AFI Festival 2011: Day Two (Saturday)

Getting a little hopelessly behind on these (hopelessly because the fest has now been over for several days), but I’m going to go ahead and do them in order as planned anyway. Saturday was the fullest day of movies, with five features all in a row starting just after noon. Had some close connections to make (including running down the street from the Chinese to the Egyptian in about two minutes flat), but I made it to everything, just barely. And what’s a fest without a few close calls, eh?

Snowtown

[Rating:4/5]

Everything I’ve heard from Australian bloggers and other festival-goers indicated that this film was a) really well-done and b) really hard to watch. That’s not far off, although I didn’t find it as difficult to watch as I thought I might. It’s based on the real-life John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, but it’s far from a standard biopic. It filters its portrait through the character of Jamie, a teenage boy growing up in a single-parent, low income home. We spend a good bit of time with Jamie and his family before John shows up, suddenly Jamie’s mom’s new love interest. John is charismatic and heroic to Jamie and his younger brothers, someone who protects them from the pedophile next door but slowly brainwashes Jamie into his bigoted and violent worldview – but what at first seems to be just extreme vigilante justice against actual bad people soon turns into more and more self-serving kills. Some of these are very hard to watch, and I admit to closing my eyes a few times, but even more disturbing is how John brings Jamie into his group, and how he treats his “friends” at any provocation. It’s an extremely effective approach to Bunting, but probably not something I’d want to watch again.
2011 Australia. Director: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris.

Le cercle rouge

[Rating:5/5]

My one repertory screening of the festival, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar programming a Jean-Pierre Melville film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. And it was totally worth giving up a new movie to be able to see this one for the first time in a theatre with a full, appreciative audience. It’s a crime story, like most of Melville’s films, an intricately plotted combination of criminals on the run, police on the chase, the mob on the make, and a well-planned jewelry heist. All these elements get their due, with great characters in every part. It’s not quite fair to give a 40-year-old film my “best of fest” vote, but it was unquestionably my favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1970 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil and Gian Maria Volonté.

Pina

[Rating:3.5/5]

After thinking that Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the best use of 3D I’d seen so far, I figured I’d give Herzog’s countryman Wim Wenders a chance to challenge with his dance documentary/tribute to groundbreaking choreographer Pina Bausch, who died while working a film with Wenders. He abandoned the film upon her death, until her dance company convinced him to complete it as a tribute to her. The film itself is lovely, a collection of dance performances, some on stage, others in various urban and rural laces throughout Germany, intercut with brief interview excerpts from members of the company about Pina and her approach to dance. The 3D, though…something may be wrong with me, but I find it impossible to focus on movement in 3D, and dance is a LOT of movement. The still parts look pretty cool in 3D (including, surprisingly, the interview segments, which are done as a shot of the dancer not talking with their quotes given in voiceover – more effective than you might think), but as soon as the dancers move with any speed, it’s just a blur and trying to focus on it gave me a massive headache. I think I would prefer to watch this in 2D. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Germany. Director: Wim Wenders. Starring: Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

Bonsái

[Rating:3.5/5]

An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very enjoyable and made me want to read Proust myself. So there’s that.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.

Kill List

[Rating:4/5]

Main character Jay has been out of work for eight months, a situation that he seems okay with, but his wife Shel most certainly is not. At first, it’s not clear what he does for work, but as the film wears on and a former colleague approaches him with a potential job, it becomes clear that he’s a hit man. As they take on the job, which consists of a list of people to be killed, the situations get weirder and weirder until the film takes a turn that switches it from slow burn to high-octane in almost a split second. That turn may not work for everybody, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Even the earlier kills have a bit of the old ultraviolence to them, and the twist at the end is horrible, but not necessarily unearned. At least, not in terms of the emotional and adrenal impact. I’m not sure the whole trajectory of the story makes logical sense in any way whatsoever, but by the time Jay and his cohort are being chased around in a set of dark, dank tunnels, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Terror takes over, and I have to say, this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen lately, even with a whole month of horror films just behind me in October. I loved it.
2011 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson.