July 23, 2010

Film Fest: Day Seven

Have taken the day off work to usher at the Embassy. Starting at 12:00pm and not finishing my day until around 1:30am, I think it's safe to say this was my longest day at the Fest so far. What did I get packed in? Why, read on. Read on.

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet
I'll be upfront, ballet really isn't my thing. I have a passing fascination in dance, and how dancers can move their bodies and the way in which they can tell a story but that's it really. I'm not familiar with famous dancers, especially famous ballet dancers. But whatever. What La Danse is is a collage of moments from the Paris Opera Ballet. They don't really lead anywhere - there isn't much of a narrative through-line - and so are just there, on the screen. The various scenes are not really building to anything. We see various rehearsals and classes going on, but no real idea of if or when they'll be performed.
It does give a pretty comprehensive glimpse inside the Opera Ballet. There are snapshots from sewers to stage, from studios to rooftops, from the dancers to costumers to Artistic Director.
The Artistic Director, in fact, is the only person we really get to spend any time with. We never get to know any of the dancers, never get a sense of what it's actually like to live and breathe as a ballet dancer. Yes, we see their strength with massive leg muscles holding them up; their almost inhuman grace and flexibility. But we never get a sense of their life. Of how a ballet dancer may start out at the Paris Opera Ballet and progress to being a part of the company and then a star. We get glimpses of some of this type of life, but not much. Certainly not enough for the two and a half hour run-time.
And I think that run-time, and lack of progression, led to the opposite of late-comers: early-leavers.
It's a well shot documentary that allows you a peek inside one of the top ballet companies in the world. Depending on how much ballet interests you will depend on how much you get out of this.

Cell 211
See my write-up from Day Six.

Documentaries like this one live or die on their photography. And, boy, does this live. There are absolutely stunning shots throughout, from the ocean floor to a fishing ship being swamped by massive waves.
There is a wide variety of sea-life on display, from cute and cuddly favourites to weird new creatures. And the whole thing is narrated by Pierce Brosnan sounding like a bit of a woolly school-teacher. There's also a bit of anthropomorphic personification in some of the scenes - crabs massing on the sea-floor like armies in a scene to dwarf anything from Lord of the Rings; otters relaxing on the waves like Florida retirees and a neighborhood stoush between a crab and a shrimp. While this helps make the film more watchable for the kiddies, the aspect of death is not shied away from: baby turtles are shown being picked off by waiting birds.
The whole comes across as a kind of soft-activism. It tugs at your heart more than it engages with your mind. I'm not putting this type of film-making activism down, merely pointing out what this film is.
Oh, and there's a truly awfully horrendous Disney song at the end.

Claustrophobic. That would be the one word review of Lebanon. And seeing it in the Bergman theatre at the Paramount just adds to that feeling - it's such a small theatre, you feel crammed in with the main characters.
The reason the film is so claustrophobic is it follows an Israeli tank crew during the Lebanon war. The entire film, bar bookending shots, is inside the tank. All shots of the exterior are shown through the limited view-scope of the tank. We are crammed in with these frightened young men, as they crack under various pressures. As with many other films in the Festival, the tension is ratcheted up and the pace keeps you off-balance: just like these poor recruits.
It's exceptional cinema, and one I need to revisit. Part of that is I found myself pulled out of the action, pulled out of the tank, by a jackass on a cellphone a couple of seats down from me. Lebanon is the type of film where you're thrown in with the characters, as disoriented as them, and to be pulled out of that by some dumbass who can't wait two hours to text someone is grating to say the least.
This is a film that should be brought back for general release: it deserves to be seen on a cinema screen. Just without the cellphones.

Enter the Void
I'm really not too sure what I can say about Gaspar Noe's latest mindfuck. I certainly don't "get" it. But then, I don't know if it can be completely "got".
Noe loves to fuck with your eyeballs and the opening credits are a dizzying array of strobing colours and fonts. From there we have a POV of Oscar, a low level drug dealer in Tokyo, as he heads out into town and is shot by police. We flash through events in his life, and events that lead him to his death and then POV of his spirit watching over the fallout.
That's a very quick summation of it all, I'm sure there's more stuff around the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but that pretty much sums it up. And it goes on for well over two and a half hours. Add that all the characters are absolutely awful people, constant strobing effects and that the final segment is far too long and self-indulgently wanky and you have a very, very difficult film to watch. I certainly won't see another film like it, especially at the cinema, but I don't really know if I like it. I don't hate it. But I don't like it either. I certainly couldn't recommend it to anyone.
The visuals on offer are indeed stunning but I can do without anymore strobing effects thanks. It's repetitive, challenging, obtuse, art-wank, beautiful, scary, maybe brilliant and maybe bullshit. I can't recommend you watch it, and I say you have to make up your own mind with this one. But, for me, I think if I want to watch a crazy film with fantastic visuals that deals with death, I'll rewatch The Fountain.

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