East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: Standing in the screen with a knife in my hand

Who's Camus Anyway? (Yanagimachi Mitsuo)
Part reflexive modernist pastiche, part soap opera, and though the soap is more interesting most of the time, the modernism does eventually come to mean more. That it's a movie about film students making a movie might trigger alarms, especially when the opening shot is a long ensemble track which includes characters comparing the opening shots of Touch of Evil (5 minutes I think they said) and The Player (8 1/2 minutes). I didn't get the duration of this opening shot, since I fell asleep before it ended (I'm well into Festival Fatigue territory). I awoke to Hornby lists of favourite murder movies (Psycho vs The Godfather) and quotes from The Stranger and a professor called Old Venice infatuated with a young woman studying Houellebecq.

It's questionable whether the reference add up to much, and in that respect the glossiness doesn't help. Still, glossiness has its pleasures, and the cast make their crushes and cinemania amusing, like when they can't decide whether the actor playing the murderer should look angry or normal, so try both -- one look in each eye. In the endgame, at first when life imitates art it's hackneyed. But thanks to some continuity trickery and intense Camusery, finally the point becomes clear that "life" and "art" aren't so different when the quote marks are there, which frees us for a teasingly bloody final shot. Moviemaking as murder, that's a new one to me.

Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski)
Compare a young director to Cassavetes enough times and naturally he'll make his next movie look as much like Shadows as possible. Bujalski loves getting up close to listeners, studying their reactions as the conversation becomes increasingly uncomfortable. His tone isn't Cassavetes-like at all -- he gently pries out his characters' inner lives instead of smacking them out. This movie is perhaps too slice-of-life -- despite its unkempt appearance, his great debut Funny Ha Ha had very well-plotted character arcs; here the blunt ending cuts them off on the rise.

It is a very good work, and not only does Bujalski prove himself a real director, he's a real actor as well. Still, neither he or the other leads, Justin Rice and Rachel Clift, are as striking as Kate Dollenmayer was in Funny Ha Ha (she does take a cameo here, though the most memorable one is by Bill "Decasia" Morrison). And we don't really get inside their particular NYC demimonde: it feels underpopulated. But hey, any movie that has protagonists cool and inclusive enough to form a Cool, Inclusive People's Club has a lot going for it.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puju)
I rarely watch medical TV shows, but I suspect many viewers find them reassuring: brilliant doctors bustling from one cheated death to another; occasionally they do lose a patient and there's wailing and tears. The joke here is less funny than disconcerting: not only we endure all the piss and shit, we also see the strained facilities and staff, the doctors who would prefer that their patients didn't die but are too weary to go out of their way to do something about this. As the protagonist, a hard-drinking sexagenarian with enough distinct ailments to make diagnosis complication, descends towards the fate suggested in the title, both the disfunctional nature of this particular post-Communist healthcare system and the age-old isolation of death. Unlike in those TV shows, recovering hypocondriac Puju makes the audience feels the stasis, and if you're prepared for the long haul it is rewarding.

I understand the comparisons to Wiseman, but the fact that it's constructed is rather obvious: the groaningly named Lazarescu Dante Remus (Ion Fiscuteanu) is your Gogol/Tolstoy non-hero, feeble and prickly, idealised for his distance from the ideal. Fiscuteanu does a good job though, and the cast is fine. Best is Luminita Gheorghiu as the nurse who drags Lazarescu from hospital to hospital -- she alone seems to appreciate the gravity of his situation, but even she places limits on her responsibility. There's no Jesus in this movie.

Departure and Return (Claudia Pond Eyley)
Still wondering why I couldn't support France at the World Cup? There have been many tellings of the story of the Rainbow Warrior, and this one, made by a New Zealand painter, is as good as some of them. The comparative advantages here are that it's the less hectoring feminist side of the story, and that there's context, as the women talk about the beginnings and course of their ties with Greenpeace, protesting whaling, pollution and nuclear tests before French agents blew a hole in it and sunk it in 1985, killing one. Melvillian that I am, I can't say I think whaling is important enough an issue to justify dangerous direct actions to prevent it, but these days you're being a dick to complain about any activism, and generally I'm down Greenpeace's programme, even after working for them and having to quit to avoid getting fired.

That's it for my festival, go read Lumiere. The sex movies were best.

2 Comments:

  • At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That woman was my art teacher at school. Slightly mad she was, rumoured to have thrown a kid across the art lab.

     
  • At 9:53 PM, Blogger Charlie Chan said…

    Hey, at least your art teacher didn't go to jail for touching kids.

     

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