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Venice Film Festival 2011 // L’Hiver Dernier and Missione Di Pace

Curious Joe has been covering the Venice Film Festival for the last 10 days, check through the last week’s posts for coverage and reviews of some of the events.

Sad times, but it’s my last full day at the festival. The whole thing really has been quite great, but I’m not lying when I say I’m actually kind of looking forward to the breezy delights of comfortable Glasgow again. So on with the last couple days of film watching.

The French L’Hiver Dernier, a part of the very well programmed Venice Days section of the festival, is very well calculated. It’s quite hard for actors to use no emotion without seeming robotic, which works well in films like Alpis. This time it comes across as a lot more intriguing, as if the characters are actually holding something back, rather than just having no humanity.

It’s a story about trying to do the right thing when everything around you is going wrong. Its isolation has familiarities with the Russian How I Ended This Summer and such an atmosphere is always effective at creating a level of interest and curiosity in the audience, which is otherwise fairly unseen in most other films.

Development speaking, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but the point of it is that pretty much. The protagonist stays strong and sticks to himself quite resolutely while others around him are evolving. This comes down to basic subjectivity really, dependant on whether or not you can get yourself in the mood for it.

There were two reasons I opted to see Missione Di Pace, one was that I’ve seen very little Italian films so far (not that bad but it is an Italian festival after all…) and it was billed online as a comedy, which is something else I don’t think I’d seen yet either.

It was good fun. That’s about it really. I have a strange feeling that a lot of the humour was lost in translation, and a lot was also very relative to local Italian jokes (one of the few I understood was a reference to the divide between northern and southern Italy, which had the audience in stitches). But to be honest, managing to go through these barriers and still entertain the non-Italian speaking crowd is quite an achievement for a film which clearly relies so much on its locality.

The best moments were almost definitely the occasional dream sequences featuring Che Guevara as the lead’s best friend, and the clichéd dynamic in the father and son’s hate/hate relationship was actually executed fairly originally, another very strong achievement considering what it had to face.

That’s it for my Venice coverage this year, I might be seeing a few more films today, so if you want to hear about them then it’s probably best to follow me on Twitter and I’ll be talking about them there. In the next few days when I’ve recovered, Curious Joe should hopefully be back to normal and I’ll be retreating once again into my editor shell.

So yeah, laters Venice.

Venice Film Festival 2011 // Wuthering Heights and Rabbit Horror 3D

Curious Joe is at the Venice Film Festival. Check back here daily or follow us on Facebook for sporadic film reviews and discussions of the arty variety.

It should probably be made clear that I’ve not read the Wuthering Heights book, so anything I say about Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of the Emily Bronte novel is probably deeply compromised by an impressive lack of knowledge of the original story.

That said, I liked the film. Its only real problem was that it was too long, and considering its hardly the one and only adaptation of it there was no reason to feel obliged to make a comprehensive remake.

The camera work was great though, Arnold’s typical style of handheld and shaky cinematography, mixed with a very personal and exploratory style of following the characters was great at giving a new depth to our relationship with them. The decline of Heathcliff’s sanity and character is wrenchingly portrayed in a great way, the contrast of his rise in social standing against his drop in mentality.

The choice of very little soundtrack or non diagetic sounds also added to the local and believable atmosphere, which is a very hard thing to achieve in a film set in the 1800s. This was only emphasised and made stronger by the use of an acoustic Mumford and Sons song at the end, the power of which was just as strong as it needed to be. Again, this was vital in showing Heathcliff’s descent into madness.

And from adaptations of classic Victorian novels to Japanese films about killer rabbits, in 3D.

Rabitto horaa 3D is everything you could expect a 3D slasher film about rabbits to be. Strangely serious, cheaply written and the definition of a B movie.

I was expecting more ridiculousness than what seemed to be a genuine attempt at a psychological thriller, but the problem with Japanese B films is it’s always hard to gauge the seriousness of them. This was absolutely no exception. I left with absolutely no idea what had happened to the last two hours of my life.

Venice Film Festival 2011 // Habibi and Testimony: How films help us think

Curious Joe is at the Venice Film Festival. Check back here daily or follow us on Facebook for sporadic film reviews and discussions of the arty variety.

Film makers, especially those out to make a specific point, are faced with a massive amount of decisions to make. It’s no surprise really given just how big an effect a film can have on the issues it raises, be it positive or negative.

Habibi and Testimony are two films focused around the Israel and Palestine conflict, but both have two very different methods of approaching it.

Habibi is, at heart, a classic Romeo & Juliet-esque love story, set in the occupation surrounding the Gaza strip and the West Bank. As the director Susan Youssef was keen to point out, the love story is the central focus, and the setting is used to highlight the issue of how what we consider basic freedoms in the west are affected when placed in the setting of Gaza.

Shlomi Elkabetz’s Testimony however is a much more straight forward, fact focused documentary of sorts. Using actors to tell the harrowing stories of real life testimonies written by Israeli witnesses of events on the border, it quite plainly forces us to take in these accounts with a haunting grit. While it might not seem like a normal cinematic event (it’s a more personal experience than that), Elkabetz’s detail of the amount of work put into it was enough to give it that extra kick alone. Almost entirely shot through the fourth wall, it gives the word perspective a whole new atmosphere.

What’s most interesting is that both of these films do well in bringing to light the troubles which face both sides of the border, but at the same time both have such a huge divide between them in such big ways. There’s of course the methods, which I’ll come to in a second, but there’s also the fact that the differences in said methods emphasise the individual identities of each film.

One of the most fascinating aspects of film for me is the way in which, no matter what your feelings on the main subject, it has the potential to shape and twist your interpretation on it not just through a selective truth, but through adopting different aesthetics, different dialogue and generally deciding just how comfortable people feel when watching it.

The approach used by Habibi is the one I, as someone who prefers abstract and visual cinema, find more compelling. Its subtlety and use of more than one main theme can have you thinking about a subject completely different to the one which pulled you in. For example, you might have people who heard it was a film about Palestine and found themselves drawn into a love story, or vice versa and people who wanted to see a love story might suddenly find themselves wanting to know more about the situation in the middle east.

That’s not to say anything against Testimony‘s method however, as given the subject matter of providing a comprehensive range of testimonies, it was quite appropriate that it should take such a blunt and hard hitting approach. This kind of technique tends to be one which should be used sparingly and tactically, as the effect it can have can be incredible if not overused.

Other than that, not much has happened since the last blog other than the Q+A with both directors. Today I’ll be seeing the third and final LUX nominee, and hopefully a couple other screenings tonight, one of which is a surprise showing. I’ve never been to a surprise film, although I have heard stories of people asking for their money back after not liking the choice of film. Seems kind of weird to me to go to a surprise screening and ask for a refund because you were surprised. Film fans, eh?

Venice Film Festival 2011 // Do film festivals need a premise?

Curious Joe is at the Venice Film Festival. Check back here daily or follow us on Facebook for sporadic film reviews and discussions of the arty variety.

Pretty much all of my experience with this kind of event is from going to music festivals, and to be fair there’s a lot of similarities. Of course there’s the set up; lots and lots of films/bands in lots and lots of places. The way it transforms its setting into a vibrant hub of activity is also very significant. But beyond the basic premise, there’s plenty of differences which affect so much about how the festival ends up.

Yesterday the director of Sarajevo Film Festival took part in a panel, talking mainly about Sarajevo and its (fascinating) history, but also about what it takes for a film festival to really pull it off. Putting aside that he was of course going to speak positively about his own festival, the background to Sarajevo’s festival is really quite inspiring, and it was clear that the festival really does represent so much to the Bosnian people.

While the event itself should be focused on the present, and should be focused primarily on everyone enjoying films for a few weeks, there definitely needs to be a premise on which this can form. Started during the conflicts in 1995, Sarajevo is a symbol of unity and a celebration of the present liberty for those in the Balkans. The way in which this idea has helped bring the city back together is what helps make sure that people can enjoy themselves, and is what ensures a positive vibe and atmosphere.

I’m a massive fan of doing things for the sake of it, and if someone was to start a film festival somewhere just because they like films and want to share this with others, I’d jump head first into supporting them. But when there is a strong premise, and when there is a history or background (be it social or political), that’s what separates the fun from the inspiring. That’s not to say there’s nothing inspiring about starting a festival just because you like films, the DIY aspect of that is inspiring alone, but it’s a different kind.

When I visited Sarajevo last year (not sadly during the festival), it was one of the nicest places I saw while travelling through eastern Europe. There was still a lot of graffiti from the darker days, but that just served as a reminder of how well they’re doing to move on. To think that something like cinema (and I’m sure there are other festivals with similar stories) has brought together a city past the brink of collapse and thrust it into what is soon to become the European Capital of Culture, well that’s pretty fucking great.

Elsewhere, the LUX Prize nominated Play from Sweden was really interesting. It has a great foundation (I don’t want to use the word ‘premise’ again in this post) and the story is very well developed, but there was something that seemed almost missing in it.

It has the aesthetics of a fairly cheap B-movie and the long observing shots didn’t have any substance to them (they were the kind of shots which represent so much in some films but this time they didn’t really seem to have any reason for being there. It’s a definitely a very strong and quite brave film though, and was much better than Attenberg, also up for the LUX (the third nominee Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro is being screened tomorrow).

CJ out.

Venice Film Festival 2011 // Toutes Nos Envies

Curious Joe is at the Venice Film Festival. Check back here daily or follow us on Facebook for sporadic film reviews and discussions of the arty variety.

Directed by Philippe Lioret
Starring Marie Gillain, Vincent Lindon

It’s true that a lot of French films at the moment are beginning to revolve around similar plots. So whenever a film starts emphasising the possible tragedies that any 30-40 year old middle class French person might face, it’s important to focus on the finer points of the film, rather than its originality as a visual experience.

Toutes Nos Envies is one of those films where you can’t help but think what was going through the writer’s head when they came up with it. “Right, so I’ve got this idea. There’s like, a woman, who’s got cancer, and then she doesn’t tell anyone, and she’s a judge, right, and then the whole film is about her not telling anyone. People won’t know what’s hit them!”

It’s about as original as an Oscar winner, true, but the directing and, even more so, the acting is something quite incredible. Most character dramas, particularly the sadder ones, tend to do a good job of ignoring the aesthetics and tightening the nuts and bolts in the performances.

"This isn't a birthday party, it's an intervention. You need to take off the hat."

The relationship between Marie Gillain’s Claire (the lead protagonist) and her new found BFF Stephane (Lindon) is one of the closest, most heartbreaking you’ll see this year. And as always, it really does take some directing to pull this kind of a performance out of any actor, no matter how good they are.

The only problem I had with the performances were that at some points the writing just didn’t seem believable. The entire main ensemble was made up of nice, strong people doing their utmost to do nice things for other people. At no point were they shown to have any flaws, and never was it even referenced. Of course, I love the fact that a film has been made with the utmost of optimism in people, but even just some kind of polarising would’ve been invaluable in creating a more believable dynamic around the characters’ good will.

I should address the fact that, volume wise, this review features much more negative criticism than positive, so I should clarify that this is a fantastic film. There are flaws in the writing and the premise is like porn for environmentalists, but the personal nature of the various relationships and the way in which Claire’s illness is portrayed resulted in what I can only describe as hearing a silent cinema crying.

The biggest news since the last post however is the world premiere of Inni was last night, and it’s EVERYTHING you probably think it is. For me, I was expecting a visual collection of Sigur Ros over the years, and that’s exactly what it was, there’s not much more to it that words can really describe. And of course being heckled by the director of ‘Cafe De Flore’ on entering the cinema was quite a welcoming.

Tomorrow I’ll hopefully be writing about the Sarajevo Film Festival, which is fast emerging as a cultural hub of the world.

CJ out.

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