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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going to try something new for this year's Chicago International Film Festival: a day-by-day guide of capsule reviews of everything I've seen. This won't supplant full-length reviews, but supplement them; whenever possible, those will show up the day of the film's first CIFF screening, and when not possible, they'll go up whenever the hell I can manage it.

This list will be regularly updated throughout the Fest.

Friday, 7 October, 2011

3:40 PM-
Day Is Done (Thomas Imbach, Switzerland)
The film's conceptual audacity - footage taken from a single apartment balcony, paired with answering machine message that combine to tell a version of the director's autobiography - is also it's downfall, for the results are damned redundant. It's that redundancy the ends up giving the film much of its impact, but I can't shake the feeling that 111 minutes was quite a lot more than the film really needed. 6/10 (reviewed here)

5:45 PM-
King of Devil's Island (Marius Holst, Norway/France)
This Amanda-winning story of an uprising by the inmates of a particularly brutal boys' prison on a desolate island starts out a bit too obvious in its depiction of the hellish nihilism of the Norwegian winter. But even if it spends the first 3/4s of its running time wallowing in misery and waiting for the ending to come, that ending is a mad rush of chaos and violence that's well worth it. 7/10 (reviewed here)

8:15 PM-
Southwest (Eduardo Nunes, Brazil)
A woman is born, grows up, grows old, and dies between dawn and dusk one day. A daringly opaque fairy tale cum half-remembered dream that is outstandingly gorgeous (I don't know that I've ever described a black-and-white film as "painterly" before this moment), exquisite in its unconventionality, and constructed with a precision that belies its director's lack of experience: easy to dismiss as "artsy", but nothing that burns itself into your retinas like this deserves to be dismissed, easily or not. 9/10 (reviewed here)

8:45 PM-
Kinyarwanda (Alrick Brown, USA)
One of the better films about the 1994 Rwandan genocide in recent years; though it takes quite a while for its fragmentary narratives to gel into one coherent whole, the result is a disquieting study of how that event affected a single community. First-timer Brown rarely lets the material get away from him, nor does he give in to the temptation of simple moralising, preferring instead to depict the savagery as its own indictment. 8/10 (reviewed here)

9:10 PM-
Fat, Bald, Short Man (Carlos Asuna, Colombia)
This tremendously straightforward tale of a sad sack office worker who learns by inches that he should respect himself wins no points for originality, though the vocal performances and generally unsentimental tone help it out quite a lot. It's animated, and that both its asset and its curse: the simple style is appealing as design, but the animation itself is so jittery, by intent, that it's literally dizzying to watch in spots. 7/10 (reviewed here)

11:15 PM-
Rabies (Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, Israel)
Israel's first splatterpunk horror movie is in a rough spot: good enough to feel shackled by generic conventions, not good enough to transcend genre. Even so, I'm glad it exists: with a really nasty sense of humor, well-defined characters filling otherwise clichéd roles, and a genuinely surprising third act, it's a far brainier slasher film than most horror filmmakers could imagine. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Saturday, 8 October, 2011

12:30 PM-
Southwest (Eduardo Nunes, Brazil)
A woman is born, grows up, grows old, and dies between dawn and dusk one day. A daringly opaque fairy tale cum half-remembered dream that is outstandingly gorgeous (I don't know that I've ever described a black-and-white film as "painterly" before this moment), exquisite in its unconventionality, and constructed with a precision that belies its director's lack of experience: easy to dismiss as "artsy", but nothing that burns itself into your retinas like this deserves to be dismissed, easily or not. 9/10 (reviewed here)

12:35 PM-
Kinyarwanda (Alrick Brown, USA)
One of the better films about the 1994 Rwandan genocide in recent years; though it takes quite a while for its fragmentary narratives to gel into one coherent whole, the result is a disquieting study of how that event affected a single community. First-timer Brown rarely lets the material get away from him, nor does he give in to the temptation of simple moralising, preferring instead to depict the savagery as its own indictment. 8/10 (reviewed here)

12:45 PM-
Fat, Bald, Short Man (Carlos Asuna, Colombia)
This tremendously straightforward tale of a sad sack office worker who learns by inches that he should respect himself wins no points for originality, though the vocal performances and generally unsentimental tone help it out quite a lot. It's animated, and that both its asset and its curse: the simple style is appealing as design, but the animation itself is so jittery, by intent, that it's literally dizzying to watch in spots. 7/10 (reviewed here)

2:40 PM-
Michael (Michael Schleinzer, Austria)
It's Austrian, and it hates its audience, but that's as close to this watered-down version of Haneke comes to its obvious mentor. The story of a pedophile and the boy trapped in his basement bunker is harrowing, and its incredible restraint only makes it harder to stomach, but the mean-spirited ironies of the last third are no replacement for a complete lack of ideas or purpose beyond shocking the viewer into dumbness. 5/10 (reviewed here)

3:30 PM-
Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier, Norway)
A young man of about 30, just before getting out of rehab, tries to find any scrap of evidence that he can start his life again where it got derailed. A tremendous sophomore feature that treats its central character with love and traces of humor even as it becomes increasingly clear that he's running out of hope; sensitive filmmaking like this is its own reward, though the film is unapologetically dark. 9/10 (reviewed here)

5:15 PM-
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Though it didn't turn this particular Dardenne doubter into a fan, I'll nonetheless admit that it's the first film by the brothers that has really worked for me: anchored by a terrifically manic performance by child actor Thomas Doret, their traditional jagged aesthetic has never worked so well, and the story of finding family where you make it is moving without being cloying. 8/10 (reviewed here)

5:30 PM-
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland)
A quintessentially Kaurismäki tale of a shoeshine aiding an illegal immigrant: there's political bite that doesn't stomp on you with its message, and a tight-knit community that might be called quirky if it weren't presented with such dry humor. Significantly clearer in its intent than his biggest Stateside hit, The Man Without a Past, it also lacks that film's expansiveness; it won't convert anybody but it's probably a good place to start with the director, and his established fans (of whom I am one) have reason to rejoice. 9/10 (reviewed here)

8:25 PM-
Corrode (Karan Gour, India)
As debuts go, it certainly can't be faulted for bravery: gorgeous low-contrast b/w cinematography in an exaggerated widescreen format, mixing horror, domestic tragedy, and a neo-realistic look at India's middle class in a style recalling Lynch and Polanski. The execution isn't always up to the ambition, sadly, and a slight tang of sexism hovers over it, but it's a fleet little thing that refuses to let go once it's hooked you. 7/10


Sunday, 9 October, 2011

12:00 PM-
Corrode (Karan Gour, India)
As debuts go, it certainly can't be faulted for bravery: gorgeous low-contrast b/w cinematography in an exaggerated widescreen format, mixing horror, domestic tragedy, and a neo-realistic look at India's middle class in a style recalling Lynch and Polanski. The execution isn't always up to the ambition, sadly, and a slight tang of sexism hovers over it, but it's a fleet little thing that refuses to let go once it's hooked you. 7/10

1:50 PM-
Loverboy (Cǎtǎlin Mitulescu, Romania)
This enervating look at a generically pretty boy who lures young woman into his bed, and thence into a prostitution ring, until a bout of True Love gets in his way, is a low point of the Romanian New Wave (I haven't seen enough to call it the absolute nadir, but I hope it is). Without any particular insights about its characters or its subject matter, the movie hops arrhythmically though its story until an overdetermined, underwhelming ending. 4/10 (reviewed here)

3:00 PM-
Habemus Papam (Nanni Moretti, Italy)
A crowd favorite at Cannes, and it's not hard to see why: I am not so naïve as to think I'm the first, nor the hundreth, to come up with The Pope's Speech as an alternate title for this desperately nice comic fable about a newly elected pontiff with crippling doubts about his suitability for the role. Michel Piccoli is heart-stoppingly good, but by the time the B-plot had descended into a forcibly wacky setpiece in which the College of Cardinals unwound with a volleyball tournament, I'd completely given up hope. 5/10 (reviewed here)

3:30 PM-
Cairo 678 (Mohamed Diab, Egypt)
A fact-inspired story about three very different women whose paths cross in just the right way to serve as the flashpoint for a battle against the endemic sexual harassment in Egypt. It's a little bit schematic at first, with a few too many self-consciously cunning structural tricks, but before too long, the outstanding leading cast and the filmmakers' urgent sense of social justice have gelled into a genuinely rousing message picture. 8/10 (reviewed here)

3:30 PM-
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland)
A quintessentially Kaurismäki tale of a shoeshine aiding an illegal immigrant: there's political bite that doesn't stomp on you with its message, and a tight-knit community that might be called quirky if it weren't presented with such dry humor. Significantly clearer in its intent than his biggest Stateside hit, The Man Without a Past, it also lacks that film's expansiveness; it won't convert anybody but it's probably a good place to start with the director, and his established fans (of whom I am one) have reason to rejoice. 9/10 (reviewed here)

5:00 PM-
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Though it didn't turn this particular Dardenne doubter into a fan, I'll nonetheless admit that it's the first film by the brothers that has really worked for me: anchored by a terrifically manic performance by child actor Thomas Doret, their traditional jagged aesthetic has never worked so well, and the story of finding family where you make it is moving without being cloying. 8/10 (reviewed here)

5:15 PM-
Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier, Norway)
A young man of about 30, just before getting out of rehab, tries to find any scrap of evidence that he can start his life again where it got derailed. A tremendous sophomore feature that treats its central character with love and traces of humor even as it becomes increasingly clear that he's running out of hope; sensitive filmmaking like this is its own reward, though the film is unapologetically dark. 9/10 (reviewed here)

7:45 PM-
Michael (Michael Schleinzer, Austria)
It's Austrian, and it hates its audience, but that's as close to this watered-down version of Haneke comes to its obvious mentor. The story of a pedophile and the boy trapped in his basement bunker is harrowing, and its incredible restraint only makes it harder to stomach, but the mean-spirited ironies of the last third are no replacement for a complete lack of ideas or purpose beyond shocking the viewer into dumbness. 5/10 (reviewed here)

8:30 PM-
Cinema Komunisto (Mila Turajlič, Serbia and Montenegro)
As playful as documentaries about the dictatorial control of media can possibly be. This history of Yugoslavia via a history of its state-run film industry is guilty of burying the lede - until about 90 minutes in, the movie doesn't seem to think that Tito's government was anything but jolly old fun - but Turajlič's mountain of footage is absolutely fascinating, and her light touch makes the movie's whirlwind of names and dates go down easily. 8/10 (reviewed here)

8:30 PM-
Kaidan - Horror Classics (Anthology, Japan)
A feature-length program cobbled together from the four episodes of a TV series - a Japanese Masters of Horror, in essence. It's not terrifically inspired in the main, but even at their daftest, each of the four pieces has something to recommend it. A note of warning: this isn't conventional "horror", so much as uncanny and otherworldly; don't go in expecting to be scared. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Monday, 10 October, 2011

3:40 PM-
Day Is Done (Thomas Imbach, Switzerland)
The film's conceptual audacity - footage taken from a single apartment balcony, paired with answering machine message that combine to tell a version of the director's autobiography - is also it's downfall, for the results are damned redundant. It's that redundancy the ends up giving the film much of its impact, but I can't shake the feeling that 111 minutes was quite a lot more than the film really needed. 6/10 (reviewed here)

4:00 PM-
Cinema Komunisto (Mila Turajlič, Serbia and Montenegro)
As playful as documentaries about the dictatorial control of media can possibly be. This history of Yugoslavia via a history of its state-run film industry is guilty of burying the lede - until about 90 minutes in, the movie doesn't seem to think that Tito's government was anything but jolly old fun - but Turajlič's mountain of footage is absolutely fascinating, and her light touch makes the movie's whirlwind of names and dates go down easily. 8/10 (reviewed here)

4:15 PM-
Cairo 678 (Mohamed Diab, Egypt)
A fact-inspired story about three very different women whose paths cross in just the right way to serve as the flashpoint for a battle against the endemic sexual harassment in Egypt. It's a little bit schematic at first, with a few too many self-consciously cunning structural tricks, but before too long, the outstanding leading cast and the filmmakers' urgent sense of social justice have gelled into a genuinely rousing message picture. 8/10 (reviewed here)

8:00 PM-
Bol (Shoaib Mansoor, Pakistan)
I will freely admit that my American-honed tools aren't really up for the task of dealing with the flourishes of this slightly preachy, sprawling melodrama about voiceless women standing up to the arbitrary cruelty of religious patriarchy. Surprisingly chintzy production values aside (the film stock looks to be about 35 years old), it's a magnetic movie with passion and energy to spare, with two excellent lead performances. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Tuesday, 11 October, 2011

2:30 PM-
Corrode (Karan Gour, India)
As debuts go, it certainly can't be faulted for bravery: gorgeous low-contrast b/w cinematography in an exaggerated widescreen format, mixing horror, domestic tragedy, and a neo-realistic look at India's middle class in a style recalling Lynch and Polanski. The execution isn't always up to the ambition, sadly, and a slight tang of sexism hovers over it, but it's a fleet little thing that refuses to let go once it's hooked you. 7/10

3:15 PM-
Good Bye Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
It does not re-write the book on Iranian cinema, to put it mildly: there's little innovation in the form or technique of this close study of a woman dealing with an intractable series of decisions, just a lot of slow, long takes and artfully detached compositions. But the content is so bold and radical (the film literally had to be smuggled out of the country) that in this case, it's the tale and not the manner of telling that's important. 8/10

5:50 PM-
Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
One of Hong Kong's reigning champions of dramatic action cinema breaks out with an impeccable romantic farce, pairing the relationship woes of adorably wacky financial industry executives with the collapse of the world economy between 2008 and 2010. Among its many merits, the best might be that it manages the superhuman feat of building a love triangle in which all three participants are decent, likable people. 8/10 (reviewed here)

7:30 PM-
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, UK)
Ramsay's long-delayed third feature isn't as perfect as Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, nor is it fair to require that it be so. It's a beautifully off-kilter character study shot through with psychological horror, structured as a fragmentary series of memories of a woman's tortured relationship with her antisocial son, anchored by a top-shelf Tilda Swinton performance. 9/10 (reviewed here)

7:50 PM-
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Ceylan's newest, longest, and I will make so bold as to say best feature is a microcosm of life disguised as a police procedural, throwing a cluster of officials in the barren steppes of Anatolia over the course of a long, frustrating night and back in the city the following day, all to find one dead body. Exhaustively long and slow-moving, all the better to let the characters and viewer steep in the film's tricky grey morality that culminates in a piercing, implosive ending. 9/10 (reviewed here)

10:15 PM-
The Whisperer in Darkness (Sean Branney, USA)
A '30s-style adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft's most dramatically viable stories that well balances strikes a good balance between fidelity to the source material and thoughtful add-ons to give the cosmic horrors more of a pop-cinema kick. Eminently worthwhile for HPL fans, though its vintage aesthetic isn't as conceptually rigorous as the same team's Call of Cthulhu. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Wednesday, 12 October, 2011

1:45 PM-
Madame X (Lucky Kuswandi, Indonesia)
The idea of a transsexual superhero fighting a religious fundamentalist supervillain is so crammed full of possibilities for a campy lark that it I can't imagine anybody hearing about it at not being at least slightly intrigued. The good news is that it ends in a brilliant flurry of breezy social satire and gonzo theatrics; the bad news is that it's still a superhero origin story, and it takes its sweet time kicking into gear. 7/10 (reviewed here)

5:50 PM-
Cairo 678 (Mohamed Diab, Egypt)
A fact-inspired story about three very different women whose paths cross in just the right way to serve as the flashpoint for a battle against the endemic sexual harassment in Egypt. It's a little bit schematic at first, with a few too many self-consciously cunning structural tricks, but before too long, the outstanding leading cast and the filmmakers' urgent sense of social justice have gelled into a genuinely rousing message picture. 8/10 (reviewed here)

7:00 PM, Festival Centerpiece-
My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, UK)
Kenneth Branagh's Laurence Olivier is delightfully bitchy, Michelle Williams's Marilyn Monroe is disappointingly obvious and uninteresting, and the movie itself is little more than a substantial collection of funny one-liners about actors' idiosyncracies layered inside a slightly better retread of the "normal person encounters a crazy star" routine from Me and Orson Welles. It's the dullest sort of plonking Oscarbait. 5/10
Apparently, the version screened for press was an incomplete and not-meant-to-be-reviewed version of the film; I am not certain that something as simple as some editing can drag a masterpiece out of what I saw, but I'll still play fair and wait to see the general release before I say anything else about it.

9:00 PM-
Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
One of Hong Kong's reigning champions of dramatic action cinema breaks out with an impeccable romantic farce, pairing the relationship woes of adorably wacky financial industry executives with the collapse of the world economy between 2008 and 2010. Among its many merits, the best might be that it manages the superhuman feat of building a love triangle in which all three participants are decent, likable people. 8/10 (reviewed here)

9:45 PM-
The Whisperer in Darkness (Sean Branney, USA)
A '30s-style adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft's most dramatically viable stories that well balances strikes a good balance between fidelity to the source material and thoughtful add-ons to give the cosmic horrors more of a pop-cinema kick. Eminently worthwhile for HPL fans, though its vintage aesthetic isn't as conceptually rigorous as the same team's Call of Cthulhu. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Thursday, 13 October, 2011

1:45 PM-
Kinyarwanda (Alrick Brown, USA)
One of the better films about the 1994 Rwandan genocide in recent years; though it takes quite a while for its fragmentary narratives to gel into one coherent whole, the result is a disquieting study of how that event affected a single community. First-timer Brown rarely lets the material get away from him, nor does he give in to the temptation of simple moralising, preferring instead to depict the savagery as its own indictment. 8/10 (reviewed here)

6:10 PM
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Ceylan's newest, longest, and I will make so bold as to say best feature is a microcosm of life disguised as a police procedural, throwing a cluster of officials in the barren steppes of Anatolia over the course of a long, frustrating night and back in the city the following day, all to find one dead body. Exhaustively long and slow-moving, all the better to let the characters and viewer steep in the film's tricky grey morality that culminates in a piercing, implosive ending. 9/10 (reviewed here)

7:15 PM-
The Turin Horse (Tarr Béla, Hungary)
Arguably, this is only second-tier work for the legendarily audience-unfriendly director; but B-level Tarr is still on a completely different plane than any other living filmmaker, and if this is indeed, as he has promised, his final film, it's a pretty fantastic summing-up: an epochal vision of the end of humanity as played out by a father and daughter scratching out a living in a hellish environment. A prime candidate for multiple viewings. 9/10 (reviewed here)

7:30 PM-
Good Bye Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
It does not re-write the book on Iranian cinema, to put it mildly: there's little innovation in the form or technique of this close study of a woman dealing with an intractable series of decisions, just a lot of slow, long takes and artfully detached compositions. But the content is so bold and radical (the film literally had to be smuggled out of the country) that in this case, it's the tale and not the manner of telling that's important. 8/10

8:00 PM-
Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, UK)
Updating Shakespeare's most overtly political play into a brittle commentary on the Iraq War: works shockingly well. Denuding it of the Oedipal nastiness that gave the characters most of their bit: does not work at all. And most of the cast left me feeling chilly, though Vanessa Redgrave is as good as you've heard and Fiennes is right behind her. Still and all, I'm just glad to have one of the Bard's more obscure plays in cinematic form. 7/10 (reviewed here)

8:20 PM-
The Slut (Hagar Ben-Asher, Israel)
There's an unquestionable delight in watching what amounts to a porno storyline (promiscuous local woman has really fantastic sex with a hot veterinarian) appropriated for feminist theory, but it would be nice of the film to say more about sex than "it exists". It's a decent character piece, though, and new director Ben-Asher is a fine stylist; the arch atmosphere isn't a replacement for a perspective, but it's a decent simulacrum. 6/10 (reviewed here)


Friday, 14 October, 2011

3:00 PM-
The Mole (Rafael Lewandowski, Poland)
Films that grapple with sociocultural issues as fervently as The Mole dissects the psychic scars of Poland's Communist oppression in the 1980s are rarely entirely successful as movies, and there is undoubtedly a lot of intellectualising here at the expense of drama. But the characters are credible enough to keep it afloat, and there's a real corker of a family crisis story underneath all the hand-wringing. 7/10 (reviewed here)

3:15 PM-
Chico & Rita (Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal & Tono Errando, Spain)
Of the three animated features playing this year at the festival, this is almost certainly the most visually appealling: firm, bold lines and bright colors and a clean graphic style that suggests the Afro-Cuban milieu of the film's story without battering us with it; and the Bebo Valdés score is a real treat. All that being said, the story of two jazz musicians torn apart by infidelity and career ambitions has whiskers on it. 7/10 (reviewed here)

4:00 PM-
Loverboy (Cǎtǎlin Mitulescu, Romania)
This enervating look at a generically pretty boy who lures young woman into his bed, and thence into a prostitution ring, until a bout of True Love gets in his way, is a low point of the Romanian New Wave (I haven't seen enough to call it the absolute nadir, but I hope it is). Without any particular insights about its characters or its subject matter, the movie hops arrhythmically though its story until an overdetermined, underwhelming ending. 4/10 (reviewed here)

5:45 PM-
King of Devil's Island (Marius Holst, Norway/France)
This Amanda-winning story of an uprising by the inmates of a particularly brutal boys' prison on a desolate island starts out a bit too obvious in its depiction of the hellish nihilism of the Norwegian winter. But even if it spends the first 3/4s of its running time wallowing in misery and waiting for the ending to come, that ending is a mad rush of chaos and violence that's well worth it. 7/10 (reviewed here)

8:00 PM-
Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
One of Hong Kong's reigning champions of dramatic action cinema breaks out with an impeccable romantic farce, pairing the relationship woes of adorably wacky financial industry executives with the collapse of the world economy between 2008 and 2010. Among its many merits, the best might be that it manages the superhuman feat of building a love triangle in which all three participants are decent, likable people. 8/10 (reviewed here)

8:30 PM-
Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, Australia)
The story behind one of the most prolific serial killers in Australian history certain deserves to be dark and grim; but damn, there's dark and then there's Dark, you know? And while Kurzel's debut feature lacks for neither self-assurance nor gritty style, there's very little relief from its pounding insistence on the awfulness of everything on display. The point appears to be that psychopaths are scary people - hell of an insight. 6/10 (reviewed here)

10:30 PM-
Haunters (Kim Min-Suk, South Korea)
There's a little paranormal horror, some crime thriller, and a heaping spoonful of snarky black comedy in this cockeyed superhero tale of an physically durable unemployed construction working squaring off against a nihilistic thief who can control people using his eyes. The film thankfully realises how silly it is, while capturing the streets of Seoul with fludity and grace; but with only two Korean films at CIFF this year, this is really one of them? 7/10 (reviewed here)

10:15 PM-
Madame X (Lucky Kuswandi, Indonesia)
The idea of a transsexual superhero fighting a religious fundamentalist supervillain is so crammed full of possibilities for a campy lark that it I can't imagine anybody hearing about it at not being at least slightly intrigued. The good news is that it ends in a brilliant flurry of breezy social satire and gonzo theatrics; the bad news is that it's still a superhero origin story, and it takes its sweet time kicking into gear. 7/10 (reviewed here)

10:45 PM-
George the Hedgehog (Wawszczyk/Tarkowski/Leśniak, Poland)
As a satire of the crudity of modern pop culture, this animated tale of a foul-mouthed, over-sexed, alcoholic hedgehog and his neo-Nazi clone is pretty damn scattershot. But enough of it sticks that the balance is on the right side, and the maniacal storytelling energy and unique, comic-inspired visual style are addictive enough that the film is good for a quick blast of cult-movie energy, if nothing else. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Saturday, 15 October

11:50 AM-
Loverboy (Cǎtǎlin Mitulescu, Romania)
This enervating look at a generically pretty boy who lures young woman into his bed, and thence into a prostitution ring, until a bout of True Love gets in his way, is a low point of the Romanian New Wave (I haven't seen enough to call it the absolute nadir, but I hope it is). Without any particular insights about its characters or its subject matter, the movie hops arrhythmically though its story until an overdetermined, underwhelming ending. 4/10 (reviewed here)

2:00 PM-
The Turin Horse (Tarr Béla, Hungary)
Arguably, this is only second-tier work for the legendarily audience-unfriendly director; but B-level Tarr is still on a completely different plane than any other living filmmaker, and if this is indeed, as he has promised, his final film, it's a pretty fantastic summing-up: an epochal vision of the end of humanity as played out by a father and daughter scratching out a living in a hellish environment. A prime candidate for multiple viewings. 9/10 (reviewed here)

2:10 PM-
Good Bye Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
It does not re-write the book on Iranian cinema, to put it mildly: there's little innovation in the form or technique of this close study of a woman dealing with an intractable series of decisions, just a lot of slow, long takes and artfully detached compositions. But the content is so bold and radical (the film literally had to be smuggled out of the country) that in this case, it's the tale and not the manner of telling that's important. 8/10

2:45 PM-
Chronicle of My Mother (Harada Masato, Japan)
The steady stream of Ozu comparisons is a bit excessive - Harada's film is not remotely so formally severe as that - but forgivable: this multi-generational story of the frustrations between parents and children practically begs for it. That said, Harada is no copycat: his treatment of a senile grandmother, a workaholic author father, and a sensitive daughter is classically delicate, but very much of the moment, despite its 1960s setting. 8/10 (reviewed here)

7:15 PM-
The Slut (Hagar Ben-Asher, Israel)
There's an unquestionable delight in watching what amounts to a porno storyline (promiscuous local woman has really fantastic sex with a hot veterinarian) appropriated for feminist theory, but it would be nice of the film to say more about sex than "it exists". It's a decent character piece, though, and new director Ben-Asher is a fine stylist; the arch atmosphere isn't a replacement for a perspective, but it's a decent simulacrum. 6/10 (reviewed here)


8:00 PM-Chico & Rita (Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal & Tono Errando, Spain)
Of the three animated features playing this year at the festival, this is almost certainly the most visually appealling: firm, bold lines and bright colors and a clean graphic style that suggests the Afro-Cuban milieu of the film's story without battering us with it; and the Bebo Valdés score is a real treat. All that being said, the story of two jazz musicians torn apart by infidelity and career ambitions has whiskers on it. 7/10 (reviewed here)

8:50 PM-
Andrew Bird: Fever Year (Xan Aranda, USA)
As a longstanding member of the choir that this blessedly uninsightful documentary is singing to, I can come up with a lot of worse ways to spend 80 minutes than by watching Andrew Bird concert footage. But there's a gulf separating a collection of polished YouTube videos from an actual concert movie, and apart from some utterly typical thoughts about where art comes from, there's nothing here but star-struck fanboyism. 5/10 (reviewed here)

9:40 PM-
Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, Australia)
The story behind one of the most prolific serial killers in Australian history certain deserves to be dark and grim; but damn, there's dark and then there's Dark, you know? And while Kurzel's debut feature lacks for neither self-assurance nor gritty style, there's very little relief from its pounding insistence on the awfulness of everything on display. The point appears to be that psychopaths are scary people - hell of an insight. 6/10 (reviewed here)

10:15 PM-
Rabies (Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, Israel)
Israel's first splatterpunk horror movie is in a rough spot: good enough to feel shackled by generic conventions, not good enough to transcend genre. Even so, I'm glad it exists: with a really nasty sense of humor, well-defined characters filling otherwise clichéd roles, and a genuinely surprising third act, it's a far brainier slasher film than most horror filmmakers could imagine. 7/10 (reviewed here)

10:30 PM-
Haunters (Kim Min-Suk, South Korea)
There's a little paranormal horror, some crime thriller, and a heaping spoonful of snarky black comedy in this cockeyed superhero tale of an physically durable unemployed construction working squaring off against a nihilistic thief who can control people using his eyes. The film thankfully realises how silly it is, while capturing the streets of Seoul with fludity and grace; but with only two Korean films at CIFF this year, this is really one of them? 7/10 (reviewed here)

10:45 PM-
George the Hedgehog (Wawszczyk/Tarkowski/Leśniak, Poland)
As a satire of the crudity of modern pop culture, this animated tale of a foul-mouthed, over-sexed, alcoholic hedgehog and his neo-Nazi clone is pretty damn scattershot. But enough of it sticks that the balance is on the right side, and the maniacal storytelling energy and unique, comic-inspired visual style are addictive enough that the film is good for a quick blast of cult-movie energy, if nothing else. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Sunday, 16 October, 2011

12:00 PM-
The Slut (Hagar Ben-Asher, Israel)
There's an unquestionable delight in watching what amounts to a porno storyline (promiscuous local woman has really fantastic sex with a hot veterinarian) appropriated for feminist theory, but it would be nice of the film to say more about sex than "it exists". It's a decent character piece, though, and new director Ben-Asher is a fine stylist; the arch atmosphere isn't a replacement for a perspective, but it's a decent simulacrum. 6/10 (reviewed here)


12:30 PM-
Chico & Rita (Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal & Tono Errando, Spain)
Of the three animated features playing this year at the festival, this is almost certainly the most visually appealling: firm, bold lines and bright colors and a clean graphic style that suggests the Afro-Cuban milieu of the film's story without battering us with it; and the Bebo Valdés score is a real treat. All that being said, the story of two jazz musicians torn apart by infidelity and career ambitions has whiskers on it. 7/10 (reviewed here)

4:10 PM-
Madame X (Lucky Kuswandi, Indonesia)
The idea of a transsexual superhero fighting a religious fundamentalist supervillain is so crammed full of possibilities for a campy lark that it I can't imagine anybody hearing about it at not being at least slightly intrigued. The good news is that it ends in a brilliant flurry of breezy social satire and gonzo theatrics; the bad news is that it's still a superhero origin story, and it takes its sweet time kicking into gear. 7/10 (reviewed here)

5:15 PM-
Love Is in the Air (Simon Staho, Denmark)
Four insensibly grating young people dressed like a pack of avant-garde circus clowns flounce through a long night of exploring their sexual natures and striving to make romantic connections. A virtually non-stop wall of bouncy musical numbers and the positively shocking use of boldly colored lighting mostly serve to distract us from how little this has to say, but the quirkiness starts out oppressive and only gets worse. 4/10 (reviewed here)

5:30 PM-
The Mole (Rafael Lewandowski, Poland)
Films that grapple with sociocultural issues as fervently as The Mole dissects the psychic scars of Poland's Communist oppression in the 1980s are rarely entirely successful as movies, and there is undoubtedly a lot of intellectualising here at the expense of drama. But the characters are credible enough to keep it afloat, and there's a real corker of a family crisis story underneath all the hand-wringing. 7/10 (reviewed here)

7:50 PM-
Chronicle of My Mother (Harada Masato, Japan)
The steady stream of Ozu comparisons is a bit excessive - Harada's film is not remotely so formally severe as that - but forgivable: this multi-generational story of the frustrations between parents and children practically begs for it. That said, Harada is no copycat: his treatment of a senile grandmother, a workaholic author father, and a sensitive daughter is classically delicate, but very much of the moment, despite its 1960s setting. 8/10 (reviewed here)

8:10 PM-
Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, Australia)
A clinical dissection of attitudes towards sex, punctuated by lingering shots of Emily Browning's naked body that grow increasingly divorced from anything resembling eroticism as the film goes on. It's a bold & commanding debut feature, though inconsistent: Leigh uses long takes like she was born to it, except when she doesn't, and the film's emotional chilliness feels incidental almost as often as it's brilliant. Still, anything this exquisitely difficult to get a handle on practically demands multiple viewings. 8/10 (reviewed here)

8:30 PM-
Andrew Bird: Fever Year (Xan Aranda, USA)
As a longstanding member of the choir that this blessedly uninsightful documentary is singing to, I can come up with a lot of worse ways to spend 80 minutes than by watching Andrew Bird concert footage. But there's a gulf separating a collection of polished YouTube videos from an actual concert movie, and apart from some utterly typical thoughts about where art comes from, there's nothing here but star-struck fanboyism. 5/10 (reviewed here)


Monday, 17 October, 2011

3:15 PM-
Chronicle of My Mother (Harada Masato, Japan)
The steady stream of Ozu comparisons is a bit excessive - Harada's film is not remotely so formally severe as that - but forgivable: this multi-generational story of the frustrations between parents and children practically begs for it. That said, Harada is no copycat: his treatment of a senile grandmother, a workaholic author father, and a sensitive daughter is classically delicate, but very much of the moment, despite its 1960s setting. 8/10 (reviewed here)

3:15 PM-
Love Is in the Air (Simon Staho, Denmark)
Four insensibly grating young people dressed like a pack of avant-garde circus clowns flounce through a long night of exploring their sexual natures and striving to make romantic connections. A virtually non-stop wall of bouncy musical numbers and the positively shocking use of boldly colored lighting mostly serve to distract us from how little this has to say, but the quirkiness starts out oppressive and only gets worse. 4/10 (reviewed here)

8:10 PM-
Target (Alexander Zeldovich, Russia)
An intermittently brilliant, frequently muddled near-future riff on Anna Karenina that unfortunately gets more and more bogged down in stretched-thin symbolism as it moves forward. It's the result of trying to grab onto too many idea for even a butt-numbing two-and-a-half hour running time; but if every movie could be written off as having too many ideas to juggle all at once, we'd have a much healthier world cinema. 7/10 (reviewed here)

8:30 PM-
Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, Australia)
A clinical dissection of attitudes towards sex, punctuated by lingering shots of Emily Browning's naked body that grow increasingly divorced from anything resembling eroticism as the film goes on. It's a bold & commanding debut feature, though inconsistent: Leigh uses long takes like she was born to it, except when she doesn't, and the film's emotional chilliness feels incidental almost as often as it's brilliant. Still, anything this exquisitely difficult to get a handle on practically demands multiple viewings. 8/10 (reviewed here)


Tuesday, 18 October, 2011

2:45 PM-
Southwest (Eduardo Nunes, Brazil)
A woman is born, grows up, grows old, and dies between dawn and dusk one day. A daringly opaque fairy tale cum half-remembered dream that is outstandingly gorgeous (I don't know that I've ever described a black-and-white film as "painterly" before this moment), exquisite in its unconventionality, and constructed with a precision that belies its director's lack of experience: easy to dismiss as "artsy", but nothing that burns itself into your retinas like this deserves to be dismissed, easily or not. 9/10 (reviewed here)

6:00 PM-
Love Is in the Air (Simon Staho, Denmark)
Four insensibly grating young people dressed like a pack of avant-garde circus clowns flounce through a long night of exploring their sexual natures and striving to make romantic connections. A virtually non-stop wall of bouncy musical numbers and the positively shocking use of boldly colored lighting mostly serve to distract us from how little this has to say, but the quirkiness starts out oppressive and only gets worse. 4/10 (reviewed here)

6:15 PM-
Pina (Wim Wenders, UK)
As a tribute to the life of the director's friend, the great modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch, the film suffers from an almost complete lack of context: glowing encomiums from everyone she ever worked with aren't the same as biographical detail. As a tribute to her work, though, it's stunning: as intelligently composed as any dance film ever has been, with a cunning and deliberate use of 3-D that is surely that technology's current high-water mark. 8/10 (reviewed here)

6:20 PM-
The Mole (Rafael Lewandowski, Poland)
Films that grapple with sociocultural issues as fervently as The Mole dissects the psychic scars of Poland's Communist oppression in the 1980s are rarely entirely successful as movies, and there is undoubtedly a lot of intellectualising here at the expense of drama. But the characters are credible enough to keep it afloat, and there's a real corker of a family crisis story underneath all the hand-wringing. 7/10 (reviewed here)

7:45 PM-
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, UK)
Ramsay's long-delayed third feature isn't as perfect as Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, nor is it fair to require that it be so. It's a beautifully off-kilter character study shot through with psychological horror, structured as a fragmentary series of memories of a woman's tortured relationship with her antisocial son, anchored by a top-shelf Tilda Swinton performance. 9/10 (reviewed here)

8:50 PM-
Target (Alexander Zeldovich, Russia)
An intermittently brilliant, frequently muddled near-future riff on Anna Karenina that unfortunately gets more and more bogged down in stretched-thin symbolism as it moves forward. It's the result of trying to grab onto too many idea for even a butt-numbing two-and-a-half hour running time; but if every movie could be written off as having too many ideas to juggle all at once, we'd have a much healthier world cinema. 7/10 (reviewed here)


Wednesday, 19 October, 2011

3:30 PM-
Andrew Bird: Fever Year (Xan Aranda, USA)
Back by popular demand
As a longstanding member of the choir that this blessedly uninsightful documentary is singing to, I can come up with a lot of worse ways to spend 80 minutes than by watching Andrew Bird concert footage. But there's a gulf separating a collection of polished YouTube videos from an actual concert movie, and apart from some utterly typical thoughts about where art comes from, there's nothing here but star-struck fanboyism. 5/10 (reviewed here)

5:30 PM-
Cinema Komunisto (Mila Turajlič, Serbia and Montenegro)
WINNER: GOLD HUGO - DOCUFEST
As playful as documentaries about the dictatorial control of media can possibly be. This history of Yugoslavia via a history of its state-run film industry is guilty of burying the lede - until about 90 minutes in, the movie doesn't seem to think that Tito's government was anything but jolly old fun - but Turajlič's mountain of footage is absolutely fascinating, and her light touch makes the movie's whirlwind of names and dates go down easily. 8/10 (reviewed here)

5:45PM-
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland)
WINNER: GOLD HUGO - BEST IN COMPETITION
A quintessentially Kaurismäki tale of a shoeshine aiding an illegal immigrant: there's political bite that doesn't stomp on you with its message, and a tight-knit community that might be called quirky if it weren't presented with such dry humor. Significantly clearer in its intent than his biggest Stateside hit, The Man Without a Past, it also lacks that film's expansiveness; it won't convert anybody but it's probably a good place to start with the director, and his established fans (of whom I am one) have reason to rejoice. 9/10 (reviewed here)

8:15 PM-
The Slut (Hagar Ben-Asher, Israel)
Back by popular demand
There's an unquestionable delight in watching what amounts to a porno storyline (promiscuous local woman has really fantastic sex with a hot veterinarian) appropriated for feminist theory, but it would be nice of the film to say more about sex than "it exists". It's a decent character piece, though, and new director Ben-Asher is a fine stylist; the arch atmosphere isn't a replacement for a perspective, but it's a decent simulacrum. 6/10 (reviewed here)



Thursday, 20 October, 2011

7:00 PM, Closing Film-
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, France)
An unashamedly soppy tribute to Hollywood cinema of the 1920s and '30s, that nails every last detail of the style and frothy plots of that period. The neo-silent aesthetic and Jean Dujardin's exemplary mugging are perhaps better suited to people already in love with the forms being referenced than winning new fans, and it's utterly insubstantial; yet it's handily the most fun I've had in a movie theater in 2011. 9/10 (reviewed here)

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