Thursday, 19 March 2015

Festival round-up megablog 1

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
There’s always a sweet moment, about a dozen films in, when your own film season emerges from the programme. It was film noir this year. There is no femme more femme and fatale more fatale than Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929). Pabst’s use of the dark prefigured the next thirty years of gumshoes and gangsters, from Jimmy Cagney to Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and every (unmissable) beat-up B&W buried in the bowels of Freeview. Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) acknowledged some of them (without turning into a pub quiz for film buffs). Anyone screening it should sell noodles and dumplings afterwards. That may have been the most heart-breaking moment of the festival: Zhang leaving his meal half-eaten. Kumiko’s video player choking, in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014), was also a worry. Or, putting The Salt of the Earth (2014) to one side, it may have been the wide shot in Timbuktu (2014) that revealed two men were incapable of sharing the same enormous lake without coming to violence.

Inherent Vice
The Tracker (2002) demonstrates that the job of gumshoe is part-facts, part-instinct, and part-making-things-happen. It also reminds us that the investigator may have different aims to his employer. The detective, Doc Sportello, in Inherent Vice (2014), has his mix pretty light on the first. He’d rather get stoned, a lot. His approach to note-taking was the single funniest cut-away of the week. We also liked his plain clothes look. The press coverage was bizarre: several articles on how it was hard to follow. You don’t think?! Paul Thomas Anderson is known for ensemble pieces (Boogie Nights, 1997) whose characters are often less than steadfast (There Will Be Blood, 2007). It’s the first time Thomas Pynchon has allowed one of his books to be made into a film. And it’s set in California during the 1970s.

As The Storyteller explained in Ten Canoes (2002), the first Aboriginal-language film, that the older brother’s allegory was, “Growing like a young tree that is flowering for the first time.” When the younger brother wants to skip to the action scene he learns that, “All the parts of the story have to be told for proper understanding”. In the 1970s the way of the world was unravelling and a lot of films reflected that. Not even The Rockford Files could be relied upon for resolution. Apparently, London audience members were either leaving Inherent Vice early or going back several times. I expect it was the same people. They walked out the first time because of Doc’s foul-mouthed female friend. Then they went back to walk out during the sex scene. The film was a ride. Our audience rocked in their seats, giggling away for 149 minutes like it was being screened in smell-o-vision.

Ten Canoes must be one of the oldest stories ever told, passed down by an oral culture dating back tens of thousands of years; David Gulpilil tells the one about coveting thy neighbour’s wife. The threatened husband reacts to his rival by … telling him a story. Though I'd heard they could track down a kidnapped wife in ten minutes. Amour Fou (2014) covers the same commandment with similar discussions about death and the soul. Amour Fou is an account of the suicide pact, in 1811, between the German Romantic poet, playwright and author Henrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel. Wikipedia informs me that this incident has been re-enacted many times in European cinema. I was entirely ignorant of them – though I did notice that Heinrich (some names have been changed to protect the innocent) resembled Bud Cort’s character in Harold and Maude (1971) so maybe Hal Ashby knew.

Melancholia has been a constant theme in literature since Ancient Greece; Al Alvarez’s book The Savage God, his study of suicide, covers its appeal as a phenomenon rather than an act. This was before the well-drilled Gothic movement made its play for monopoly. In 1991 this Heinrich would have been on a course of fluoxetine and writing articles about Primo Levi for his Manic Street Preachers fanzine. He’s made to look foolish by the director, Jessica Hausner. Christian Friedel does very well to keep us from hating this man. I suspect some redressing of the balance on her part; Vogel doesn’t receive anything like the same attention in German literature circles. Heinrich wants a woman to join his suicide pact. It’s almost a form of sexual harassment. Henriette doesn’t dislike Heinrich – the women make allowances for his artistic talents – but she is a wife and devoted mother.
Amour Fou
I really liked this film. I was reminded of those late-period Ingmar Bergman films that Channel 4 used to screen in the middle of the night 30 years ago. It’s beautifully put together. Hausner’s compositions are as precise as Mr. Turner (but from a different period). There isn’t a expressionist shadow in it. Henriette is a picture of colour when she’s killed, prematurely. Heinrich is too excited and self-absorbed to wait for her last words. I have watched a lot of sad films this week. Is it the programme or me? A film festival will focus upon excellent films that mainstream cinemas do not find appealing. It is no surprise that a few of these films roll their end credits in silence whilst the audience takes a deep breath. There’s dancing in [deletes list] half the films I saw. I have not seen the steps in Amour Fou before.
to be continued...

Robin Clarke

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