DIFF Diary: Day 6 – Art, Ideology and Love.by Roger Young and Sarah Dawson / 28.07.2010
We’re into the last stretch. I’ve eaten so much popcorn that the smell of it is making me ill. In the shuttle two young filmmakers are complaining out loud about South African films being irrelevant to them because they’re always either about the past or about politics. FilmMart and producers workshops are over, the Talent Campus party is later, but I’m going to avoid that. Now I just want to get into the nightly film bath.
BROTHERHOOD: Dir: Nicolo Donato (Denmark)
The suggestion of an almost kiss as a group of Neo Nazis celebrate the beating of a Muslim refugee is the basis for a tension that runs right through Brotherhood, not letting up even when it finds expression. Lars is asked to leave the Danish Army on suspicion of being homosexual, even though he denies it. He returns home and immediately comes to loggerheads with his politician mother who insists he goes to another division. Dissatisfied and bored with life he, against his own misgivings with their philosophies, falls in with a group of Neo Nazis. Because of his critical nature the leader of the group is quick to ask him to become a member for life. He agrees and is sent to live with and be initiated by Jimmy (who we’ve seen enjoying baiting and beating a closeted homosexual) in a remote summer cottage. We slowly feel Lars falling for Jimmy and fear for the reaction. Restrained without obscuring, the natural performances never oversell the points the film gently makes. The basis for a lot of the films tension is the homoerotica of male camaraderie but this is not really a film that about that. It is a simple love story sparse on fact but big on tragedy that shows how the stupidity and beauty of love clashes with the comfort of ideology and learnt behaviour. It is an open portrayal of two people coming to terms with the lies they’ve lived and the dangers of becoming honest. The eye covering tension in the mounting fear of discovery is created by apparent ease with which the cast carry themselves and leads to an inevitable but surprising ending. A definite must see.
MOLOCH TROPICAL: Dir: Raoul Peck (Haiti/France)
A portrayal of the last days of a fictitious Haitian dictator as his supporters, staff, family and people slowly desert him. Locked in his mansion while the country descends into riots and ambassadors flee, he is determined to use the countries Bi-Centennial to send out a message that his is still in charge and will never step down. He, however, is the only one that believes in himself. A sparse lead performance by Zinedane Soualem is let down by predictable plotting and weak minor performances. It’s a disappointment even more so because Peck’s Lumumba is such a strong film. While there is nothing wrong with Moloch is doesn’t feel as if Peck has bought anything new or original to this portrait of a vain man out of step with the times and desperately clinging onto power by coercing sexual favors out of his staff. Parts of the film are considered, brutal and affecting while others seem to be politically naive and played for comedy, it’s this disjointedness that makes me feel like either some of it may be going over my head or I’m trying too hard to like it. While it is an adequate and almost loving portrait of a dictator in downfall it doesn’t make any observations about power or the decline of power that resonate deeply enough to chill, and I never felt connected enough to the dictator to feel any sort of conflict or pain in his slow realization that it is all over.
TRASH HUMPERS: Dir: Harmony Korine (USA)
A mixture between footage of the wrap party for The Blair Witch Project: The College Years and some kind of snickering high art endurance test, the banality of Trash Humpers “edginess” might be able to be classed as art but that don’t make it fun. A group of people in “bizarre” masks randomly move around the empty spaces of a city, the back alleys, the late night parking lots, the overgrown outskirts. They break things, the masturbate tree branches, they set off firecrackers, they speak but no sound comes out of their mouths, they hump trashcans. No one seems to have told Korine that it is desperately unhip to still be using VHS for video art. The tracking goes out of synch; the images are “bad”, the words PAUSE and PLAY come on the screen between sequences. The “film” continues. There is a strange rhythm in the bashing and breaking of objects that becomes hypnotic and then just repetitive, not even annoying. You get the feeling that the audience is willing it to end, desperate not to walk out because it would be a waste of money or a show of their unhipness.
These are things that Korine could be trying to test, maybe because money is meaningless to him but it’s not to the real people in his film that he had to pay to mock. Being a financed artist Korine can afford to regress and feel nothing butthis homage to or parody of outsider art, feels a lot like rich people making fun of the less privileged. It exposes that prejudice that excludes the “lower classes” from mockery. It’s the kind of film that needs a lot of quotation marks to justify its existence. When, 37 minutes in, the word REWIND appears on the screen I am filled with dread, Korine is so devoid of ideas that I wouldn’t put it past him to just show us everything in reverse. The great sadness of this kind of expression is its snobbery; I imagine Korine and pals sitting around going “Ha, ha, imagine how confused they’re going to be”. And then, at about minute 55, one of the characters throws a fluorescent light bulb into the sky; it hangs there for a brief moment against the fuzz of the VHS and the streetlight and then crashes to the ground. For some reason, I find it to be a deeply beautiful moment but one I can hardly justify wading through everything else for, maybe it’s only beautiful because, by this point, I desperately need something to be worth seeing. Maybe this is the point, maybe there is no “point” but really who cares? As the movie ends after 78 excruciating minutes, not that it comes to any conclusion it just runs out of things to do, there is a shot of the female pushing a pram down a lonely night street, there is only the ambient sound of the night. That it would have been quite amusing had Korine played Coldplay’s Yellow at this point is the only real thought I have.
I had this art teacher in high school who maintained that any thing could be art as long as you had the theory to back it up. I was really weak at drawing, so term after term I would scrawl on a page and hand it in with an essay explaining my intention, slowly working my way through all the abstract and futurist theories. At the end of one year I handed in a page of smiley faces and an essay on Dadaism. When he read the essay my art teacher gleefully grabbed my “drawing”, ripped it up, threw it on the floor, spat on it, jumped on it, all the while shouting “Crap, vomit, shit, fuck, vomit, crap, shit”. Then he looked at me and said, “That too is art but it didn’t do much for either of us did it?”
With the end of the FilmMart and Talent Campus, quite a number of the Festival’s international guests are on flights back home this morning, which means to a large extent the schmooze-mania has died down for this year. There are still a party or two to go, but they’ll be a little less business-oriented, and a bit more relaxed. Many of the local participants are looking forward to getting in some good viewing for this latter half of the event.
Watched a weird mix of films last night, and then went along to Spiga, then the roof of the Royal where some festival guests were trying to squeeze the last bits of party out of their trip to Durban.
And I also watched some films.
BROTHERHOOD – Nicolo Donato (Denmark)
A film about Danish skinheads who like to beat up Pakis and homos. New-recruit Lars moves in with his assigned mentor to learn the ropes and help fix up the “organisation’s” dwelling. They immediately bond, sharing beers and late-night swims. But before you know it, they two of them are making out in the shower and sharing a bed.
Obviously, they have to keep their relationship a secret, and they battle with themselves and each other to come to terms with their affections.
The secrecy and overtly contradictory modes of living are really interesting. While the spend time with the rest of their branch of neo-nazis the intense homoeroticism of the hypermasculinity that other members are constantly performing is magnified in a way that would be almost humourously ironic, if it weren’t so indicative of the tragedy of human’s ability to self-delude.
I did feel that perhaps the film didnt allow enough time fo rthe relationship to develop, that they could have let that phase of the narrative breathe a litte, rather than rushing it, because it did feel a little forced, but it’s nevertheless overall a really interesting film, psychologically.
These scandinavians are producing some great performances this year, in this instance, particularly the more conflicted figure of Jimmy, whose big brown eyes betray the conflict between his need for more gentle care and the pent-up aggression evident in his heavily swastika-ed, muscular body.
MOLOCH TROPICAL: Dir: Raoul Peck (Haiti/France)
Far from his film Sometimes in April, this is a quite weird political satire about the downfall of the universal dicatator.
A fictional Haitian leader sits up his ivory tower as revoution simmers on the ground. He creates elaborate means of squashing resistance and denying to himself that he may not be the saviour of the people. (His name is “Jean de Dieu”, or “John of God”.)
The film watches his final attempts at holding on to power. He hosts a “celebration of democracy” in Haiti, where they are to commemorate their independence, and demand exorbitant reparations for French Colonialism of 200 years ago. That American and European leaders don’t bother to come sends him into a fit of rage.
He echoes of Hitler, Hussein, Mugabe, Amin, and his final speech is a patchwork of international dictators. It is to some extent funny, but it also veers a little close to reality for you to laugh too loudly. But it is a sharp, well aimed critique of the abuse of political power its consistent nature, irrespective of context.
Issues of aesthetics clearly come second for Peck, since the film doesn’t look beautiful by any means, but it doesn’t obstruct the message and intent of the film, and its a valuable film in its detailed and accurate sketch of a tyrant.
NYMPH -Dir: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand)
This is a very unusual film. It opens with an elaborate, maybe 5 minute long, steadicam-into-crane shot of a woman being raped in a jungle, and her killers being discovered mysetriously dead in the river. Some first person handheld shots from behind betray that there is something strange dwelling in the forest.
A couple who have drifted apart decide to go to the jungle on a camping trip. But his jungle has some seriously weird vibes. One night, the man, Nop, finds himself being seduced by a tree (yes, a tree) and when May awakes the next morning, he has vanished.
The a series of intentionally confusing events take place, slowly. And then the film ends.
It’s an odd film, and quite hard to sit through, but it is gorgeously shot in a way that manages to bring the jungle alive as an active antagonist in the film.
It is, in a certain way, quite visually and thematically similar to Antichrist, dealing with threatening feminine sexuality and nature all knotted up together, like the vines of the trees that make up the damp, dark jungle that seems to consume May and Nop.
It’s not a film for everyone.
Roger Recommends for Wednesday 28th July
Sebbe (Sweden) – Suncoast – 20:00
Winter’s Bone (USA) – Suncoast – 20:00
Sarah Recommends for Wednesday 28th July
Sebbe – Suncoast – 20:15
The Time that Remains – Musgrave – 20:00