The Film Fluff report – days 14,15, 16 & 17 @MIFF2015

Ah, the days have gotten away from me, as I stagger home by 8.30 -9.00pm each night, head full of images & thoughts and desperate for food and a glass of wine. MIFF fever is setting in – you long for the end, but don’t want it to be over.

Day 14 was an easy day, two films, starting with “Koza”, a film from Slovakia. Not sure what possessed me to pick a boxing film, not my favourite sport by any measure, but pick it I did. Also not sure what was fact and what was fiction in this one as the main actor was played by a member of the 1996 Slovakian Olympic boxing team (whose boxing skills have obviously deteriorated dramatically!) and is all about an impoverished ex Olympic boxer who returns to boxing in order to earn money to fund his girlfriend’s abortion (despite the fact he wants her to keep the baby). Depressing and one dimensional, the downbeat tone never varies.

This was followed by “Dope”, a film from the USA and one where I felt all of my senior years, as the audience members chortled loudly at cultural references I had never heard of before. Super smart black boy from the hood in LA – where going to college is a foreign concept – who not only aspires to college but is aiming for Harvard. His plans go astray when he inadvertently comes into the possession of a huge stash of MDMA (which is a drug you fellow seniors) that he ends up having to sell. Light, bright & breezy but takes a blatant didactic bent at the end.

Day 15 I had 5 films booked but fell at the post and didn’t make the fifth – 9 pm films are just too hard, especially when you have already seen four films. But, it was a very rewarding film day. I started with “The High Sun”, another film revolving around the Balkan war and the ongoing effect it has had on the people who live in these countries. This was a very clever idea for a film. It is essentially 3 stories, set in 3 different decades but in the same location – 1991 (as the war is starting), 2001 (in the recent aftermath) and 2011 – and covering 3 different couples, who are played by the same actors. It shows, through the microcosm of a relationship between two people, the hatred that erupted, and lingered, between neighbours purely based on their ethnicity. Highly recommended.

From disintegrating Yugoslavia I went to the Bedouin desert during WW1 ( filmed in Jordan). “Theeb” looked stunning, and was a simple tale of brotherly love and honour within the context of how some sacrifice their morals to survive in a changing world. Theeb is the youngest son of a recently deceased Sheik and is adored by his older brother, Hussein. The eldest brother is now the Sheik, and when a British officer comes, with his local guide, looking for help to find a well further into the desert, the eldest brother , in the name of good hospitality to strangers, offers Hussein as their guide. As they set off Theeb follows and ends up travelling with the small party, as the officer is not willing to let Hussein take the time to return Theeb to his village. Nothing good comes of this adventure, but Theeb emerges with his honour intact.  My favourite bit? Referring to the train as the iron camel.

Next was a highly topical, and totally depressing, film called “Mediterranea” about economic refugees coming to Europe (in this case, Italy) to try and find a better life for themselves and their families back home. Ayiva and Abas have left Burkina Faso to earn money to send home, and hopefully bring their families to join them. However, they find the reality of their life is far from the economic Utopian they had dreamed of.  Rather, they live in a freezing plastic covered shelter, grab low paid jobs when and where they can, and are hated by the locals. Ayiva is clever and hard working, a born leader, but the cards are stacked against him. This feature debut showed lots of promise and I look forward to seeing the director’s next film.

I ended the night again feeling like a senior citizen. The buzz in the audience was loud, and I significantly raised the average age of the packed house there to see “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, the Grand Jury prize winner from Sundance this year. Whilst not being the primary demographic for this film, it was enjoyable none the less, although its light tone turned more melancholic by the end (which the film’s title more than hints at). This film will entertain film buffs with its many references to films old and new, and those who enjoy animation via its animated vignettes, and all those who struggled to navigate the shark infested waters of high school.

Day 16 was booked to be a 4 film day, but I was warned off a film by one of my film sages (‘Old John’, so called to distinguish him from my other MIFF guru, ‘Canberra John’), who had roundly criticised the film. Therein lies another beautiful feature of the festival – wildly contrasting opinions of the films abound, as I later talked to two people who had loved the film ‘Old John’ decried. The moral of the story is, go and see it and decide for yourself unless you are starving hungry and need an excuse for a break so that you can eat and drink!

“The Treasure” started my day, an enjoyable tale from Romania. Costi is a hard working and loving family man, father to one young son. One evening his neighbour knocks on his door asking to borrow 800 euros to help him ward off his apartment being repossessed. Costi does not have this sort of money to lend. The neighbour returns to tell him that he actually wanted the money to hire a metal detector in order to find the buried treasure he is sure lies in the garden of his family home in the country. The lure of possible riches is too much for Costi to resist, and he is in. So begins a slightly comical treasure hunt, with surprising results.

“City of Gold” was my next film – a documentary about Jonathan Gold, the LA Times food critic. I have to admit to never having heard of Jonathan Gold, but I am now a fervent fan. This man can write – he is the only food critic to ever win a Pulitzer prize. And boy can he seek out great places to eat. He loves LA and its cultural diversity, and is determined to extol all the places to eat the town affords, from food trucks to haute cuisine. A thoroughly enjoyable film, highly recommended and an interesting insight into a much maligned city.

My last film for the day was my second exposure to Tim Roth for this Festival, this time in a  film called “Chronic” (he was last seen in “600 Miles”). This time he plays a nurse who tends to the terminally ill, nursing them in their home with care and compassion whilst at the same time masking his own personal pain. However, he has a rather creepy habit of merging himself into his patient’s lives but this proves to be a bit of a red herring. Despite this, I wish I had had him at my disposal to care for my Mum in her last weeks as his tenderness with patients reduced me to tears. This aside, the film didn’t quite come together, yet it won Best Screenplay at Cannes – somewhat ironic given much of it was wordless, letting deeds speak louder than words. But, the end does take ones breath away.

I eased into the last day of MIFF2015  with two afternoon films. I almost didn’t go to the first one but am so glad I did as it proved to be my favourite film of the Festival. It was a documentary called “Palio”, directed by the man who produced the brilliant doco about Ayrton Senna (called “Senna”). The palio is a horse race that consumes the Italian town of Siena twice every year, firstly in July and then again in August. The documentary had everything – humour, colourful characters, intrigue, drama, tension. Siena is made up of districts, all of which have long standing rivalries. Each district has a horse in the palio, and the district’s honour rests on wining the race. Money changes hands, deals are done, strategies are devised. The rider’s skill is only one part of the equation. If you are a real horse lover this may not be the film for you as the race is brutal to jockeys and horses alike, be warned.

And my last film for MIFF2015 was “The Pearl Button”, a more sobering but poetic documentary from Chile. The director, Patricio Guzman, weaves a story about the brutal treatment of the Chilean people, starting with the indigenous tribes and ending with those who were not on the side of the US backed dictator Pinochet, ingrained within the natural beauty of the country.

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