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.