One week down, one more to go for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. Though the weather has been wonderful this past week, and seemingly everyone and his or her mother is going to the Twins’ new stadium, St. Anthony Main has been a buzzing hive of cinephilia.
Week two sees a host of new titles that haven’t screened yet at the festival. But first, a quick update on what I caught at the cinema: Forbidden Door, the Indonesian thriller that was the first of the late-night series this year, was simply a bad film. I had trouble staying awake for this one, which is a bad sign for a movie designed and scheduled to play in the later recesses of the night. Fear not, late night weirdos and gore hounds, the other three late night films are all interesting to decent to really good (Red, White & Blue, The Revenant, and The Wild Hunt—in that order). Australian thriller The Square, from Nash Edgerton, was a pulpy but too-familiar tale of good ol’ regular people doing really dumb and really bad things. I enjoyed it despite the familiar things-just-keep-getting-worse plotline. Edgerton is a director to watch. Looking for Eric was a blast. Ken Loach’s very funny film, thanks in large part to his leading actor Steve Evets and its wacky premise (which I wont detail here), put a big smile on my face and kept me engaged and laughing consistently. Also of note: Truffaut and Godard documentary Two in the Wave was decent; The Storm had some impressive effects, but a lackluster story; Cow, from China, is a visually beautiful and surreal black comedy that I enjoyed.
Some films I hope to catch this week at the fest include: the Duplass brothers’ first venture into bigger-budget comedy, Cyrus, which will close out the festival. Skeletons was a highly touted film by programmer Linda Blackaby. Tilda Swinton in the Italian film I Am Love is reason enough for me to check out the film, as is Isabelle Huppert for Home, a French film. I’d also like to see: Wind Journeys, The Shaft, Osadne, and Ocean of an Old Man.
If you haven’t listened yet, make sure to check out the interviews Jim Brunzell and I conducted with Blackaby, festival head Al Milgrom, and festival coordinator Ryan Oestreich. And don’t just count on us, check out the work of other great local film writers covering the festival: Kathie Smith, Daniel Getahun, Joe over at Switchblade Comb, and my good buddy Nick Bell, whom I’m sure will have posted plenty of thoughts on his festival experience real soon. Check the festival’s Web site for screening times, which can and have changed already. Now for some slightly more in-depth reviews of some notable films screening the next week.
French provocateur Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, The Last Mistress) is doing some different work here. Too bad the change left me so cold. She’s known for graphic sex scenes and shocking violence, both of which were notable (and worked well) in her 2001 film Fat Girl. Bluebeard, a rather dull and uninteresting take on Charles Perrault’s grisly fairy tale, contains some violence (a startling image of three young girls hanging with a pool of blood below is particularly haunting) but none of the sex Breillat is known for exploring. That’s all well and good, but her update to the legend of Bluebeard offers us this change: two young sisters in the 50s find the book and read it to each other, the younger of the two more willing and open to the story’s more scary aspects (I imagine Breillat sympathizes with this girl the most). While they read it, we often cut to their interpretation of the story. It’s all very Never-Ending-Story-for-the-art-house, which just didn’t work for me. I plan to catch more of Breillat’s work, but her latest has not lit a fire in me to see them all right away.
Dawson, Island 10
The problem with film festivals is that they do all start to bleed in to each other after a while, making it difficult to separate one from the other, especially if the films are forgettable. These films aren’t similar at all, but I don’t remember too much about Dawson, Island 10 simply because the film is what Jim Brunzell likes to call “a festival movie,” meaning that it will only play at festivals and there is nothing particularly special about it in any way. You see enough at the festival, and you’re bound to run in to a few of these. My terribly lazy, half-assed analysis of the film: it was really, really boring. Sorry.
Inferno (also titled Henri-Georges Clouzet’s Inferno) is an altogether different story. This documentary, about a failed film the famous French filmmaker Clouzet (the French Hitchcock in a lot of ways) never finished. Directors Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea try to reconstruct the film and delve into the varied on set problems during the production. It’s a fascinating documentary—highly recommended, especially for film buffs—that shows what a visual innovator Clouzet was for his time. Why don’t I have much to say about it? I saw it in the fall of 2009 at the Chicago Film Festival, amongst too many “festival movies,” I guess, so my memory is a bit hazy on it. My terribly lazy, half-assed analysis of the film: It’s really, really cool and fascinating. You’re welcome.
Lastly, two great films (from first-time filmmakers) from…Canada! (Canada?)
The Wild Hunt
This gem of a film should be on your radar. It’s far and away the best of the late night series. It explores something I know nothing about: the world of Live Action Role Playing (or LARP). This setting completely original in my filmic experience, and for that it gets huge bonus points. But it’s not just a clever and new setting or backdrop for a film. It’s a wonderful story about fear, family, control, loneliness, and modern-day relationships; most of all, though, it’s a great fantasy tale without any fantasy. Erik is losing his girlfriend, Evelyn, as she grows bored with every day life, all the while he’s trying to take care of his sick father. Erik’s brother, Bjorn, partakes in LARP during a weekend where a huge group of people play out their fantasy battles and stories in costume. Evelyn joins the LARP game, only to find that reality and fantasy is beginning to blur between some of the players. Danger ensues, and Erik realizes he needs to save his love. There is a lot going on in this film, and I plan to enjoy it a second time on the big screen to dig even deeper. Director Alexandre Franche, in his first feature, shows a deft hand at blending genres. Most appreciated, though, is his care and understanding for the characters in the film. It would be too easy (and a less interesting film) if Franche made fun of these LARPers playing out their nerdiest fantasies. Instead, you come to understand and empathize with these people, even if you don’t care about LARPing at all. And if that isn’t a big enough accomplishment, you get the final 20 minutes of the film, which are simply awesome and not at all predictable.
I Killed My Mother
French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan made a huge splash on the festival circuit last year with this film, in particular winning three awards at the Cannes Film Festival, and it was chosen as Canada’s Oscar submission. I can see why. Oh yeah, he was also 16 (!) when he wrote the novella on which the film is based. He was 21 when he wrote, directed, and starred in this film. So he’s something of a wunderkind, to be sure. So does the film live up to all the hype? Yes. Dolan proves to be both a lover of cinema and a remarkably confidant filmmaker and actor. His sophomore effort, Love, Imagined, is an Un Certain Regard entry at this year’s Cannes festival. Mother is the story of gay teen Hubert (Dolan) coming to terms with his often vitriolic relationship with his mother (Anne Dorval). They love each other, but they don’t get along. This is one of those films that makes you uncomfortable while watching it, like you’re being allowed a glimpse of private family squabbles no one should witness. Even when the mother and son are amicable, it doesn’t last long (for example, in the scene when Hubert is driven to the video store by his mother). In reality, you’d run for the hills if you were stuck in a room with these two as they bicker back and forth—but Dolan’s skillful direction, and more importantly, his knack for capturing realistic family details that feel lived-in and true, compels the viewer to keep watching. Some may call the film pretentious. I can’t disagree, but there are some levels of filmic pretensions I’m willing to go with. When the filmmaking is this good and incisive, I can forgive a lot.