Daily Film Thoughts: Prepping for TIFF (part one)

So in an attempt to make this years TIFF experience as intimate and thoughtful as possible, I’ve started to watch films by filmmakers who are presenting their latest films at TIFF. Of course, I’m not watching a film by each filmmaker, but only the ones that are playing interesting sounding films. Plus it’s helping me understand their style better and allowing me to pick my schedule with that much more intelligence. So lets start.

First off is Bad Lieutenant by Abel Ferrera – a film I watched in order to get a better knowledge of the Cage/Herzog reinvention Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans.

The film opens on a back and forth exchange between a disappointed and negative Mets fan slates his hometown team on a radio talkshow saying that they’re so far down that there’s no way they’ll come back – a sort of preamble into what is about to come with The Lieutenant (Harvey Keital) and his confrontation with his own demons.

When The Lieutenant meets up with some of his squad – two other men who have a gambling vice akin to the central character. Even though he’s sixteen thousand dollars up from the latest Dodgers win, he’s still trying to bait himself more money – telling the two cops that they should place their bets on the Mets for frivolous reasons. Of course this works and the lieutenant goes to his bookie and lets him know that he’s placing these easy money bets along with letting his sixteen grand ride on the Dodgers.

The Dodgers lose and his friends are grateful for the bet sway. He’s quietly steaming about the bad luck he had, but tells his friends to let it ride and that they’ll double their money; they listen again… the lieutenant bets another sixteen thousand on the Dodges… the Mets win again and now The Lieutenant is in a hole. This continues and becomes the focal point of the character study about a man who has nothing to lose, but clings on to the ruins of his life regardless. Through drug and gambling addictions, the film loosely explains the sin of man. Nothing is spoken of about his past, which really makes for an annoying watch.

Soon after, a nun gets raped in one of the most oddly photographed scenes you’ll see – similar to most scenes from 1994’s Natural Born Killers (a film that truly exploited a good plot; not unlike this feature). So after a not-so intense rape scene, The Lieutenant is on the case. He seems affected by the crime committed, but the nun seems fine with the event; she gives the two young men. Between attempting to redeem his sins and getting the nun to place a detailed report, The Lieutenant is religiously stuck. There’s a point-blank scene of The Lieutenant with his arms out as if he were Jesus on the cross walking toward and from the camera moaning. This is one of the most ridiculous scenes that I’ve seen in film history – taking the film from being a grossly redundant character study into the depths a film that is offensive to anyone with intelligence. If the religious metaphor was underplayed, it could have been an effective film displaying the connections between your modern day anti-hero and your religious icon, but it doesn’t, so it’s truly a waste.

The film plays out like a biblical story, so the ending is pretty pointless to show to the audience. There is an excessive lack of restraint on Ferrara’s part. Luckily, Herzog knows how to keep stories from blowing up in the viewers face and uses minimalism truly well. The story is great, but this film isn’t – all it did was reassure me that the reimagination will be all the better.

The positives of this feature? Keitel’s tortured performance and the scene where he’s in the church. Other than the performance, I’d say throw it away, but Keitel makes up for the film enough to make me not loathe it. [3/10]

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The second feature I watched was Gummo – the directorial debut of Harmony Korine and the third film I’ve seen with him heavily involved (Mister Lonely and KIDS are the other two). This was to give me a feel for his nihilistic style because his latest film Trash Humpers is said to be more of the same.

The film is simply a look into a brutish and disturbing little town in Ohio. Not to be mistaken as a documentary, Korine’s view of Little Town, USA flips the concept on its head and shows the grim and harrowing opposite of what you’d expect from a humble town. Constructed by two main stories and flashes of the people you’d have the misfortune of bumping into while walking around.

The main stories are about two friends – one is about fifteen and the other is about thirteen. They kill cats and sell metal to a scrap man for money. When they find out that someone else is killing cats, they take action. The other main story is about a trio of sisters going about their daily routine. Cursing and being disgustingly playful (ie. putting tape on their breasts and ripping it to make them look perkier) are what define these girls. Between the two stories, Korine is precise in making the viewer believe that these characters are participating in regular activities and nothing is out of the ordinary to become something false and cinematic for the sake of being cinematic.

I can understand why someone would fall madly in love with this feature – it’s intransigent in its atmosphere and Korine does everything exponentially right to create a disturbing and nihilistic feel. His use of lighting is one of the more impressive outputs that, in my opinion, triggered what we view as today’s indie-scene. Screwy metaphors that must all click within his mind often come off as disoriented attempts at too subtle or perhaps too aggressive teachings. Although, I must say, from what I understood from this feature, Korine views the world through a disgusted lens and certainly makes no point at hiding the perversions that he sees – at least in this, his first feature. .

There are plenty of themes being swashed around that deposit some worth, but like the metaphors, there’s some bad with the good. Like in the photograph above – the bacon being taped to the wall above a pool of dirty water – indicating that these people are stuck and if they try to escape they will drown. This coincides in a beautifully tragic way with the teenage boy in the bunny outfit trying to find his way out through introversion and who is not so subtly in a pool at the time of the tornado.

Often as experiences are, you’ll reflect upon the moment a couple of times when something reminds you of it. And as almost all experiences, you’ll reflect upon it in a more pleasant light – while the initial experience may not have been as remarkable. This film is an experience for this and many other traits – not something you’ll enjoy watching, but you’ll come to appreciate over time for its diverse mold.

Korine creates viewer consternation – a suffocating and perturbing 90 minutes that will go down as Korine’s boldest and most effective work to date. A grueling and sufficiently rewarding film. Bring on Trash Humpers. [8/10]

Italian

The third film up is Not Of This World (Fuori dal mondo) by Giuseppe Piccioni. A drama set within the confinements of an Italian town and relying on a heavily religious concept.

The story is about a woman named Caterina (Margherita Buy) who is determined to become a nun and allow the church to completely take over her life – this is much to this disagreement of the head nun at the church who believes that this life isn’t for her. In attempting to impress her and the church, Caterina begins to lose her true self in trying to create an absolute existence for herself. Just as she’s about to dig herself deep into a religious hole even she is weary of deep down, she comes across a peculiar situation – a baby is thrust into her life. Not her baby of course, but one that was left on a sidewalk wrapped in a sweater. With her attention now diverted in finding who this baby belongs to, her only just arrived uppity persona has been put on hold.

On the other side of the story is Ernesto (Silvio Orlando), a lonely dry clean owner. In debt, his policies have become more strict, which is taking a toll on his already deteriorated health. With a heart condition – and the sensible thought that he can die at any moment – Ernesto’s life is not one anyone would enjoy. Although he’s somewhat wealthy, his apathetic view of life causes him many inabilities – most importantly, the frail handling of a possible family hinders him daily.

Eventually the lives of the nun and the dry cleaner intersect leaving many windows of obviousness to open. The nun has strong reason to believe that the child is the dry cleaners and the dry cleaner mathematically deduces that the possibility is almost a certainty. He begins to fall for the woman devout to the church and she begins to find him repulsive for having a one night stand with a woman and not taking care of the child that is probably his. Thirty minutes into the film you think you’ve got the entire story figured out, but it remains tactful and tasteful. You continue to have doubts, but the film continues to stay dignified – a true testament to Piccioni’s restraint.

Metaphors are neglected in this feature making for very straightforward and potent storytelling. The relationship that builds between Caterina and Ernesto is both charming and sincere – its one of the few relationships that I’ve admired in the past while. The whole play on costumes is utilized very well and is reiterated with the sad but focused final scene of the film. A truly beneficial viewing with plenty to talk about and very little to dislike. [8/10]

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The fourth and final film of this post is 1985’s Rosso by Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismaki – brother of the acclaimed Aki Kaurismaki. Although I’m quite a fan of Aki, I’d never seen a Mika film before, so I viewed this with an open mind – would it be like his brothers films or would it have a completely separate tone? Crucial, because Mika Kaurismaki’s latest – The House of Branching Love – is a comedy/drama and I don’t want to walk blindly into a trite and oblivious film.

After botching his last few and falling out of love with his profession, Italian hitman Rosso (Kari Vaananen) is sent by his boss to Finland on a job. It’s a job for Rosso, but with an unexpected twist – the hit is set on his past love Maria for unexplained reasons.

Succeeding the poorly devised first twenty minutes almost entirely consumed by narration, the story picks up. Rosso is in a place he hates with a passion – his view of the city is shown wisely by having the camera pan around a desolate and dirty part of town with a sickened Rosso narrating. His point of view is explained very clearly, if aggressively through the excessive narration.

After shaking himself of a hate-filled daze, his focus is back on the mission. The first step: finding where Maria lives and breaking into her apartment to kill her. He gets most of that correct – he finds out where her apartment is and breaks into it, but its vacant with no sign of anyone having lived there in sometime. A Finnish man walks into the room and asks what the man’s doing – Rosso, of course, doesn’t speak Finnish… or any other language but Italian. They communicate in a humorous and awkward fashion never before seen in cinema, but it works, at least for the viewer. Barely anything gets across between the two men, but the kind young man, Martti (Martti Syrjä) drags Rosso along in hopes of finding Maria – the only thing that was communicated clearly between the two was Maria.

Searching for his Scandinavian sweet heart – both in hopes of rekindling their previous love affair and to end her life to maintain his well paying job as an assassin, Rosso is in a constant state of contemplation. With an inability to express his hardship, Rosso becomes livid and lashes out – of course, much to Martti’s befuddled response.

The friendship between Rosso and Martti is soon divulged into and the duo start to become much more chummy. Whether they be frolicking through empty plains and laughing at the ability to rob banks with ease, the companionship is shown in just as obscure a way as you’d anticipate. There’s one delightful scene where the two are able to communicate perfectly with one and other for the first time and it’s through a song that both cultures share and even though the languages are different, the passion is identical.

Eventually their friendship is divided and Rosso loses the only person supporting him, setting him up for a devastating emotional collapse and readjusting his focus not on pleasurable diversions, but on finding the sleuthy Maria. With a reemerged state of panic, Rosso is now susceptible to nightmares and one of the films best scenes is showing the disarray of Rosso in dream-mode.

In the end, the feature is as visually hypnotic as anything done by Aki Kaurismaki. Containing some of the most gorgeous photography Finnish landscape can provide, the word intoxicating seems most appropriate. As seen below, Mika Kaurismaki can take the most simplistic of stories and manipulate them into an excitable flare. Clocking in at only 75 minutes, the only portion causing this film detriment is the excessive fast tracking in the opening. Otherwise, this is as great a movie about inner conflict as you’ll get. [8/10]

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