The days have crept up on me as the films continue to unfold before my eyes. Only 4 more days to go now. I was talking to a lady at the dog park today and I likened attending the Film Festival to being in a 4th dimension – you disappear into the world of film, and film goers, for a short but intense period of time. When it is all over you re-enter the world, blinking in the light. I love how the Festival is its own little biosphere, with its own rules of behaviour. Strangers happily talk to one another in queues, or sitting together in a cinema. There is no compunction about eavesdropping into conversations – asking what people have seen, or adding in your (unsolicited but always appreciated) opinion on a certain film. Behaviours that one would never blatantly display in the ‘real’ world, and more’s the pity. The engagement and exchanging of experiences with strangers is one of the many things I love about the Film Festival.
So, let me continue that exchanging of film experiences by catching you up with what I have seen since my last post. Monday started with a lovely documentary, called “Seymour: An Introduction”, about a charming elderly concert pianist and now teacher of classical piano. The film was directed by Ethan Hawke, who met Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party and found him to be a gentle, wise and humble man, who could offer Ethan insights into issues such as what constitutes success, creativity and personal fulfilment. We get to hear the beautiful music that Seymour made, and still makes; we learn about his life and we see him at work as a revered teacher of his craft. Charming.
Then it was on to Japan and “Our Little Sister”, made by the man who also did “No One Knows” and last years “Like Father, Like Son”. I am getting less satisfied with each film he makes. This one can be summed up in one word: sweet. Three attractive sisters who love each other, aside from the normal sibling bickering, go to the funeral of their Father. Dad had left the 3 girls and their Mother when the girls were young, and had had 2 other wives since then. Their Mother also subsequently left them, so the eldest daughter has been a mother to the two others for many years. At the funeral the girls meet their half sister from wife number 2, and invite her to come and live with them – which she does. Every one in this film is really really nice – are the Japanese really such nice, kind people? Is anyone really that nice and kind? Pleasant enough is my verdict. On the plus side it had great food in it – so we had to go and have a Japanese meal afterwards to satisfy the hunger pangs! (Went to a little place called Shimbashi, 17 Liverpool Street – very authentic and good value. Would recommend the restaurant , if not the film!)
Tuesday was a 3 film day, starting with one from the Next Gen section, called “Mateo”, a Colombian film. Mateo works for his uncle, Walter, who is the village thug and loan shark. The villagers live in fear of Walter and his brutal rule of law, but many owe him money. Mateo’s mother, Walter’s sister, doesn’t want Mateo to work for Walter yet reluctantly takes the money Mateo gives her from his earnings to help supplement the money she earns as a laundress. Mateo takes his soccer and his work more seriously than his education, and has been told he has to join the local theatre group, run by a new priest in town, if he is to avoid being expelled. Mateo thinks the group is for faggots only, but Walter wants him to go so that he can spy on the group’s activities. And of course there is a girl in the group who takes Mateo’s fancy. It doesn’t take Einstein to know where this story is going – of course, after initial resistance, Mateo enjoys the theatre group and comes to change his view of Walter and that world. However, it was an enjoyable little film nonetheless.
An interesting Iranian film was next, called “Tales”. This was made by a female Iranian director called Rakshan Banietemad, who has not made a film in the past 8 years in protest against the hardline Iranian regime. In “Tales” she seamlessly glides from one story to another, weaving tales of ordinary Iranians’ (both men and women) struggles to survive. Although it ended up being a bit too wordy, I felt it was a very clever and subtle film that is well worth seeing.
My last film for the day was a food documentary, called “Cooking Up a Tribute”, about the Roca brothers and the search for inspiration for new menus to serve in their famed restaurant (number one in the world) El Celler de Can Roca. Whilst the food was amazing – and you begin to understand why these places charge a small fortune to eat there – the documentary was messily made. It lurched between time frames and situations, and left one feeling unfulfilled. So, to satisfy ourselves we went and had a meal at MoVida Next Door, just to continue the Spanish experience (and practice for Barcelona).
Yesterday started with an unusual film , called “Sworn Virgin”. Unusual in its subject matter, which opened my eyes to the unfamiliar culture of remote Albanian. The rules governing women and their behaviour is strict, within a patriarchal society. Females are not allowed to carry rifles, or do so called men’s work. Arranged marriages are the order of the day. Hana is a strong willed orphan, who was taken in by Lila and her family. Lila and Hana become inseparable, and Hana is regarded as the other daughter of the family, becoming particularly close to the father, who teaches her to shoot. Upon reaching their teenage years, Lila escapes an arranged marriage by running off with a village man (who becomes her husband and they take up residence in Italy). Hana chooses an ancient way of escape – by becoming a ‘man’ and pledging celibacy (hence the title of the film), a practice that is accepted and recognised by others in the village. However, after the death of both her adoptive father and then mother Mark leaves the village and travels to Italy to be with Lila once more. Here, her asexual way of life starts to falter. An interesting film, but didn’t quite work for me – Mark always looked like a woman; what was the pool attendant’s attraction to her – as a man or a woman? what was driving her to question her identity now? But, perhaps these questions were in fact part of the film’s success?
The final film was “Early Winter”. Ostensibly an Australian film (it is funded through the MIFF Premiere Fund), the director is Ballarat born but has lived in Mexico for the past 21 years and the film was made in Quebec, with Canadian actors and often in French! David is a kind man who is the night shift odd job man at a nursing home. He cleans, he fixes , he chats to the nursing staff, and he also spends time with the patients, holding their hand and listening to them – and in some cases is the only one to be with them at the end. At home are his two young boys whom he adores, and his wife, who seems more in love with her iPhone than anyone else. The strains in their relationship are showing, and the cracks grow bigger as the film progresses. David has an ex wife, and is a recovering alcoholic, and a sadness at his core – the cause of which we finally learn. And whilst able to talk with the people at the home, he is not a great communicator at home. She is lonely & dissatisfied, and maybe sick of the baggage he carries. Not a good recipe. I liked this film – I found it realistic, and the performances, especially of David, drew me in. Apparently the Director was in a rush to finish the film for MIFF. He has subsequently done another edit, so the film that finally comes out will be slightly different – and even better one hopes.