Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Eleven. By Simon Miraudo.
A Chilean drama about mental illness. An inspirational American film about a rancher. A German documentary about a Spanish degustation restaurant. My selection of features on Day Eleven of the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival proved to be the most diverse yet. Perhaps I should have taken the advice of the chefs in the final film, and selected a trio of pictures that would have complimented one another better; instead, I felt rather ‘meh’ about today’s picks (or maybe yesterday’s awesomeness set the bar too high). At least I got to “enjoy” a conversation with a taxi driver at the end of the night, in which he told me that he could not stand subtitled movies, employing the hackneyed ‘Why should I have to read my films?’ argument. He then shared with me his feelings on a number of multicultural groups that made me feel sad to be alive. I mourned his racial insensitivity by purchasing and then eating a bunch of Krispy Kremes. It wasn’t a symbolic gesture or anything, but it was nice to get the taste of that chat out of my mouth. You know, we don’t even have Krispy Kremes in Perth? Anyway, here are films 37 to 39 of my 60 Films in 17 Days challenge.
37) Old Cats
If you thought Another Year depicted the inevitable march towards death depressingly, wait until you see Old Cats. No, it’s not a sequel to Disney’s John Travolta/Robin Williams vehicle Old Dogs (although if it was, it takes the series in a brave new direction) but rather the newie from directors Sebastián Silva and Pedro Peiran, and something like the 15th film of the festival to deal with an elderly person losing their mind (that’s right – it’s officially a trend!). Bélgica Castro stars as Isadora, a 70-year-old Chilean woman who has begun to lose her mind. Her mental lapses are infrequent enough that she thinks she can still convince her husband (Alejandro Sieveking) and insufferable, coked-out, over-the-hill wannabe actress daughter (Claudia Celedón) she still has all her marbles. But her ability to hide her illness is all in her head too, and over the course of one day, we see her slip a few rungs further down the sanity ladder. Silva and Peiran convey the terrifying isolation of being alone inside a failing mind with a haunting, horror-movie-esque score. It’s a unique choice. The film’s second act is even more frightening however, with the two old cats – Isa and her daughter – bickering ferociously as if they were Chile’s angry version of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale from Grey Gardens. Old Cats is an effective portrait of mental illness with a killer of a final line – though it’s not a film I plan on revisiting anytime soon.
I’m not sure when Buck will get a proper theatrical release in Australia, but when it does, expect it to be a much loved word-of-mouth hit. Following the exploits of real-life cowboy (and inspiration and advisor on The Horse Whisperer) Buck Brannaman, Buck is a warm and sweet-natured, uncomplicated doco tailor made for people who like a) horses and b) being made to smile. Director Cindy Meehl doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel here, but she knows well enough to step out of the way of her wildly charismatic subject and let him bewitch the audience, just as he does while breaking in a wild steer. From his troubled past with an abusive father, to his current standing as a sensitive, respected horse trainer/horse-owner therapist, Buck is a generous tribute to a good ol’ fashioned nice guy. Its unassuming conventionality keeps it from being ‘great’, but it’s hard to even think about those kinds of things during the film, when you’re in the presence of such a wildly appealing character.
39) El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
I have never made a secret of my love for Heston Blumenthal’s nutty television programs, in which the chef attempts a series of gastronomic experiments and chemical concoctions that look both delicious and fantastical (when you spend as much time watching films about paedophiles and potato-peeling poor people as I do, it’s nice to lighten the mood with a nice cooking show on occasion). Thus, I was incredibly excited for Gereon Wetzel’s documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, which focuses on Ferran Adria’s eponymous avant-garde Spanish degustation restaurant. Now, I wasn’t necessarily expecting Blumenthal’s ridiculously theatrical flourishes in El Bulli, but a little joy or wonder would have been nice. Instead, we are treated to visuals of lots of pretty looking food, eaten stoically by Adria and his fleet of chefs and creative consultants. It offers a nice insight into the artistic process of making up an ambitious menu (they close for six months each year to develop new dishes), but once we start seeing them at work in the restaurant, it’s a rather dour affair. It was recently announced that the El Bulli restaurant will close this weekend, not to reopen until 2014. Maybe then Wetzel can make a sequel – a more interesting one at that.