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I had planned to do a fairly detailed post about the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival, but I have been distracted by the release of the truly stupefying Small Lot Housing Code. However, it would be wrong of me, given the dual focus of this page, not to at least note the amount of urban planning content on at MIFF this year.
I haven’t been covering MIFF in quite my usual still-not-very-comprehensive-at-all fashion this year. I am of course tempted to blame a Chinese denial of service attack, but this has actually been due to a deadline on my thesis, with my next chapter due, well, now. I had thought it would be out of the way before MIFF, but no, I’m still plugging away.
My planned schedule has been whittled back to the must-sees: so far that has consisted of Duncan Jones’ Moon and the revival of Richard Lowenstein’s cult classic Dogs in Space, which I saw tonight. I will write up both on here, but as the second sessions for both are sold out I haven’t felt massive urgency. Suffice to say Moon is exceptionally good, and Dogs in Space deserves its reputation, even if it’s hard to make any grand claim for its artistic merit.
(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’ve seen only four MIFF films thus far (once again, my viewing seems loaded towards the end, with three films on the last day). This year, I’ve actually written slightly fuller reviews of two, which complicates the format of my usual MIFF round-up.
Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008)
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (Marina Zenovich, 2008)
Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar Wei, 1994/2008)
Nobody likes to seem stupid, so there can sometimes be a reluctance by critics to admit they just didn’t get a film; and at an individual level, it can be hard to decide whether comprehension problems lie with the viewer or the film. So as I wandered, confused, out of Wong Kar Wei’s Ashes of Time Redux (I have not seen the 1994 cut) I wasn’t sure whether I hadn’t gotten into it because it was confusing, or if it was confusing because I hadn’t really gotten into it. (It’s a bad sign when you find yourself making a mental note of a photogenic camel). It was a bit of a relief to find even complimentary reviews (like this one) making reference to the confusing plot. The film always looks good, as you’d expect from one of the great director / cinematographer teams (Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle) but the disjointed narrative was inherently distancing. Apparently, it was a troubled production, and that’s ultimately what it feels like: confusing not out of pretension, but because it was an expensive epic that was never quite put together properly. I was going to suggest that in that sense it was like a Hong Kong Heaven’s Gate, but it’s not that bad: it says something that despite my disorientation, I remained interested throughout.
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.
Apologies for the delays in getting further posts on the Melbourne International Film Festival up. There was always going to be limited opportunity to post during the festival, since so many of the films I was seeing were in the last few days, but things were made worse by difficulties at my day job which caused a few planned films on my schedule to bite the dust. Hopefully my previous plugs for Paul Martin’s Melbourne Film Blog led anybody who was hankering for day-by-day coverage there; the boys over at Hoopla also managed to cover a reasonable number of films. One of the films I missed (El Topo) remains very much on my list to cover on the site.
What I did see was generally pretty good, and I had a better time of it than last year. So here are some quick thoughts on what I did end up seeing.
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.
My second week at the Melbourne International Film Festival saw far fewer films. I was never planning too see as many in the second week, but a couple I had planned to see fell by the wayside. Haivng not been that impressed by The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, I couldn’t get that interested in Zizek, a film about Lacanian theorist Slavoj Zizek (and besides, that was the night Essendon beat the Lions). However, I did regret that circumstances meant I missed The Host, a Korean creature feature that I had been looking forward to greatly. So in the end, week two amounted to a measly two films.