BIFF 2011 - Day 11
Los 4 McNifikos (Spa) - An imagination of a world where three men who were part of the B-Boy scene when they were young, and never grew out of it. Comically played and doesn't take itself seriously. 7.5/10
Fanny, Annie and Danny (US) (site)
Fanny, Annie and Danny are three siblings whose lives are - predictably - pretty messed up. Fanny is autistic and has learning difficulties, her rented room and long-term job are both about to be taken away from her. Annie works as a trainee dentist, who feels like she's about to be edged out by another woman who will be coming to work there. She dreams of a perfect wedding that can never come, to her stoner boyfriend who can barely be bothered getting up off the couch all day. Superficially, Danny is the best of the bunch, trying to launch a career as a music agent to a band, who unfortunately want their $20k back they reckon he has swindled off them.
Considering their mother, they have grown up relatively well adjusted. Mother is a gruff-voiced, selfish mother-hen type who must have things exactly her way, and anything that isn't 'nice' by her standards, cannot be nice to anyone else, and must be jettissonned. Her long-suffering husband is about to suffer another wave of clear-outs at her hand, as she tries to get the family together for the perfect Christmas.
The comedy/tragedy knobs are both turned up high, and the result is some very morose, jet-black humour at the expense of the poor souls, all of which end up significantly worse off by the end of it. It's a guilty pleasure to extract enjoyment from this sort of de-constructive film, but it's difficult not to be amused by the increasingly desperate situations, although there are a couple of threads that, by the end, you have to decide for yourself how they turn out. 7.5/10
Twelve Monkeys (US) (trailer)
As part of the Terry Gilliam retrospective, I got to see Twelve Monkeys for the first time in years. Gilliams' wretched period of human existence where they have been consigned to the underground, where technology is steampunk and humanity is barely recognisable, the pre-atrocity world of 1990's America underbelly is barely any more palatable.
John Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent backwards to before the event - a massively devastating release of a virus - to gather intel for why it happened, so those that remain in the future can synthesize a cure. Not much was known. but for a few scrawled messages foretelling the event, and a stencilled logo representing the 'Twelve Monkeys', an unknown group of activists. Taken mistakenly to 1990, six years before rather than on the eve, he is caught and put in the loony bin, where he is observed by the beautiful Dr Ralling, a police psychologist. Predictably, no-one believes him, except maybe Francis (a young Brad Pitt), the son of a major experimental science professor who went a bit nuts and is in the same place.
Re-appropriated eventually to 1996, he sets about finding Dr Ralling again, his only hope of convincing the world that disaster is on the horizon, but there were a lot of embarrassed officers who lost Cole six years earlier who want to put the case to rest.
Showing Gilliams' well-honed ability to create a complicated and vaguely surreal environment, the pieces of which all fit nicely into place only at the list minute, it is still lucid enough to allow the viewer to maintain a hold of the events as the prophecy fulfils itself, always pushed ahead by the actions of those who are trying their best to stop it happening. Willis is an excellent child-like thug trying to do the right thing to earn his freedom, in a world he doesn't understand, and Brad Pitt is particularly good as a loosely-hinged ball of frustrated energy yearning to break free. It was great to see it on the big screen again. 8/10
Self Help (UK) - John Powers' self help books litter the house of a past-his-best, lonely man. It's clear the books and CD's dont help him build up the confidence to ask out the girl at the local hardware store, but maybe self help needs to come from within. 7.5/10
Sailor (Pol) (interview)
Norman is a lecturer on human psychology and development. He creates videos illustrating theories and models, evolutionary algorithms, biological survival simulations, 'lifeshapes'.. and into the commentary seeps his own opinions, ideas, and prejudices. The audience are his students. This is a man who has lost himself in the cold hard science of existence, but has lost his connection with humanity along the way. What we see is the result - a series of opinionated lectures on the various subjects, interspersed with the rocky relationship with his beloved but over-analysed girlfriend Nel. The constantly subdued and brooding music suggesting that their relationship, much like that of the subjects of his experiments, is going to fall foul of entropy and decay.
To say this is a one-off sort of film is an understatement. Most of the film requires the viewer to read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen - often with no foreign voiceover for the subtitles to be translating - giving a morose lecture with minimal visual explanations.
Despite my general dislike of experimental cinema, which this is definitely a part of, the repetition, the weak story wholly dependant on the narrative, the need to find things to like about the man and his patronising relationship, and the emptiness of the cold logic on show; despite all of that, I did want to enjoy it. There is some spark of something beneath the film, some multi-layered thing hiding behind the pretentiousness that might with work and a bigger budget (and maybe a few other people involved to bounce ideas between) this could have been a great work. Most people walked out. I stayed to the end, but I must admit I contemplated escape into the real world once more. 4/10
Outside The Law: Stories from Guantanamo Bay + Q and A (UK) (site)
Throughout the course of history, humanity has caused many atrocities; if we could naively consider the events of WW2 as coming to 'a head', we might reasonably expect that the measures put in place, most notably the Geneva Convention on Human Rights and the Nuremberg Principles, would ensure that such things would never be allowed to happen again.
Well, obviously it has; all over the world and for many different reasons, human beings with power over others have ignored such laws and abused, destroyed, murdered and eradicated many thousands of people over the years.
But that was in war-torn, ravaged, undemocratic countries, right? Not in a land of the free such as America, or a multicultural secular country such as the UK?
Outside the Law attempts (on a shoestring budget) to reveal the extent to the atrocities meted out in our name, by our (US and UK) governments, in the name of security. Taking the Guantanamo prison camp as the central theme - situated off American soil in Cuba so as to allow the US to withdraw all rights from it's detainees but still run the show - it collects together a wealth of data about human rights abuses, redefinition of what constitutes torture, changes to the constitution and any law that gets in the way, and the people on the receiving end of America's bullish, brash invasion and wholesale rounding up of anyone who looked vaguely Arabian. In particular, it concentrates on the stories of four men from the UK who, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, were the victims of the $5000 bounty placed on the head of anyone who could be labelled an Al Qaeda spy. One of them is Moazamm Begg, detained for several years and now a prominent spokesperson and activist for human rights on the cageprisoners site, and Shaker Aamer, a well spoken man whose desire to be a spokesperson for his fellow detainees mean although cleared for release several years ago, is still over there.
What has been exposed here is disgusting, as bad as anything that has happened in the past, only this time it's worse as the acts are dressed up in sterilising wordplay - 'enemy combatant', 'extraordinary rendition', 'proxy interrogation'..
People should see this film to see just what is done in the name of western democracy. And this is to our own people. Andy Worthington is a prominent human rights journalist who guides us throughout the film on just what and why things are the way they are. A hugely important film about just how wrong things have become. 8.5/10
Ashes (UK) - A man courts two women without the other one knowing. One he is talking of settling down and beginning a family with, the other, for a second flash of feeling young again. He has amassed a large pot of cash, and both women expect a rosy future, but when they meet each other by chance, his best laid plans go to waste. 7/10
Essential Killing (Pol/Nor/Irl/Hun) (site)
As an appropriate companion to Outside The Law, this largely dream-like film follows Mohammed, a petty terrorist soldier who got lucky with a rocket, and blew three Americans apart as they headed after him through narrow Afghan terrain. Pursued and captured, he is sent to a Guantanamo-style holding area, for passage to somewhere more permanent. By freak of luck in the bitterly cold and snow-covered highland forests, his transport overturns down a hill and he is thrown from the wreck. Clothed only in a boiler suit, he has a slim chance at freedom, but with a massive and sparsely populated forest to negotiate, that will soon begin to swarm with soldiers and dogs. he has the odds stuck massively against him.
Unusually, the film contains virtually no dialogue, and the sound effects are muted and minimal, the audience forced into appreciating the onset of Mohammeds' deafness at being shot at with a missile and thrown through the air. Thus the encounters with both people and animals are conducted mostly in actions and gestures, and the whole film is more of a symbolic allegory rather than a film with a lucid plot. Mohammeds' increasingly romanticized fantasies of a homeland very much blasted to bits are all that keep him from keeling over, and give him the strength to carry onward and do whatever it takes to survive.
Due to it's dream-like journey through a white-out hell, it won't be for everyone. I found myself wondering in the first half whether the sound had gone wonky on the print, and there will be many that find frustration in the absence of a narrative, but it was nevertheless quite enjoyable, if that's the word. 7/10