Friday, August 19, 2005

Day Three - "I once accidentally whistled at a funeral..."

Day: 230
Film total today: 7
Films seen so far this year: 205 (25 to go)

No bears today.

A fantastic day, film-wise - I feel like I packed an entire festival's worth of great films into one day. I'd be surprised if most of these didn't end up making it into my Best of the Fest list by the end. That said, 7 films in one day is too much, even for me. 6 is fine, 7 is...knackering.

The Spectator

Italian drama about a young woman who becomes obsessed with her male neighbour.

Impressive Italian drama, which shares the same basic premise as the little-seen Facing Window. Barbara Bobulova plays Valeria, a beautiful, yet emotionally withdrawn young woman who becomes obsessed with her male neighbour, Massimo, who she watches every night through the window in her Turin apartment. Just as she's about ready to make contact, she learns that he has moved to Rome, so she follows him there and befriends his older lover, an author working on a book about her dead husband. When she's offered a job as the lover's assistant, she finally meets Massimo, who begins to take an interest in her. This is a beautifully acted, atmospheric film that pulls off some nice reversals and has some unusal scenes - particularly in regard to Valeria's relationship with the barman who takes her in. There's also a wonderfully tense scene towards the end - one of those scenes where you're begging the characters to say what they're really feeling. Four stars.

Fourteen Sucks

Swedish drama about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of being molested at a party while drunk.

This year's Show Me Love. (I would have said 'This year's Just Bea' but nobody has yet seen fit to give Just Bea the cinema release it so justly deserves). Elin Ahlberg (who looks a little bit like a 14 year old Victoria Silvstedt) plays Emma, a typical Swedish teenager who likes listening to music, hanging out with her friends, getting drunk and gate-crashing parties held by Older Boys. She has a fractious relationship with her older brother, Marcus (Jesper Fridh), in that he won't go to his friend's parties if he knows she'll be there, because she embarrasses him. However, when Emma wakes up after a party with a killer hangover and the word "whore" written on her head, she has a nasty feeling that someone has taken advantage of her. To make matters worse, her friends are whispering that she's had sex and her brother's friends keep laughing at her. When she meets Aron (Andreas Karoliussen), a sweet skater boy with a crush on her, she finds herself falling for someone for the first time - but will he still want to be with her when he finds out what she's done? This is a delightful film that brilliantly captures both the heartache and the heady rapture of a first crush. The performances are terrific and there's a genuine intelligence behind the script. There are also some really lovely scenes - particularly the final scene and the use the film makes of the drinking game "I never".

RULES OF "I NEVER" (for which I am indebted to the year of quality time I spent at UC Santa Barbara):

It's basically a truth game, in which the object is both to show off, share your wildest life experiences or, alternatively, embarrass the hell out of any friends you're playing with. You sit in a circle and someone says "I never..." and finishes the sentence with something they either have or haven't done. The point is that if you HAVE done the thing mentioned, then you drink. For example, when I played it my friend X said, "I've never been chased by the police" and proceeded to tell an amusing story about, well, being chased by the police. Another friend, Y, used the game to get Z to admit he'd paid for sex. Oh, the hilarity, etc. (The game is used brilliantly in the film on two occasions - when Marcus says "I never had sex with my sister, he is trying to find out who molested Emma, but he's also letting them know that he knows. And the other time...well, you'll just have to see that for yourself).


South African drama about a vicious thug who accidentally steals a baby.

This year's City of God. Impressive, beautifully made film that marks director Gavin Hood out as a talent to watch. Presley Cheweneyagae plays "Tsosti" (a nickname that means, appropriately, "thug"), a violent hood, whose gang perform a shocking robbery and murder on the Johannesburg tube in the opening sequence. One of his gang ('Boston') expresses remorse, causing Tsosti to beat him half to death in a bar. He then shoot a woman and steals her car, only to discover that there's a baby on the back seat. The rest of the film concerns Tsotsi's redemptive attempts to look after the baby, which include: forcing a woman to breast-feed him at gunpoint; using a newspaper as a nappy; and even robbing the same family again, in order to get familiar toys for the baby. Hood maintains a constant level of tension, aided considerably by Cheweneyagae's magnificent performance. He also has a strong eye for memorable images, such as the shot of the baby covered in giant ants. (Dog-lovers should also note that there's a really horrible flashback scene that you may find it hard to sit through). A solid four stars - as far as I know, this already has a distributor, so look out for it soon. Interesting trivial note: Hood once appeared in the TV series Stargate).

Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling

Documentary about the participants in the Lewisberg International Whistling Competition.

This year's Spellbound. People will tell you that Mad Hot Ballroom (see Day Four) is this year's Spellbound, but for my money, Pucker Up is the better film. It employs a similar structure, in that we follow around seven participants in the International Whistling Competition. It also reminded me of Stacey Peralta's stunning surfing documentary Riding Giants, because the film was also packed with lots of Interesting Whistling Facts - for example, did you know that there's a village in Turkey where the inhabitants speak a language composed of whistling? Or that whistling is illegal in Jacksonville, Illinois? There are also loads of great archive clips and lots of amusing diversions, such as a piece on The Dark Side of Whistling (which looks at "M" and whistling serial killers etc), a look at the frankly disturbing practice of "throat whistling" (which has to be seen to be believed) and interviews with various experts, one of whom utters the hilarious line, "A guy at college showed me how to double-whistle, so in return I taught him how to A-WOO-GAH!" (Trust me - when you hear him A-WOO-GAH, it's funny). The competitors include a wisecracking turkey hauler ("I translated (turkey noise) - it means 'I don't want to die'); a sweet-natured Dutch social worker called Geert ("I once accidentally whistled at a funeral - it's sooo not done..."); a septugenerian who knows his whistling days are coming to an end; the red bow-tie wearing reigning champion (an investment banker -- he's like the Pete Sampras of whistling - technically proficient but very boring); a frankly insane-looking woman; a school governor; and a laid-back guy named Steve who practices with his pet parrot (cue amusing parrot reaction shots). The competition itself is genuinely thrilling and, believe it or not, incredibly moving. I can honestly say that music has never moved me to tears before, but it did here - the whistling performances are just wonderful. The film is also extremely funny in places - I won't spoil the funniest moment, but let's just say that the climax of the film has a particularly deicious twist to it. Easily one of the top ten films of the festival - highly recommended. Five stars.

The Aristocrats

Documentary about a particularly filthy joke told amongst comedians.

To be honest, I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more if I hadn't seen Pucker Up immediately beforehand. The press notes refer to it as 'the world's filthiest joke' but that's really the point of the joke - it starts with "A man walks into a talent agent's office and says, 'Wow, have I got a family act for you...'" and the joke-teller then describes the filthiest act imaginable, all of which leads up to the agent asking, 'What do you call yourselves?' and the punchline of the title. Basically, it's a joke told by comedians to comedians. The film includes a host of well-known faces (Billy Connelly, Robin Williams, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock etc) either giving their own interpretation of the joke or making some observation about it. Essentially, the joke tells you more about the teller than anything else. As for the joke itself, most versions seem to centre on shit, blood, piss and incest and this, inevitably, wears thin after a while - as a result, it's the variations and deviations that get the most laughs, e.g. the mime version, the card trick version and the reversal of the joke with the punchline 'We're The Cock-sucking Motherfuckers'. There are laughs in a couple of the official versions (e.g. Whoopi's version of the joke, the South Park version) and a couple of the deviations (Sara Silverman, Kevin Pollack's impression of Christopher Walken telling the joke), but for a film about a joke, the laughs aren't as frequent as you might think. Three stars.

The Life I Want

Romantic Italian drama about two actors who fall in love during the filming of a costume drama.

Second impressive Italian movie of the day. I adore films about film-making and this is one of the best of the genre. Sandra Ceccarelli plays Laura, a novice actress who lands her first big role in a costume drama, alongside famous star Stefano (Luigi Lo Cascio). Their onscreen love affair soon spills over into their real lives and the film plays several intriguing variations on the idea of the film-within-a-film. By the end of the film, it's not just the central characters whose real lives are echoing their onscreen roles, but also the supporting cast. The film has a lot to say about actors and acting, with several astute observations on the lies actors tell each other ("I accompanied my friend to the audition and the director spotted me and asked me to read"; actors pretending not to be studying the script beforehand) and their petty jealousies. The film is also achingly romantic and there are several wonderful scenes - highlights include: the ball scene (mostly filmed as a finished scene within the film, which is a bit of a cheat, but it works); the comedy out-take when Stefano falls over; and a lovely scene where Laura is running after Stefano's car while dressed in full period costume. Recommended. Four stars.

Murk (Morke)

Danish thriller about a man who becomes convinced that his brain-damaged sister was murdered by her new husband.

Final film of the day. It was very disturbing to learn in the Q&A (see below, eventually) that the director actually had a sister who attempted suicide, got brain-damage and then committed suicide after getting married - and that he had turned his own traumatic experience into...a slick, glossy thriller about an is he / isn't he serial killer. Danish heartthrob Nikolaj Lie Kaas plays Jakob, a man who becomes convinced that his brain-damaged sister was murdered by her new husband, Anker (Nicolas Bro). A few months after her death, he travels to the small town of Morke in order to question Anker, only to discover that he is engaged to be married to another brain-damaged woman. The film has the occasional plot-hole, but you don't care because it's a gripping, brilliantly acted thriller that's reminiscent of George Sluizer's masterful The Vanishing (that's Spoorloos, the Dutch version, not the bastardised American version). See it now before the inevitable remake. Four stars.


su lizhen said...

Bloody hell, that was quite a day, Mr FF! I'll be back for more proper immersion on wednesday to Saturday so probably see you then. I'm just going to see Dumplings today.

bof_bof_bof said...

Not to boast or anything, but I really am a very good whistler. Nice post, FF, you must've been exhausted after all of that!