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)

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