Thursday, October 20, 2011

2011 Chicago Film Festival Recap

One festival trend worth mentioning is the feminist usage of sexually degrading depictions of women, something I admit I don't altogether understand, but is expressed in both THE SLUT and SLEEPING BEAUTY, the latter a "Jane Campion presents" movie, which can be seen on the poster.  I do understand appropriating one's own depictions of sexuality as one's own, but the idea that these films somehow improve or expand the quality of life for women escapes me. 

In other historical dramas, like Campions' THE PIANO or her more recent BRIGHT STAR, the historical aspect of how few options were available to women is what's highlighted, obviously prevalent even today.  But both these recent films are given modern subtexts, and also available options which the female characters readily refuse, where these are actually their intended choices among the available options, the ones that suggest the most sexual debasement, reflective of their own view of their self worth.  It should be pointed out both women were not poor or in the bottom realm of a social class, but both were presumably middle class examples of self hatred leading to self destructive life choices. 

Both films solicited groans from the audience, as these sexual representations are not exactly appreciated these days, but present the opposite of what would be considered politically correct views.  It's the feminization of such outrageously negative sexual depictions that I find so interesting, as they're obviously meant to challenge an audience with such degradation, but I'm curious how such depictions find their way to film fests, endorsed and championed by likely male programmers.  If the roles were reversed, and these films depicted males behaving in the exact same manner, my guess is there would be little interest generated.  What elicits a festival response is the prevalent nudity onscreen.  It all feels somehow icky to me. 

TYRANNOSAUR was likely the most punishing film to watch, a hard core immersion into the lower realms of British social class, featuring the most obvious references of male spousal battery and male self hatred, accentuated through the lens of alcoholism, where the Guardian or some such British review called it "poverty porn."

Now kitchen sink realism has been expressed since at least the 50's, perhaps earlier, but this takes it much deeper into severe personally degrading behavior, as does VOLCANO by the way, though far differently, as it uses a Lear like old Icelandic patriarch in a darkly comedic depiction of a man who hates everyone and everything around him, where the blackness of his humor matches the foul things that come out of his mouth, where you have to laugh at the sheer absurdity of a man who would utter such things. Of course in that film, the tables are turned and the joke is on him when he loses his wife, where the tone shifts entirely.  MICHAEL is the pedophile film of the year, creepy and horrifying, told in such a banal manner, yet with that Austrian coldness, where the all too precise direction is effective.    

The literary film of the fest was THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH, which I think may entirely take place in a writer's head, but the whole thing plays out in real life, offering multiple layers of reality which are inventively appealing, as is the weirdness of the characters.  This is a real mind fuck of a film that I would think those literary enthusiasts would heartily endorse.  It's also brilliant filmmaking, like being trapped in an altogether different world. 

Not sure why my friend Kirk hated MISS BALA so much, the only real negative view I've heard, finding it boring, as the subject matter alone was among the most riveting and relevant at the fest, and the direction was superb, but Kirk thinks some of the hyped movies lead to disappointment as they rarely live up to all the build up of greatness, suggesting part of the film's universal praise is that it's an action film in a festival atmosphere that offers so little action in a sea of art films, so it stands out.  I disagree with that assessment, as another Mexican film AMORES PERROS elicited similar thrills of praise, and in my view both are well deserved in or out of a festival atmosphere.  The narco traffic lifestyle is brilliantly depicted as never before, and that macho military aggressiveness is laced with increasing shots of boldness and adrenaline with a parallel layer of one woman's overriding fear and panic at what's simultaneously happening to her, as she's literally a tourist in the middle of repeated gang wars, where she just happens to be in the center of the action and chaos, so who wouldn't be scared shitless?  The realistic tone mixing visual with internal worlds is quite effective throughout, also the use of offscreen sound.  Hard not to like this film. 

BUDDHA MOUNTAIN was a real surprise for lovers of Chinese films, as it offers the stylish appeal of early Wong Kar-wai or Jia Zhang-ke, but filtered through the softer lens of a female director, think Clara Law, adding a more poetic internalized realm to their experience.  This is another film where unlikable characters become beloved by the time the film is over, featuring a brilliant lead performance from someone who's not even onscreen until about a third of the way in the picture, and also featuring some of the most stunning sequences viewed all year in the wordless freight train ride sequences through the lush Chinese countryside. 

The top 3 films do distinguish themselves with superb camerawork and memorable scenes that also brilliantly internalize what's gorgeously magnified onscreen. 

So much for this year's fest, another immersion into spending 8 - 10 hours a day inside a theater, awaiting who knows what, as you never know what to expect, where you can count on spending a good deal of time standing in lines and then looking for a decent seat, especially in some of those smaller theaters that fill up fast, and then coming home and spending another 6 - 8 hours trying to find words to match the screen experiences.  It does become increasing blurred, where the mental acuity present at the beginning is worn down by the end from sleep deprivation, where it becomes increasingly hard to get sleep, and also focus on that next film.  But all in all, this is as good as it gets in Chicago, as the opportunities to see films likely to make your end of the year Top Ten list are unprecedented.  It's rare that a festival goes by that has no such film.  It has happened on occasion, but this was not one of those dry years.  Hard to believe MISS BALA and LE HAVRE were not included in those $20 dollar Special Presentation tickets, as they were among the most highly rated films at Cannes.  So be thankful for small treasures. 

Remember that this was a festival seen without those 20 Special Presentation films that were considered outside the reach of the mainstay viewer, as few are willing to shell out $20 a ticket, even for the best of films, so that lowers the bar considerably in terms of what was left.

These top 8 films are unique and exceptional, films that I heartily recommend, among the best of the year, as they are also challenging to the viewer. 
                                                                       
I'd have to say I enjoyed all the C+ or above rated films, at least to some degree, while the C's and below are films I have no interest in revisiting.

It should be noted that while this Film Fest was underway, also playing for a quiet one week run at the same theater was easily one of the best films of the year, in the top 1 or 2 category, superior to anything playing at the Fest, in my view, and largely unnoticed by the viewing public.  That review will be forthcoming.    

A-
MISS BALA  Miss Bala                                                                              
OSLO, AUGUST 31  Oslo, August 31                                                           

B+                                                  
TURN ME ON, DAMMIT!  Turn Me On, Dammit! (Få meg på, for faen)                        
WOMAN IN THE FIFTH  The Woman in the Fifth                                                        
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD  The Forgiveness of Blood         
PLAY  Play                                                                                      
THE KID WHO LIES  The Kid Who Lies (El Chico que Miente)                     

B
MICHAEL  Michael                                                                               
TYRANNOSAUR  Tyrannosaur                                                                 
LOVERBOY  Loverboy                                                                             
VOLCANO  Volcano (Eldfjall)       
LE HAVRE  Le Havre
BUNNY DROP  Bunny Drop (Usagi doroppu)
SILVER CLIFF  The Silver Cliff (O Abismo Prateado)                                                
THE GOOD SON  The Good Son (Hyvä poika)
GOODBYE FIRST LOVE  Goodbye First Love (Un Amour de Jeunesse)
IF NOT US, WHO  If Not Us, Who    

B-
THE TURIN HORSE  The Turin Horse                                                        
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia                        
SOUTHWEST  Southwest (Sudoeste)
BEST INTENTIONS  Best Intentions (Din dragoste cu cele mai bune int...
THE MOLE  The Mole (Kret)                                                                  
SLEEPING BEAUTY  Sleeping Beauty                                                                   
DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART  Don't Go Breaking My Heart   

C+
WITHOUT  Without                                                                                  
RETURN TICKET  Return Ticket   

C                                                                             
JOINT BODY  Joint Body                                                                           
THE SLUT  The Slut (Hanotenet)                                                              
GOODBYE  Goodbye (Bé omid é didar)                                                              

C-
AMERICAN TRANSLATION  American Translation                         

D                                             
A LITTLE CLOSER  A Little Closer
LOVE IS IN THE AIR  Love Is in the Air (Magi I Luften) 
TARGET  Target (Mishen)                                                                    

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