BIFF 2011 - Day 3

Deforce (US) (site)

Due to getting out of work later than I wished, I missed the first half or so of Deforce, but from what I had seen, it was a worthwhile documentary to see. Attempting to address the subject of the almost destitute employment situation in Detroit, and why the black minority are disproportionately taking up the massive state prisons there, it heads into the roughest neighbourhoods to see the actual people living there. Volatile communities, the residents frequently ripped from them and put in prison because their circumstances force their employment prospects underground, frequently flare up and many people get killed. The shooting and fatality figures eclipse those in Afghanistan. Cleverly, the drug prohibition laws are attacked by contrasting the talking heads of various offenders with similar ones from the 50's during the similarly damaging and ineffective alcohol prohibition laws, with groups like FAMM trying to get something done about it.

As with many things, the issues are far from simple, and from what I had seen, this documentary managed to shine a light into an area too readily dismissed and overlooked, the solutions seemingly to revolve around soundbytes like 'lock em up' or 'don't do drugs kids!'. I won't give it a score as I saw only a bit of it, but it would probably be pretty high. I'm definitely going to try and fit in a screening if it's present at another festival.

Kick Off (Austria) (review/aus site)

One of the lesser highlights on the football calendar - the improbable but true Homeless World Cup - takes place every year with participants from all over the world. In 2008, it was in Melbourne, Australia, and this documentary film follows the Austrian team as they prepare for the games. Mixed in with the training, we get a little background on the individual players, their circumstances for ending up homeless, and more often than not, a glimpse of the criminal life that they fell into. However, the one thing they all shared was a need to find purpose and improve their lives.

Austria's bunch were a mix of backgrounds, cultures and religions, but all came together with the intention of beating the others. The tournament featured Olympic-style parades and opening ceremonies and aside from the smaller budget - and the 5-a-side rules - it was just like the main game.

Although I felt a little distant from the players and so never gained a large amount of empathy from them, it's still a really positive film about finding talent and a meaningful existence for everyone. 7.5/10

Tideland (Canada/UK) (wiki)

A third retrospective at this years' festival is for Terry Gilliam. I hadn't heard of Tideland before or the novel on which it is based, but fortunately the director himself gave a personal greeting before the film started (although it was probably not specifically for the showing). It's a film that will split audiences down the middle, he says, but to appreciate it, you must always see what happens through the eyes of a child..

Little Jeliza-Rose lives with her junkie father (Jeff Bridges in a familiar new age hippy role) and alcoholic, surly out of her mind mother (a barely recognisable Jennifer Tilly). When mum decides to choke on her own vomit in the night, they escape her tyranny and head off to dad's family home, a dilapidated old farmhouse in picturesque fields of barley.

Jeliza-Rose is a spunky kid (played brilliantly by Jodelle Ferland), but her true nature is slowly revealed as, when dad decides to go on one too many of his heroin 'vacations' and stops moving, her innocent but troubled mind starts filling in the blanks. When she meets with Dale, the mysterious woman in black from the house across the way and her retarded brother Dickens, things start to spiral downwards pretty fast, although always seen through the eyes of an optimistic, spirited little girl who is going a little bit crazy.

Gilliams' warning that it would divide audiences is accurate. It's an often beautiful film, but in equal parts surreal, disturbing and grotesque; it touches on controversies and human depravity and it is always a hairs breadth away from anarchy yet retaining the innocent shadow of an Alice in Wonderland theme. The use of visual trickery (such as having a body fall out of a trunk and in the next scene it's just a pile of clothes) sets the viewer on edge so they can never tell what is coming next or even whether they can believe what they have just seen, and for a fantasy that is just what he wanted. 8/10

Just Before Dawn (UK) - Faye and Chloe are already off their faces when they decide to head to a country field in the middle of the night for a booze and drugs party. Faye's weak commitments to growing up and returning to her son are soon persuaded out of her, and everything looks good until the party turns out to be a single dodgy bloke and some passed out teens. As the drugs kick in and reality begins to come out of step with perception, the girls are going to get a shock. 7/10

A Night for Dying Tigers (Can) (site)

A companion piece to both Vacation and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, this film falls into the same category of having family members reunite, various dark secrets and revelations shared, breakups and flings, and so on.

Gil Bellows (he of Ally McBeal and Shawshank) leads the cast as Jack, a man who saved a woman from being raped, and is on the eve of going to jail for five years as penance. His wife has arranged for him and his two brothers and sister, and their other halves, to all meet at the old family home, which has been empty for the past year since their parents died. His brother Patrick is giddy with news of a film deal, based on a book by his other brother, Russel. Adopted sister and self-appointed arbitrator Melanie falls back into her role keeping the sparring brothers apart. If their spouses (who have slept with each other and several other family members) don't add sufficient meatiness to the nights' festivities, the arrival of the woman Jack saved, and is openly having an affair with, will do.

Though the acting is pretty good, the script sounds overworked, in places far too self-important and reading like a novel. Even so, the film is entertaining, and the revelations and twists help to keep things from being predictable and staid.

If I was to choose between the three, I'd probably plump for Vacation, with Stranger second, although with this you could do plenty worse. 7/10

The Filmmaker (Australia) - A gentle dig at the documentaries about various obscure directors, ever optimistic amateur filmmaker Mark takes us through his filmography from the ones he made as a child, through to the massively hammed-up blockbusters he churned straight to video. His day job as a cinema attendant allows him to show us these hidden gems, and hope that he never makes any again. Funny, but only for as long as the film lasted. 7/10

The Christening
(Pol) (review)

Director Marcin Wrona has his own little film list showing, after this he has his earlier film My Flesh My Blood, and his award-winning short Magnet Man, both on sometime during the fest. The Christening is a brutal view into the life of a Mikhal, a man trying to go straight, but his past refuses to let go of him.

Things have already been bubbling along, unbeknownst to his girlfriend Magda, cooing over their new son and living a comfortable life in the centre of Warsaw. However, the arrival of blank-staring meathead Janek fresh from the army and still full of hormones, brings things to a boil. Janek and Mikhal go way back, and it's not long before Janek has him forgetting his comfortable window business in preference to frat-boy trickery and petty crime, but it is only when Janek uncovers Mikhals' grassing up of one of the local mobsters, that it is apparent just how much trouble he is in.

The Polish have a flair for complex, hard-edged drama-thrillers and The Christening is one such film. Unflinchingly brutal in some places, this retelling of Cain and Abel always has the thread of family love running through it, I think the best aspect of which is the gradual transformation of Janek from immature but psychotic giggling idiot into the best hope of survival for Mikhals and his family, and we don't even see it coming. 7.5/10

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