Leeds Film Festival 2010: Day 14

I Am Not Your Friend/I Will Not Be Your Friend (Hun) (imdb)

Director György Pálfi is notorious for his 2006 film Taxidermia; a bold and grotesque yet somehow endearing film that caused people to sit up (and throw up) in their seats when it was shown. I had some queasy turns when I saw it in 2007 at Cambridge but despite its' disturbing imagery, it was clear that Pálfi could cause some serious film-based ripples.

So it was with some priority that I ensured I would see his latest effort, split into two parts. There is literally no plot, or more accurately, at the point the cameras begin to run there isn't. The actors are given no cues, only to decide for themselves their acting names, what sort of person they are, and improvise the film in front of the cameras. Relative unknowns in the film industry (they may even be people plucked off the street) are used to give it that extra bit of 'making it up as they go along' spontaneity.

But first, we are shown a short film (I Will Not Be Your Friend), which is little more than the quiet scenes from Etre Et Avoir, where small children argue, chatter and generally work out their pecking orders and groups of friends, at an age where they are not aware of the recording power of cameras. I think it's aim was to provide a comparison between the way children interact without direction in front of the camera, compared to the adults.

The main film was the main experiment. Several actors and actresses appear, and try to get a narrative going with each other, but I'm afraid the result fell flat on its arse. The structureless dialogue was broken and unordered, people talked over others, sentences stumbled, and what looked like several plot lines started up with great enthusiasm just to fizzle out, never to return later. It would have helped if the participants were a little better prepared for the experiment; too many times in the film, one of the characters in the conversation would ask a question (e.g. 'what are you doing here?') and after a pause, the other would attempt to look serious and respond with a filler ('you tell me!') while their mind tried to think of something worthwhile to say, that golden moment where the actors go in sync and smoothly ad-lib to the output of the other never comes, which is a shame because it could have been beautiful.

If the actors found themselves dumbfounded for what to do once or twice, it would have probably helped the film get some cute charm, but when it happens dozens of times it gets annoying, and I found myself scrutinizing the dialogue for fillers rather than enjoying what was being made. The only noticeable structure to the film are the several periods where characters sing along to a tune on the radio; a regular occurrence meant I assume to give the feeling of structure where there was none.

This could have been a far better film, if only Pálfi hadn't insisted on a complete lack of structure. The only reason I have rated it as highly as I have is because it was a worthwhile experiment to see if this sort of thing could work. We now know that it can't. 4/10

The Robber (Aus/Ger) (site)

Missed several times at other festivals, I wanted to catch this one while I could. Johann, a running fanatic and serial bank robber has just been released from six years in prison, during which time he has done little more than run around the prison yard. Without any outwardly apparent reason, he ignores the advice of his parole officer and immediately nicks a car and robs a bank, depositing the car far away and running back to his halfway house bedsit. He happily leads a double life, becoming a minor celebrity as the guy who left the professionals behind at the Vienna marathon.

A chance meeting with his trusting old flame Erika, who offers to house him until he gets a place of his own does not diminish his irrational and unquenchable desire for more and more loot, and after several high-profile armed robberies, Erika finds his stash of banknotes and has a very difficult decision to make.

The most frustrating thing about the film is it's refusal to even break the surface and explore the psychology behind Johanns' baffling desire to keep going out and putting both himself and others at risk; his desire to amass money that he doesn't seem bothered about spending seems to be more like a challenge to himself in the vein of the gruelling amount of exercise he does. But I suppose the real-life story behind the film is an enigma anyway, given the events that run their course. Overall, it was an enjoyable and increasingly tense exploration into the mind of someone with a compulsive disorder. 7.5/10

Zonad (Irl) (site)

Zonaaaad. Zoooooooooonaaaaaaaaaaaad. Zonad.

Waking up in a drunken haze covered in half-eaten snacks on a living room floor, with a prim and proper family standing over him, Francis knows he is in trouble, but the few brain cells that haven't been destroyed by the previous nights' binge are working overtime, and tell him to get up and proclaim himself to be an alien from another planet.

He is dressed in a shiny red leather suit and wearing a plastic helmet. He says his name is Zonad. The family believe him.

In fact, 'Zonad' is Frank, an alcoholic who has escaped with colleague Liam during a fancy dress party at the local rehab clinic. Losing the gorilla-suited Liam somewhere along the way, he's landed on his feet; the family feed him, he gets the bed of the youngest kid to kip in, and he becomes a source of intrigue and excitement for Jenny, the barely legal teen daughter whose intended boyfriend Guy, a strange American soul living in an empty mansion with his butler, just doesn't seem like he wants a piece.

With all the free booze and food placed on Zonad by the trusting and simple villagers of Ballymoran, he isn't going anywhere, until Liam turns up and likes the look of the attention his ex-friend is getting, spawning Zonad's arch-nemesis, Bonad who proceeds to oust him of all the luxuries he was just beginning to take for granted.

Zonad is anarchicly funny, full of ridiculous characters based on fictional ideal-home people from the 1950's transported without touching a piece of technology to the present day and stuck in a backwater village. Only the immensely corruptible Sgt. Maloney shows signs of evil, happily beating and tying people up, and weeing on them, but only if the right person asked. The characters are deliberately overplayed parodies, and the film doesn't take itself too seriously, eschewing ethical messages often found in superhero films in favour of slapstick and swearing. A good laugh on a low budget. 8/10

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