VIFF Roundup IV: Days 13-16 10/16/2010
Pyschohydrography follows the Los Angeles Aqueduct from where it begins over 200 miles away to the city and finally to the Pacific Ocean. Using only single images sped-up to animate the journey, director Peter Bo Rappmund reveals the artful textures of nature as well as a the artlessness of the industrial invasion of nature. The images are best when made strange to us, such as the dark surface of water reflecting light, looking almost like static, or the final, stunning image of the ocean that almost resembles a papier-mâché collage as it speeds through the cycle of a day. Psychohydrography was followed by a film that also looked at the relationship between the natural and the unnatural: The Yellow Bank. Unfortunately nowhere near as successful, this film captures the total eclipse that occurred in Shanghai last year, and while the concept of showing the dynamic between this event and a metropolitan city is sound, the idea barely translates visually.
Aurora, Cristi Puiu’s follow-up to The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is another masterfully conceived work that further solidifies the strength of the Romanian New Wave. For three hours we track the mostly mundane activities of a middle-aged man until this mundanity is interrupted with violence. The presence of the protagonist, played by the filmmaker himself, is never less than powerful, and shifts slowly from sympathetic to fearful. With no exposition until the closing sequence, we are left to piece together the details through visual clues and implied relationships. In one of 2010’s more memorable shots, we observe the protagonist and a few other people moving things out of his apartment, which would not be so remarkable were it not for the camera placement giving us the point of view of an unoccupied room with children’s wallpaper framing the scene. We can observe that nearly all of the wallpaper in this apartment has been scraped off, so this clue points to the painful absence of a child in the protagonist’s life. Careful touches such as these lend Aurora an emotional weight and mystery that make it one of the best films of the year.
Vapor Trail (Clark) may not be a great film but it is of great importance. Like the superior Karamay, this documentary exposes the consequences of a government that leaves its citizens behind. Moreover, it unveils the poisonous reach that the United States possesses over the rest of the world. Yet another long-form feature at 264 minutes, this may not be the highest priority but if you can get to it, its well worth it.
Nothing less than worthless, A Film Unfinished assembles found footage of a Nazi propaganda film that was never completed, and interweaves interviews with victims and an SS cameraman. Most offensive, perhaps, are the shots of victims watching the footage, which in the context of this film, is mere exploitation. Filmmaker Yael Hersonski does very little and to no end.
Dissolution, directed by Nina Menkes, is an unflinching portrait of an alienated man who must accept responsibility for his sins and the sins of past generations. Violence is always present in some form or another, if not literally, than in the symbol of a scorpion, horse or the lurking darkness in the protagonist. At one point he curses his father, but in the end has to bear that curse himself. Dissolution is challenging, daring and personal.
Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof, The White Meadows is an alternately impressive and exhausting poetic work of filmmaking. It occasionally reaches heights of power such as in a sequence in which a boy is stoned, but ultimately squanders the beauty it tries so hard to capture with its meticulous compositions.
The Man From Nowhere, or also known as The Film About Nothing, is a heartless action film that makes one appreciate the almost-endearing brawn of The Expendables. At two hours, the film becomes excruciating with its amateurish misé en scene and insincere sentimentality. All of this could be partially forgiven if the action was at least interestingly staged, but each sequence is so awkwardly filmed its best to stare at the ceiling.
Sylvain Chomet has found yet another possibility in the limitless medium of animation: resurrection. Somewhere hidden in this ever-expanding dimension of imagination, Chomet has found the ghost of a master, still up to his old tricks. I'm speaking of course about Jacques Tati, whose script Chomet has adapted 28 years after his death and 54 years after it was initially written to make The Illusionist. Chomet does a wonderful job of melding the observational humour of Tati with his expressionist style. The fluidity of Tati's physical presence and of Chomet's animation are a match made in heaven. The film is funny, moving and most of all beautiful. The Illusionist is at its strongest in its closing moments, where Tati boards a train, as old-fashioned as he, and heads off into the distant night; We may have lost the man, but his spirit is still in transit.
There's still more to come: I'll choose what I thought were the very best films at VIFF and I have one more film to touch on as I missed its regular festival screening and am catching an encore tonight (something by some guy named Joe).