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DIFF Diary: Day 3



Wow. What a great day. Three totally different, back-to-back incredible films, followed by a fabulous, NFVF-hosted party at the Zulu Jazz Lounge, which I only left a few hours ago. And now my over-exerted brain struggles for words to share the love with you. I’ll try.

NOTHING PERSONAL: Dir: Urszula Antoniak (Ireland/Netherlands)
This is probably one of the loveliest films I have seen in months. This morning I woke up with the lingering images in my mind of lead actress’s Lotte Verbeek’s flaming red hair against the soaking green landscape’s of the wild Irish West Coast. After divorce, her character, Anne, packs up her life in the Netherlands, leaving not a trace of herself, and migrates to Ireland where she adopts a nomadic, isolated lifestyle, engaging in only the most crude forms of human interaction.

Until she meets the hermit, Martin, whose opaque history, we sense, is full of sadness. The film watches their relationship unfold, evolving from one that is purely functional into one that sits much deeper in their souls.
The film is essentially about loneliness and human connection – or the conflicting fears and desires implicit in this.

The leads are perfectly cast, Verbeek’s somewhat plain beauty seems intriguing and elusive, Stephen Rea’s eyes are soft, but filled with rage and sadness. And their performances are nothing short of outstanding. (Verbeek won herself the best actress at Locarno).

The rich images of the damp, North Atlantic-beaten coast are wonderful. Even so, the score and wonderfully subtle sound design literally had me closing my eyes, feeling the wind, smelling the heavy Irish air.

I have sworn to myself at times that I would never allow myself to use the adjective “breathtaking” in a film review. But yesterday I found myself sitting and holding air in, afraid my exhalation might disturb the beautiful silence of the moment.

From the director of Welcome to the Doll’s House and, the shortest way to describe this film is that its a comedy about war, paedophilia and suicide. Dark and so awesome.

From images of an orange-skinned mother looming menacingly over her son as she tucks him into bed, to the son of her lover who describes his interest in his own life as being like “intermediate Sudoku”, to the doormat hippie sister who wants to meet Joni Mitchell and keeps asking everyone for forgiveness, the film is nauseatingly hilarious.

It’s the nightmare of the suburban middle class. I don’t know how he does it. With the very lightest comedic, absurdist touch, he turns the ordinary into an appalling farce. Nothing is overplayed beyond the believable but is somehow ghastly beyond imagination.

I loved it.

MAMMOTH: Dir: Lukas Moodysson (USA)
I’m quite a fan of Moodysson. Container and Hole in my Heart I found to be just jawdroppingly fantastic. This film is not quite at the same level, as he ventures into more accessible territory. Before I saw it, my boyfriend said he hoped that it wouldn’t be to Moodysson what My Blueberry Nights was to Wong Kar Wai.

But it wasn’t. It was great. It was pretty slow, and very long, but I felt, by the end of the film, that it needed to be just as long as it was, and that it needed to end when it did. It was pretty much spot-on in terms of matching pacing with the thematic needs. The film is about families being apart from each other, missing each other, starting to forget what it’s like to be with each other, feeling the enormity of the universe and the smallness of the world, the frustration of being so close and contained by a single atmosphere on earth breathing the same air, but too far to feel each other’s touch. The audience’s sense of needing it to be over before any more narrative events extraneous to the character’s shared lives take place creates a really interesting tension that would have been lost if he had rushed it.

Great performances all round. Wonderful screenplay, beautifully shot, and still felt rhythmically like Moodysson’s work. Altogether lovely.


On my way to the afternoon short film screenings at the Royal, I bump into Jyoti Mistry and end up discussing the problems that the Canon 7D’s lack of timecode led to on the grade of her film The Bull on the Roof. Because of this I end up missing the short films and getting talked into seeing a light happy Bergman comedy at the retrospective up at the Sneddon. I know, Bergman, light and happy are not words you see in a sentences together often but Smile of the Summer Night is a darkly funny early Bergman; an erotic chamber comedy set in the 1800’s in a small Swedish town, a film all cinema aficionados should take the opportunity to see. Also at the Royal I bump into Producer Steven Markowitz who joking but deadly serious informs me that he has 14 films screening at the DIFF this year and is trying to figure out if that’s some kind of record. Buzz is building around Dogtooth, everyone I’ve spoken to who has seen it has seemed slightly thrown off kilter, the two descriptions I have other than what’s in the festival book are “That weird Greek stuff” and “nothing like a spot of incest to kick off your festival”. Hopefully one of us gets to it soon. Deals are slowly being made at the Film Mart and elsewhere; but it’s that sensitive negotiation time so no major announcements; apart from A Small Town Called Descent being picked up by Videovision for international distribution. And predictably the NVFV free drink orgy at the Zulu Jazz Lounge got messy. So yeah, films… let’s (key word of the fest) engage…

VISA/VIE: Dir: Elan Gamaker (South Africa)
In the shuttle down to the next venue there is a bunch of people cooing about Visa/Vie. They make me feel like a crotchety old man because I wasn’t that charmed by it. The storyline of a young French Moroccan woman who, facing deportation, decides to formally audition men to find a South African husband, lingers too long on the outward appearance of quirkiness and this makes it feel slightly thin. However Melodie Abad’s performance is considered and real; and the central idea of this whimsical film is solid. Large parts of it’s mix of light comedy and melancholic mediation are deeply affecting but in the end it’s let down by its supporting cast’s tendency to over act. It was, however, a pleasure to see Charles Tertiens deliver one of his best performances in a small role, largely because, for some reason, Gamaker, chose to play his key scenes subtitled rather than with audible dialogue. I found myself desperately wanting to like it for it’s seeming homage to early Jean Luc Godard but kept finding myself pulled out of it by little forced details such as the lead characters preoccupation with retro 50s technology. Visa/Vie feels like a masked love letter to Abad and is most successful and beautiful in the scenes that focus on her alone.

A SMALL TOWN CALLED DESCENT: Dir: Jahmil QT Qubeka (South Africa)
Qubeka bit off more than he can chew with the Noir-ish detective thriller Descent but strangely enough his bold high-wire act seems to work all the more for it. Three elite investigators from the Scorpions are sent to investigate a suspicious rape and murder in a small town during a rash of xenophobic attacks. Each investigator is treated as lead character. This leads to a crowded tangle of plot lines, some of which never feel either fully resolved or even established. Qubeka rather uses conventions to set his characters up; the painkiller addicted ex-soldier, the Boss who is being investigated for a sex scandal, the rookie who has never fired a gun and is also looking for love. Attempting a vast allegory about corruption in the higher offices of government by shoehorning in archival footage from the Struggle to the Angolan bush war to Mbeki’s resignation, tends to crowd the film even more. But it’s this in-your-face messiness that makes Descent such a ride. It’s corny yet real. It plays as if Spike Lee had taken over direction from Sergio Leone halfway though a modern remake of High Noon. It’s heavy handed, over referential, unflinchingly violent, over the top, deeply fascinating and highly entertaining. Fana Mokoena is brilliantly slimy as the corrupt police chief, John Savage delivers a crazed priest in the mode of Dennis Hopper circa Apocalypse Now, Paul Buckby stands firm on screen clenching his jaw and Hlubi Mboya is excellent as the victim of the crime turning in a raw yet nuanced and gentle performance. If anything Qubeka overplays his hand; the archival footage tends to feel over used, the sheer amount of story telling involved leads to no small amount of clunky expositional moments and somehow the motivation force behind the crimes never feels fully revealed. Magnificently shot in a palate of dry browns, bold camera angles and featuring a wild Jazz score that drops in on you like an assault, Descent is a remarkable and astounding debut even if it does sometimes feel like Qubeka tried to stuff too many ideas into it. Self important, preachy, raw, complex and just short of brilliant.

MAMMOTH: Dir: Lukas Moodysson (USA)
You know what? Everything is connected and gorgeously shot. Fuck off. Another film about a rich people having existential crises while poor people have financial problems. Maybe I’m overloaded by this point but I just cannot get into it. Gael Garcia Bernal travels to Bangkok to sign a dot com deal and is drawn into the life of a sex worker; his wife, Michelle Williams, is a surgeon who is too busy to spend time with their child whose nanny is a Filipino woman working in America to save for a better life for her children who are being constantly berated back home by their overbearing grandmother. Thematically it could be about the effects of globalization or the fact that we sometimes let things ride until it’s too late. The performances are universally excellent but the film itself feels emotionally void.

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