Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Eight. By Simon Miraudo.
I’m writing this very sentence to you at 2:32am on Friday evening (or rather, Saturday morning), on this, the eighth night of the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival. You’ll forgive me if I end my introduction here and get right on to discussing the movies, because, as I said, it’s 2:32am. Besides, the films I witnessed today are far more worthy of discussion than anything I did other than watching them (although I am reading Sarah Vowell’s excellent novel Assassination Vacation between screenings … whoops; I really just can’t help myself). Here are films 25 through 28 of my 60 films in 17 days challenge.
25) Top Floor Left Wing
What was originally selected as a last-minute gap filler (it was playing at the right time, and had the right length) became one of the most pleasant surprises of the fest – although that’s not exceptional praise for a movie which I had absolutely no expectations for. Something of a three-hander with ferocious energy, Angelo Cianci’s Top Floor Left Wing stars Hippolyte Girardot as a bailiff trying to evict a drunk (Mohamad Fellag) and his family – including wannabe-gangster son (Amen Saidi) from their decrepit apartment block. After misunderstanding the bailiff’s motives, the son takes both him and his father hostage. Police, and eventually the SWAT, arrive to diffuse the situation, which, due to the current political climate, could escalate into an international incident. Somehow, amidst that pitch-black scenario with racial and social undertones, is a rather hilarious French farce. Hardly a revolutionary take on the genre, and not quite incendiary enough to be considered much of a satire, it’s a frenetic, well-performed crime-gone-wrong movie.
From a movie I had known nothing about, to a movie I was dying to see. On the MIFF opening night red carpet, I asked artistic director Michelle Carey if she had selected any curveballs for the audience; films that she was curious as to how the crowd would react. She responded with Finisterrae, a movie that was already on my ‘10 most anticipated of the fest’ list. What’s it about? An excellent question. We follow two Spanish ghosts (we’re talking the traditional, bed-sheet draped ones) who are sick of milling around limbo, and want to return to the real world with their bodily forms. An oracle informs them they must travel to Finisterrae if they wish to achieve their goal, so off they go, one on horseback, the other in a wheelchair. They happen across a nutty hippy (whom they kill, much to the audience’s delight), find themselves in a forest in which the trees have ears, and are followed by an underworld creature. They also discover a plant that plays videos of 1980s Catalano video art, in one of the film’s best gags. Yes, it’s strange, but it’s also rather wryly funny. Director Sergio Caballero knows precisely what kind of film he’s making; impenetrable, absurd, self-aware, and occasionally weird-for-the-sake-of-weird. He’s not so much winking at us as he is laughing at us. Finisterrae is a giant practical joke on the audience, but it offers you plenty of opportunities to go behind the curtain and join in on the fun. It’s an easy film to get swept up in, and if you allow yourself to embrace its peculiar rhythm, you might just find it as enjoyable as the crowd at MIFF did.
Or, if you want a more thoughtful analysis of the film than “It’s just a big joke”, there’s this: Finisterrae may be the name of a real Spanish location, but it’s also the title of one of the most powerful supercomputers in Spain. The ghosts’ quest brings to mind those classic medieval fairytales in which heroes meet bizarre challenges to reach a fantastical goal. The film’s finale almost explicitly states its fairytale influences. Finisterrae treats the “wonders” of this fantasy world with detached, matter-of-factness. The ghosts are never impressed by what they see, and we are never impressed by the ghosts (no effort is made to hide the fact that these are just people wandering around in linen). It’s a fairytale, told through the prism of a computer. A literal translation merely accentuates the absurdity of this world, making it funnier, and somehow, beautiful. But, that’s just one interpretation. Why, what did you get?
27) Jane Eyre
After enduring a piece as experimental as Finisterrae, it was pleasant to return to the world of conventional storytelling with one of the all-time great stories: Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s timeless novel Jane Eyre. And what a fine adaptation it is. Australia’s own Mia Wasikowska stars as Eyre, a too-blunt-for-her-own-good orphan, who is cast out of her adopted home and into a cruel boarding school, before settling down as a governess in Mr. Rochester’s (Michael Fassbender) mansion. The two of them enjoy some conversational spars, before becoming friends, and then fighting the temptation of romance. A revelation regarding Rochester’s past will test and torment the both of them. If you don’t know the rest of the story, I daren’t spoil it for you. Fukunaga takes his time with Jane Eyre – a rare trait of any book-to-film adaptation – and at no point does it feel like he’s simply ticking off the relevant plot points (unlike Norwegian Wood). He’s telling a story, and he remembers to bring the text to life cinematically. It’s a sumptuous looking film, deeply felt and perfectly performed. Wasikowska and Fassbender will win Oscars. Not for this. But one day. They’re that good.
I don’t know if there are two films as diametrically opposed as Jane Eyre and Super, unless perhaps you treated yourself to a double feature of Driving Miss Daisy and Saucy Schoolgirls XXX (saying that, Jessica Tandy was a bit of a fox in her later years, so perhaps the two features aren’t so different (I apologise for that unpleasant digression; this is what happens when you write this late in the evening/early in the morning (Aargh! Help! I’m trapped in a parentheses prison!))). Writer/director James Gunn pays sweet tribute to his mentor, Troma hero Lloyd Kaufman, in perhaps the most fitting manner imaginable: with a demented ode to ultra-violence. Rainn Wilson stars as cuckolded loser Frank D’Arbo, who, to win back his addict wife (Liv Tyler) from a nasty drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), dons a superhero mask and begins attacking criminals with a wrench (OK, it’s probably not the best plan Frank’s ever come up with, but it’s the only one he’s got). Self-christened The Crimson Bolt, he is eventually joined by an over-sexed sociopath who calls herself Boltie (a totally committed Ellen Page). Their wrath is horrific. I will say this of Super: it commits to its premise far better than Kick-Ass; if you thought the latter was violent, you haven’t seen Rainn Wilson cracking someone’s head repeatedly on a rock. But at least Kick-Ass was fun. Super is kind of a bummer, and the somewhat-moralistic and totally shoe-horned epilogue seeks to undo all the madness that came before. You can’t cross the line, and then beg to come back over to the world of the reasonable. It’s a lesson that neither our hero, nor our director, learns.