of obscure Canadian winter sports should not abandon interest in the film just yet, as Curling is one of the most intriguing and beguiling films of the festival so far. Emmanuel Bilodeau stars as Jean-Francois, a shy man who lives in isolation with his daughter Julyvonne (Bilodeau’s real life daughter Philomene) in the Québécois countryside. His wife (and her mother) is in prison for an undisclosed but presumably terrible crime, so JF is left to raise – rather unsuccessfully – Julyvonne on his own. He keeps her out of school, away from friends and far from human contact. As a result, she finds solace by hanging out with a pile of corpses half-buried in the snow outside her home. If Dogtooth scared you away from home schooling your kids, Curling should similarly inspire you to cut the apron strings. The picture is enigmatic; JF doesn’t bat an eyelid when confronted by a hotel room in which there is evidence of a bloody and unexplained struggle. Later, he is terrified of succumbing to his own violent tendencies (much like his wife’s crime, these tendencies remain vaguely defined). What’s the movie all about? A father and daughter of course. Their relationship may be fractious, abusive and negligent, but aside from the bizarre scenarios the duo finds themselves in, it’s not all that unusual. Most of all, it feels loving. And you always hurt the ones you love.

18) An Autumn Afternoon

Yasujiro Ozu’s final film, An Autumn Afternoon, is another revival picture screening at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival. Made in 1962, a mere year before Ozu’s death, the film features a web of family and friends each dealing with the banalities of life (old age, money troubles, loneliness, the fear of a wasted existence). Taking place in the shadow of Japan’s defeat in World War 2, the characters refocus on the aforementioned domestic normalities, and even embrace denial (washed down with some sake). But the film is no banal experience. Despite the regularity of characters meeting for drinks and going through the same drunken cycle, arguing about the price of golf clubs, and attempting to arrange – and perhaps even salvage – marriages, the film remains warm and funny throughout. Despite some issues with the projection of the print, I was glad to see this film on the big screen. (It was actually my first Ozu. Shh, don’t tell anyone, or they’ll revoke my critic’s card.)

19) The King of Comedy

OK, I’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy a number of times now, but I couldn’t resist catching it on the big screen at MIFF. The print wasn’t anything to write home about (far from restored, and the audio quality was atrocious). Nonetheless, I just had to watch this brutally dark (but very funny) comedy with an audience, at the very least to confirm that it is a brilliant movie, and not deserving of having been a largely forgotten entry in Scorsese’s oeuvre. If the crowd’s reaction to the film is any indication, The King of Comedy is up there with his greats (and you’ll get no argument from me). Robert De Niro gives a career-best performance (I said it!) as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe standup comedian who’ll stop at nothing to meet Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis, in a stunning supporting performance) and get on his tonight show. Consider it a funnier version of Taxi Driver, dealing with similar themes of isolation and mental illness (Pupkin’s background is as mysterious as Travis Bickle’s, and they both might be equally insane), as well as a finale that skewers society just as brutally. Much praise must also go to Sandra Bernhard for her inspired turn as Pupkin’s even-nuttier buddy. A must watch.

20) Michael

Markus Schleinzer’s first feature film Michael was one of my most anticipated films of the fest, although I’m not proud of that fact. Compared in the festival’s liner notes to Todd Solondz’s Happiness, the film follows the eponymous paedophile (Michael Fuith) who keeps a young boy trapped in a sex dungeon beneath his suburban home. Perhaps dungeon is the wrong word; it’s a fully decked out bedroom including a sink a toilet, as well as various activities to help little Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) pass the time. But the room is beneath the house, locked with the kind of security protection normally seen in a bank vault, and totally soundproofed. OK, this is definitely a dungeon. The picture is matter of fact about Michael’s finicky manner, obsessive scheduling and evil exploits. He carries on a seemingly normal life outside of his four walls, presumably because he understands he must to maintain his cover. He goes to work, and tries to be invisible; he says ‘yes’ when his friends invite him out, only because they might act suspicious if he were to say ‘no’. When he can no longer disguise his true self (such as when he cannot get aroused in time for a tryst with a waitress), he cuts off all contact with the potentially suspicious parties.

I mostly liked the film, but it wasn’t as confronting or challenging as I hoped it would be. If anything, I think it takes the easy route. Not once is Michael depicted as anything other than pure, detestable evil; pitiable perhaps, but never sympathetic. We already know child molesters are wicked, so what is the point of a film that merely reinforces that belief? That’s why Solondz’s Happiness remains the preeminent picture on the subject. Dylan Baker’s performance as a loving husband/child abuser in that film was so complex and interesting; his actions were deplorable and not once justified, but we were given an insight into the inner turmoil of such a human being. And human beings are what they are, even though it’s easier to think that they are not. Michael, however, is no human being, and thus, the film is a cop out. Regardless, the performances are truly strong, and the brilliant epilogue (which I don’t dare spoil) reminds us that even though Michael is an inhuman monster, he still has a mother and family that love him very much.

Previously:

Opening Night
Day One

Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

Discuss: Which films have you caught so far at MIFF?

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