Kenneth Hite (princeofcairo) wrote,
Kenneth Hite
princeofcairo

CIFF Me As Though It Was The Last Time

Well, another CIFF has come and gone, this one three days shorter than the last batch of them. Whether that, along with what felt like a much weaker year this time around, portends trouble behind the screen we shall all learn together. For right now, what we've learned is that Hungary can indeed bring it, that Brazil is on notice, and that it's a good thing the Festival spotlighted Italian films this year. his_regard and I saw 21 movies -- slightly less than usual -- but with the exception of the highly recommended Japanese film Shoplifters (sold out), the Hungarian animated heist flick Ruben Brandt, Collector (only available opposite our Welles fest) and the lone South Korean film I don't think we missed too much. And so, to the rankings ...

The Pinnacle

The Other Side of the Wind (US, Orson Welles, 1976 & 2018) Imperious director J.J. Hannaford (John Huston) returns from European exile to make one last masterpiece but the system (and his own legend) gets in his way. Scripted and shot as a combination of found footage and film-within-a-film, this prodigiously innovative, elliptical movie has finally achieved final cut (Bob Murawski completing the remaining 70% of the editing from Welles’ notes) thanks to Netflix money and hard-working producers Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza.

Recommended

Dogman (Italy, Matteo Garrone, 2018) Dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) plays sidekick and lackey to brutish thug Simone (Edoardo Pesce) until … Garrone’s strong, pure study of a man under pressure depends almost entirely on Fonte‘s acting for its compelling drive. The story is far less complex than Garrone’s amazing Gomorrah, but this is almost its equal as a film.

Border (Sweden, Ali Abbasi, 2018) Tina (Eva Melander) looks Neanderthal, but she can sniff out shame and fear (among other things) making her a valued customs officer — until she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff) who looks like she does. From a story by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) who also co-wrote the script, the film plays effortlessly with many different genres from policier to horror to magical realism.

The Trouble With You (France, Pierre Salvadori, 2018) Upon discovering that her dead super-cop husband corruptly framed Antoine (Pio Marmai) for a jewel heist, Marseille police woman Yvonne (a wonderful Adele Haenel) tries to protect him from the consequences when he gets out of prison. Screwball comedy mashes up romance, crime, and philosophy as unconsidered moral choices lead to ever more ridiculous consequences, all to a fab go-go score by Camille Bazbaz.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (US, Morgan Neville, 2018) Tells the story of Orson Welles’ last great fiasco, the making of The Other Side of the Wind (q.v.). Particularly well cut together explainer weirdly omits the final chapter in which Netflix pays to fix the seemingly intractable problems and finish the film (and create this documentary).

Liverleaf (Japan, Eisuke Naitô, 2018) Bullied transfer student Haruka (Anna Yamada) finally unbottles her rage in ultraviolent revenge, revealing secrets and burying bodies in a blizzard. Based on a manga, some of the scenes are achingly beautiful — and often gory as hell. Maybe some of the story beats could have used some signals or supports, but this is ukiyo-e after all, so maybe not.

The Mercy of the Jungle (Belgium/France/Rwanda, Joel Karekezi, 2018) Career Rwandan Army Sergeant Xavier (Marc Zinga) and peasant private Faustin (Stéphane Bak), left behind during an offensive in the Second Congo War must survive the jungle, a band of rebels, and their own psyches in this effective war movie that occasionally becomes genuinely gripping. The two leads’ strong, lived-in performances give Karekezi a solid core to return to, keeping the picaresque nature of the material reined in.

Overlord (US, Julius Avery, 2018) Just before D-Day the remnants of an American paratrooper squad (Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, John Magaro, et al) must destroy a key Nazi radio jammer in a church, but find the Nazi forces conducting supernatural experiments in the crypt. Remarkably competent war action joins with top-notch zombie action for a thoroughly satisfying, controlled horror-adventure B-movie on an A-budget.

X — the eXploited (Hungary, Karoly Ujj Mészáros, 2018) Brilliant detective Eva (Monika Balsai) can’t function thanks to crippling panic attacks, but still manages to link a series of seeming accidents and suicides as murders with political implications. A solid political thriller, a strong policier, and for an act or two just a very creative variation on the Nero Wolfe model, all filmed with style.

Friedkin Uncut (Italy, Francesco Zippel, 2018) Perhaps with a lesser subject than Chicago’s own William Friedkin, this fairly conventional documentary-about-a-director (direcumentary?) would just be Good, but Friedkin remains a live wire at 83 and the galaxy of talents from Ellen Burstyn to Walter Hill to Quentin Tarantino who pay him homage do so joyfully. (The Willem Dafoe segment also reminded me why and how much To Live and Die in L.A. blew me away when I saw it in the theater.) Friedkin eschews the term “art,” about his own films at least, but like a true artist he stubbornly shoots what he sees.

Good

Animal (Argentina/Spain, Armando Bo, 2018) A civilized man (Guillermo Francella) disintegrates when his kidney fails. Notable for the slow-motion home invasion-demonic possession story featuring the scumbag drifter with a matching blood type who extorts him, but in the end the film feels like a writer with too many directions becoming a director without a clear vision.

Duelles (Belgium/France, Olivier Masset-Depasse, 2018) Story by Hitchcock, shots by Douglas Sirk: In idyllic 1960s Brussels, neighboring housewives Alice (Veerle Baetens) and Celine (Anne Coesens) succumb to paranoia and madness following a fatal accident to Celine’s son. The story moves well, and Baetens plays increasing mania wonderfully. But Masset-Depasse’s relatively conventional treatment and extremely safe and conventional choices raise the question: what is this movie doing, exactly, besides marking time for the inevitable Reese Witherspoon remake?

The Stolen Caravaggio (Italy, Roberto Ando, 2018) Film company secretary Valeria (Micaela Ramazotti), who ghostwrites screenplays for blocked writer Alessandro Pes (Alessandro Gassmann), gets a lead on a story about the titular Caravaggio and to nobody’s surprise winds up inside the action. More propulsive than Ando’s Confessions, this meta-film wants to be Charade or a similarly dizzying romcom thriller, but doesn’t quite reach it. However, the ride is fun, and Maurizio Calvesi’s cinematography makes everything gorgeous.

Boys Cry (Italy, Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, 2018) Vacuous losers Manolo (Andrea Carpanzano) and Mirko (Matteo Olivetti) accidentally run over a snitch, gaining them entry to a minor mafia clan and setting off a slow fuse of moral awakening. With no glamor, an overexposed palette, and lots of close-ups of the thugs, this is not a pretty mob film; your value likely depends on whether you care to identify with these accidental goombahs.

Okay

Ash is Purest White (China/France, Jia Zhangke, 2018) In 2001 in the remote city of Datong, Qiao (Zhao Tao) is the girlfriend of petty mob boss Bin (Liao Fan); in 2006 she gets out of jail to find he has deserted her and she pursues him to Fangjie; in 2017 she’s back in Datong running mah-jongg waiting for him to show up. Too long to let any of the three acts work, and too invested in an unappealing Bin to be enjoyable at any length. The middle act, where Qiao rebuilds her life one grift at a time, could have been great.

Happy as Lazzaro (Italy/Switzerland/France/Germany, Alice Rohrwacher, 2018) The peasants of isolated Inviolata remain serfs in the 1980s, with the good (saintly?) worker Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) bearing his fellows’ burdens in turn. Halfway through the movie, everything changes, and the neo-medieval mise-en-scene becomes today’s urban fringe. Rohrwacher tells a timeless story of exploitation with moments of stark beauty and emotion, but her choice of “golden legend” crosses up her ideological priors to eventually strangling effect.

Sibel (EU/Turkey, Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, 2018) In rural Turkey, the mute daughter (Damla Sönmez) of the mayor (Emin Gürsoy) communicates using an ancestral whistling language, but most of her day is spent alone hunting a wolf. Zenciri and Giovanetti want to wrap their exoticized-society girl-power movie in fairy tale clothing, but do nothing to reconcile (or play up) the conflict between the two modes. The two leads also play differently, Sönmez bordering on histrionics while Gürsoy dives deep internally; the result is four halves of two movies.

Naples in Veils (Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek, 2017) After a super-hot one-night stand with diver Andrea (Alessandro Borghi) medical examiner Adriana (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) finds herself investigating, and suspected of, his murder the next day. Then she starts seeing his ghost, or his twin, or … ? Lush and beautiful, set in Naples’ avant-garde art scene and ignoring the Camorra or any aspect of reality whatsoever, the film eventually disappears into its own sexy, gorgeously shot ass. Two thirds of a movie — even two thirds of Vertigo — is still not a movie.

Transit (Germany/France, Christian Petzold, 2018) To escape a France fallen to fascist invasion, Georg (Franz Rogowski) assumes the identity of a dead writer; while waiting in Marseille for his papers to clear, he becomes embroiled in both his lives’ complications. Moody, slightly surreal film becomes a case study in why voiceover narration is a terrible idea.

Not Recommended

Ex-Shaman (Brazil, Luiz Bolognesi, 2018) Docudrama leisurely follows Perera, the former shaman of the Paiter Surui tribe in the Brazilian interior. Bolognesi’s general melancholy tone doesn’t provide emotional insight, and the Anthro 101 subject matter doesn’t hold great interest by itself. Strong suspicion that Bolognesi staged some shots and the throughline, and certainly tinkered with the sound, leaches the film of what value it had left.

Jumpman (Russia/Lithuania/Ireland/France, Ivan I. Tverdovsky, 2018) After dumping him in the baby hatch of an orphanage at birth, Oksana (Anna Slyu) comes back for Denis (Denis Vlasenko) to use his congenital analgesia — inability to feel pain — for fraud. Denis becomes a jumpman, someone who jumps in front of rich people’s cars to extort them for bribes or (thanks to a deep-benched conspiracy) legal judgements. The scam is interesting, unlike the acting or camera work, but (along with a weird Jocasta-complex vibe from Oksana) never pays off because in Russia, movie ends you. Kirill Richter’s score is the only real standout, by turns brooding and atonal.
Tags: chicago international film festival, film talk
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