sixpackfilm is an Austrian film house known for producing such luminaries as Michael Heneke, whose Amour from LIFF last year is still doing the rounds in the odd cinema here and there. This year, Bradford is celebrating the various works of the studio with some selected films and a couple of short film compilations, of which this is the first; a collection of some of their older works from the last 50 or so years, put together by Sixpackfilm director Brigitta Burger-Utzer.
The Ballad of Maria Lassnig - We were started off gently. Maria Lessnig recounts for us, in song and animation, her life as a struggling artist and the disapproval she felt from friends and family. Her different costumes and unembarassed performance was likeable and it reminded me more than a little of last year's charming Grandma Lo-Fi. 7/10
....Remote....Remote.. - A woman sits and works her cuticles** with a stanley knife, occasionally dipping them in milk, to the increasing frustration, and eventually revulsion of the audience, as the knife starts to cut too deep. Maybe it's effective as a remedy for people who bite their fingernails (as I do), but it was just plain annoying, especially with the repetitive 'dented paint pot' soundtrack. 3/10
Exposed - Excerpts of an old film are obscured by blackness, the only windows through are square windows, moving and darting about and slowly increasing in number, to some more rumbling soundtrack. 3/10
Self Mutilation - Plain odd. A man - or is it a woman - covered in paint, or porridge or something, wrapped in wires and with things stuck to him, pretends to be in pain as they score their faces with dull blades and butter knives. Pointless, and fails to be convincing in what it tried to do. Mercifully, no soundtrack this time. 2/10
Ballhead - Back comes the rumbling, as a woman cuts her hair with a cut-throat razor, and seems fine when she goes further into the skin. Then she bandages her whole head and then pretends to be a human typewriter with the blood seeping through. Ladies and gentlemen: avant garde cinema. 2/10
Trees in Autumn - Almost the same rumbling soundtrack again. Trees. In Autumn. Black and white, and lots of clashing images together. 2/10
Our Trip to Africa - Actually not so bad after a succession of rubbish. The usual rumblings were there over a film summarising a trip to Africa by some fat, unpleasant German businessmen, shooting elephants and lions and just about anything else that moved, as the poor indigenous people went about their business as best they could. It was quite interesting as it contained fleeting glimpses of Abu Simbel before it was raised to it's current position. 6/10
Chronomops - Basically a few minutes of the Studio Canal intro on steroids. Geometric neon shapes dance about the screen and pulsing noises assault the senses on a high spin cycle. Beautiful but too intense to watch for more than a minute. 5/10
Agypten - Not really about Egypt; a selection of deaf people (or at least those who can do sign language) tell stories and talk about things. 5/10
Outer Space - REALLY Not for the epileptic - footage from a horror film (Scream?) is mashed up and spat out, as if they set a wonky film projector going and filmed the output of it slowly destroying itself. 4/10
Then, we had a double-bill of mid-length films on very different communities.
A documentary of sorts about an unusual Bolivian prison, where the inmates - 1500 or so of them - live with their families, to create a cramped but vibrant community of tiny apartments, open areas and even some industry capable of keeping the whole thing afloat. German director Diego Mondaca avoids guiding the viewer through this strange, closed off life and instead drops you straight in the middle of it and lets you fend for yourself, garnering nuggets of information from the sparse interviewing he does as the camera glides around the busy, labyrinthine structures. 6/10
An Anthropological Television Myth (Ita) (site)
The second film depicted the residents of a Sicilian town through the filter of footage from 1990's pre-Berlusconi local public broadcast television. The big hair from a bygone age and and befuddled looks from villagers with a microphone suddenly thrust up their nose is distracting for a while, but the presumably intended 'meat' of the film - a running theme of upcoming elections, a housing shortage due to failed political promises, mass demonstrations and accusations rife of political bribery and corruption doesn't quite come enough to the fore to capture the viewers' attention, even when that does include gruesome footage of bloody political assassinations. 6/10
Etude (Austria) - Another sixpackfilm short film, and predictably, this meant that we had scratchy, rumbly sound on top of something you couldn't get a narrative out of. This time, footage of a hand begins to merge with a piano keyboard, as if to represent the actions of an instrument and it's player merging an a performance. Meh. 4/10
Mother India (Ind) (wiki)
At 175 minutes, Mother India is a true Indian epic, and not atypical in length for films from the region. At the time of it's production it was way ahead in terms of scope and budget, and is considered a classic of Indian cinema.
As the bulldozers and cranes strip away the old and replace it with bridges and buildings, an old woman recalls her hard years as a mother and wife. As a young bride, Radha and her husband Shyamu live hard but happy lives tilling the fields and starting a family. It's hard, but its about to get a lot harder as Sukilala, the moneylender Shyamus' mother used to pay for the wedding has them by the balls, and is using their reading ignorance to keep them from breaking free of his loan, which is keeping him very well kept indeed, thankyouverymuch.
Cue a succession of crises as land, money and people are all lost and Radha repeatedly hits what seems to be her lowest point, only for more crap to appear on the near horizon. Despite her strongest will at shouldering all the burdens fate puts her way, all seems lost. In the ruins of her home after a flood with fatalities all around her, Radha must find within herself the strength to move forward, and calm the vengeful urges of her son, Birju.
Mother India has a special status in India as the film most beloved of it's people. This comes partly through its primary intent to portray the country in a far more positive light than a much derided book from America of the same name published several years previous. And story wise, although it does plod through the hours, it is a broad and deep story that crosses generations. You have the usual Indian songs scattered throughout, but this doesn't stop it also being in turns emotionally engaging and genuinely funny; the midpart of the film, where a young Birju steals the show with his cheekily headstrong attitude is a particular pleasure, even in the midst of the family's life going to crap. Once is enough at that length, but I'm glad I got to see it. 7.5/10
Luisa is not Home (Spa) - Elderly Luisa is far too used to her subservant life, a wife to an ungrateful husband and their sterile relationship is at least a comforting normality. But when the washing machine breaks and she has to go to the laundrette, a chance meeting with a spirited woman who takes an awful lot less before making her feelings known creates a spark in her heart and a realisation that it doesn't have to be this way. 7.5/10
Beware of Mr. Baker (US) (site)
This was a last minute switcheroo, a replacement for a mysteriously cancelled Indian film called I.D, which the distributors mysteriously withdrew from the festival at the last minute. Ginger Baker is considered by just about everyone with knowledge in the subject, as the most prolific, talented and influential drummer there has ever been. Best known as one third of Cream; when they split in 1969 after just three years of intense anger and legendary music, his attempts to fit in with others would often spark and burn out, and he would have to move on, often finding himself setting up shop across the globe.
This didn't matter too much to him as he found interesting people wherever he went picking up and setting down influence along the way; problem is he would end up leaving yet again when his short, antagonistic temper got the better of him and those who trusted him into their spaces found the personality too intolerable even for the talent brought with it.
Ginger Baker now lives a reclusive existence with his fourth wife and her kids, having left his first wife and three children along the way a long time ago. Luminaries from the age including Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, John Lydon and many others give their voices of how the history went for better or worse, much to the shock and anger of Baker, who we see at the start dealing out his opinions on the matter with his walking stick, right in the director's face. But even those who were wronged the worst share an admiration for the man, who is now a shadow of his former self. A bright and fizzing biography of a highly unstable and ultimately fragile man, which of course makes it all the more interesting. 7.5/10
Film/Spricht/Viele/Sprechen (Ger) - I've seen it twice now, and I still don't know what to make of it. German title, cinema style Indian Restaurant advertisements, in French, and supercut all over the shop. It ended, and the audience let out a bewildered laugh. 3/10
The Perfectionists (Spa) - A spiritual follow up to The Four Magnificos, a similar short by the same director at BIFF 2011. The Perfectionists are a troupe of method actors, who are trying to attain the perfection of their art, and attempting to get there by following a cult-like instruction. The complete sense of seriousness in the ridiculous things they do gave plenty of laughs. 7.5/10
Much Ado About Nothing (US) (wiki)
Just after Buffy and Firefly director Joss Whedon finished with the shooting of The Avengers, he found himself in his large house with several of his acting friends from several previous projects. So he did what we all would do - he made a cinematic retelling of the classic Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing, in just under two weeks.
Whedon brings it up to date with the settings, but the characters remain shackled to the past; the dialog is taken almost verbatim from the play and although this is a brave and novel undertaking, does sneak up on the unsuspecting viewer and takes a little bit of adjusting to. Once you get over this stumbling block however the film becomes a lot more watchable, especially once the cast thins out a bit - since everyone is wearing suits and it's filmed in black and white, you get a bit lost at the start remembering who is who. Buffy fans at least (I was never into Firefly so can't vouch) can look forward to many recognisable faces, not least Alexis Denisof who played the prim and upright Wesley, and also Riki Lindhome, who was briefly in Buffy, but is better known these days as one half of the ever excellent Garfunkel and Oates.
And now I'm watching Garfunkel and Oates videos when I should be asleep.
So yes. It may be slightly too impenetrable for a mainstream audience - basically if you have problems with subtitles you'll also have problems here, but if not, and you like Shakespeare and/or Joss Whedon, I thoroughly recommend it. But I would give the original a quick read-through first to get the most out of the experience. 7.5/10