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DIFF Diary: Day 4



Aaaaarghhh!!! Nerve’s everywhere seem rattled and tired, stories of lost filmmakers and late night deals abound. I’m actively dreading the scheduled emotional rape by Haneke later. I’m berated by a filmmaker for being negative about South African film. Exhaustion leads to confusion, which leads to me shouting like a prima donna at festival staff because I’ve missed a shuttle to Suncoast. I miss Craddock Four and discover George the Durban Film Office driver, grab junk food and head to see whatever’s on at Musgrave. By the end of the day I felt like I had made some bad choices, from tomorrow I’m going to try stuff less films in and see what I want to see, not what I feel I am duty bound to see.

SEBBE: Dir: Babak Najafi (Sweden)
Every so often at the DIFF one should roll the dice and walk randomly into a screening without knowing anything about it. It really paid off for me this time. Bleak, full of despair, fluorescent lighting, depressing flats and minor disappointments, Sebbe has that combination of social realism, emotional rawness and mundainity that, for me, is a total indulgence. Sebastian is being beaten down by his mother’s alcoholism while she is being beaten down by her life. She refuses to acknowledge or grieve for her Sebastian’s long dead father and she hates her job as a newspaper delivery person. Sebastian is picked on at school by bullies and avoids it as much as possible. His only outlet is salvaging electrical parts from junkyards and building things. Eva spurns his creativity unless it’s useful to her. She attempt’s to show him love by giving him a “found” gift that leads to his humiliation. The relationship is made sadder by the brief moments that Eva and Sebastian do get on. When things that are of value to him are seen as ugly by others, he discards them. It’s extremely slow and focuses on really small emotional details. It’s also highly critical of the social welfare system in Sweden. When, during the Q&A afterward, the lead actress told us it was a story about hope I felt even more despair. Sebbe is affecting, sad and beautiful.

THE WHITE RIBBON: Dir: Michael Haneke (Austria/Germany/France/Italy)
Formally shot in beautiful black and white, with a narrative that willfully, spitefully obscures the details, White Ribbon is as frustrating as it is long. I’ve over prepared myself for it and am slightly let down; in the end I feel it’s a little too purposely obscure. In a small German village in the year before World War One and series of strange and seemingly random violent events take place; the village doctor breaks his collarbone when his horse trips over a wire stretched across his gate, a woman falls through the floor of the saw mill and dies, the Count’s child goes missing and is found alive but beaten in the forest. The story is narrated upfront by the schoolteacher, himself an outsider from another village, from a perspective years later, who admits he doesn’t know or remember all the details and is anyway more preoccupied with courting the nanny of the Count’s children. The village is run by the Count, his steward and the Pastor, all violent brutal men. It’s been written about in greater detail elsewhere but the village is a microcosm of German society before the war, the disgruntlement with the feudal system and the mounting class uprising that led the anarchists to assassinate archduke Ferdinand. There is no attempt to explain the attitudes and the simmering hatred but merely show that it existed. Nor are there any real attempts to figure out the nature of the incidents and their protagonists. The performances are marvelous, the setting and detail incredibly real and those overexposed trees and waving fields of grain are beautiful. I felt simultaneously bored and irritated knowing from the outset that there would be no conclusion or denouement, this was probably Haneke’s intention, so in that respect I guess it’s a success.

HARRY BROWN: Dir: Daniel Barber (UK)
Standard police procedural, more of a BBC TV movie than high art but it was exactly what I needed. Caine is in restrained mode as the titular Harry Brown. It’s standard vigilante stuff including an Inspector whose police chief doesn’t know that she could be right about the identity of the villain, forcing her to find him herself. Brown is ageing, feeling his life draw to a close, his wife dies slowly and vicious teen heroin dealers are terrorizing his council estate. When the thugs kill his last living friend, Brown cannot take it anymore and his World War Two Marine training kicks in. While the police are barking up the wrong tree Brown slowly and with much wheezing and holding of his heart starts to dispatch the villains. Most of the performances are stock; except for the creepy hydroponic-warehouse-gun-salesman-heroin-addict who is waxy, lipless and authentic. It’s not really a film you HAVE to catch at the festival but it is a competent diverting crime drama mingled with another measured character study from Caine.


I reached a kind of moment of implosion yesterday. I’m just so exhausted already, and there are still 6 days to go. The festival asked me to fill in for someone who was ill, and introduce Mugabe and the White African yesterday, to a crowd of like 200 Zimbabwean ex-pats who’d driven hours to see it. Of course Murphy’s Law would have it that the beta tape was nowhere to be found. (The film is pretty controversial, and its not totally impossible that there was some “interference”.) Breaking the news brought a hailstorm of abuse upon me, which was pretty crap. I suppose with the scope of this festival, and the sheer miraculousness of it’s mostly glitch-free execution given the small staff and resources that make it happen, things like this are bound to happen. It’s still not cool though.

Anyway, things improved when I got to my chosen screenings. I have not seen even one thing that I haven’t enjoyed this year. I’m starting to wonder if they’re slipping something into the theatres’ coke machines. But seriously, my selection intuition has been pretty much spot-on. Useful, given that there are 250 screenings over 10 days.

SEBBE: Dir: Babak Najafi (Sweden)
A film about a young boy – a social misfit, who has a intense, difficult, push-pull relationship with his mother. He is bullied and mocked at school, and alternately abused and smothered by his mom at home.

Even in a country renowned for its welfare system, the film depicts a Swedish working class battling for survival. It has a gritty realist aesthetic, which has specificity to its feel. The town of its setting is near a quarry, and the narrative is punctuated by explosive blasts in the background. The diegetic world Najafi brings us has a kind of ominous, brittleness to it. It’s a world which won’t bend for anyone who is different, and ultimately something is bound to snap.

This must be DIFF’s Year of the Actor. Once again, I find myself most enthused by the performances. The 16-year-old lead was discovered in a school yard, and had never acted before. But this was a brilliant performance. It’s most impressive when a director can effectively get not only the moments of rage and tantrum from a 16 year-old non-actor, but also stunning moments of quiet sadness and humiliation.

DOGTOOTH: Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece)
So totally awesome. This is a very, very dark comedy about incest and domestic abuse. This film is so far left of centre that when the visiting actress came up for Q&A, the whispered response rippling around the still-nervously-giggling audience to “Any questions”, was “What… the fuck?”

A father keeps his family protected in a high-fenced house out of town. The three adult children have never left the property. The only outsider who has ever ventured in is security guard, Christina, who the father hired to service his son’s sexual needs. They are taught that words from the outside mean things other than what we know them to – for example “zombies” are little yellow flowers, and “pussy” is a large lamp.

The home environment is not far from the image of an idyllic, 1960s suburban home. The entertain themselves by swimming in the sparkling pool and inventing inane games. They wander around in sporty Speedo swimsuits and floral dresses. Slowly, the father’s ability to control everything begins to crumble, as the desire for more starts to overcome especially one of the sisters, who is starting to imagine there might be more beyond the walls than she’s been told.

In many ways, it’s in the same vein as Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby. It even features a dead cat. But this is a completely unique film. It’s so wonderfully deadpan. It’s like watching Josef Fritzl home videos for a laugh.

White Material – Ster Kinekor Musgrave 20:00
The Ape – Suncoast 22:30

The Ape – Suncoast 22:30
The Time that Remains – Suncoast 20:00
White Material: Musgrave 20:00
Mother – Gateway Nouveau 18:00
Winnebago Man – Musgrave 22:00

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