Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day Nine - Friday, August 29

Cumbia Callera (Cumbia Connection)
René U. Villarreal - Mexico - 95 min.
Spanish, eng. sub.
Another Mexican film that breaks out of the stereotype of drugs, violence, and corruption. As the director also said, an experimental film about a love triangle. And it is scored with a Columbian popular style of music from the barrios (slums) of Monterey, a retro style of music played by Celso Pino, accordian player and singer. For some Youtube clips featuring his music, both of which were used (among many other songs) in the film:
With no more than 5 or 10 minutes of dialogue in the whole film, and barely that much more implied, everything is communicated with actions, facial expression, and music. The story (a very simple one, really) revolves around a young videographer, who sees and begins to obsessively video a muchacha from the slums as she goes about her daily routine. He wants to woo her and gets a chance when he tries to return a shoe, one of a pair she had shoplifted, with her boyfriend. The boyfriend, a macho street-attitude type, self-taught artist who paints murals when he isn’t slaving away as a construction worker, isn’t about to let her go, despite her getting involved with the other guy. The story of two young men coming to uneasy terms of sharing a girlfriend who wants them both is actually only a vehicle for the lively music.

Anthony Chen - Singapore - 14 min.
Eng. sub. (actually, there were none).
A couple of Chinese Singaporean adolescents stuck at home during a heat wave, discover sex. Oh sorry, a boy and a girl. I mean, this IS a Singapore film. There was enough English peppering their narrative to work out what they were saying contextually: too hot - haze (smog?) alert- skip school. Boredom after food and TV, then horseplay around the apartment - arousal. Concerns about (pregnancy? safe sex? both?). A condom. Cigarette afterward (lots of smoking - it's an Asian film, don't be surprised) - will you love me forever? Don't be silly, the boy answers.

Animated American
James Baker, Joe Haidar - United States - 15 min.
Hand-drawn classic toons plot revenge on the studio mogul that put them out of work. A la Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Cute.

The Price of Pleasure
Miguel Picker, Chyng Sun - United States - 55 min.
A completely negatively biased documentary on the porn industry compared to 9 to 5 days in Porn, this film works from the assumption that (heterosexual) pornography is bad and seeks out to prove its hypothesis, with blatant subjectivity in definitions, interviewed subjects, test criteria, and manipulative editing. All that was missing was the usual religious/moral hypocrisy. Instead the film (and filmmakers) proceed from the standpoint that they are serious academics studying the effect of pornographic media on culture, but if one looks up the Media Education Foundation, their website states their agenda is to challenge mass media assumptions. Draw your own conclusions (pro or con) that their board of advisors include Noam Chomsky,
Susan Faludi, Noami Klein, and others.
Left-wing academics have a history of being anti-erotic, and over the last 30 years shared an uneasy alliance with right-wing Christian fundamentalists in their attemtps to dictate what the populace should be allowed to watch. With the porn industry becoming a $15 billion a year industry, it’s natural that they’d have even more reason to go after it – after all, the left has always been against eroticism as a frivolous pastime of the idle rich (as opposed to an evil design by the devil, as supposed by the religionists), and now there’s the horrific commoditisation of sexuality as well, as they see it. This film sadly is so crude in its attempt to validate itself that it almost seems like a parody of the religious anti-porn diatribes.
Another review (in the Montreal Gazette) that echoes my world view on this film to a large degree :

Gigantes de Valdés (Valdés Giants)
Alex Tossenberger - Argentina - 110 min.
Spanish, eng. sub.
Set in Patagonia in the Valdes Peninsula, amongst the beauty of the land, sea, and all of the flora and fauna, this film could easily be transplanted into Alaska by a U.S. film company, with only minor changes to characters and the story. And maybe that’s what wrong with the film for me. A very conventional story about a business scout sent to convince the locals to sign on to the building of a huge luxury hotel, one that would destroy the pristine beauty and fragile ecosystems. Big business against the locals who cherish the whales, seals, penguins, and so on. There’s the usual conversion from city slicker-must-get-a-job-done to nature lover, the falling in love with the sincere local teacher, the simple, illiterate, but wise fisherman. And the one bad townie, the big man, who runs everything, but who everyone despises. Hrmm…any ideas who the company deals with when newly converted dude sides with the Townies?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day Eight - Thursday, August 28

The Camp at Rivesaltes. The Final Day
Helena Michie (Director, Writer, Producer) - France - 27 mins (Thank you, Helena, for correcting me! The FFM originally incorrectly attributed the director/country and run time!)
English, French, Basque, Catalans, Romani, Arabic, eng. sub.
Wikepedia entry (much more detailed in French)
Set in the scraggy landscape of the French Pyrenees. We had no idea what we were about to see, and normally I steer away from any Holocaust films, documentary or otherwise, since I’ve had my fill back when I was 14, and subjected to a year of social studies on the subject in Jewish school. So Jonathan and I groaned when we realized that this would be yet another film, of a poetic commemoration also reinterpreted in song and dance. And then something happened, at least for me…Helena Michie’s poem, spoken by English by a camp survivor on the eve of its demolition in 2007, is then sung in several languages, with different musical accompaniment, by survivors or family of survivors from the camp’s first two periods, and even interpreted in dance. So there’s Jews, (Bulgarian) Roma, and Arabs all performing and interpreting the same poem in different way and languages. Ultimately it becomes a universal memorial that transcends any particular ethnic group. Rivesaltes was first constructed as lodging center for war-torn indigents, and then became a prestaging concentration camp for Jews and Roma, before shipment to the bigger death camps. After World War II it was used as a POW camp and later a prison, used to house a large group of Harkis, Algerian refugees once the War of Independence was over in 1962. A finally, up until its demolition, the camp was used as an interment camp for illegal Spanish immigrants in France.

Mirages d’un El Dorado
Martin Frigon - Canada - 75 min.
Spanish, eng. sub.
Another expose of corporate doubletalk, broken promises, lies, complicity with corruption of public officials, all as standard business models. Frigon’ s previous film, the 2004 Make Money. Salut, Bonsoir! (co-made with Christian Fournier), documented former Noranda minors from Murdochville, Quebec, fighting for their crumbling town and health, both abandoned by Noranda after they were done stripping the ground of anything valuable. Companies like Noranda, now merged with competitor Falconbridge and bought out by the Swiss company Xstrata, have now been working high in the Chilean highlands for 10 to 15 years, digging for gold. Canadian companies were among the first to open shop in Chile after Pinochet took over. One of the biggest gold deposits in the world being strip (open) mined out of the mountainside, leaving billions of tons of mine tailings full of arsenic, lead and cyanide (low grade ore is “leached” with the cyanide process). Concerns about the water supply, the water table? Environmental regulations paid lip service or simply sidestepped. Surprised? Barrick Gold, Xstrata, and others, all making the poor locals promises they don’t keep, paying off the Chilean Govt. committee that’s supposed to check for environmental impact, sucking all the water out of three small glaciers high in the Chilean mountainside, water that is the lifeblood of the only two rivers supplying the valleys below. Of course, at the annual corporate Toronto meeting of Barrick Gold, the CEO goes on about how they’re social responsible in providing jobs and completely sidesteps the environmental concerns, saying that the Chilean govt. has taken all steps to ensure that regulations are being complied with. Unhuh. The only shill willing to speak so obviously sidesteps critical questions put to him, in the face of the evidence shown the film, that it’s hilariously self-condemning. Sadly, for the vast majority of urban dwellers, even the threat to groups of people and ecosystems far away in some remote plain won’t arise much more than “gee, isn’t that too bad”, while they look for better returns on their gold stocks.

Une année de sable
Director : Eric Liston Grant - Switerzland - 26 min.
French, eng. subtitles
A very conventional story of a 40 year old mother of one, with leukaemia, getting through three courses of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The usual story is told as narration over footage of what’s called the “toughest footrace on earth” – the Marathon de Sables (Sahara Marathon) held in Morocco. Eight days of punishing daytime heat, cold nights, walking and running across desert - a151 miles (243km) ultra-marathon that typically has 800 participants. The woman’s story of her struggle to survive nicely underscores the amazing effort participants put into completing the race (most are raising money for charities, or in memory of partners, friends, or family, who lived with cancer or other illnesses). I was enthralled, even though I’ve barely started running, having only did my first 5km run of my life a month ago.

Director: Sylvie Cachin - Switzerland - 65 min.
French, eng. sub.
What if you were born hermaphrodite (or intersexed), as is the current more correct term)?? What if your folks raised you as a boy and didn’t “assign” a gender surgically as is typically done at 15 days after birth nowadays. This documentary is one of the most interesting gender study films I’ve yet seen. Claudette was born 70 years ago as Claude, to Swiss-French parents living in Morocc , and lived as a boy until 14, when she was introduced to sex by an older woman, and taught to be a prostitute. Fast forward to her twenties, the family back in Switzerland, and she’s back dressing as a boy. She marries a local gal, has children, and eventually reverts to dressing and acting as a woman. But she also when back to being a prostitute, after her successful career as an architect ended (while she dressing/acting as a man). She still lives with her wife, and they still enjoy a close relationship, and maintains her social work championing for the right to legalized and safe working conditions for sex workers everywhere. Jonathan’s review contains more info.

Hans Van Nuffel - Belgium - 13 min.
Flemish, French, eng. sub.
A former child soldier from an African nation meets the gun-loving adolescent son of a recently dead arms dealer, who supplied both sides of the struggle with that most popular of automatic rifles in the world, the FN FAL (and variants). Is it payback? A chance meeting? Rat a tat, tat! Revenge is truly best served cold...even if it's chance...

(N)iemand (Nowhere Man)
Patrice Toye - Belgium-Norway-Netherlands-Luxembourg - 96 min.
Flemish, fre. & eng. sub.
This goes nowhere, man! An inquiry into middle-class/middle-age angst. A dull civil servant decides to fake his death, abandon his wife, and sail away to a tropical island. Things go rapidly downhill from there. After suffering huge setbacks on his original plan, wounded and now declared dead, his now re-married wife has other ideas about what to do with him when he returns.

Friday and Saturday's films as soon as I can!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day Seven - Wednesday August 27

One Shot
Linda Wendel - Denmark - 78 min.
Danish, eng. sub.
FFM website
When the Danish do family drama, they do it very well. I remember Festen (Celebration) which used Dogme 95 rules, which requires use of handheld cameraq, existing lighting, sound, and no props, etc. This film is the first Danish film to use the one-take, no cuts or edits technique, famously done by Hitchcock in Rope (although it was supposedly edited to make it appear so), and more recently with Russian Ark (a great film I bought a copy of). Sally, headstrong and rebellious, returns to her mother’s countryside home to force a confrontation . Lennart, her mother’s married lover, gets caught up in the argument. Intensely close up and personal, the one-shot technique doesn’t let you blink as you follow the action from a handheld camera few feet away. Sally’s got a gun and she's not gonna take it anymore…

Umikaze ni fukarete (Carried on a Sea Breeze)
Toshiki Sato - Japan - 110 min.
Japanese, eng. sub.
FFM website
Little toy boats rocked in a bathtub storm didn’t do it even for Cinemoo. Most viewers can spot crappy 1950’s special effects…maybe done in one shot you could get away with it, but to hammer home repeated bad weather that the protagonist faces on his attempt at circumnavigating the island of Hokkaido (Japan’s big northern island), just makes suspension of disbelief even more unwilling. The acting is about as cheesy, as well. A middle-aged Tokyo businessman, faced with a wife who walked out on him for being at work too much, and a partner skimming the profits, finally makes the time to pay a visit the Buddhist shrine in his hometown, several months after his grandfather’s death. A chance meeting with a former high-school flame, who never left the fishing town, escalates into his desire to return his granfather’s ashes to the family homeland. The solo sailing trip ensues, on a goad that it was his big life goal as a teenager. Yuki follows him around on the trip by car, not really admitting that she’s still in love with him. What’s more interesting than the insipid characterization and plot, lame soundtrack, and semaphored metaphor? The nice views of Hokkaido, perhaps.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day Six - Tuesday, August 26

Wrik Mead - Canada - 10 min.
FFM link
Robot Chicken meets animated photomontages of gay porn, and the penis in particular. I couldn’t even get a sense whether the filmmaker was making a positive or negative statement about it…shrug.

9 to 5 - Days in Porn
Jens Hoffmann - Germany - 114 min.
English, occasional German with English subtitles. Occasional very fleeting sexually explicit sequences (does this sound like a MPAA rating?).
A work in progress, the “director’s cut” as Jens said before the screening, 9 to 5 eschews taking a stance one way or the other on porn, and instead lets the people in the industry speak for themselves. Mostly centered in L.A. with a small segment in Prague (where the Euro porn industry has set itself up because of cheap and plentiful locales as well as performers), this film concentrates solely on the heterosexual porn industry. Reminiscent of Web Dreams, the Showcase reality TV series about the Montreal internet porn industry (since Montreal is the Bangkok of North America by all accounts), and the Showtime (US) reality TV series Family Business, the film follows producers, directors, agents, and mostly female performers going through their daily grind. There’s some great commentary by an industry-specific medical specialist (a doctor who was a former porn star in the 70's), who now works to help performers stay healthy both physically and mentally. As the film points out, at 15 billion dollars a year in sales in the US alone, porn is mainstream culture, despite almost no one admitting to consuming it. We're due up to see another documentary on porn on Friday - Price of Pleasure, one that might have a very opinionated stance.

Day Five - Monday, August 25

Two films with animals figuring prominently. Aside from a dead fish (caught in a commercial net), no animals appear to have been harmed in the making of either film).

Note: The FFM links might be refreshed with new tags daily and therefore not work after day they were pulled - we're going to check with the FFM webmaster if this is a problem or just the way they set their site up...Jonathan remembers the same thing happening last year.

Les Williams

Alban Mench - France - 15 min.
French, eng. sub.
FFM website
Two old friends, a wedding, and a big favour about one small, nasty dog. One of the funniest, twisted little tales brilliantly executed with blinding speed. Mix a bit of My Dinner with Andre with childhood bullying and the resultant trauma, using psychobabble as a crutch, and revenge, served up many, many years later, but white hot. My favourite short so far…

Back Soon
Sólveig Anspach - Iceland-France - 92 min.
French, eng. sub.
FFM website
Official film website in French
One of those loopy, rollicking, hilarious films that have no problems breaking the fourth wall at times, Back Soon celebrates the larger than life. Anna is a free spirit, a middle-aged woman, mother of several children by men who are more sperm donors than fathers. She’s a poet, talks to crows, and isn't below throwing fish at her brother's truck, but mostly, for money, sells the best marijuana in Reykjavik to a huge cross-section of Icelandic society. Tired of the whole dreary, dark life of Iceland (the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? ;) and wanting to get away to somewhere warm, she’s decided to sell her cellular phone with its directory of clients to the highest bidder. Only that she gets waylaid for a weekend, involved in a road trip with an assortment of oddball characters, and one very hungry fowl. Who’ll get the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg, even if it’s a gander?

Urtiin Duu (Long Tune)
Hasichaolu - China - 117 min.
Mongolian, eng sub.
Jonathan said most of what I want to, so here’s his review:
Planet Earth has a great segment on Bactrian camels, , and if you’ve seen the male’s mating ritual, you’ll know why we snickered at the baby camel's tail slapping.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day Four - Sunday, August 24

Rolla Saor (Free Roll)
Cathal Watters - Ireland - 25 min.
Irish Gaelic, eng. sub.
FFM link
Somewhere in Ireland, possibly in the 1970’s. A middle-aged couple have photography to thank for rekindling the passion between them, while visiting the seaside with their son and his pregnant wife. Their growing excitement with taking “naughty” pictures in public seems to be their eventual downfall, or is it? The man must pick up the developed prints at the local chemist/apothecary (pharmacy or drugstore to us), where it seems both the pharmacist and his lady assistant look askance at his films. He presumes that they peek at his pictures, as eventually he’s called to come to the chemist’s – to be arrested for lewd photography, he’s sure. A very cutely rendered period piece almost entirely in Irish Gaelic (with the exception of some English loan words that have no equivalent, or for emphasis), with hardly anything that would shame an Irish priest.

El Kaserón (The Big House)
Pau Martínez - Spain - 93 min.
Spanish, eng. sub.
FFM link
One of the more saccharine Spanish soap opera-type movies I’ve seen of late. Mostly comedic, with suitably touching dramatic moments, and despite adversity, failure, and a triumph of sorts, ultimately there’s happiness for the hero and heroine. Unfortunately, the characters are too much stock in trade to give the film some sort of spark beyond a polished, pleasant, but forgettable story. Alfredo, a newly graduated lawyer from a hard-working family, goes to work for the local town council. He’s given a seemingly hopeless task as a first assignment – get some squatters to leave an old house, so a town social center can be built. The preppy straight-laced boy meets the alternative bunch and falls in love with the cute “house mother”, samples numerous recreational drugs for the first time, and manages to ultimately convince the anarchist group that they can run the center. Of course, Alfredo is a pawn who was never expected to succeed in the assignment, so the crooked town council could win their case and evict the squatters. And of course he does the right and unethical thing, helps the squatters, who eventually lose anyway, and he loses his job, and license. But will he keep the girl? Will the squatters find new digs? Will I remember or care tomorrow? I might be a bit too harsh, but this film is merely a Euro version of the insipid Hollywood formula.

Die Welle (The Wave)
Dennis Gansel - Germany - 93 min.
German, eng. sub.
IMDB link
After having seen The Experiment, a German film dramatizing the famous Stanford Experiment , I was leery about seeing yet another German film dramatizing an American educational experiment on fascism. It is interesting that Americans keep trying to work out the psychological rationale behind fascism and the Germans keep dramatizing the results…is it the only way Deutsche Zeitgeist can deal with the subject? In this film, the high school experiment is set in contemporary Germany, with all the latest cultural references and gadgets. In all, more chilling in how malleable young minds can be to something that gives them purpose, especially if it frees them from having to think about the consequences of their actions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day Three - Saturday, August 23

Our first full day at the festival. We even ran into Cinemoo and one of her friends twice as we were either coming or going (we're not seeing anything with her until Wednesday).

Der Verdacht (Suspect)
Felix Hassenfratz - Germany - 25 min.
German, eng. sub.
FFM website
Conny’s husband has been accused, but cleared, in a small-town murder. The villagers have prejudged him, and she feels ostracized at church choir, where singing is her only pleasure. Tensions arise in the bakery Conny runs with him, and his petulant and taciturn personality doesn’t help her rising suspicions. This film masters the art of emotional silence, with its brooding, suffocating tones of village life, where gossip is everywhere among sanctimonious neighbours, and no-one’s life is private.

Stellungswechsel (Special escort)
Maggie Peren - Germany - 97 min.
German, eng. sub.
Official website
FFM website
A German Full Monty of sorts. A group of down-on-their luck men scheme to open an escort service for lonely women. There’s Frank, a P.H.D. who’s never had a job, Olli, a chubby owner of a deli on the verge of ruin, and Gy, a womanizing cop. They recruit a young virgin and a laid-off older man to round out their “stable”. False starts, confused addresses and mistaken identities are just some of usual comedic plot devices employed. Amusing, cute, totally predictable, and with the requisite happy ending. But then, it promised no more, and delivered no less.

The Magic Hour

Koki Mitani - Japan - 136 min.
Japanese, eng sub.
Official website
FFM website
The title is a reference to the hour before sunset when the light is “best” for filming. A Japanese gangster comedy, with multiple levels of reality, film-studio lots, and self-referential lines, this farce had elements that reminded me of "Broadway Danny Rose", "Play It Again, Sam", any number of mob parodies, and is total send-up of that classic sub-genre of Japanese film, the Yakuza film. Set in a small coastal town run by a crime boss, in a bizarre science fiction-ish way, cell phones and laptops blend in seamlessly with fashion, movie-sets from the noire 1930’s and 40’s. A two-bit actor (played by Koichi Sato) gets to play hit-man in what he thinks is a film, but is really a deadly drama involving bullets, bimbos and bumpkins. Mitani directed the 2006 film Grand Hotel, which I reviewed during the 2006 FFM. The Magic Hour is more stripped down in plot and the size of the cast, more improbable, but got more laughs from me. There are no loose duck jokes in this one, although there’s a duck reference.

Day Two - Friday, August 22

Day Two for the festival, but day one for us. We just got our tickets despite having gotten the catalogue last Sunday - having an out-of-town friend visiting until Thursday kept us busy! No fears, all our choices were still available. Cinemoo couldn't do the usual Saturday morning first-in-line for tickets this year, either.

To Verdener (Worlds Apart)
Niels Arden Oplev - Denmark - 108 min.
Danish, eng. sub.
Trailer (in Danish with no subtitles)

Official website
FFM website
How does one reconcile normal human desire with restrictions artificially imposed by a religion? Sara is a 17 year old who’s falling in love for the first time – with a non-believer. Coming from a Jehovah’s Witness family, one troubled by divorce, she is a harsh critic of her mother, for having not forgiven her father for his transgressions, even though he has repented. She soon finds herself on the other side of the fence – threatened with expulsion and therefore cut-off from contact with the rest of her family. Her boyfriend’s challenges to her ability to think for herself and not blindly follow doctrine confuse her, and while she wants to be happy with him, she wants to remain in contact with her family. The church elders have other ideas, and Sarah must ultimately choose between a life that includes her family, who will only interact with her if she follows their doctrine, and one of living free, but alone. Based on a true story, a nuanced dramatization of what happens when blind faith, imposed by rote, runs headlong into a mind that sees past hypocrisy and fear.