stealingbeauty2011

This is my fourth MIFF and my third opening night, and I have to say that it’s been the most enjoyable so far. This was despite the awful venue of Greater Union, the fact that attendees were split into different cinemas – the film started 20 minutes after the others where I was – and the speeches riddled with microphone malfunctions. It was a joy to hear Fred Schepisi speak about the origins of MIFF in Olinda 60 years ago, even though he was in shadow and opted to go without the dreaded microphone!

The Opening Night film, The Fairy (La Fée) was an unusual choice, and was met with mixed reactions at the after party. I had tried not to read any reviews, but I had heard a few things about its whimsicality and Tati-esque-ness. Indeed, these are accurate descriptions, and I actually found that I enjoyed the film much more than I thought I would. The two gangly and unconventional looking stars of the film are very engaging, especially when they dance together. They both have an incredibly physicality, especially Australian-born Fiona Gordon, which serves them both well in the slapstick and chase scenes as well. The scene in which Fiona is smuggled out of the hospital was beautifully creative, and the quietness of their actions does recall some of the best of Tati and Keaton. Indeed, the location and the odd characters who help to anchor the film in all its silliness was very like Tati’s world. More of a series of vignettes than a cohesive film, The Fairy was a pleasure that I did not expect.

So my nose won’t stop running but what’s MIFF without a rainforest worth of tissues? A shorter day today due to prior plans but dinner at home and a few hours on the couch has provided some welcome respite! Well, day three (& four)…

NORWEGIAN WOOD

Like any good black wearing tram traveller cool kid (who is turning 30 this week – so more of a grown-up) I’ve read a Haruki Murakimi book, so I was really looking forward to this film and I really really wanted to love it, especially because I was seeing it with katherinethegreat and our sisters.

Set in 1967, Norwegian Wood explores a number of relationships between angst ridden young people. Visually, I really enjoyed this film – the beautiful scenery and the amazing clothing and set styling – provided a dreamy backdrop reminiscent of Coppola’s Virgin Suicides.

This film promises a lot – a political backdrop that is never explained and potentially intriguing storylines – this never eventuates though. It basic is a story of love, grief and rampant hormones, interspersed with tedious scenes of the main characters simply walking around. I had no emotional connection to the connection despite the films 2 hours in length – this film had a few moments of enjoyment but it was too long and lacked substance.

SING YOUR SONG

I didn’t know a lot about Harry Belafonte other than he was an American singer that sang songs about tropical fruit. Well, was I put in my place? This film was a wonderful showcase of Belafonte and his activism and involvement in some of the major political movements of the 20th century – from the controversy surrounding his performing on stage with a white women, to then the civil rights movement, famine in Africa to today, where he is a leading advocate to improving the lives of young American’s in prison. While this film provided us with snapshots of Belafonte’s activism, I wanted the political issues that he was working on to be further discussed to illustrate the outcome (or lack of outcomes) as a result of the collective activism.

This film illustrated the warmth of Belafonte as a man and his struggle with combining his activism and his role as a father and husband. A wonderful film that has left a lasting impression – including not being able to get the song Day-O out of my head.

LIFE IN A DAY

Life in a Day, directed by Kevin MacDonald and supported by You Tube, brings together videos from around the world shot on the 24th July 2010 (with the MIFF screening being shown one year to the day).

Superb editing and beautiful stories. To be able to see such a global picture was rare – with small snapshots of daily life along with some recurrent videos throughout. The moments that stood out the most for me where those moments between fathers and their children – the fainting dad in the delivery suite, the embarrassing yet tender moments of a father filming his son’s first shave, to the dad in Japan, who lived with his son in a bit of a mess before it was revealed that they were still mourning the loss of their mother and wife.

This was a wonderful film, full of the tender and the terrifying, but as Bogart (who often ends up with the last word) put it, “it was nice to see a film that was just about people being people”.

THERE WILL BE NO MIFF DAY FOUR – DUE TO A CASE OF MIFF COLD! (Boo – I will be missing Detroit Wild City, Pink Saris and Black Venus – but if I rest now, I will be able to MIFF on!)

 

Here we are day two and a cold already! Argh! I can get through this – I do have Armaforce (an andrographis and olive leaf concoction recommended by my colleagues) and have dosed up on Vitamin C!

Thanks to Thomas for the profile on Cinema Autopsy – I do feel like a bit of an imposter amongst all of these cine-philes but maybe I can add something a little different to the landscape. So while Cinema Paradiso is my favourite film I still have a passion for John Hughes and bad 1980’s Tom Cruise (Cocktail anyone?)! But nevertheless, the goal is over 60 films for MIFF but I will be realistic and will be stoked if I can make it to 50! With 5 films on the schedule for Day Two you never know what is possible! Speaking of day two….

THE HOLLYWOOD COMPLEX

I didn’t really know what to expect with this film, in fact I was kind of expecting one of those child beauty pageant kind of shock treatments. This film however was everything you want a film to be – it was warm, it was funny, it was sad and it induced feelings of sheer terror into my soul!

This film centres around the child-star (or wanna-be child star) residents and their families of the Oakwood Apartment Complex in Hollywood. All of the children have landed there for pilot season and are hoping to be found to be the next big thing. When one ten year old child is asked what do you want to be when you are older by a casting director and she responds with – a zookeeper or something working with land animals – he is perplexed, why are you here then? “I really wanted to be an actress when I was a kid”. This really captures what these children are like – they are old before their time and many have missed their childhoods.

At Oakwood many of these children are transformed into show-business drones that go from casting call to casting call in the search for their big break and more money. It is stage parents galore – many of whom more their entire families to the Oakwood each year to try their luck. Homeschooling, pushiness and sage business advice – “[my son will be in] absolutely nothing that glorifies Satan” but for another parent it’s ok to send their child to an audition they don’t want to go to and audition for a role as a swearing hermaphrodite child.

What surprised me though was that for some children being in Hollywood was their idea and their parents were not the pushy type, rather they supported them and tried to make their lives as normal as possible. The film-makers were able to convey these children and their parents in a light that wasn’t over-edited but rather was genuine.

I feel saddened for these children, they have lost their childhood, and many are not children at all, but scary show-business drones who change their names and lose themselves in their quest for fame. One child wants to be “be me” but I’m terrified that she wouldn’t know where to find her.

OLD CATS

Olds cats was a charming film that presented us with the lives of Isadora and Enrique (a real life married couple – Belgica Castro and Alejandro Sievking – and this film was shot in their own apartment), an elderly couple faced with the challenges of ageing and all of the familial politics that accompanies it.

Surrounded by fabulous retro-clutter and there two pampered cats, Isadora is dealing with her memory loss and dementia episodes that are closer and closer together and her partner Enrique by her side trying to protect her from her failing memory. There is one particularly poignant scene where she is washing the clothes and wanders away, with the water filling the sink and flooding the bathroom. Water washes her memories away throughout the film.

Isadora’s daughter Rosario (played by Claudia Celedon) rushes into the film in whirlwind – gifting soaps (hilariously called ‘healing tablets’), with her female partner Hugo, all the while trying to get money out of her mother. The character of Rosario is infuriating and selfish but as the film progresses you feel for her more perhaps?

This film is beautifully sad and really illustrates what it is to be trapped in an ageing body and mind.

TROUBADOURS

This was a film that I knew that I would love from the first moment that I read about it in the MIFF guide – there really is just something magical about James Taylor! I’m also off to the Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco from August 12-14, so I was grateful to get some Californian musical inspiration!

This film is focused on the Troubadour club in Los Angeles and the singer-songwriters, and other entertainers that came out of the club in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Part of me was looking for Bob Dylan, but that’s part of the focus of this film, illustrating the difference between the folk politique and the singer-songwriter.

Learning more about the life and music of Carol King was great, especially to find that she was really about more than the Tapestry album, but what I really wanted was more of an insight into James Taylor. I think his childhood friend put it best when he said James was “an interesting bunch of guys”.

This film delivered most of what it promised, however I would have welcomed more a feminist analysis, especially given the role of artists like Carol King and Bonnie Raitt, but they were almost portrayed as housewife-singer-songwriters.

Transition shots of mid-century modern furniture and the scene of Laurel Canyon were well placed and the interviewers asked the right questions to really build a strong picture. Throughout the film I kept thinking about the similarities between this film and the Cameron Crowe film ‘Almost Famous’, but it turns out Crowe was one of the interviewers of the film.

This film was everything I wanted it to be.

LIFE 2.0

I had never really heard about or known anything about the virtual world of Second Life, a game/online way of life, where people have avatars and their lives are on screen (kind of like me during MIFF really!). As the opening credits rolled I became incredibly skeptical about the film, given that it was produced for the OWN – Oprah Winfrey Network, but I shouldn’t make assumptions!

The film introduced us to a pair of emotional adulterers, a woman living an online existing in her pyjamas in the basement, a young man processes inner pain – all of whom were attempting to reconcile their virtual lives with the own realities, with many struggling to distinguish what was real and what was in game. The filmmaker, Jason Spingarn-Koff, really gave us an insight into their personalities and their pain.

The film was sinister at times, especially when child avatars were discussed, but the Spingarn-Koff was respectful of the interviewees and their lives (both real and virtual) – even shooting part of the film through an avatar.

The owners of the Second Life platform spoke about how virtual worlds need to remain ungoverned and that the good thing is that you can only experience emotional pain, not physical pain. Well I disagree, many of the gamers looked like they were in serious pain and as husband Bogart reminded me, every week there are more and more people taking their lives as a result of cyber-bullying.

As much as I love my new Mac, I think I’ll stick to the real world, not the virtual.

FINISTERRAE

Well, I’m not sure how this film, or my presence at it really happened. Bogart was keen to see it and the trailer at the MIFF program launch looked pretty random, but life is about random isn’t it?

This film was a cross between a slumber party with everyone putting sheets on their head and a bro-mance film, where two mismatched friends, hit the road, meet a cast of wacky characters like the occasional stripper that shows them the right path and pick up the odd stray animal. This film, like those bro road movies, was about two friends, a dragged out journey in search of the door to becoming human beings, and the final decision that they’ll be friends forever.

Finisterrae, while full of beautiful panoramas, funny banter and a cute quirkiness, would have been, as Bogart put it, “a good movie if it had of been a lot shorter”.

Well my MIFF day one is complete – and I’m already exhausted (plus it was a work day)!

THE SILENCE OF JOAN

Day one, film one and it really wasn’t off to a wonderful start. Instead of the heroic and inspirational Joan of Arc we are all used to seeing represented on screen what we saw instead was a stubborn and angst ridden teen who refused to talk, eat and was just generally a little bit annoying (so I guess she was a pretty A-Typical teen). In between close-up shots that lingered too long and were out of context, this was really a film about all of the men (often considerably older men) who fawned over Joan and her fair maiden beauty. Irish actor Liam Cunningham tried (and failed) to save the film but once he was gone all that remained was a miserable Joan who just wanted to die, a Phythonesque priest, clumsy dialogue and a final shot of two teen lovers washing themselves by a river with the ashes of Joan. It may have been better if everyone had of taken Joan’s lead and remained silent.

SENNA

Formula 1, most of the time it simply means my husband (Bogart) coming to bed at all hours of the morning every second weekend and fawning over Aussie driver Mark Webber, but after Senna I have a new interest in the sport and the men behind it. This was a wonderful film using archival footage and interviews about three time world champion Aryton Senna. Highlights of the film were the long-running feud between Senna and his main rival Alain Prost and the politics of the sport. The impact that Senna had on his home country Brazil was incredible – a country that at the time was undergoing immense political turmoil, poverty and violence. The most haunting moment for me were the in-car footage from Senna’s car on the final laps before he died – it was an eery feeling and as each lap passed you were just left waiting for him to die.

Bogart, as the childhood F1 enthusiast, felt that the film brought back childhood memories of the Prost Senna rivalry and found it interesting to see how much footage was available of the real Senna, which you never saw at the time and made Senna real as a man and as a driver. The fact that Prost remains a trustee of Senna’s foundation really resonated that it was a rivalry that stayed on the track. Bogart thinks that it will appeal to everyone, not just F1 fans.

I almost enjoyed this as much as my all time favourite sporting documentary – Dog Town and Z-Boys – and I feel that like that film Senna will inspire a motion picture drama of Senna’s life. All thoughout I kept imaging James Franco as Senna (maybe is also because I spend a fair amount of time day dreaming about James Franco!).

It was also nice to see a different kind of MIFF crowd – with rev-heads drinking beer and eating chips, while celebrating this amazing man.

MELANCHOLIA

Being the first Lars Von Trier film I’ve sat through in one sitting, I was a little sceptical about how I would react to it in the cinema, rather than in the lounge room. From the opening sequence the visuals in this film were sublime. The film is split into two – Part 1 – Justine and Part 2 – Claire, two interwoven stories about sisters. While I liked the separation, part of me almost wants to see the two parts seperately so that I could take more time to wrap my head around the film.

Part 1 presented us with a darker version of a Hollywood family wedding – blustering brides, drunken dads and an overzealous wedding planner – but this wasn’t really Father of the Bride. Kirsten Dunst’s (who I am normally not a fan of) portrayal of Justine, a young bride in the midst of mental illness, was incredible and in many scenes hit very close to home. Seeing the Skargaard’s together in a film was a delight as was the inclusion of John Hurt, one of my all time favourites. Part 2 took us on a darker and decidedly morbid journey as we were faced with the planet Melancholia hurtling towards earth. Charlotte Gainsbourg was exquisite as a mother who would have done anything to wrap her family in love. This was juxtaposed with with her sisters willingness to let go, her son’s amazement at the world around him and her secretly foreboding husband.

It’s sci-fi but not as we know it to be – it kind of crept up on me. My immediate reaction was that Melancholia should have been hurtling towards earth much quicker but I’ve processed it, slept on it and had a night of interrupted sleep thinking about it. Overwhelming, disturbing, complete.

I’ll see you all tomorrow for the Day Two wrap up, or I may see some of you in the bar at Greater Union.

Evening film fiends,

Well the Melbourne International Film Festival is upon us and as I am too poor to attend opening night I just wanted to take the time to introduce myself before the onslaught of MIFF begins in earnest! I’m ‘theotherbacall’ – one half of stealingbeauty2011. So, our blog name stealingbeauty2011 was thought up by my partner in film. Not only is Stealing Beauty one of my favourite films but isn’t that what films are about – stealing a bit of beauty from the screen? Well, we’ll be stealing it and then writing about it – beginning at MIFF but then who know’s where to from there.

I have been surrounded by film my entire life – from my movie star homage name to growing up in a cinema in the burbs of Melbourne. While my Mum was managing said suburban cinema I would sit in the back row, on vinyl (well in the end mostly gaffer-taped) seats, absorbing films. While I did watch The Little Mermaid on the big screen on more than one occasion and was obsessed with The Gods Must Be Crazy, I also got to see some inspiring films that my childhood brain can’t forget – Cinema Paradiso was one of these incredible films and I wished that we could move our cinema to Italy! As I’ve gotten older I’ve continued to absorb films – the good, the bad, the ugly and the life changing! From John Hughes to the great beyond!

Anyway, on to MIFF – I’ve got a festival passport in my hot little hand, an ambitious program of 55 plus films and a backpack of protein bars, lollies and dried fruit! I also somehow have to fit in a full time job as a policy wonk – it can be done though! I’m confident, well mostly confident, well sceptical, but anyway I’ll give it a red hot go!

The films that I am most looking forward to this MIFF (well the abridged version) are:

  • Troubadours (I love a cheesy James Taylor long song!);
  • Norwegian Wood;
  • Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Cool Place (You see I am a massive fan of the Beat Generation and Neal Cassady was an influential member of the movement and the inspiration for the Dean Moriarty character in On The Road (Mr Jack Kerouac) and then Cassady drove Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster’s bus and so the circle goes. Whoa obsessive nerdy fan girl alert!);
  • Submarine;
  • Pool Party;
  • El Bulli: Cooking in Progress;
  • Wasted Youth;
  • The Turin Horse; and,
  • La Dolce Vita (a stunning classic).
Enjoy! I’ll be back most days with my MIFF updates and our joint reviews for the almost 20 films we’ll be seeing together. I’m looking forward to the MIFF adventure and if you see me falling asleep at the back of Greater Union feel free to wake me.
Happy MIFF! theotherbacall xx

Hello! Welcome to our blog which has been inspired by our mutual love of films.