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Film Snobbery and Sweat Lodges

DIFF Diary: Day 5 – Film Snobbery and Sweat Lodges

by Roger Young and Sarah Dawson / 27.07.2010

ROGER YOUNG

Okay, I’ve bounced back. I had started to wonder if seeing this amount of films in such a short space of time is leading to a film snobbery of sorts so I stayed away from everything all day and did transcendental meditation, yoga and a sweat lodge to clean the images from my brain. Well, I stayed away from the Royal at least, I’ve got no interest in the mechanics of filmmaking right now, just want to bathe in obscure plotless films that no one has ever heard of.

IMANI: Dir: Caroline Kamaya (Uganda)
The Russian Roulette six o’clock movie doesn’t really pay off for me today. Imani is a Ugandan film that tells three separate stories. A young boy who was taken by soldiers is returned to his family by an NGO. A rural woman works as a domestic for a wealthy woman who has abandoned her traditional ways for western modes of behaviour, when a friend from the village is arrested the domestic has to raise the bribe and is coerced into doing something she doesn’t want to by her co-worker. A group of boys in their early twenties use hip hop and breakdancing as outreach to orphans and street kids, when they perform at an orphanage near a shanty town, a gangster who behaves as if he is in an American movie steals their sound equipment, which leads to a confrontation. Except the confrontations never really quite happen, they just resolve without real incident or conclusion. It has the pacing of social realism, the set ups of American dramas but the denouements seem like afterthoughts, even though they are in themselves quite hectic. The neither here nor there pacing makes it very difficult to tell if this is a film about Western aspirations or a film with Western aspirations. Some of the subtitles were obviously mistranslated and I was left wondering if the film was average or if I had misinterpreted something.

THE BULL ON THE ROOF: Dir: Jyoti Mistry (South Africa)
It gives me great comfort that this film exists even though large swathes of it swept past me. Bull On The Roof is the freeform visual and actual poetry of an obvious academic who has lived in many cities. It is kind of a visual homage to those cities, Johannesburg, Helsinki, Vienna and New York and the ways that the filmmaker remembers them and the stray thoughts associated with them. Whimsical and frank, the visuals and thoughts flow into each other; Mistry has gracefully opened the lid on her subconscious and let the contents tumble out. There is no narrative, images and sequences of Cities, walls, laundry, shopping, trains, people living together, people being alone, the artist, the photographer, the author, the reader, the man walking in the snow, all unfold, revealing with a shrug of the shoulder who the filmmaker is, without real concern for perception. Bull On The Roof is not a “difficult” or “demanding” film but rather one that asks you to be open hearted about a strangers fleeting musings. Obviously there is more thought behind it than that, there is a certain construction to the thoughts; themes and visuals echo through the various sequences that change as seasons do, slowly just slightly outside the limits of perception; melancholy, the sharing of bodies, travel, laundry, weather and changing light. While there is no narrative to hang the sequences on there is a lush emotional causality that makes accusing the film of self-indulgence irrelevant. There are moments when I was let down by technical aspects. The resolution gets a bit blocky in some sequences, and, when we are being asked to merely let the images dance across our eye, this can be jarring; providing a sort of unintentional enigma of access. It is a film of first thoughts, thoughts that could have many layers of meaning assigned to them but, like the freeform poetry that it is, it is not a film that needs such assignation. It feels good to experience thoughts not hung on a narrative, even if I cannot relate to all the thoughts themselves. It’s not, however, a film that most people will be able to sit through without becoming bored or needful of something to happen; this may be partially the point.

THE APE: Dir: Jesper Ganslandt (Sweden)
The horror of The Ape is in the not knowing, the obscuring of the facts. Krister wakes up with blood on his hands, he tries to go about his day, almost by going through the motions of what he normally does in order to nullify the events that happened before the film starts. Eventually the aftermath is revealed but never it’s causes. The film is observed from an intimate perspective but never allows intimacy with Kristen as he slowly breaks down.

This obscuring of the facts is an easy trick to create disquiet but because it does contain narrative and creates its tension from hiding facts, never allowing for any sort of catharsis, the end result is that you feel unresolved, a little let down and for this reason, I can never really buy into these kinds of films. I don’t get to know the character, I don’t get to know what he did or why he did it and I don’t get to feel anything. It might be intellectually satisfying on reflection, it might make me think for days, puzzling out what could be the events behind what was revealed but all I’m really thinking about are mechanics that were hidden on purpose. If those mechanics, the how’s and whys, were revealed then it would be nothing more than a straight murder mystery or thriller. As it stands it’s just a puzzle that is missing a couple of pieces that can never be found. All that’s left to express is mood; and the films success or failure will rest on how convincingly that is done. The Ape is effective in that the tension between the results of what he has done and what he might do induce a seat squirming restlessness but in the end it makes for an incredibly surface film. There is no mystery because there is no intention of providing solution, therefore discussing it is pointless.

Festival films in the past seemed to me to be about deep loss, deep sadness or at least some kind of deep felling; This year I’m experiencing a lot of emotional blankness; some kind of deep numbness.

SARAH DAWSON

I fell asleep in the theatre last night. It had nothing to do with the film, The Time that Remains (which was fantastic as far as I could tell), I just couldn’t keep my tired eyes open. They deserved a little rest, and even if it was at the expense of a film that was described by fellow audience members as a “masterpiece”, it seems hard to leave a cinema here where people aren’t saying such things. So I’ll just shrug.

I spent the earlier part the day at the Royal attending seminars, watching some short films, generally mingling. Interesting panel on the role of film festivals in the film world. People from Berlin, Rotterdam, Dubai, IDFA etc.

I did manage to stay awake in the next one.

THE APE: Dir. Jesper Ganslandt (Sweden)
Absolutely harrowing, this film picks up in media res in the life of a man who has just killed his wife and almost killed his kid. It provides no reasoning, it give you no insight into his motives. It just… is. He goes to work, we plays tennis, he hyperventilates, he goes to visit his mother, he discovers his kid is still alive and bleeding to death in his bed, they go the hospital. That kind of thing.

The booklet describes it as “daringly minimalist”, and while its visual style is realist, it’s not bare, but narratively, it provides you with absolutely nothing that isn’t happening at that very moment in front of the camera. There are no clues, there is no exposition. But you become remarkably engaged in the events, in no small part due to yet another noticeably skilful performance for the festival, by Olle Sarri. You experience, in what feels like the movement of real time (although its over the course of a whole day), his psychological crisis in the smallest of personal detail. His nausea, his regret, his incapability to understand what he has done.

The film remains in the same temporal and spatial environment as the character, rather than stepping away in any way. The cinematography is claustrophobic and always in motion. While the protagonist can’t find orientation in his situation, neither can the audience.

A really powerful film.

PS. I know I’m probably looking like the most ridiculously soft and gushy reviewer ever, but I truly have been absolutely knocked off my feet with the quality of the films I chose to watch this year. Hoping the lucky streak continues. Really hoping to get some more South East Asian film in soon.

Sarah’s recommendations for Tuesday:
Moloch Tropical (Haiti/France) – Suncoast 20:00
Brotherhood (Denmark) – Musgrave 18:00
A Screaming Man (France/Belgium) – Suncoast 20:00
Nymph (Thailand) – Suncoast 22:15
Running on Empty (Japan) – Suncoast 22:15

Roger’s recommendations for Tuesday:
Brotherhood (Denmark) – Ster Kinekor Musgrave 18:00
Moloch Tropical (Haiti/France) – Suncoast 20:00
THE WHITE RIBBON – Sneddon 20:30
Trash Humpers (USA) – Musgrave 22:15

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RESPONSES (8)
  1. lianna says:

    whats up with the swedes this year.

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  2. Po says:

    all their film makers can live off government grants while they make their movies…

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  3. lianna says:

    but the angst, and bloodlust. i mean living off your film grant while you make a film is the whole point – its so that you can make the film in the first place. its just this pent up silent aggro that im really asking about..

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  4. anastassia molto says:

    In the case of the Ape, i’d like to know what the film maker identifies with when making this particular movie..

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  5. creepy steve says:

    “soft and gushing” thats how we like em’
    does anyone want to hand out a grant for the sifou’s documentary?
    no amount to small, it’s being made anyway

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  6. bresson says:

    It’s time for you two to start taking speed. Staying awake and engaged is like the bare minimum anyone can ask from critics. Even doddery old Bosley Crowther managed as much for the NY Times. Rookies.

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  7. Roger Young says:

    Did you read Crowther? I hardly call that engaging. Although “engaging” is fast becoming one of those horrible buzz words so I guess you could mean anything by it.

    Also the quality of speed in Durban is shocking.

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  8. anon says:

    excuse me roger, could you pause for a moment and get your toungue out of jyoti’s rectum. its getting so embarrasing and i highly doubt she’ll help you get your feature film make.

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