Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 11

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (Swi) (site)

Unfortunately, I missed the start of this but it looked pretty good. The Sennentuntschi story comes from a Swiss folk tale of a woman that appears in a village and wreaks havok. As a comment on the inherent sexual brutality of men towards women through the years, she remains passive and friendly until the chemicals start to flow and the men try to have their way with her. Then they are all slaughtered.

Reusch has been a well respected police officer through the years in the peaceful town of Trepunt, but this changes when a hooded figure is seen creeping through the streets. The young woman has a savage, animal streak and quick witted eyes that seem to glow, but she appears manicured and in good health. The reaction of the villagers is for distrust and gossip to spread, and it is not long before Reusch's investigation is complicated by the raising of pitchforks after a rousing speech by the local priest. And a battle between reason and superstition heightens never allowing the viewer to be completely sure where this girl comes from and what she is capable of.

The audience is kept guessing right until the end, where the director throws multiple curve balls that forces you to re-evaluate pretty much everything you have seen. It's disturbing and a bit gory, although some of the more extreme natures of the male characters, which seem to move randomly between caring human being and slavering sex monster, feel a little false. Nontheless, it is a disturbing, entertaining and complicated film that refuses to be pinned down. 7.5/10

Together (Swe/Den/Ita) (wiki)

Hippy communes have rarely (in film representations, anyway) been successful. Ideological people coming together with a claim of openness to new ideas and perspectives often find they have different definitions of the term, and a purposeful lack of leadership mixed with a naive manifesto sooner or later causes the breakup of the group.

Goren, as much of a leader as you would expect in such a situation is blind or in denial about the imminent demise of his little group. Having been together for some time, a mix of moderate and extreme, socialist and communist, gay and straight. They rejected consumerism and capitalist leanings, and at some point it was decided that they would all be vegans. Rumbling tummies all round. It's got to the point where a round table discussion of who should do the washing up, if anyone results in heated tempers and the matter not being resolved.

Note: the website at the end is no longer for the film.

But Goren finds himself adding another cat among the pigeons. His mainstream society sister Elizabeth and her two children (quiet Eva and moody Stefan) need somewhere to stay as she has just broken up with Rolf. It's a squeeze already and finding them a room adds to the tension.

As expected, this new capitalist pig-dog living in the commune causes ruffles, but also begins to nudge some of it's members into re-evaluating their beliefs and values. Some of the more extreme members begin to move on, whereas those with a more open mind (or a stake to claim) stay on.

The blurb sounded more akin to the same sort of destructive film that Snowland turned out to be, but it really wasn't like that at all. A slightly messy and unfocused start (much like the commune itself) matured slowly and by the end I found myself wearing a genuine smile and feeling a warm glow at the outcome. 8/10

Note: They have just announced the extra festival films for Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th and Together is on the list. Catch it if you are in the area.

Repulsion (UK) (wiki)

How Roman Polanski would like to turn the clock back and be known for his films and not his sordid private life. Repulsion was his first major success with a western audience, a very private study of one womans' mental state in freefall. Delicate fawn Carole begins the film in a bit of a trance-like state (in fact, given this is a film from the 60's she is so zoned out you expect a long line of men of that era to be slapping her and shouting 'for gawds sake, darlin, SNAP AAHT OF IT!').

But her mental state is much more complicated than just feeling a bit airy. Carole, a Belgan manicurist living in her sister's house in an affluent part of London just about keeps things in equilibrium so long as she has enough structure in her life - that of her supportive sister and her oafish boyfriend and a steady job at the beauty salon. But when they leave for a holiday in Italy for a week or so, the scales are tipped and Carole begins to lose control of her faculties.

After a slow start (where Catherine Deneuve basically stares into the distance for half an hour) the true horror of her mental decline is revealed, using some pretty nightmarish psychological hallucinations; walls that crack and threaten to bring the building down, and turn soft at the touch, evil men invading her bed every night, and apparent heavy breathing phone calls. Withdrawing deeper into the prison she makes for herself, both physical and mental, she becomes a danger to whoever happens to stumble upon her predicament.

It looks dated by modern standards, but underneath the slightly tatty exterior is a truly disturbing but finely executed analysis of how a fragile mind can turn in on itself with just the slightest push. 7/10

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (Ger) (wiki)

Another film festival, another Werner Herzog film. Advancing years seem not to have slowed the output of this director, who likes to split his time between clinical documentaries and action films of every persuasion.

For the past couple of films, it seemed like he was spreading himself a little thin; My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? seemed to be an attempt at a Coen Brothers' style of film, and though he got the look down there was little feeling there. Likewise, Cave of Forgotten Dreams was a beautiful and privileged glimpse into a forgotten and beautiful world, but Herzog again seemed to bring a scripted clinical quality to it that detracted from the experience.

Taiga is documentary time once more. The Taiga is a stretch of near-impenetrable wilderness made up of deep forests and fast-flowing rivers and spans a ring around the upper end of the globe. In a northern part of Siberian Russia, summer is brief and winter is long and difficult, with temperatures bottoming out at -50c. Herzog narrates a condensed year, from the spring (which is far harsher than any winter I have seen) right through to the following depths of their winters.

The small Siberian village of Bakhtia was chosen for the subject matter. It sits on the outskirts of the Siberian Taiga region, and its hunter-trappers spend the summer months preparing for the winter; catching as many fish as possible, hollowing out trees to make canoes, and creating and setting a thousand or so traps (each!) for the Sable, a weasel-like creature that the locals can sell for their pelts. As well as this, each trapper maintains his own 1500-square kilometre patch of the Taiga, particularly their main cabin and a handful of outlying huts, each of which are open to falling trees, massive crushing snowdrift and the odd curious bear. In the autumn months, the men say goodbye to their families for the winter months, and head off to their huts where they live out a solitary existence with only their faithful dogs for company.

Herzog's clinical Arnie-style narration (I so want him to say 'come with me if you want to live') is not entirely without emotion and doesn't distract too much from the beautiful, harsh landscapes and yet another disappearing culture. The film is a mix of the informative, with a sprinkle of sadness and humour here and there. I'd definitely rate it higher than CoFD (just for the variety alone) and is certainly his best documentary film for years. 8/10

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