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(Can I pass off my appalling MIFF puns as a tribute to the bad puns of old cartoon titles? No? Oh.)
Well, I’ve finished MIFF with three films back-to-back this afternoon; all good (or at least enjoyable), thankfully. I also saw two on Friday. So I might as well wrap them up briefly while the thoughts are fresh.
Persepolis (Marjana Satrapi, 2007)
I’ll do a fuller review of this in the next week or so (hopefully), so more on this later. But suffice to say it’s brilliant, and you absolutely should see it when it comes out.
Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007)
I didn’t dislike this to the same extent Mark Lavercombe at Hoopla did, but it was disappointing. Sharing more than a little in common with Herzog’s earlier science-fiction / documentary / head-scratcher The Wild Blue Yonder (which I covered at a previous MIFF, see here), it sees Herzog travel to Antarctica to talk to various research scientists. Herzog is, of course, an eccentric of long standing, and sometimes (most recently in Grizzly Man) his off-kilter perspective can be strangely brilliant. Here, though, he generally comes across as foolish. He has some interesting interview subjects, and certainly gets some great footage in the scenes of diving under ice (it’s here the film resembles Wild Blue Yonder – it may even reuse some of the same footage). But he consistently seems the least intelligent person in the room: his narration ruminates on humanity’s relationship with the environment, but his interview subjects are vastly more informed than he is on the topic. Funny, often beautiful, and Herzog is never a waste of time; but there’s a sense that Herzog is resting on his laurels as one of the great documentarians, rather than really chasing down a great story as he did back in Grizzly Man.
I’m aware that my previous coverage of MIFF hasn’t been very helpful, since I frequently don’t end up writing about films until after they’ve had all their screenings – last year the whole festival was over before I wrote up a lot of the films I saw. Once again, I’d recommend Paul Martin’s blog for information that’s actually useful, like his list of films that are likely to get a commercial release anyway, and his monitoring of what is about to get sold out.
Werner Herzog is notable as one of the few directors to earn a reputation as a genuinely A-grade filmmaker in both fiction and non-fiction formats. His latest feature, Rescue Dawn, sees him underline his strength in both fields by revisiting the subject of his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly as a conventional feature. The result is Rescue Dawn, which tells the true story of Dieter Dengler (played here by Christian Bale), a pilot shot down over Laos at the start of the Vietnam war. Dengler was captured and held in a POW camp, only to escape and flee into the jungle.
The film is one of Herzog’s most conventional films, but it is a solid effort nevertheless. Christian Bale revisits the territory of his debut film, Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and anchors the film with a typically robust performance. He is supported by convincing portrayals of his fellow prisoners by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies: imprisoned earlier than Dieter, they have long since given up hope of escape. Herzog is much more interested in the interaction between the men than he is in the usual mechanics of how to escape, and the focus on the way the prisoners’ imprisonment is psychological as much as physical is one of the film’s main points of difference with more traditional POW movies.
A good start to MIFF this year, with two enjoyable sessions on the weekend. Before I get to my reports, though, it is worth noting that Paul Martin is keeping what looks to be a very helpful running list of films that are nearly sold out.
The Melbourne International Film Festival starts next week. I’m hoping I’ll have a better experience than last year, where the films I caught were a fairly mixed bag, and the film I enjoyed the most was a fairly unexceptional kung fu flick. (See here and here for my comments at the time). Things are already looking up this year: the experience of working out what I could see has been made much easier by the festival organisers finally listing session times in the main part of the program, with the description of the films.