VIFF 09: Day 1 10/02/2009
Day 1 was an interesting one, but also somewhat disappointing. It was great to be back on Granville Street, surrounded by fellow cinephiles. Fond memories of last fall (my first time at VIFF) came back all at once, and I felt right at home. After picking up my tickets from will call, and grabbing my seat, it was time to get down to what the festival is all about: Watching movies.
Directed by Aleksey Balabanov
The first film I saw was Morphia, a Russian period piece that puts a new spin on the "drug movie". The (true) story is about Mikhail Bulgakov, a doctor who becomes addicted to morphine in 1917. The film starts strong, with intriguing intertitles like "The First Amputation" that create a sense of anticipation. Indeed, Mikhail amputates someone's leg and the scene is very graphic. I was impressed with how it was handled, as director Balabanov doesn't go for a gross-out effect, but portrays the amputation, as well as other operations, in a very matter-of-fact style. As Morphia continues, the intertitles get more frequent and begin to lose all meaning. Gone are intense sequences like the amputation, and while the filmmaker maintains an aesthetic appeal, the lack of depth shines through. By the end, all interest in the characters, even the drug-addicted protoagonist, dissipates. The finale is interesting and bold but lacks any power as the preceding 30-40 minutes deters the audience's involvement. Overall, there are a couple nice touches but Morphia is rather bland.
Directed by Lars von Trier
Having already seen Antichrist, I was most looking forward to getting to share the experience in a sold out theatre full of strangers. The crowd seemed very enthused, and in sync with the film, and I was quite pleased. However, as the subject matter got more extreme, the people became more and more uncomfortable. More common than gasps and screams were bouts of nervous laughter. While this did bother me somewhat, I still had a hell of a time.
I had recently read a very convincing article that took Antichrist seriously, but ultimately didn't regard it as a complete success. I expected my opinion to sway from being enamored to being cautiously impressed. I was surprised to find myself completely engrossed and even shaken the second time around. I was able to catch on to little touches I missed during my previous viewing, and I'm floored by Trier's attention-to-detail. The film is nothing short of mesmerizing. Until all hell breaks loose in the final third, the movie is actually quite subtle. With remarkable acting (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe give unforgettable performances) and beautiful cinematography, Antichrist stands as one of the best of the year, and will be a tough act to follow at VIFF.
posted by adam cook