Saturday, 23 July 2011

Wroclaw New Horizons Film Festival Notes #1

As a statement of intent, choosing Asghar Farhadi's A Separation and Nuri Bilge Celan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as its twin opening night films, Wroclaw’s New Horizons film festival (formally known as Era after its late sponsor) made clear its commitment to cinematic sobriety. Farhadi's he-said she-said tale of domestic strife, weighed against Ceylan’s grim police procedural; and Farhadi's claustrophobic domestic and public spaces was happily countered by Ceylan’s almost agoraphobic look at the Turkish countryside at dawn. In Once Upon a Time... four characters trawl secluded spots in search of a body: the police chief, a distinguished prosecutor (whose resemblance to Clark Gable does not unnoted), a young divorced doctor and the supposed murderer himself. They drive by night, winding around the hilly landscape of the western, Asian tip of Turkey, bickering amongst themselves until the body is eventually found, hogtied, and the deconstruction of the crime can begin.

Whilst reminiscent at times of Kiarostami (in the long shots of the convoy making its way through the landscape and a momentous shot of an apple rolling down a hill) and the bleak, deterministic comedies coming out of Romania (The Death of Mr Laserescu, Police, Adjective), this is very clearly a Ceylan film, with this favoured theme of romantic guilt again at the fore. For me, it’s his best since Usak.

In one of the many sidebars, Jasper Sharp presents a selection of Japanese Pink films to illustrate his book (published in translation for the festival). With a more wide ranging and contemporary scope than the Wild Japan season he took to the BFI a couple of years ago, this series takes us up to the present day. Blue Film Woman, an early classic of the genre, presents a pretty typical indecent proposal narrative: a downtrodden stock broker forced to sell his wife to his sleazy debtor, an act that leads to her sudden death and his incapacity. It’s left up to his teenage daughter to pay off the debt, which she goes about in an all too predictable way. For a film that plays patriarchal rape for laughs, there is a surprising amount of subtlety to be found within, such as the scenes of the daughter greeting her clients with the same hellos, light music, slow dance, and then... From 1999, No Love Juice: Rustling in the Bed seems far less political in intent, and, whilst evidently more explicit than its predecessors, comes close to being understated. A 28 year old business woman fears being left on the shelf after being dumped by her partner of 6 years. Old before her time, she gets an erotic recharge in the form of a twenty year old art students she meets on the last train home. It’s too late to eat, and too cold to be alone, she reasons, to they stay together. The pair plunge into a sweaty affair, talk earnestly about life and so on.You could almost call it Rohmeresque (but with analingus).

Also seen: Tender Son: Frankenstein Project has been around for a while but I finally caught up with it here. It starts interestingly enough, with a director fresh from a theatrical production of The Count of Monte Christo embarking on auditions for a new (unnamed) film. After one audition goes horribly wrong, the film settles into a less opportune pattern of mounting deaths in the cold Hungarian landscape. You Are Here, the feature debut of artist Danial Cockburn plays in the International Competition: it’s a slightly too pleased with itself metaphysical puzzle film (is there any other kind?) enlivened by the odd decent joke. And Volcano, in which a mopey ex-fisherman finds that life might be worth living after all..

...more to follow (laptop battery pending)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Notes on Fassbinder's Jail Bait (1973)

Wildwechsel (Jail bait AKA Wild Game) is the only Fassbinder film I can think of that focuses on youth; a look at the time before his fated characters’ faces have become puffy with booze and pills, and before the string of heartbreaks have left them condemned to cycles of destruction. It opens, however, not on the teenage couple that become its centre, but on the girl’s parents. It’s early in the morning and father wants them to go back to bed. Mother looks herself over in the mirror, counting the wrinkles. “Chubby women like me stay younger longer” she rationalises, but her mind is more on the lottery numbers…

Their daughter, Hannie, is still in bed. She is 14, but has the body of someone years older. As the film progresses she will become involved with Franz, a slaughterhouse worker 5 years her senior, who first will be jailed for statutory rape, and later get her pregnant. Hannie and Franz’s relationship is like an embryo of some other, more famous, Fassbinder romances: psychical, sado-masochistic, dependant and doomed.

Eva Mattes, who had played Petra von Kant’s spurned daughter a couple of years earlier, gets her generational revenge here. A calculated cruelty hides behind her puppy-fat exterior, as she manipulates her lover into patricide by proxy. Fassbinder’s take on youth is complex and cynical. This isn’t a story of innocence lost or stolen, but of an inevitable decline. The loss of virginity is no big deal. "It had to happen, and now it happened. It doesn't matter." Hannie is one of Fassbinder’s typically compromised victims; perhaps the gulf in morals between this generation and the last isn't as vast as we would like. Her father pines for the years of National Socialism, but resents them for taking his youth. “We weren’t young, we were soldiers.”

Like always, the characters are trapped, forever standing in doorways they fail to exit, or pinned by down symbolic mise en scene (replacement prison-bars are everywhere, except in the scenes of Franz in custody, where he seems strangely free.) 

The film is little seen today, perhaps because of the still troubling subject matter (Breillat would mine similar territory with 36 Fillette and À ma sœur!, yet Fassbinder’s film remains uncomfortable viewing); but more likely because of legal issues surrounding the film (Franz Xaver Kroetz, author of play on which it was based, branded the film version pornographic and has had some success in getting the film suppressed.) It is as yet unavailable on DVD, but the far from pristine bootleg (see screengrabs) is still well worth a look.