- Listening to:Leaving on a Jet Plane by Chantal Kreviazuk
After being forced to skip last year's Film Fest, I compensated by setting a personal record for the most number of films during the festival period. I ended up seeing 9 feature length films and one short film over the course of 4 days spread out over 8 days. I had originally gotten into Montreal super late on a Saturday night to catch a movie Sunday afternoon, but that film ended up being sold out and Josh and I ended up catching Hamlet 2. So as usual a quick hit review of each film I saw during the last 9 days.
Toybox by Wrik Mead is a short film that was composed of 3 vignettes interspersed with gay porn imagery. Each vignette prominently features a penis and as far as I can tell doesn't do much other than playing with penis imagery. The second vignette features a claymation dildo being attacked by studded leather cockrings and piercings attacking the dildo. Josh's comment after seeing the credits thanking the Ontario Arts Council for funding best sums up my feelings of the movie. "This is why people want to pull government funding for arts councils."
9 to 5 - Days In Porn was the film screened immediately after Toybox. As its title would suggest, the film is a documentary film about the porn industry interviewing and following 13 people in the world of pornography both in California and Europe (specifically the Czech Republic). As it is usually the case with a documentary that attempts to show off a subject as vast as the adult film industry, 9 to 5 lets the footage do the talking without trying to fit the footage into an artificial narrative. You'll get to see a whole bunch of interesting people that work outside the mainstream and hear their various thoughts of their lives and the industry. The film does not glorify or vilify the industry, it simply gives you a peek into the lives of some of the people who are in the industry. Definitely worth a watch if you are interested in the subject, or just enjoy seeing people that have chosen to live outside the mainstream.
Der Rote Punkt (The Red Spot・赤い点) is a German-Japanese joint film written and directed by a young Japanese woman who spent time studying in Munich. The story is intriguing on paper, and is about a young Japanese woman's trip to Germany after finding a map with a red dot that used to belong to her parents who were killed in Germany when she was young. In Germany she meets the Weber family, whose father holds the secret to her parent's death. Through her quiet interactions with the Webers the past history is slowly revealed. My problems with this film revolved with the actress who played the protagonist. I think it takes tremendous talent to play a quiet subtle character, and I felt that Yuki Inomata (the actress) just can't pull it off. Her lines come out incredibly flat and instead of coming off as being confused about being in a foreign land she comes off as just plain confused. Also, for a character that is supposed to be a country that is supposed to be very foreign to her the character seems to be able to speak and understand a great deal of German. The German cast seemed to be better actors, although it's a bit to hard to judge if you don't understand the language, in fact Inomata may come across better to an audience that doesn't speak Japanese. So while I think the synopsis is interesting, I don't think it worked on screen. I wouldn't recommend the film to others, but I wouldn't try to stop anyone who was intrigued by the premise.
百万円と苦虫女 (One Million Yen Girl) is a Japanese film that was released earlier this year (July 18) in Japan starring rising star actress 蒼井優 (Yu Aoi). Aoi plays a young woman who after a short stint in jail decides getting close to people and being known is more trouble than its worth. She subsequently decides to move around the country staying in one place long enough to find a job and to accumulate one million yen (about $10,000) in her savings account, reasoning that one million yen would be enough to move and to tide her over until she finds her next job. The film follows her from a beach front snack bar, to a mountain peach farm, to work at a home renovation centre near Tokyo. She finally gets close to someone at her last job, and the last half of the film explores the relationship she develops with a co-worker (played by 森山未來 Mirai Moriyama). There is also a parallel storyline following Aoi's character's younger brother that adds depth to the theme concerning how we relate to others. The payoff may be unsatisfying to some but I think the movie does a good job of balancing some light comedy with reflections on human relationships. Aoi is an example of an actress playing a quiet subtle character very well. I highly recommend this film and encourage people to seek it out.
儀式 (The Ceremony) is a classic film by Japanese director 大島渚 (Nagisa Oshima). Released in 1971, Gishiki follows the powerful Sakurada family from the end of the war to the present time. The film flashes back to various ceremonies (funerals, weddings, reunions, etc.) to reveal the dark family secrets, while also showing post war developments of Japan. The film is extremely dense and layered. A good number of cultural references went over my head and the subtitles provided with the film were woefully inadequate. This film is not the kind of film you go see casually and probably needs repeated viewings to fully grasp. That's all I can say about that really...
Died Young Stayed Pretty is a documentary that takes a look at the underground poster culture in North America. Like 9 to 5 - Days In Porn, Died Young simply finds the largely unknown people in the poster culture and lets them speak. Unlike the adult film industry the poster culture is almost completely unknown to the general public, myself included. The posters shown in the film are interesting but are made more interesting knowing the artist who is passionate about their work. The artists openly wonder whether this art form will last or whether it would only represent a flash in the pan of art history. Definitely worth a look if you are interested in underground art or people passionate about a niche art form.
La troisième partie du monde (The Third Part of the World) is a film I saw simply because I had an extra film coupon and 5 hours to kill between movies. I skimmed the description and went in expecting some sort of crime thriller. The short description in the free program implied that the film was about a woman was discovering that all the men she got to close to were suddenly disappearing. The film started off like a romantic comedy and slowly turned into a surreal fantasy. I have no idea what had really happened and what the film meant. I later found a quote from the writer-director that aptly summarized the feeling I got watching the film. "La troisième partie du monde adopts various registers (fantastic, erotic, scientific, suspense, sentimental drama) and has the sole aim of always wanting to surprise the audience." The fact that I was surprised and confused that doesn't mean I didn't like the film. Despite the film's unexplainable twists and turns I was drawn to the world being depicted on the screen. Of particular note was the chemistry between all the various actors who were often put in one-on-one and quiet situations. I cannot explain what draws me to the film and I would be very interested in hearing what other people thought of the film. I definitely think going into the film with minimal expectations of what will happen helped (which is why I'm being very vague as to what transpires in the film).
Torn From The Flag is a documentary that examines the events of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Unlike the other two docs I saw Torn From The Flag frames its narrative through the events of the Revolution. The filmmakers had access to footage that had been locked in a vault for over forty years, and they effectively use footage and interview footage to explain the complex events that lead up to the revolution and the events that transpired afterwards. The film tries to express the multiple viewpoints that exist about the revolution and the future of Hungary, and it certainly doesn't try to shy away from the graphic violence that is inevitable when discussing such an event. I'm certain that the 1956 Revolution is not a subject filmmakers are clamouring to cover, and it is the testament to the persistance of the makes of this film for producing a fine film that may be the only film on the subject for a long time. The end credits reveal the great number of individual donations from the Hungarian diaspora. If my word isn't good enough, I'll also note that the response from the Hungarians in the audience was tremendously positive. Definitely worth a look if the topic interests you.
誰も守ってくれない (Nobody To Watch Over Me) is a film, like 周防正行's (Suo Masayuki) それでもボクはやってない (I Just Didn't Do It), that I wish didn't need to be made. 誰も守ってくれない deals with police officers assigned to protect family members of criminal suspects from the media. The idea that family members should held responsible for a relative's criminal actions baffles me, but it is this mentality that permeates Japanese media coverage of gruesome crimes and puts immense pressure on the family. The film examines the consequences of such guilt-by-association thinking. The story is written in such a way as the theme is examined through numerous layers. The main focus of the film is on the family's 15 year old daughter played by critically acclaimed child star 志田未来 (Mirai Shida), and the police officer with a complicated past assigned to protect her played by 佐藤浩市 (Koichi Sato). Both do a good job portraying their characters. I hope this film is capable to shedding light on the problems caused by the confluence of attitudes in Japan. The film is scheduled to be released in Japan on January 24, 2009 and I recommend people go see it, but be warned it may not be a fun experience. It should also be noted that the film shared the award for best screenplay at this year's festival.
おくりびと (Departures) actually won this year's Grand prix des Americas (the top prize given out at the festival). After seeing the 誰も守ってくれない I was glad I got to watch a film worth watching as a beautiful piece of art and not a harsh but important message. おくりびと is about a young cellist that moves back to his hometown in northern Japan with his wife after not being able to make it as a professional in Tokyo. Through a series of comical misunderstandings he finds himself working as a 納棺師 (a person specializing in ritually preparing a body for placing in a coffin). I think the film is best described as poignant. Under the tutelage of his eccentric boss the protagonist discovers the importance and cathartic effect of his new job. The nature of his job turns him into an outcast but his skills slowly win back those who turn their back on him. The film manages to balance the suffering brought on by death with light comedic moments. The film is scheduled to be released in Japan on Sepember 13, 2008, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Overall not a bad group of movies this year. Hopefully I'll be back next year.