Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Seven. By Simon Miraudo.
Well, that’s one week down. To think it was only seven days ago that I arrived in Melbournetown and trekked to the Greater Union on Russell Street for the very first time. 168 hours later (give or take), and I’ve seen 24 films at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival, spending roughly 48 of those hours in the cinema, and feeling a lot like Tiny Furniture star Lena Dunham in the above picture. In my time so far, I’ve met a number of lovely Victorians, enjoyed some excellent films from around the globe, and, most importantly, had an excuse to wear hoodies everywhere. How sweet it is! Only someone who is participating in as insane a task as watching 60 films in 17 days can get away with wearing the same hoodie and five o’clock shadow in public every day (yeah, my beard never gets past the five o’clock shadow stage). Crackhead chic is in, and you can find it on any of the fellow obsessives frequenting MIFF. But worry not, those of you concerned they might end up next to me in a cinema. At Day Seven’s end, I had a nice shave and washed my clothes. After a good night’s sleep, there will be no evidence of my decrepit former shell. And what a fitting transition that is to my report on the films I watched today…
22) The Ugly Duckling
Garri Bardin ‘s The Ugly Duckling is a charming, Russian retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, in which a funny looking bird becomes the laughing stock of his flock, before growing into a gorgeous swan and telling them all to ‘eat it!’ (or whatever the bird equivalent of that dis is). The fable is brought to life with some appropriately rough-around-the-edges stop-motion animation and soundtracked by Tchaikovsky’s finest compositions (the various chickens, ducks and cygnets sing along … with some new, avian-oriented lyrics of course). Perhaps it would work better as a short film rather than a feature length one. Even at only 75 minutes, it was mighty repetitive (one of the songs is sung four times, while another is performed thrice). Regardless, the film is sweet and the moral remains touching; the finale, in which our ill-feathered protagonist finally emerges triumphant, was quite stirring. There were some peculiar undercurrents littered throughout the flick however; the mean flock of birds all live together in a very nationalistic coop (a sorta-kinda-fascist coop, you could say); meanwhile, the so-called free birds allowed to fly wherever they please are shot down by hunters. There is no in-between. That’s the Russians for you – they ain’t exactly optimists. The picture even begins with a worm fleeing from some hungry early birds, then exclaiming how miserable his existence is. Bleak stuff. An appropriately titled sequel would be Black Swan.
23) Tiny Furniture
Sixteen months after it debuted at SXSW in the U.S., Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture has finally arrived on Australian shores! Kinda! At least its presence at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival indicates that it’s closer to, if not a limited art-house theater run, at least a DVD release in Oz. Written and directed by Dunham, she stars as Aura, a recent university graduate who has moved back to New York to live with her artist mum (Dunham’s actual mum, and real-life artist, Laurie Simmons) and over-achieving teen sister (Dunham’s actual sister, Grace Dunham) in their Tribeca apartment. Her BFF Frankie (Merritt Weaver) is mere weeks away from finishing her dissertation and plans on moving in with Aura and beginning their life as proper adults in the real world. But as Aura keeps getting pushed into adulthood, the more stubborn she gets in her desire to regress, reconnecting with her childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) and courting two pretty terrible, similarly developmentally-arrested dudes (David Call and Alex Karpovsky). Throughout it all, whenever Aura feels pressured, she reminds everyone that’s she’s only 22, is really tired, and is just generally going through a hard time. No doubt an autobiographical piece, it’s impressive to see Dunham (the writer/director) treat herself, as a character, rather unsympathetically. That she remains likable throughout the film is down to her innate charm and comedic sensibility, but she’s not using the film to make a self-righteous statement about the drudgery of being an adult. She fully knows how unreasonable her character is being … and she is her character! As far as mumblecore films go, this is perhaps the most accessible (better production values, less mumbly), but the ideals of that movement are evident here (brutal honesty, caustic lazy wit). If you’re a fan of Ghost World (and you should be), this is a cute (but not too cute) companion piece set 10 years later. Just as thoughtful, if not quite as generation-defining.
24) The Kid with a Bike
It’s easy to watch a movie in which very little ostensibly happens, and to overlook the Earth-shattering revelations and heartbreaking truths hidden under the surface. The Dardenne brothers’ The Kid with a Bike is one such movie. The film is less than 90 minutes long, and divided somewhat into three separate acts (signified by short, haunting stings of music). When the credits rolled, it was clear the audience was hesitant to applaud (clapping to no one in particular is something of a tradition at the end of each MIFF screening). Not that the film was so divisive or controversial, but perhaps because the crowd was wondering, ‘What’s all the fuss about?’ After all, the picture won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Shouldn’t it have been something special? I sympathise entirely with those who reached that conclusion; for some of the film, I felt the same way. But Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a way of creeping up on you; imparting some truly inspired universal wisdom without ever being preachy, and without even having to resort to melodrama or extreme conflict. Thomas Doret gives an inspired performance as 11-year-old Cyril, less of a boy than an energetic pup (he’s later nicknamed ‘Pitbull’); he moves as quickly, furiously and with the tenacity of an unchained dog. As the film begins, he’s looking for his father, who has gone broke, dumped Cyril in a boarding house and skipped town. When Cyril finally finds and confronts him, he does it not with anger, but with the eagerness to reunite and undying loyalty that a canine might feel to even the cruelest owner. The father tells him he wants nothing to do with the boy, and as heartbreaking as it is for Cyril, there is something even more heartbreaking about a terrified man who feels he has no choice but to cut ties with his son. Later in the film, Cyril turns to crime, and although he’s penitent, one of his victims cannot accept the apology (leading to a nearly tragic finale). Again, the sad character here is the unforgiving victim. Cecile de France stars as Samantha, a kindly hairdresser who accidentally finds herself involved in Cyril’s life, and offers him a home out of the goodness of her own heart. Her patience, although tested, seemingly knows no bounds; she is hurt repeatedly by Cyril, but she never turns him away. The Kid with a Bike is a powerful film about compassion and forgiveness, and the tragedy of not having the capability for either. Samantha, unlike the other characters, is not afraid of the pain that comes with having a relationship, and being human. That’s because she knows the benefits too. The life she and Cyril carve for themselves is occasionally troubled, but it’s also full of love. That’s more than can be said for the lonely father, who has to live with the knowledge that he turned his only son away.