Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Notes on Polisse

1. Maiwenn, the director, hasn't just cast herself in her own film - a common enough practise for actors who take up directing - she's written herself into the film through the surrogate role of an embedded photojournalist. Given that Polisse is not about film-making this is a curious choice.

A charitable reading would suggest that she's seeking to emphasise that her film is realistic. Her character’s role, and by extension her own, is not that of a director who tells a story. Rather she's a reporter who relays the situation on the ground. This is of a piece with both the opening title card, which informs the audience that all the cases in the film are based on actual police reports, and with the use of hand-held digital cameras, which have become de rigueur for anyone looking to convey a sense of verisimilitude. However the dialogue she gives her surrogate character suggests that she's also seeking to head-off criticism before it's even been levelled at her: The photojournalist tells others that she worries that people won't take her seriously if she presents herself as the young, attractive woman she is.

2. The closing shot is pretty risible. The film is more about toll of policing child abuse than it is about the victims or perpetrators of it. As such it's gilding the lily to end on a shot which hammers home the idea of these police officers giving their lives for others. It's even more disconcerting that the only on-screen death in the film is shot and edited in a highly aestheticised way (the final scene cross-cuts between a child happily jumping off a trampoline and an officer jumping out a window - all in slow motion) that is completely at odds with the previous commitment to gritty realism.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A 3-Iron with a Swing Weight of A0

My first impulse was to describe this film as a fantasy, or even an allegory, but both words suggest a more complex film than this one. Even the most light-weight fantasy constructs a meticulously detailed alternate world and even the most bare-faced allegory has its symbols at a greater remove from the things they symbolise. Instead 3-Iron feels like an idle daydream - I can almost picture Kim Ki-Duk sitting on a bench waiting for a bus and imagining that there was an angelic boy with a need to feel a part of something else who one day rescues a lonely abused women and reflecting on how nice and moving that would be.

It’s probably a pleasant thought for an afternoon but I'm not sure it makes for a good film. Daydreams are consequence free fancies and this aspect weakens the film. Ki-Duk shows a great reluctance to actually interrogate the troubling aspects of his protagonist’s behaviour, instead drifting easily past the consequences of his invasions of other peoples' lives and in the process passing them off as freak accidents (He feels bad! It's okay!) or the results of other peoples' failings; most frequently their inability to understand and sympathise with the fundamental good-heartedness of the protagonist. Indeed he doesn't interrogate his characters at all, or the situations they're in, or the mystical abilities they find salvation in - any one of which, even on its own, has some appeal. As a result 3-Iron drifts along in a haze of wouldn't-it-be-niceness which would be good enough for a short, a pornographic film, an advertisement, or a song, but is hardly enough to sustain a narrative feature.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This Must Be the Place

Even before the Cannes line-up had been seen This Must Be the Place cemented its place as the odd duck of the festival. The juxtaposition of Sean Penn dressed up in flamboyant gothic attire with an ostensibly serious storyline involving the holocaust had critics speculating less as to whether Sorrentino had gone off the rails and more as to what extent he'd gone off the rails. It's rather unfortunate then, that the finished product is not a brightly burning film maudit but rather a carefully composed and hollow film that mashes together the holy idiot movie and the road trip movie in a manner uncomfortably reminiscent of Forrest Gump.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Goodbye, First Love; Hello Again, Blog

I have mixed feelings about The Father of My Children and this film shares both its removed, albeit not bloodless, approach to a personal subject and its bifurcated structure. Yet, for whatever reason, this one went over a little better. Maybe it's because the element that made The Father of My Children into a kind of grief procedural (the systematic tying up of loose financial and emotional ends) is absent in this film, in which loose ends are simply put to one side; or maybe it's because the stakes are much lower and as a result the approach seems a little less counter-intuitive; or maybe it's because of the narrow focus on three people and their feelings, which means that it feels a little less sprawling and a little more focused. Whatever the case the drawback is that even as it feels more comfortable it also feels more conventional and less bold. And there's an architecture metaphor which is more than a little on the nose.

Still Hansen-Love's strengths are very much on show here, the most important of which is the rather unshowy way in which she charts out her characters' little epiphanies and changes of mind without underlining them over much. Instead she often places them between scenes or makes them a little ambiguous. (It’s never made 100% clear that Sullivan leaves the family portrait behind deliberately – even though he almost certainly did).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Glen's First Annual Film Awards

No matter how knowledgeable the voters are, no matter how catholic their film taste is, no matter how devoted they are to seeing every god-damn release, film awards are bound to irritate me - the reason being that they don't have the courtesy to reward my favourite films. So, with that in mind, I've initiated my own little awards ceremony. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Solaris: The Mundane Overtakes the Sublime

One of the most oft repeated bits of trivia about Solaris is that the source book's author, Stanislaw Lem, decried Tarkovsky's adaptation on the basis that he didn't write about, "...people's erotic problems in space." This quote, particularly when taken in the context of Tarkovsky's later comments on 2001: A Space Odyssey, (he considered it "sterile") suggest the film be read as just that: a treatise on peoples' erotic problems in space. And, having not read Lem's novel, for all I know it might be when judged in comparison to its predecessor. But on its own terms Solaris own presents itself as something rather different: a film about the difficult relationship between humankind's tendency to navel-gaze and its ability to engage with the universe around it.

In Solaris' beginning it is the scientific questions which are brought to the fore. While human loss hangs over the proceedings - brooding walks, recurrent references to the day's personal meaning, even a portrait - the text remains stubbornly devoted to the questions of Solaristics. Men sit around and debate whether there remains any scientific value left in the project and how one measures the worth of scientific knowledge. Perhaps most tellingly of all the early scenes end with the remarkably alienating, humanity-defying traffic sequence.

It's only when Kris actually reaches the station that "erotic problems" begin to surface. But this apparent change in focus simply dovetails with the film's own thematic concern: namely the difficulty humans have approaching matters with import beyond their existence and that imply limits to their existence. It's a concern which is hinted at in Dr Snaut's suggestion of acclimatisation through placing cut-up paper in the air vents to mimic the rustle of leaves on Earth, and which is latter brought home more forcefully in his birthday speech in which he insists that humans don't want to discover aliens so much as they want to rediscover themselves.

Kris is too caught up in worrying about what the reappearance of his dead wife means for him to consider it as part of the larger question of what Solaris is and how (or indeed if) it thinks. Even Dr Sartorius, who forcefully attempts to ignore any human dimension to the problem responds to the planet's physical manifestations as an attack on his psyche and responds in kind. As a result of these stubbornly human respones Solaris' interaction with the people on the station becomes ever more defined by them. As Doctor Snaut and Hari observe: S\she becomes more human the longer she stays around them.

It's no surprise then that the final, almost last ditch attempt to communicate with Solaris consists of the people aboard the space station telling the planet who they are. It's even less of a surprise that the apparent "breakthrough" appearance of islands on the surface of Solaris is merely yet another case of the planet being made to reflect themselves.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: What Day is it Now?

38 Witnesses: This might’ve counted as evidence for Takashi Miike’s assertion that every film with at least one good scene is worthwhile, except that it’s more of a decent film with one brilliant scene. Granted, almost all the others come at the right times and contain the right ideas – it’s just that they’re often written a little too expressively for a realist film or that they ably express the idea behind the scene without really revealing the person delivering it. The former is especially the case with the dialogue given to Yvan Attal which indulges in a few too many “long, dark night of the soul” clich├ęs, far too many nautical metaphors and is just a little bit too focused for a drowning man with a desperate need to walk a plank. Perhaps a better actor might have been able to give the words more weight but Attal doesn’t quite nail the thousand yard stare.

In any case he’s adequate and, as suggested by my opening remarks, this is a pretty thorough exploration of guilt and justice in which both the moral and practical questions are given full reign. Should one own up to a moral failing if it’s too late to have a practical impact? Should justice deter, punish or rehabilitate? As dramas of ideas go this one does a solid job of being thoughtful about such quandries without being prescriptive. Yet because of its slightly off dialogue it never truly shines until its stunning climactic scene which spells out the horror of the initiating incident in clinical, yet gut wrenching, detail. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: The Loneliest Planet

While the title is a good fit for this film a more accurate one might have been Rupture. This is not just because of The Incident, which creates a rupture in the protagonists’ relationship at the halfway mark of the film, but also because of Loktev's regular use of extreme long-shots. The most obvious point of these shots relates to the official title: they show how isolated these three people are in the magisterial Georgian landscape. But they're also about the sublime being interrupted. Each shot starts with the three figures entering the frame while a thick, swirling string piece slowly builds and each shot ends abruptly, just before the three figures leave the frame and before the score has a chance to finish. This break from an expected formula proved jarring every time and it is a good match for the uncertainties which are suddenly introduced into the narrative. 

The Loneliest Planet is also impressive in its ability to evoke a shared history in small gestures. The central couple’s relationship is suffused with games and familiar conversational gambits which are oft repeated in the first section of the film and which convey a lived-in intimacy. Even more impressive is the way in which the second half of the film introduces previously un-hinted at things - a shared song, a moment of experimentation - in such a way as to imply their significance to the couple's relationship. This is a film in which small gestures add up to a lot.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: Capsules from Day Three

A Fish: Sadly this is sub-Lynchian rubbish consisting largely of weird things happening for no particular reason and to no particular effect. Actually, to be fair, the plot does eventually supply a reason but it only adds up to a slight gloss on the old "it was all a dream" ending, which is hardly sufficient to redeem 90 minutes full of bizarre happenings which aren't in the least bit disquieting. Part of the absence of disquiet can be attributed to the film's lead character whose near silence and almost complete lack of affect make him only marginally more interesting than any given inanimate object with which he shares the frame. Indeed watching him breakdown at the end is about as moving as watching a second-hand toaster breakdown.

As for the much ballyhooed 3D (The first such film in competition for a Tiger Award!), well, at least it's technically competent. No one would mistake it for the work of James Cameron or Wim Wenders but there are only minor defects, such as the occasional blurring of a foreground plane. However the 3D isn't actually exploited artistically, outside of maybe two sequences involving fog effects, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that it was used solely for the purpose of boosting the profile of a thoroughly lousy film.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: Capsules from Day Two

11 Flowers: This film is a gorgeously shot attempt to recall the director's (Xiaoshuai Wang's) childhood in an intensely political environment. The ambition is clearly to show the life and drama going on around a naive but rapidly growing boy. To this end narrative detail is drip-fed through overheard conversations and half glimpsed encounters shot with hand-held POV shots. Unfortunately Xiaoshuai Wang doesn't fully follow through; the "half-glimpsed details" add up to a clear picture of events, which rather lessens the intended fog-of-childhood effect. It doesn't help that the main plot is never especially compelling - instead it's overshadowed by recurring father-son encounters in which the elder attempts to equip the younger with the skills needed in a China where Mao literally hangs over everything.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: Anna

How to encapsulate - let alone assess or explicate - the sprawling, nearly four hour long documentary Anna? Well to start with it's helpful to note that, title aside, the documentary makers are only tangentially interested in Anna; the young drug addict taken off the streets by one of the filmmakers in an act that is initially, ostensibly charitable. Instead they're more interested in the social issues that Anna's situation represents; particularly those that might be termed "hippie concerns", such as the nature of institutionalised community versus that of self-constituted community and how best to reject the former.