Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 17

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Jpn) (site)

Unusually, despite my penchant for big budget, beautiful animé, I had somehow yet to watch any Makoto Shinkai film, so I have been looking forward to this all through the festival.

Asuna is a young girl in a rural Japanese village. Her mother is often away working as a night nurse, leaving her to pick up the slack at home. Her father died some time ago. Her little hidey hole where she goes for a bit of solitude, at the top of a nearby hill overlooks a forest and she spends much of her time there in peace, until a strange, bear-like creature attacks her on the way. She is only saved by a mysterious boy, Shun, who seems to leave shortly afterwards, but not before some shadowy agent types begin to snoop around, following rumours that the beast was guarding an entrance to some underground world.

Children Who Chase Lost voices (he has a habit of giving his films long names) is the latest from an artist who raised some eyebrows with his almost entirely one-man produced Voices From a Distant Star a decade ago, and has since come to be thought of in some circles as the next Miyazaki.

Perhaps this comparison has reached his own ears, because the film is VERY much in the style of several Ghibli films. Shun is a dead ringer from Arren from Tales of Earthsea, and the beautiful underground world inhabited by tall humanoid beasts and strange night spectres raises comparisons with Laputa and Mononoke especially, and Mimi the little cat that befriends Asuna is a dead ringer for Nausicaa's Teto. This would be okay, if a little cheap if it didn't feel like a direct lift of some of the themes, and in a very clinical way. There doesn't feel to be much heart underneath the undeniable beauty of the animation, with it's gorgeous starry skies and sunsets, and the usual pillow shots of incidental wildlife. Only half-way in does it start to feel anything other than melodramatic, and even then I didn't care so much about the characters to really identify with the perceived messages of love and loss.

I did enjoy the film as a whole, and while there is no doubt that Makoto Shinkai is a major talent in the animé field, and he has certainly managed to get the visuals sorted out, he still has a long way to go before the story underneath can hit the sort of levels achieved by his inspiration. 7/10

We Have a Pope (Ita) (wiki)

I had the good fortune to see this, as it had been given a second run due to it's popular reception. Habemus Papam is the exclamation traditionally given when a new pope is elected. As the streets of Rome fall silent and the masses gather to see the black smoke turn white, a decision is being made among the cardinals deep in the recesses of the Vatican on who should have the 'honour' - something that none of them actually want. When a late surge of votes comes in to relative unknown Cardinal Melville, he agrees to changing one silly uniform for another, if only out of shock. As it dawns on him of the weight of the situation, panic ensues, though fortunately out of the public gaze and before he is named.

Bringing in a psychologist (whose hands are tied - he can't ask the pope about anything near the subject of sex!) gets nowhere, so while he is locked in for security's sake, Melville is driven out to the next best psychoanalyst in town - and promptly disappears at the earliest opportunity.

Making a farce out of one of the most important Catholic events certainly takes some guts, and director Nanni Moretti gently but decisively pokes fun of the ridiculous traditions of the church and the repressed lives of those of the cloth, who are often portrayed as helpless babies having their strings pulled by the slimy advisor, Radjski. As well as the satirical humour, this film has some truly surreal moments, not just limited to having a future pope wandering around the streets and chatting with the locals. One particularly glorious scene involves the trapped psychiatrist and a few dozen cardinals, trying to fill time before the pope will 'leave his room' by hosting an international volleyball tournament. It felt like Father Ted all over again.

The film did dip slightly towards the end, but in all it was a funny, gentle dig at the absurdities of the religion rather than the people. 7.5/10

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