Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Nine. By Simon Miraudo.
So this is what it feels like to hit the wall. It had to happen eventually. The mental exhaustion, poor diet, and lack of both sunlight and sleep have proven to be too much for me, a small man with almost no muscle mass. I’m very tired, from having done little more than sit in the cinema. A lot. But this is a good thing. Hitting the wall means I will soon get my second wind. This is the part of the movie where Rocky Balboa rises from the mat before being officially counted out, to knockout his opposition, win the match and end communism forever (or something). I take inspiration from Gavin and Stacey’s Uncle Bryn, who shared these fateful words regarding ‘the wall’: “I’ve been there buddy. I tried to jump over it. Too high. I tried to go under it. Nuh-uh. And you can’t get around it. So what are you gonna do? You’re gonna run right through it. Smash it!” Here are films 29 to 32 of my 60 film challenge at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival
Ivan Sen is unquestionably one of the most important Australian filmmakers working today – but being regarded as an ‘important’ filmmaker can be a poisoned chalice, particularly as fans, participants and funders of local film debate the merit of so-called ‘important’ Australian cinema. I’m hesitant to praise his new film, Toomelah, despite it being comprised of typically laudable themes. Bleak and meditative, it unfortunately treads the same territory of countless pictures that have come before, and I find it hard to excuse its despairing nature when it’s so similar to so many other films. Shot by Sen over the course of 5 weeks, it concerns young Daniel (Daniel Connors), living in the indigenous mission of Toomelah (depicted as a post-apocalyptic wasteland). His father is a drunk, and his mother’s a druggie, so he looks up instead to the relatively more ‘together’ older guys in the community – drug dealers (he’s got to work with what he’s got). Aggressive on the outside, and terrified on the inside, Daniel tags along with the gang, even after they’re are threatened by a newly-arrived alpha male (Dean Daley-Jones). Toomelah is far from fun (although that’s not exactly a cinematic pre-requisite), but it’s a minor instalment in this highly-specific genre. Fellow MIFF entry, The Kid with a Bike, dealt with similar themes in a much more profound way.
30) Give Up Tomorrow
Give Up Tomorrow ends with a caveat from its directors, Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco, explaining that they are in fact relatives of the convicted murderer/rapist at the film’s center. If they were lawyers or journalists, they would have had to excuse themselves for being involved with, or reporting on, the subject’s trial and subsequent appeals for clemency. But this is not a trial or a newspaper. It’s a movie – a ferocious passion project and pleas for freedom from the family and friends of Paco Larrañaga. Imprisoned for more than 13 years (so far) for the kidnap, rape and murder of two Filipino girls, Paco found himself embroiled in a media circus and failure of the judicial system like no other. I could list the embarrassments of his trial, but you likely wouldn’t believe me (for instance, a damning re-enactment film, based on the testimony of the dubious state witness, was aired on Filipino TV before the defence could even make their case). Collins and Syjuco argue convincingly the innocence of Paco and his six co-accused; it’s a rare film that makes you weep for the mother of the convicted killers, and feel disgust towards the questionably-motivated parents of the poor, slaughtered girls. A stunning, unforgiving indictment of the corrupt justice system of the Philippines, GUT is as powerful as its acronym implies – it’s a gut punch.
31) Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
Maybe I’m just a sucker for good old fashioned hip-hop, but I found Michael Rapaport’s totally-by-the-numbers music doco absolutely compelling. Rapaport interviews legendry rap collective Tribe’s central members – Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali and Jarobi – prior to their reformation for the Rock the Bells tour in 2008. They detail their stratospheric rise in the early 90s, early acclaim, and eventually their bad-blooded dissolution with humour, honesty and eruditeness. Phife Dawg, when describing the bands dynamic, comically compares control freak Q Tip to Diana Ross, and himself to Tito Jackson, in two separate metaphors I have compressed for brevity’s sake. At first the film feels like a typical VH1 Behind the Music doco (with a more electrifying band than is usually featured on VH1), but the director’s open discussion with Tip and co. regarding their fall out sets it apart. Footage of their bust-ups (including a punch-up on tour) is the kind of priceless ‘get’ you wished all music docos had. Sad footage, but essential. Perhaps too much of the film’s middle section is paid to Phife’s medical troubles; his diabetes doesn’t really seem like that much of an impediment. In the final act, however, his inability to pay for treatment and need for a new kidney becomes a pivotal and truly affecting plot point. I wish the revelation of his sickness had been downplayed earlier, so the finale would have been even more significant. Regardless, these scenes still touched me, and even led me – and many audience members – to shed a tear. Yes, a tear, in Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. (Fun fact: Q-Tip, despite his forthcoming nature in the participation of the film, railed against the picture before its release. His efforts to stop the film’s from coming out are practically worthy of their own documentary. Read all about it here.)
32) Guilty of Romance
I’m starting to get the impression that Sion Sono is just really good at dressing up nonsense. An indisputably talented filmmaker and gut-churner, he knows how to make the audience putty in his hands. But to what end? His first film, Suicide Club, is a compelling mystery and social commentary, until it devolves into a chaotic blur of gore and J-pop (don’t ask; it’s a weird ending). Guilty of Romance similarly begins with a mystery. The plot: police discover a hacked up corpse in an abandoned apartment complex. The body parts have been combined with that of a mannequin to make a truly horrifying and inexplicable crime scene. We are taken back in time slightly, and meet two women (a subservient housewife, and a maniacal prostitute), to discover which is the unfortunate organ donor. For a moment it feels as if we’re going to watch one of the most demented procedurals of all time. That’s fine. The flick changes gears, and instead comments on the master/servant culture between men and women in Japan. Still fine. But Sono always has to take it a notch further, as if he weren’t already being subversive enough, and allows the movie to spiral out of the realm of comprehension. Can he not accept love? Is he trying to turn away the fans that have come to love his bizarre films by ratcheting up the madness to the point of no return? Or is that what the fans love about him; that he takes his stories to realms that mere mortals could never have imagined? If so, it’s an admirable trait, and worked wonders in his other film screening at MIFF, Cold Fish. But Guilty of Romance is so relentlessly unpleasant, I found it hard to enjoy Sono enjoying himself.