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The Event: The 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival

The Protagonist: Latauro (AICN-Downunder)

The Mission: There's a real sense of community at MIFF. You feel quite connected to the people around you, the ones sharing the experience of the festival regardless of how many or how few films they're seeing, and so conversations in queues are easy to start and fun to have. There's also the regular roster of familiar faces; people you've never ever met or spoken to, but who seem to turn up to every session. Over the last week, I've seen these people more often than I've seen close friends and family. There's one guy in particular -- The Shadow -- whom I recognise from previous MIFFs, though I've never seen him in the real world. Perhaps he hibernated for eleven months, emerging only for his yearly film consumption? Of course, his name, as far as I know, is not The Shadow, but when you see MIFFgoers on something like a thrice-daily basis, you have to name them. In addition to The Shadow, there's John and Yoko, Harry Shearer, the Prospector, Fennellini (named because he looks like a small Marc Fennell), and Professor Crazy Hair (no, not festival director Richard Moore, although I've since learned the true identity of the Professor). When you've got your jacket spread over four seats and you're keeping an eye on the door for your friends, hoping they turn up ASAP, the MIFF Players will almost always make an appearance. And there's something quite comforting about that.

VARESE, THE ONE ALL ALONE: One of the problems with doing so many films at once is that before each film, I have to turn to my better half and ask "What is this we're watching?". One of the problems with VARESE is that I had to turn to my better half afterwards and ask "What is that we just watched?". An important meeting had caused me to cancel on SKIRT DAY and A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, so VARESE was my first session of the day. As much as I love knowing nothing about a film before I go in, some docos like VARESE assume you know the subject, and don't bother to tell you anything important about them. The film is about five minutes of interviews, padded with Varese's music put to weird images. The interviews themselves are completely unenlightening, supplanting any useful info about him for pretentiously unhelpful descriptions of his music. "He writes in spirals!" "Most people listen to his music vertically, but it sounds better horizontally!" "His music can stop time!". They're not kidding with that last (admittedly paraphrased) quote. The film was listed at ninety minutes and stopped at forty-five. Not that I was complaining. Much as I appreciated his music, I expected something a bit more informative from this doco.

BRONSON: I'm not really sure what to say about this film by Nicholas Winding Refn, other than it's fairly brilliant. Tom Hardy is Michael Peterson, the prisoner who changed his name to Charles Bronson to underscore his hardness. It's based on a true story, and Bronson is still alive and still serving time. It's a powerful, incredible, and very funny look at an extraordinary man. The only complaint is the seeming lack of conclusion -- there's no lesson learned, no real progression made -- and it's a film that feels like it needed one. Still a tremendous work of cinema, though.

THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD: I haven't seen the first YES MEN film, partly due to circumstance and partly by design; practical jokers who operate on a large scale concern me, because so few of them seem to have any point to what they do. The Yes Men do, at least for the most part, and they certainly underline the practical part. They do what they can to draw attention to the plights of people who would not be heard of if it weren't for a gigantic prank. The two Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, espouse world ideals in a way that confirms they know what they're talking about. In some frustrating "caught out moments", however, they freeze up like deers in headlights, not sure how to play the moment. But these are minor annoyances in the context of a much larger, much deeper set of social issues. If you're sick of your uni student activist friends decrying globalisation without really knowing what the word means, find relief in this hilarious film from two guys who bothered to check.

CHE Parts One and Two: If, like me, your favouritist director in the universe is Steven Soderbergh, you can imagine the frustration at having to wait seven months to see not one, but two of his films. The upside, of course, is that I now get four new Soderbergh films in the space of three months, and so I am now more than sated. CHE was played back-to-back today, for those hardcore of us wanting it all in one hit. There's something about Soderbergh's aesthetics that really hits my buttons (in, obviously, a good way). Though CHE isn't the instant classic that TRAFFIC or my personal favourite THE LIMEY are, it's still a fantastic and largely unsentimental telling of the Guevara's story. Admittedly, Part One, THE ARGENTINE, works better than Part Two, GUERILLA. This, I feel, is due to the nature of the battles themselves. The Bolivian revolution goes a lot less smoothly (if you can use that term) than the Cuban one, and that sense of deflation can't help but translate to the audience. GUERILLA also doesn't benefit from the cross-cutting flash-forwards of THE ARGENTINE, a terrific device that plays to Soderbergh's strengths. It is, nonetheless, a fantastic film(s), and told in a necessarily un-sugar-coated manner.

HANSEL AND GRETEL: What do they put in the drinking water in South Korea? Whatever it is, it's fucked up, and I want some. HANSEL AND GRETEL is the most gloriously insane fairy tale you've ever seen on screen; extreme because there's a sense throughout that it is somehow still intended for children. I'm not going to attempt a plot recount -- you'll just have to see for yourself. Another example of how incredible, disturbing and edgy South Korean cinema is. (Post-script: extra kudos to Byung-woo Lee for the one of the best film scores I've heard all year.)

CELIA THE QUEEN: I sometimes think that the music documentary is the hardest one to pull off. You're playing to fans of the artist, but also need to sell the uninitiated. CELIA THE QUEEN is the best example of this: I went in knowing absolutely nothing about her, and by the film's conclusion, considered myself her biggest fan. This incredibly well-made documentary perfectly balances who she is and what she did. The construction is flawless, the choices inspired. Additional credit to whoever came up with the idea of playing it on the same day as the CHE double (given the crossover theme of the the 1960s Cuban revolution). It's quite possible that Girl Friday and I were the only ones who attended both, but we appreciated it nonetheless. An amazing documentary, and one of the highlights of this year's MIFF.

DEAD SNOW: When I initially heard of the book "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", the retelling of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" with added undead, I thought it was a phenomenally dumb idea. Now, I think it's a brilliant, if unintentional, statement on current pseudo-sub-culture: basically, you can add the word "zombie" to anything and people will think it's brilliant. Such is the thinking behind DEAD SNOW, a film about a group of medical students in a snow cabin that's being terrorised by zombie Nazis. Any creativity the group behind this film might have had was exhausted in the creation of that synopsis. This piece of unimaginative shit basically cribs from everything, not bothering to hide its influences, and not understanding how to present its pop culture references. The irritating film geek character (Randy from SCREAM, only far more annoying) espouses movie references in a way that suggests the writers Googled "geek cred" and just jammed the first ten results in where they could. Here's a handy tip: making references to the films you're most overtly ripping off doesn't make it acceptable, or somehow ironic. This is a tired, tired formula, and if you're going to do it, you'd damn well better have something new to say. There is not a shot, a kill, a moment in DEAD SNOW that hasn't been done before, and done far better. But hey, I was the only one in the crowd, as far as I could tell, who wasn't into it. The audience laughed and actually applauded at every unfunny moment or vague hint of gore, so it definitely has an audience. After walking out of this crap, I can tell you that audience does not include me.

PAPER SOLDIERS: I must confess to having walked out of this film, my first walkout of the festival. It's not that it was particularly bad -- I've seen far, far worse over the past week -- but rather that after an hour and a half, it was doing nothing for me. I've liked what little Russian existentialist drama I've seen over that past few years (most of it from director Aleksandr Sokurov), yet this one left me cold. I don't know what to put it down to -- was the film bad, or was I just not in the mood? Either way, I think I'll reserve judgment on this film (which won Best Director and Best Cinematography at the Venice Film Festival) as I feel my walkout deprived me of the right to properly critique.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: Tickets to this session were priced at $55 a pop, and sold out in under one minute. If not for my diligent friend Joel, i'd have missed out altogether, so first, a big public thanks to him for scoring the six tickets that allowed a small group of us to attend. Why the fuss? MIFF had secured Quentin Tarantino to introduce the film, and the buzz in the auditorium was massive. We even had Geoffrey Rush in attendance (one seat away from our group), MIFF's patron-at-large, simply there to watch the film. The intro was hosted by John Safran, Melbourne's resident and self-proclaimed jewgeek, who did a good job at quizzing QT, even if some of his questions spoiled key moments of the film. Tarantino was everything we hoped he'd be -- verbose, well-versed, passionate. He gave a shout-out to Everett De Roche, who was in the audience, and then himself went into the audience to watch the film with us. This is rarer than it sounds. Usually directors and stars are so sick of watching their film, they finish the introduction, then, quite understandably, go out for a drink (as was the case with Diane Kruger and Christoph Waltz). So that was a surprise, and a cool one. But now to the film... Tarantino is a lot like Woody Allen to me: there's not really any scenario in which I'm not going to like any of his films. I dig his style so much, that even when I don't really think what I'm watching is that good, I still enjoy it. INGLOURIOUS is a tough one. I think it contains some of his best work -- the opening sequence is a huge development in his style, and one of the greatest scenes he's ever committed to film -- but most of the film's sequences are just too bloated. That "Men on a Mission" line we kept hearing does not sum up this film at all; there are a handful of scenes containing the Basterds, and you never really get a sense of who any of them are. When we meet them, they've already been assembled, and they've already got a reputation. So, basically, you feel as if you missed all the good stuff, especially when Brad Pitt's fantastic Lt. Aldo Raine amounts to little more than an extended cameo. Though I feel sequences like the one at the tavern go on far too long, I also think QT is one of the few directors who can keep the audience interested through what I suspect was a fifteen or twenty minute scene. The two different stories being told don't mesh satisfactorily, and I felt like I was being a bit short-changed on both. On the other hand, I had a great time watching it, so how do I parse these two reactions? Basically, within the context of Tarantino films, I don't think INGLOURIOUS is particularly great, but even a bad Tarantino film is better than most director's good films, so I'd still recommend it. As if you weren't going to see it anyway.

AN EDUCATION: I'm not going to lie: I booked this film because it starred and was introduced by Carey Mulligan. The fanboy in me (which constitutes 97% of my biology) simply had to see Sally Sparrow in the flesh. Truth be told, had she not been there, I'd still have booked the session to see how one of my favourite authors, Nick Hornby, would fare with a screenplay not based on one of his own books. As it turns out, he understands screenplays as well as novels, and has adapted Lynne Barber's memoir flawlessly. It's a coming-of-age tale set in 1960s London, featuring a 16 year old girl who finds herself seduced by a much older man. It should be standard, forgettable, and much like every other film of the genre, but it isn't. it's the best example of its genre, with brilliant direction by Lone Scherfig, and an incredibly cast (Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Sally Hawkins, et al). Every scene, every line crackles, and the excessive charisma of Mulligan pushes it into the stratosphere. One of the most satisfying films I've seen all year.

FLAME AND CITRON: This is the moment I realised I was overdoing it. Seeing an average of five films a day sounds great on paper, but can such momentum be sustained for over two weeks? Maybe if I was living closer to the city and wasn't driving two hours every damned day, but as it stands, I am. FLAME AND CITRON continues today's apparent theme: the execution of Nazis (the only problem with AN EDUCATION was its lack of Nazi scalping -- what the fuck, Hornby?). This time it's Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied Denmark, with two resistance fighters taking out Nazis and Danish collaborators. It's notable for me, personally, in that it's the first film I've ever walked out of because it was good. My attention was waning. I was sleepy. I watched the first hour and realised that I was missing about every third line, thanks to the self-induced fatigue that my festival addiction had brought about. At that point, I had to get up and leave, because the film was really, really good, and I wanted to watch it properly. It's got a distributor in Australia, so I'm hoping I'll be able to catch it later, but I do now feel that my walking out of PAPER SOLDIER had less to do with the film and more to do with m. Clearly, I need to re-assess my schedule over the coming week and leave myself room to breathe.

How will I survive the next seven days? I have no idea, I've not done them yet. But I shall report back here by week's end with the fourth installment of my MIFF adventures, adventures that will include more South Korean insanity, this year's Golden Palm winner at Cannes, and a film I swore I'd never, ever, ever watch...




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