Wednesday, June 27, 2007

SIFF wrap-up

The 2nd week-and-a-bit of SIFF has come and gone, so here is my festival summary (see part 1 here)

The Ferryman: 3/5
A decent horror/thriller from New Zealand that starts strong and gets a little tedious near the end of the second half. Warning: There's lots of blood and violence, and a scene involving a dog that I really disliked - this film is not for the squeamish.
The introduction to the characters is nicely done, and the tension and slow unraveling if the relationships onboard the yacht is brilliant. The tight, claustrophobic setting below decks works very well, and the pervasive fog works to further ratchet up the tension. There's also a great performance by John Rhys-Davies as a Greek fisherman. The finale where the evil spirit gets its come-uppance was a let-down, and the titular ferryman was a bit lame, but the twist at the very end is nice.

2 Days in Paris: 4/5
Julie Delpy is amazing in this film, and does more than just act (she wrote, directed and composed the music!) An amusing look at what happens when Marion brings her American boyfriend to Paris to visit her family. Encounters with her numerous ex-boyfriends, crazy family, and American-in-France culture clash leads to some really funny stuff, all done in a natural, light style. The movie feels very much like a slice of real life, and the exploration of love, commitment and joie-de-vivre make this a rewarding and charming film.

Mushishi: 3/5
Based on a Japanese manga, this film was visually beautiful but too long and disjointed to hold my interest. The film stitches a few "episodes" from the magna together using one story as the backbone. Unfortunately the backing story is not that interesting, and the whole movie takes itself far too seriously. I kept expecting the reverent, hushed narration to explain things more sensibly than they did, and for the movie to somehow make sense, but in the end the film leaves the viewer confused and frustrated. Some nice visuals and interesting characters lift this from being a total waste of time, but go in expecting a slow, confusing, few hours.

Retribution (Sakebi): 2/5
Another Japanese film, this one billed itself as a "supreme psycho-thriller" from Japan's horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa. (I've not seen his previous films). This one started out promisingly, with the lead character, detective Yoshioka, investigating the murder of a woman. He quickly finds that he's implicated, even though he has no memory of the girl or her death. Other deaths indicate a serial killer is on the prowl, and as our sympathy for Yoshioka develops slowly we also start to doubt his own innocence more and more.

This is the movies strongest point, I think: the slow, careful development of the detective character and the way the audience is both attracted and repulsed from him. I did like the way the mini-earthquakes hitting Tokyo are used throughout the film, and the way ripples in puddles or bowls of water hint at the veil between this world and the sprit world. Towards the end, though, the movie devolves into a ghost-revenge movie, and at times becomes so campy/cheesy that the earlier atmosphere is squandered. The ending is really unsatisfying and leaves you feeling duped.

Broken English: 5/5
Featuring an amazing performance from Parker Posey, this film looks at the life of a single thirty-something woman in New York as she struggles to find a rewarding relationship and get out of a rut of one-night stands and loneliness. This film manages to balance the humour and pathos of her life beautifully and while it might be billed as a romantic comedy, the comedy is really just the icing on an uncontrived, refreshing dramatic look inside the main character's life. The ending is maybe a bit too fairy-tale-ish and the basic storyline has been told many times before, but as a whole this film stood out as being an interesting take on an old theme.

Lady Chatterley: 4/5
A French film based on the 2nd version of D.H. Lawrence's novel, with all the English names and places preserved. If you know the story, you know it looks at the class barrier, human relationships and sexuality. Those expecting a steamy, sexy movie will probably be disappointed (although prudes will also not be happy) - there's plenty of nudity and sex, but it's all done in a very natural, tasteful way. The two leading actors are brilliant, and pefectly cast. I've heard some people say that the gamekeeper, Parkin, is not attractive enough to justify Lady Chatterley falling for him, but I think he's perfect. Initially appearing gruff and not likeable at all, we slowly get to see him thaw and open up as the relationship develops, and the gradual maturation of the relationship is stunningly well done. By the end I truly was rooting for the two lovers, who develop much more than a physical bond, and the film ends on a much happier note than the final 3rd novel would lead you to expect.

Highly recommended to fans of patient, natural storytelling.

Cthulhu: 4/5
If David Lynch made a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft's works, this would be it. Filmed in Seattle, WA and Astoria, OR, this movie takes the Cthulu mythos as a basis and adds lots of small-town weirdness, family tension, and end-of-days gloom. Everything is mixed together in interesting, refreshing ways. I had a bit of a problem believing that the leading character's father was actually his father - somehow both men looked about the same age. Apart from that, though, the first 2/3 of the movie are great - full of interesting characters, including Tori Spelling as the local bimbo with a desperate need to have a child. The lead character, who is gay, finds himself the object or her desire, with some funny and macabre results.

The film makes careful use of actual monsters, going for the approach that what is imagined or half-seen is more scary than what is fully seen. The tension and level of unease build nicely as the hero learns more about the town's secrets. Things started falling apart for me towards then end though, and the final scene seemed to have been tacked on without any thought as to how the "hero" got there - either a big chunk of the film got cut for time, or I'm too dense to appreciate the final twist of the movie.

Read an interview with the film-makers here.

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