August 29, 2011

Before I forget: quick sentences on the film festival

The 35th Chch International Film Festival ended last night and it felt more like an event than usual – at least more than it did in the three years (2008-2010) that I caught some of it at the Regent. The sense being, partly, that the NZFF has gone to some trouble to find an available venue – the Regent quake-deconstructed, the Rialto out of action, etc – so we ought to make an effort as well. James Croot reckons numbers have been good (I saw a few sell-out signs: the Steve Coogan vehicle The Trip, the usual group bookings of architects at the Norman Foster doc among them). It helped that the opening night film and closing night film were both astonishing, as well as natural book-ends: The Tree of Life and Melancholia – both cosmic visions, in which human scale is set against that which dwarfs us, but one (the Malick) Christian, hopeful and optimistic, where the other (the Von Trier) was secular, doomed and pessimistic. I’ll probably write something about the latter, with a touch of the former and the not dissimilar Another Earth, in the next Werewolf (early Sept). Snow kept me from Incendies and Le Havre. Work kept me from A Separation and life kept me from Metropolis. I liked Meek’s Cutoff’s real-time minimalism, thought Herzog was straitjacketing himself too much in Cave of Forgotten Dreams (his pessimism, mostly restrained here – just the phone book/dreams question, the dead-eyed albino alligators as versions of us – was always going to be at odds with the conventional sense of “discovery”), appreciated the strange, quiet and never quite sad calm of Sleeping Beauty and saw the obvious traces of Salo and Bunuel that Julia Leigh wanted us to find (best critical summary: the least Australian film in Australian film history). The Trip was crowdpleasing but weirdly forgettable (Coogan on the road, Rob Brydon outdoing his impressions, all framed by not-entirely-convincing ruminations on failure and aging), The Kid With a Bike showed that the Dardennes always make it look effortless – a kind of effortlessness that risks being taken for granted, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was beautiful, deep and slow. Wanted to see Submarine and Page One, and Project Nim and maybe Mysteries of Lisbon. Noticed Christchurch didn’t get The Turin Horse and Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow – but I guess we’re not short of bleak, blasted landscapes at the moment. The Tree of Life and Melancholia were alpha and omega.

August 20, 2011

Bunuel on Dreyer

This evening there is a rare screening of Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), within the Christchurch Arts Festival. In June, I bought two books about Luis Bunuel from a secondhand store in Edgeware; in one -- Luis Bunuel: A Critical Biography, by Francisco Aranda (Da Capo, 1976) -- there is a collection of Bunuel's work as a critic. He reviewed Dreyer's Joan of Arc, calling it "certainly the most original and interesting film of the new cinema season". An excerpt:
The humanity of the Maid in Dreyer's work transcends that of any other interpretation we know. We all feel the urge to prescribe her a whipping so that we can give her a sweet afterwards. To take away her dessert from her, to punish her childlike integrity, her transparent obstinacy, yes; but, why burn her? Lit by tears, purified by flames, head shaved, grubby as a little girl, yet for a moment she stops crying to watch some pigeons settle on the spire of the church. Then, she dies.

August 7, 2011

The world ended a long time ago

Richard Kelly's The Box (2009). Paralysing dread in its first hour, then Kelly loosens his grip on the story, letting everything else in: metaphysical speculation, death experiences, Close Encounters cultists, government-Nasa conspiracies. A Twilight Zone plotline -- the idea, initially, is from Richard Matheson's story "Button, Button" -- is inflated with Kelly's own memories of growing up in 70s Nasa-worker suburbia, perhaps with his actual terror from that far back. Apocalypticism without the camp of Kelly's Southland Tales but also without the humour of Donnie Darko.

August 4, 2011

We would just drive

"It was basically between [cinematographer] John Campbell, Pat Baum, who was the sound person -- between the three of us we were sort of 'The Crew' and then there were, say, two or three actors. And we could all fit in a station wagon. Which is sort of how we made a lot of the movie. We would all get in one vehicle and drive to where we were supposed to go. If it was an apple orchard, we would just drive until we saw an apple orchard and ask the person in the house if we could shoot."

-- Gus Van Sant, talking about Mala Noche (1986) on the DVD interview, No Cutting, No Stars, No Script (2007).