Monday, 18 October 2010

LFF Notes #1

Chongqing Blues

China and the Far East would seem to be the go to place for those seeking the sort of low key ‘clash of the generation’ type titles that Europe and US excelled at in the 60s and 70s. There, the generational gap seems so much more palpable and crucial to an understanding of the social world. The sad bemusement on Lin’s face as he enters a city nightclub, wrapped up in his Northface style jacket, is evidence of a clear shift between old and young. In the West we might all believe we’re all teenagers, but not so in industrial Chongqing.

This is one of several excellent scenes in Wang Xiaoshuai’ Chongqing Blues. Melancholic Lin returns to the city after being away at sea to find that the son that he barely knew has been killed in a hijack standoff with the police. He attempts to piece together the events that led to the death, talking first to his son’s friend and lover, then his hostage victim and finally the policeman who fired the fatal bullet. The film is ultimately a little too schematic to carry over its emotional points, but Wang and his cinematographer Wu Di excel in giving us an image of life in the grim industrial sections of China’s Sichuan province.


Commissioned for the centenary of Mexico’s revolution, 10 indigenous filmmakers offer brief sketches of varying quality, pieced together into a reasonably engaging portmanteau. A sort of Pancho Villa, I Love You if you will, but far more bitter. As expected the tone is massively uneven, but there are no real perros here. Highlights include a sharp and absorbing tale of precocious youth from Gael Garcia Bernal (also an associate producer alongside his good friend Diego Luna) Amat Escalante’s weirdly dislocated anecdote about a priest and two young children, and Carlos Reygadas’ This is My Kingdom in which a social picnic turns feral. For my money this is the best thing he’s done since Japón. 


Shot in 7 static takes in the town of Duisburg, Germany (a suitable facsimile for his home town of Milwaukee , says the director) James Bennings’ Ruhr is uncompromising, sober and breathtaking. The first half comprises of the first six ten minute shots: of an underpass, some rolling machinery, some trees, a mosque in session, a Richard Serra sculpture being de-graffitied, and a quiet street scene, all composed with rigid precision and displayed in a digital image so detailed that the only possible response is awe. The second half consists of a hour long take of a coke-plant smoking phallus as the sky darkens around it. Exceptional. 

Silent Souls 

Aleksei Fedorchenko‘s Silent Souls is undoubtedly an aesthetic treat. Bird-fancier Aist accompanies factory boss Mirion as he deposes of his dead wife’s body in the traditional custom of the Merjan people. Based on a short story by Aist Sergeyev, the film feels overstretched even at its 75 minute runtime, but is fascinating when dealing with the rites and rituals of this small, Finnish originated tribe. Moments of light surrealism stop the film from becoming overly maudlin, and the flashback scenes between the two men and Mirion‘s young wife Tanya (such as when Mirion lovingly bathes his bride in vodka) have a real tenderness. 

Blessed Events 

Ever wondered what it would have been like if Christian Petzold had directed Knocked Up? Then Blessed Events is the film for you. A grubby car-bound one night stand results in the emotionally stunted thirtysomething Simone falling pregnant. Her one-off lover, Hannes, a young medic, is surprisingly thrilled by the news, and the pair make attempts to set up a family home. As a study of a pregnant woman’s spiralling anxiety the film is effective, if perhaps a little too chilly. Annika Kuhl’s performance as Simone really captures the sad resignation of a woman grown old before her time (she hardly takes her coat off for most of the first half of the film). Blessed Events makes its quiet points eloquently. 

The Orion 

An illicitly shot no-budget story of a young woman’s harrowing experiences after losing her virginity to her teacher, The Orion makes for uncomfortable viewing. The film is rough and ready to say the least, but its vital and engrossing story is perhaps all the more powerful because of the evidently clandestine nature of its production. Somewhat reminiscent of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days and Jafar Panahi’s The Circle (credited here as an ‘editing consultant’) the film portrays a terrifyingly dystopian situation, where questions of morals are suppressed by the more immediate concerns for survival. The performances are uniformly excellent. 

Also seen: 

A very interesting pair of meta-meta documentary experiments by former UK gallery artists Gillian Wearing and Clio Bernard, Self Made and The Arbor; a rather rudderless if intermittently charming Argentinean docudrama road movie The Lips; and a neat bit of provocative fun in The Mosquito Net, Agustí Vila ‘s mucho-Bunuelian satire of Catalan familial dysfunction.

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