Toto (Aus) (a more forgiving review)
The level of bigging up of this film by the festival staff (on more than one occasion they recommended it before the showing of another film) meant that I had to go see it, since I had just about enough time to get off work and pootle into the centre of Bradford. I get the feeling it was just to get some more tickets sold. There were about 10 of us in the audience.
Toto is the name of a middle-aged man who travels to Italy, his birthplace to reminisce and muse on his life decisions. Shot in black and white, presumably to lean on the theme of old memories and postcards, the 2+ hour film follows him from the Vienna train station, on the train and around Italy. The film's selling point was its very up close and personal view of Toto as he hung around various scenes, waiting patiently for him to wax on about his life or the people he recognises.
Though this film exuded a certain limited charm, seeing the world he inhabits physically and in his memories of the place and people, it was far too annoying in several ways to be recommended. The usual bugbear of subtitled black and white films - guess the word on the white background - was often in force. Even if you could see the words, it took so bloody long between him saying the first part of his cod-philosophical sentences and the second (during which we get some rather annoying loud breathing, often accompanied by a protracted close-up arty shot of his eyes staring round randomly at things) that you forget the first part. Thus getting a mental grip on what he is trying to say becomes a labour. I was also never made to care about Toto, or the things he had been through, and thus any interest or patience I might have had to wait for the next thing he was going to say quickly waned.
It could have been an enjoyable sit-back film if it wasn't for these annoyances. There were a couple of more lucid moments where he let us into his past, talking sparingly about a lost girlfriend whose father disapproved and hit her, so he removed himself, and meeting occasionally with his elderly but still spunky mother, whose rapid fire opinions were even more disjointed than his. By the end of the film, I did care enough to ask myself 'what is the director trying to say here', but I was too exhausted by it to pursue an answer. It's clear one of the directors' intentions was for the viewer to be able to know the man by the films end, but I doubt that he wanted us to leave with a wheezy, slow-minded mumbling old fool who we wouldn't want to be caught in a conversation with.
45365 was a similar human study film that had no such problems, showing these films can work when done properly. 3/10
Fluke (Hun) (trailer)
The residents of a run-down and forgotten Hungarian town of Ogyarmat (maybe based on this one) on the Austro-Hungary border are about to get rich. AMV, a large Austrian oil company wants to buy some of the fields around the town, and need the signatures of all the residents before completing the deal. However, farmer and ex-mayor Istvan purposely forgot to come along, and when the other residents catch up with him to lay down the smack on his desertion, they don't have time to hear his ridiculous alternative plan on planting Christmas trees on the land instead.
His wife gone, and his daughter run off after he scalded her for seeing the son of a family he has never got along with, Istvan feels he cannot go along with it any more. However, during a failed suicide attempt in the church grounds, he uncovers an underground pipe, and when it is tapped with a hand drill, high-grade petrol comes spurting out.
It's clearly theft, but the townsfolk don't seem to care much if it means they can make some cash for their town. Word quickly travels about cheap gas, and the cars begin filing in, their drivers stocking up all they can in whatever they can find. Paying the local police to keep things quiet, everything seems to be going well for the residents, but in-fighting, police investigations, oil company execs and a riot squad ensure that the ending is suitably chaotic.
A mostly bouncy pace keeps things going and the interest up, and there are plenty of laughs, even if it's easy to predict where things are going to finish. It also changed how I feel when I hear the Birdie Song forever. 7.5/10
Park Shanghai (Chi) (interview)
Started as a university project by writer/director Kai Kevin Huang, Park Shanghai is all about the experiences of reunion between a group of students who have come together a few years after graduation. It concentrates mainly on Dong, whose ex-wife Rerei is one of the other people at the party, and he can't seem to get her out of his head. It doesn't help that she rings him up with her problems every so often when her new hubby isn't around.
Putting her out of his mind for a while as she does some karaoke, Dong heads to the top of the party building, where most of Shanghai can be seen unobstructed. Occasional hangout of skateboarders and darts players, he reunites with Nick, a friend at school he used to practice English with, who now has travelled quite a lot of the world and is trying to settle down a bit. There is also Da Qing, a rather chubby singer on his tired old motorbike who was once the class leader, and Franky, who owns a guitar shop down the road and is just along for the ride.
Park Shanghai took a long time to get going. It was unclear for an hour, perhaps who of the dozen or so parts at the start would end up carrying the main body of the story to its conclusion, and each had their own stories they shared with the reunion attendees and the viewer to muddy the waters. Only after this where the bit players were weeded out for a while did it become clear where the film was headed; the reconciliation of Dong and Rerei's past while they have the opportunity to do so. It was all done in quite a soap-opera way; no fights or explosions, just people talking and letting the development occur naturally at a slow pace. Once the film had eventually found its feet, it became an enjoyable study of catching up with old friends and flames, and was, on balance, worth it to wade through the messy first half to get there. 6/10