BIFF 2011 - Day 7

Traces of a Diary (Prt/Jpn) (imdb)

Two Portuguese directors travel to Japan to interview and profile several photographers in and around Tokyo, each approaching the subject from a different angle and philosophy. Hiromix, a young woman from Tokyo is attracted to the capture of youth and vibrancy in her work; her pictures always seeking the positive and the joyful. Quiet recluse Kohei Yushiyuki concentrates on the couples who frequent quiet corners of the local parks with their hands down each others pants - and also captures the voyeuristic young men who sometimes like to chance their arm. The nearby Sado island is home to Syoin Kaji, whose quiet temple retreat gives him much opportunity to take panoramic photographs of the nature around him, especially the crashing waves on the shore. The most quirky subject is Nobuyoshi Araki, a cheery, squat soul in braces, peeking over round rimmed glasses with a permanent smile on his face. His nudey pictures of the ladies might not be to everyone's taste, but it's hard not to smile at his infectious, childlike personality.

My only real problem with this film is that it tried to be an art form in itself, and that led to some pretty iffy filming decisions - the most baffling being to film it in grainy, blurry black and white, which didn't do the subject matter justice. The deliberate whiting out, blurring and muddying of the footage of them travelling through Japan was also a bit drawn out and annoying too. Maybe they were just trying to tease us enough to go out and buy the art books, which I might if they turn up cheap somewhere. 7/10

Bad Night for the Blues (UK) - Jean Boht plays a Hyacinth Bucket-style aunt who is taken out to the local bingo club, where after a bit of alcohol, her snooty remarks about the other attendants turn from under her breath to very much over it. Although unpleasant, her vulnerable, miserable side is displayed prominently in this sad, sweet film. 7.5/10

Congo in Four Acts
(Congo/SAf) (review)

The DRC whenever mentioned, always evokes pictures of young soldiers with guns taller than they are, miserable death and poverty, and a country ripped apart by it's own people. Though I was hoping for a more positive outlook on the country from this documentary film, it nevertheless takes us on a rarely seen journey through the country and some of the everyday problems that the people face.

Told in four named sections, we are shown a woman's 'hospital' which is more akin to a prison, as it's bulging wards are full of women who are not allowed to leave until they have paid off their medical bills for whatever ailment they first came in with. More often than not, they have to either sell whatever they have on them to pay for it, or get their husbands to head off and sell what they can, leaving the wives as collateral. In the second one we see the conditions the eight million residents of Kinshasa have to live in - disgusting fetid pools of contaminated water and rubbish piling up the streets, and live cables, exposed by the erosion of hundreds of rain showers, crackle and sizzle at the side of the road as the kids play round them. Occasionally, some brave soul attempts to fix them up with tape, but that's as good as it gets, as no-one feels any sense of accountability and so the status quo continues. In the third the focus is on the religious disease spreading through the country, where the Christian evangelicals have caused suspicion and distrust, where women are beaten and mutilated at the slightest suspicion of being a witch, and as we see, the men (and boys) who do the beatings feel completely justified in their act. Finally, we see a glimmer of hope for the humanity there, when a well-off farmer decides to buy a plot of land so the family that spends their existence breaking up rocks (including the young children) can till the land and work as farmers for a little bit more money.

It's not comfortable viewing, but it's not meant to be. This is an unobtrusive view of the daily lives of wretched souls, especially women, on the receiving end of the effects of poverty, disease, war and religion. It's a testament to the people that they have the strength to keep going through it all. 7.5/10

Killing Kasztner (US) (wiki/site)

Rezso Kasztner was one of the less well-known protagonists of the second world war. A Hungarian Jew, he was one of the few Jewish people credited in the war for having a major hand in saving his fellow men. He managed to negotiate with the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann to commandeer a train, fill it full of Jewish deportees bound for the death camps, and send them over the border to a neutral country such as Spain.

You would expect that to make him a famous hero, except that many Jewish people see his negotiation as collaboration with the enemy, and his choices of his own family as part of the 1600 on that train was seen as despicable. Jewish identity has forever been that of victims of the war, few of which did anything to get themselves out of situations, and this made Kasztner a radical. In the post war years, a major trial between him and Malchiel Gruenwald, one of the people he saved who bizarrely turned into one of his major critics, resulted in a conviction for Nazi collaboration, which was fortunately overturned. Sadly, a few months later in 1959, Kasztner was murdered outside his house in Tel Aviv.

This ambitious film tells Kasztners story, and attempts to set the record straight on whether his reputation as a hero or a villain is warranted. His only daughter, Zsuzsi inherited his legacy and has made it her life to work to clear his name and set the record straight. The film builds to a particularly powerful climax, as she and her three strong-willed daughters suppress their simmering emotions and meet the killer, fifty years later.

Though long, there is much to cover, and this film performs it well. It's a powerful, complex story that is still not resolved and may not be for some time, that has the power to evoke a great deal of emotion in the viewer. 8.5/10

Blooded (UK) (site)

I only got to see a bit of Blooded, due to the late finish of the previous film and it running over the next. Five friends meet up for a hunting trip in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands. Somehow drugged that night, they wake up stripped bare and dumped on the moors. Barely able to orient themselves, suddenly someone starts taking pot shots at them with a sniper.

Told in a semi-documentary format, with the talking heads of the characters recounting the situation from their own points of view, it quickly developed an edgy suspense and great mystery about why they end up in this situation (the pursuers' intent as revenge for hunting animals doesn't seem to be the full story..), and I wish I'd seen the end. I'll score it if I can see it again sometime.

Cave of Lost Dreams 3D + QA With Werner Herzog (Fra/Can/US/UK/Ger) (site)

As a spiritual sequel to Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog quickly follows up his previous film with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, presented simultaneously at 48 venues around the UK, all of which were hooked up to a live Q and A session at the Ritzy in Brixton, where Herzog chatted and took questions from the audience.

In 1994, three cave explorers in the south of France looking for caves by feeling for gentle breezes coming out of the ground, discovered a narrow shaft between two large rocks, leading into a large but claustrophobic area which was named the Chauvet Cave, after it's discoverer. It turns out that this cave was inhabited by humans, bears, lions and more, but about 25,000 years ago a rockfall blocked the main entrance completely, sealing in the contents. What the scientists found as they entered was a perfectly preserved environment, completely undisturbed aside from the gradual build-up of calcite. It was immediately closed off for research, as it represented perhaps the most important archaeological discovery of the age.

The most impressive aspect was the cave paintings. They looked as if they were painted yesterday, such was the perfect preservation process. Animal bones looked as if they had just been gnawed and discarded, and torch marks on the roof still had ash on the floor beneath them. This film takes us on a very privileged journey through the caves, including a guided tour by some of the scientists tasked with recording, modelling and interpreting the contents.

I did enjoy what I saw, although anyone who has heard Herzog narrate something before will immediately recognise his slightly off-kilter philosophising and occasional segue into the surreal, and because of their limited time in the caves, there was quite a bit of repetition of the same areas over and over again. The 3D wasn't that great either, although due to the massive restrictions placed on them, they could only bring in some pretty basic cameras and a skeleton crew. Despite all that, it is a beautiful sight, and a very rare look into the past so perfectly frozen in time. 7.5/10

Mike the Midwife (UK) - An uncomplicated short film about a simple man, a summary of the youtube film series. Straight talking Mike gets a job as a midwife, and approaches it with the same tact as Tommy Walsh with a Gazebo, with predictably amusing-ish results. 7/10

The Red Machine (US) (site)

Uptight, unflinching navy lieutenant Coburn enlists petty safe cracker Doyle in a job to steal an Enigma-style coding device from the Japanese embassy in 1930's pre-war America. Coburn has been set the job by his superior officers, with which he shares an unexplained altercation some years ago, and so they treat him like crap.

Though the directors should be commended for an authentic-looking period piece on a low budget with a reasonable script and fair acting, it's just not very entertaining. It rehashes every cliche in the book, is a bit dull and limited in it's imagination and scope, and there was not enough here to justify me losing out on an extra hour and a half sleep for the privilege. 6/10

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