Monday 29 August 2016

MIFF 2016 (4) - Shaun Heenan's Diary for Days 7&8 - Hansen-Love, Herzog, Almodovar ....and GIRL ASLEEP

Day Seven
Girl Asleep (Rosemary Myers, Australia, 2015)
Filmed in a style which simultaneously imitates both 80s Australian television and live theatre, this debut feature finds a new way to tell a story we’ve seen many times before. Bethany Whitmore is great as Greta, a teenage girl growing up in a world that’s starting to confuse her. Conflict at home and school are dealt with metaphorically in a fantasy forest, presented in a deliberately-stagey way. It’s a kind-hearted, enjoyable film which isn’t afraid to be a little silly. The film has been covered in more detail elsewhere on this blog ( Recommended.

Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve, France/Germany, 2016)
Isabelle Huppert in Things to Come
Isabelle Huppert’s wonderfully subtle performance as philosophy professor Nathalie is the driving force behind this drama. She stands as a solid object, weathering what must be the worst year of her life as people die, relationships end and her professional career begins to slip away from her. We see that this hurts her, but she keeps the reaction internal, making this a moving film, but not an overly dramatic one. There’s also much to ponder in her friendship with an ex-student who challenges her views on life. Highly recommended.

Albüm (Mehmet Can Mertoğlu, Turkey/France/Romania, 2016)
An exercise in misery just barely funny enough to keep an audience on its side. A Turkish couple is unable to conceive, and goes to great lengths to avoid letting people know they are planning to adopt. Before the adoption, they travel to various locations, taking holiday photos with a fake pregnancy belly, which is good for a few laughs. It’s a slow film, filled with long takes I didn’t always understand the purpose of, but there are some very funny/utterly horrific moments towards the end which are worth seeing. Very mildly recommended.

Muito Romântico (Melissa Dullius & Gustavo Jahn, Germany/Brazil, 2016)
An ‘experimental’ film, which too often seems like a label designed for films crafted entirely from random footage. This is a vaguely autobiographical film about a Brazilian couple who travel to Berlin by sea, shot on 16mm film over the course of a decade. There are individual moments which held my interest briefly, largely for visual reasons, but as a general rule I have a fairly low tolerance for this style of film. Strongly not recommended, but if you told me you loved it, I’d believe you.

Day Eight
A Dragon Arrives! (Mani Haghighi, Iran, 2016)
I was a little hesitant to include this film in my schedule since it comes from Mani Haghighi, whose previous film Modest Reception (2012) proved too cynical and depressing for me (this from a Lars von Trier fan, by the way). This is a much more enjoyable film, telling the story of an Iranian detective in the 1960s. He appears to have fashioned himself after the heroes in American films of the era: sunglasses, hat and Chevrolet, and the film’s thumping soundtrack helps sell the style. The film’s central mystery is potentially supernatural, and these elements work well. Meta elements featuring interviews with the film’s crew are much less successful. Mildly recommended.

Apprentice (Boo Junfeng, Singapore/Germany/France/Hong Kong/Qatar, 2016)
Showing here after playing in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and in competition at Sydney, Apprentice presents a deeply troubling scenario, but stacks the deck just a little too heavily with its plot. This is the story of young prison guard Aiman who finds himself taken under the wing of an executioner. We learn early on that this executioner hanged Aiman’s father, and when this becomes the focus, the plot actively detracts from a film which was strong enough without the added twist. The film takes its time, letting us feel the grimness of the situation as Aiman learns the science of breaking a man’s neck while hanging him. The film stands as a statement against the death penalty simply by making us look at the process, and to think about it, without actually needing to say anything political. Recommended.

Mimosas (Oliver Laxe, Spain/Morocco/France/Qatar, 2016)
Winner of the Grand Prize in the Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar, this was my favourite randomly-selected discovery at MIFF. In this truly unusual film, someone who appears to be a guardian angel (or culturally appropriate equivalent) travels by taxi into the mountains of Morocco, where he is tasked with helping two men deliver the body of a sheik for burial. It’s a slowly-paced, spiritually-focused film positioned mostly as an arduous trek through beautiful, inhospitable locations. The film also features an odd brand of humour, as this is the angel’s first mission, and he’s kind of terrible at his job. My audience didn’t seem very receptive to this one, which is their loss. Highly recommended.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Werner Herzog, USA, 2016)
Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog freely admits he doesn’t understand many things about the internet and its technology, but here he has made a broadly-focused documentary on that very subject. This takes the form of short segments, each exploring different aspects of web technology. One sees a famous hacker telling stories of his glory days outsmarting the FBI, one takes a look at teens affected by addiction to videogames and one particularly horrifying segment sees Herzog interview the family who had photos of their dead daughter’s body emailed to them over and over by heartless internet trolls. It’s all a bit scattershot, and Herzog for the first time risks becoming the distracting comic relief in his own film, but there are moments here we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Herzog (jokingly?) asks his participants if the internet could ever dream of itself. I’m not sure that question deserves one good answer, but the film offers us three. Mildly recommended.

Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2016)

An unusually simple story for Almodóvar to tell, this Palme d’Or nominee is presented largely in flashback, as the distraught titular character tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter through an explanatory letter. It’s a romantic and tragic tale, told with all of the director’s usual visual flair. It’s enjoyable and involving, and the film ends very well. This is Almodóvar at his least abrasive. It’s less ambitious than usual for him (and certainly less sexually transgressive) and the result is a modest success, even if it feels like a footnote in his career. Recommended.

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