03 March 2014

Dispatches from the !f Festival

I have to say, it was a bit disappointing this year. I didn't even go to that many movies, because not much really called to me, and then a few things I wanted to see were sold out. Definitely the best thing I saw was I am Divine, which I just wrote up in the previous post. Other than that, in brief, it was:

Night Moves
 I loved Old Joy, and though I thought Wendy and Lucy was only so-so, I was definitely willing to see whatever Kelly Reichardt was doing now. Alas. It was pretty poopy. Her typical understated, quiet, lots of long takes of scenery type thing, but with a somewhat absurdly melodramatic plot that seems all the more ridiculous and cliché when told in such a painstakingly slow way. If you want to see an interesting film about environmentalist terrorists, see The East, which I thought was forgettable when I watched it, but now remember as being quite interesting.

The Grandmaster
We saw the 130 minute festival version, and while it was very long, the extra 10 minutes of the original Chinese version might have come in useful, because there were some major holes in the narrative. My father suggests that it's because the story is so well known to Chinese audiences that they don't need the full plot, but, well, I do. I found this movie gorgeous, but very difficult to follow. As always with Wong Kar-Wai's films, I loved the aesthetic. Particularly of one of the female characters, who strongly calls to mind 1920s gangsters. And Tony Leung is still one of the most beautiful men alive. I had a vague sense that the movie delicately gestured towards the gradual decline of martial arts culture and its shift into cinema, but I'm not sure what gave me that idea. Overall, I liked the movie, but it's definitely flawed.

The Mole Song
I loved 13 Assassins and was terrified but impressed by Audition, so again, I was all aboard for this film, which was described as a comedic jaunt about an undercover cop. It's based on manga, and the early stretches prominently display this heritage, with cut-outs and freeze frames and such. But the constant yelling and over-the-top characters begin to grate after awhile, and the movie goes on WAY too long. It is genuinely moving at moments, and occasionally hilarious, but overall, not all that entertaining.

From the director who brought us Koyaanisqatsi, another series of images set to a Phillip Glass soundtrack. So, for starters, I'm just not wild about Phillip Glass. Watching this film, I felt like I finally understood why he is so often described as middle-brow.  As for the images: the first 45 minutes of the movie alternate between long takes of various people's faces and footage of buildings. As my friend Daniel described it, it presents a sort of challenge -- can you look at this and understand what is interesting about it? And indeed, the faces are kind of fascinating. Daniel pointed out that the long takes, luminous lighting (the entire film is in black and white), and stillness made one sort of teeter between the photographic and the cinematic gaze in somewhat interesting ways. The rest of the film (basically the second half) is mostly footage of swamps and trees, and some groups of people. Actually, the very final segment, droplets of ink in water, was my favorite -- I could have watched that for hours. Overall, the symbolic universe seemed a bit precious and simplistic -- human, gorilla, moon. You found yourself thinking that the film was perhaps willfully "artsy" and aiming for a profundity it could not achieve. I wouldn't really recommend it.

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