BIFF 2012 - Day 5

Malaventura (Mex) (trailer - warning: noisy)

I arrived late for the screening thanks to some train troubles, but the gremlins that dog the Cubby screen were out in force again, I should have known to trust them. By the time I had arrived, the long opening scene (where our hero wakes in his dingy flat and gets ready to go out as the world comes to life outside) had just about finished - without sound. A wait followed by a second attempt with the backup DVD came with audio, and just as that same scene had finished, the DVD stopped.

To save us spending a third morning waking with the old man, I got them to scoot it on a bit, and finally - some 40 minutes late - we were watching uncharted film, with sound.

If only it had been worth the wait. Malaventura is an hour in the life of an unnamed old man. His empty life involves much isolation and, mumbling around the streets of some Mexican town, he wiles away his few remaining days drinking, walking and sitting studying the young people and old buildings around him with a sorrowful look.

It felt as if it should have been a short film; five minutes worth of ambling around to give us the idea of the terrible emptiness of a life without contact, but I guess that was the point. There are millions of such people around the planet who spend days without seeing or saying anything to anyone. The convenience of reducing that to a five minute short is wasted on the viewer.

I got that; but a film has to go somewhere. Long, static shots of a shuffling man in various parts of the city tell us nothing the previous scene communicated, and the resolution offered up at the end made little sense and did little to make me feel like I had learned something. 4/10

He Whose Face Gives No Light (Can/Mex) (synopsis)

Playing as part of a double bill with Malaventura, this is actually the more enjoyable piece of work, though not by much. Whereas Malaventura deals with the storyline, such that it was of an old man straining the last dregs out of life, this counterpart film, whilst not quite being a 'behind the scenes' DVD extra, attempts to give some voice and life to the people who played the characters in the film. Filmed as scenes from Malaventura were being shot - indeed some have 'alternate camera angles' of certain scenes, the elderly Mexican residents talk about anything on their minds - at least until the clapper-board shuts, and then you get the protracted silence of a film set during a take. Mildly distracting, but not enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. 5/10

Those Who Can (UK) - The final day of the career of a school teacher, driven to distraction by unruly kids who will just not give him respect or attention. Pivotal moments are sliced up and shuffled, as the man recalls the event in retrospect, or perhaps it hasn't happened.. yet. A film to make you uncomfortable with your reactions. 7/10

Belle De Jour (Fra/Ita) (wiki)

Pierre Climénti, the gangly and awkward-looking French actor/director is getting a retrospective at this years' BIFF, and Belle De Jour was my chosen film to see. It is perhaps the most famous of the films on offer, and stars the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve in a typical role (see Repulsion) where she plays a woman with a bit of a screw loose.

Still, Deneuve's character Severine has reason to be a bit off, as we see in choice flashbacks to her childhood; she was abused more than once, meaning that as an adult, her relationship with doctor husband Pierre, who loves her unconditionally, is awkward and strained. Specifically, she can't share a bed with him or be physically affectionate. Though Pierre exerts the patience of a saint, Severine knows it won't last forever, and her subconscious is feeding her dreams where her repressed sexual fantasies are channelled through her guilt and are becoming ever more perverse.

A chance conversation about brothels by Pierres' friend Husson where he happily admits to frequenting them when he wants some fun, pricks up her ears. Not knowing quite why she visits out of curiosity, and Madame Anais inside, mistaking her for a new girl, signs her up. Not able to resist and seemingly not in control of her actions she takes it on. All goes well until low-end gangster Hippolyte shows up with his unhinged assassin Marcel (Clementi, who despite looking awkward and a rubbish assassin in the stills, evokes a brooding rage and danger behind the eyes), finding reciprocated desire, but not love from her.

Male sexual desire was being explored on film in increasingly explicit ways by the mid-60's though this film is probably an early example showing that women had naughty thoughts too; a concept some men are still finding a surprise. Severine's dreams speak of her sexual leanings, and the use of a brothel to face the fear of another person's touch is subtly explored through psychological allegory. Stylistically the film is now very much of it's time, but it stands strong as an exploration of the fragility of human desire. 7.5/10

Carlos (Fra/Ger) (site)

By coincidence, the next film was also part of a retrospective, this time for the director Oliver Assayas. This is perhaps the work he will be most remembered for. A shortened film version of an original Golden Globe-winning 3-part TV miniseries. Even with half of it on the cutting room floor, the film is not to be taken lightly, getting close to three hours in length.

Being careful not to refer to 'The Jackal' - the name thought up by the media and not by his comrades or anyone unfortunate to tangle with him, the film spans two decades of his life. In 1973, he was trying to prove himself worthy enough for a PFLP revolutionaries group led by Wadie Haddad, and though Carlos showed guts and promise, his individualistic approach to terrorism, culminating with a horribly botched kidnapping of the OPEC Committee in 1975 got him kicked out, long after his increasingly bloodthirsty attitude towards the treatment of those in his way lost him old comrades, and got him in with some unhinged new ones.

Assayas portrays the fall from grace expertly; Carlos (played brilliantly by Édgar Ramirez) changes his hairstyle, face fungus and waistline as quickly as the fashions of the time, betraying his wayward principles and propensity to live the decadent capitalist western life he is trying so hard to show he is against.

Coming out of the film after such running time, I was surprised to find myself disappointed that I wasn't watching the full, uncut version (although mercifully I would do it in the intended three parts) as it was clear that key events and scenes had been cut. What remained was an excellent cinematic version of praised works such as The Killing or The Wire, and one day I will try and pick up the unabridged work to see how much I have missed. 8/10

Brotherhood (UK) - Two Kurdish brothers live meagre lives in a Yorkshire town. Ibrahim is trying to become a doctor and studies hard. His brother Rafiq is slowly drifting away. He loves his brother but their lives cannot change unless he starts taking on some shady jobs for extra money. How they reconcile this difference will play out when Ibrahim discovers his brothers' latest package. A well-acted performance by local amateur actors. 7.5/10

Avé (Bul) (interview)

As we meet Kamen, he is just being told the bad news: his friend is dead. The funeral is across the country in Ruse, and he has no car, so he hitch-hikes. On the way he meets a young girl going in the same direction, and after they attract the attentions of a car big enough for them both they get on their respective journeys; except - this girl is now chatting up the driver as if they are lovers. Perhaps from a mixture of shock, confusion and maybe some flattery, Kamen sits dumbfounded. But as the vehicles change the tales get taller until the inevitable happens and Kamen speaks up, immediately spooking their ride into kicking them out.

Ave's bare-faced cheek and confident charm are enough to keep the story interesting, although her confidence is a thin shell around a confused girl with reasons of her own for travelling from wherever she was. Bulgaria is shown in it's drab, downbeat nakedness as winter sets in and the inevitable romance is suitably tender. A quiet little film with touches of happy and sad, and an impressive first film from director Konstantin Bojanov. 7.5/10

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