So SANFIC happened. If I'm not mistaken, this is the year I've seen the most films at this festival. I'm nowhere near the pros marathoning 3, 4 premieres a day, but I'm glad to say I got to see at least one film daily while it lasted. As ever, they bring a pretty interesting catalogue of films, and this time around I had time and means to attend as many of them as possible.
But the comic update end up coming after SANFIC, so I still had some movies here and there to comment. If you've been reading my entries here, you know what this means: I'm not going to drag you with 999 film reviews in a single sit. I mean, I'll try, somehow, but I'll abridge them as much as possible.
So, this time around I want to try something I've been thinking of for a while. What if I just translated my Bijou Reviews here? Let's see how they end up.Crystal Moselle's The Wolfpack
. It was the first film I saw at the festival this year, and it ended up winning the top prize. It's a documentary about a very shut-in, numerous family, and how they've coped all these years with confinement, the outside world, and their own indoor affairs. They're mostly young boys, and a key aspect of their relationship is their passion for films, which not only they use as a window to worlds and societies unknown to them; but they also use them as inspiration for escapism. They'll recreate with as much detail their favorite films, shooting them with their own cameras to have a version of their own.
It's a pretty charismatic and likeable film despite its inherent darkness and solitude; although no matter what it ends up stretching and padding itself a bit in its second half. Film lovers will enjoy their amazingly dedicated pasttimes, but in them we'll find powerful textures and notions of how we use an escapism tool to imagine and idealize a distant real world.
I liked it.Matías Bize's The Memory of Water
. The follow-up to his intimate, melancholic and wallflowery made The Life of Fish, which I really liked. This film tells the story of a young married couple mourning the sudden death of their young child, having drown in their backyard pool. Reminding me a bit of films like Rabbit Hole, husband and wife deal with the tragedy in their own ways, or rather, their own intensities. The husband's keeping things cool and under the table, hurt but not defeated, while the wife can't take things as they are for much longer, blaming the kid's death on her and everyone she knows, and feeling out of sync with her husband because he's not mourning as much as her. They'll go their separate ways, but they'll find ways to find each other, if only to face the truth once again.
Well... you know, the premise's one thing, and the lead actors here (Benjamín Vicuña and Elena Anaya), alongside the score by Diego Fontecilla, certainly help the cause. Nevertheless, this is abusively sad. Absolutely everything's about tragedy and solitude here, without giving a minimal truce for recovery. It just numbs you with depression. There's not a lot of narrative satisfaction going on here.
Didn't like it.Andrew Bujalski's Results
. Having seen Computer Chess a few years ago I was curious to see what else did he have under his sleeve, but truth be told, I had NO idea what this movie was about or who starred in it. I went in completely blind. I found out SANFIC's been kind of a second home to Bujalski, having showcased most (if not all) of his releases there, a fact the festival producers are really proud of as he's been heralded as the pioneer of the mumblecore movement.
I remember Computer Chess having lots of ideas but ultimately failing to get them across proper. This time around, things should be easier to chew on, as we don't have teams of programmers and players figuring out chess tactics and behaviors to see if an AI could act differently when playing against a human instead of another AI. This time around it's the story of Danny, played by Kevin Corrigan, who's got divorced just in time for him to become obsenely wealthy from an inheritance. He's been all by himself, not doing much but indulge in low tier snacks in his new big mansion.
But he wants to get in shape.
He finds this gym fitted with personal trainers, and hires Kat (Cobie Smulders), an in/famously known one for being quite bossy. They end up developing a friendship, but he kinda screws it up by breaching the friend zone in the bluntest way possible. Her boss Trevor (Guy Pearce!! *swoons*) intially tells the guy to fuck off, but they see something benefitial in their partnership, as he can help him be fitter as much as Danny can inject some serious money into his gym so it can grow.
And... this is just the first 25 minutes. These are a pretty good 25 minutes, but everything from there on it's so hard to follow. Again, something failed to be clear here. Second Bujalski film I see and I'm sensing a pattern here.
This could've been way better if it only had a defined north. Pearce, Smulders and Corrigan have their occational good jokes and their personalities very open to friction; but this script only works during its first 25 minutes. Everything afterwards is just an unparseable, messy deconstruction/reconstruction. But it's not boring, at least? ... Dunno.
Didn't hate it, but can't say I liked it either.Claudio Marcone's In the Grayscale
. I first heard of this film when Guy Lodge from Variety gave it a very positive review after seeing it at the Miami Festival. He's one of my favorite film critics and he's reviewing a Chilean film -- thank you SANFIC gods for not letting me down.
It tells the story of Bruno (Francisco Celhay), a young man who's taking a time off from his marriage to figure some things out. He's been living by himself in his grandfather's workshop. He's also an architect who's been commissioned to design a new monument for Santiago, but in order to do so, he's been suggested to work with Fer (Emilio Edwards), a globetrotting kinda guy who knows Santiago very intimately. They'll rather rapidly kick their friendship off, fueled by bike tours across the city and Fer's largely carefree attitude, a trait the stocky and quieter Bruno certainly feels it's refreshing.
You can tell where this is going, right? It won't take long for them to get romantically entangled -- as it was that what Bruno was trying to figure out. However, even after sex things aren't as clear as Fer would like it to be. He's a gay guy, and it's just that. Things are black or white with him, whereas Bruno's... in the grayscale. Unlabeled, undecided. Somewhere in between.
This movie doesn't just portray a little mentioned sexual identity that's also hard to put into words with grateful tenderness and firm understanding; but also for that end it makes Santiago a vibrant character in of itself. Maybe it'll insist a bit too much on urban symbolisms, but whoever makes the Mapocho River, our ever disgusting flow of poopwater, look this melancholic and romantic, is certainly doing an impeccable work.
I really liked this film. Check if out as soon as it's available to you!Hsiao-hsien Hou's The Assassin
. Winner of best director at this year's Cannes festival, this was an eagerly anticipated film alongside the Palm d'Or winner Dheepan which I'll touch upon right after this. Sadly, though, for as much as I could tell you its premise... I can't honestly say I remember much about it. Look, I'll forego everything and go directly to the review itself: it's without a doubt the most pretentious film I've ever seen in my whole life.
It's a straightforward, simple plot that bothers itself in all imaginable ways to tell itself in the slowest, most complicated fashion you can think of; because deary me, isn't this a super lovely cinematography the one we have here? Why waste it with an adequate pace, just let everything linger for two millennia and we're set. This movie doesn't give a fuck about you, it only exists to please its director and no one else.
That's about it. It's a martial arts film about a super ninja who's the shit, and she was commissioned to kill this big name guy or something. She doesn't, things ensue. Something like that. I don't know, this was a pretty easy thing to say, but holy shit it's difficult to interpret when the focus here it's 99% on the photography, and 1% on everything else.
Hated it. 16 people left before it finished.Jacques Audiard's Dheepan
. The Palm d'Or winner, although not the one many were expecting to win -- most had their eyes on László Nemes' Son of Saul. In any case, good for the guy. Been following for some years now, and he's certainly one of the greats.
So, Dheepan tells the story of a made-up family from Sri Lanka who fleed their country as it was in the thick of the Tamil Tigers civil war. They're posing as a family that's actually dead, but they're using their identities as a means to leave their country. The "dad" (who adopted the name "Dheepan") used to be a guerrilla man fighting for the Tamil Tigers, the "mom"'s not really interested in pursuing a forged family life in France, of all places, when she's got real family in England, and the "daughter"... she lost her entire family, and for the most part, she's just in for the ride, but she's doing her best to pretty much live a lie.
Although they struggle, they end up finding a common ground so they can grow as a real family. However, the locals aren't as good natured as they are. They coexist with a drug ring that's prone to get into shootouts with rival gangs. As tensions rise between Dheepan's family and their neighbors, things will escalate until they're dragged into this. They'll be reminded of the violence they once escaped from, yet even in France it seems ready to surface again.
Audiard gives adapting in a foreign world another spin, now with one of his most soul-shattering premises; although it doesn't capitalize as much on his classic naturalism as much as he could. It very well avoids falling into bummer territory, but this loses impact as it goes on. I mean, the final act's something straight out of a Taken film, for crying out loud.
In any case, it's OK. Not my favorite from Audiard, but alright enough.
And that was SANFIC, folks. The Wolfpack won best international feature, but for me, the best film around was In the Grayscale. Can't wait to see it again. Let's move onwards the films I saw once SANFIC was done.F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton
. This one's been making waves at the US box office and with the critics, as it's been greatly received by both. I'm not entirely sure how it's been positioned in regards to the Oscar race, but I wouldn't downplay its chances. It's got potential.
It's a biopic about NWA, the notorious hip hop group from which Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E came from (it's true there's also DJ Yella and MC Ren, but the film focuses on these three). Their lyrics reflect the savage, unforgiving nature of Compton and the society at large, making them tremendously popular and influential but also an instant enemy to the police. They released that one little song, you know. "Fuck da police". We'll follow them as the band collapses and splinters into a bunch of solo careers, all the while they shape the landscape of the 90s hip hop scene with their own record labels.
As a film, it's akin to Rapper's Delight: far too long, albeit ambitious and socially relevant given its themes of police brutality and public protest. However, I feel a miniseries format would've suited the film better, as it's not short on content, but it comes short on more intimate, interpersonal affairs. Dr. Dre in particular gets a bit of a short straw, here. Nevertheless, with all the inherent fierceness of its story and its soundtrack, it's never dull nor tiring.
I liked it.Xavier Dolan's Tom at the Farm
. Now here we have a bit of a first: Dolan's the first filmmaker I get to do a sort of "looking back" review. You see, in 2014 I reviewed his film Mommy. It was from that year, and everything. Tom at the Farm, however, is from 2013, yet it couldn't find distribution in the US until this year. That's why I'm considering it a 2015 release despite it made some best of 2013 lists. Anyways.
Dolan stars as Tom, a mourning gay man who travels to the countryside for his lover's funeral. His reception there's a very odd one: no one's there to greet him at first, the deceased's brother's a very intimidating, D.G.A.F. guy who bullies Tom into basically playing a part for his mother's sake, and most important of all... it seems to be they're not aware of the departed's sexual orientation. Not even now. Seems to be the brother's been busy keeping a façade, and he'll go unimaginable miles to keep it intact.
Here's the thing. We're here, doing our thing, feeling fine with ourselves. That's nice and all, but when Dolan was 23 years old, he was directing this with all the might of a reincarnated Hitchcock. All this visual prowess, this silent pressure, this asphyxiation... where did it all come from? So unexplainably talented, this kid. The movie also has some twists and turns a bit difficult to parse, but holy shit its attention retention powers. You'll always feel like at the tip of running away, but there's something going on here that makes you keep looking.
It's great. Really liked it.Marcia Tambutti's Beyond my grandfather Allende
. A documentary made by one of the granddaughters of the deposed, democratically elected president Salvador Allende, about the guy himself. She never knew him, least of all she has any memories of him -- but she's not alone in her family in this regard. Several brothers and cousins pitch in with never seen before family photographs and personal accounts of their lives as a relative of a man pivotal to our current society; and some older relative of her will also chime in to shed some light in his private life.
I didn't like this one. Sorry. It's nothing political (the movie itself isn't), but this is like the Chilean remake of Ethel (a documentary about Ethel Kennedy). It really doesn't have much of a purpose to those outside the Allendes, or the ones that have some sort of obsession with the man himself. It'll give a more humane look on a trascendental figure of Chilean politics and society, but with so much speculation, assumption and reticence, they only end up making him a mythological being. This just never goes forward or deeper, it keeps piling on previously known ideals.Richard Starzak & Mark Burton's Shaun the Sheep Movie
. The Aardman guys are back with a story based on the television series of the same name -- ultimately, a series I haven't seen yet. It's a mute stop-motion film about a flock of sheep, a shepherd dog, their farmer, and an animal control worker.
It all begins when the sheep, bored to death of how dull their lives have become with their farmer lately, decide to pull some kind of prank to have him out of the picture for a little while, so they can go wild for once. The dog intervenes and gets them to cooperate in getting things back to normal, but accidentally while doing so, they effectively get rid of the farmer by sending him away to the big city. He suffers a concussion as a result, leaving him amnesiac.
The flock of sheep and the dog go their own ways to retrieve the guy to the farm, but on their way there they'll find there's a sadistic animal worker who's bent on catching the two pests, no matter the means. Once the farmer is found by the anmals, however, things will have already zigged before they could've zagged back home.
There's nothing to say about Aardman's masterful claysmith at this point, right? They're still the masters in this regard; but this story, for as ambitious as it is (featuring no less than four distinct storylines at a time!), very well borders on forgettable. It's charming and relatively scatologically inclined, but it's all so well-known in every sense it's a bit dull at times.
In any case, it's ok.
That's it for now! Best of luck