Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (Part 2)

Tir (Ita/Cro) (imdb)

The lonely life of a long distance lorry driver doesn't have a lot of leeway to grow into something larger, and one way to make sure of that is to confine the majority of the film to inside the cab.  Despite this, Tir does well with it's confinements.  Branco has been with his firm for a few months, earning a substantially larger wage packet than he did as a teacher.  Though this provides for his far-away family (which he keeps in touch with via the cab radio), it means a lot of time away from them on the road.  Shot much like a documentary, we join Branco and his cab partner Maki as they take turns sleeping and driving across Europe.  Moving slowly, the film captures the increasing realisation that Branco needs to reassess his career once more, as Maki moves on without a replacement, his bosses want more and more from him, and the increasingly strained conversations with his wife suggest he might want to be at home more, lest she start some shenanigans with a family friend.

Tir will probably be too slow for some, but what eventually emerges is the not so glamorous life on the road for thousands of truck drivers the world over, the film highlighting the early starts, claustrophobic conditions and the colourful characters encountered along the way.  I certainly have a better appreciation of such careers, and would be quite happy not switching mine, thank you very much. 7/10

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellbecq (Fra) (review)

Did you notice that 'Fra' bit in the title up there?  Did that set off any alarm bells for you?  If you wondered maybe this might be an annoying French film, you would be right!

I didn't know who Michel Houellbecq was prior to this film, and maybe it would have been a good idea to find out who he was before watching the film.  He is apparently a prolific and controversial author and filmmaker, who during a book tour in 2011, fell off the radar for a while.  Some people thought maybe he had been kidnapped, and thus the premise of the film was born.

Houellbecq decided to lend himself to the title role, and plays what the blurb assures me is a caricature of himself, although not one as entertaining as Bruce Campbell did in My Name is Bruce.  Instead, he is a shambling, withered and thoroughly annoying man, forever trudging the streets of France being philosophically French (yes, again) at the most mundane of subjects with anyone who will engage him in conversation.  His flappy, gummy mouth bibbles out guff and spittle, and do please cover your ears when he is eating, as it is not a sound you want your head to be invaded by.

I would like to think that this thoroughly dislikeable character is indeed a caricature of the man, but I will have to blame that on my optimistic outlook on life.

The film, never intended as a serious character study, fulfils the intention of the title - eventually - as a trio of brothers, all meat-headed bodybuilders, follow him, bundle him in a box, and take them to their parent's house, who seem completely okay with holding him to ransom.  Everyone is uncharacteristically polite, and very little goes on outside the house - either to hurry along the ransom demands (they just seem to wait for someone to notice he is missing), or for any alarm bells to be raised.  Instead, the whole experience focuses on a variant of Stockholm Syndrome; after some polite introductions and more than a little chainsmoking, the captors relax their already limp grip on him, and begin to debate with him at the dinner table.

As a kidnapping film, Houellbecq falls flat on it's face.  Too busy having fun with itself, any believability is thrown from the window and it's mildly entertaining silliness is all it can fall back on - something it loses somewhat with the introduction of a local prostitute part way through, which I felt ran contrary to the lightheartedness of the rest of the film.  I find it difficult to recommend to anyone, which is a shame as the mechanic of a bunch of bodybuilders and a frail intellectual introducing each other to their experiences could have been used so much more effectively. 5.5/10

Ningen (Jap/Tur/Fra) (synopsis)

The stories of the Fox and the Tanuki (Raccoon-type creatures native to Japan) are prevalent in Japanese folklore, and most Japanese children, and the adults they grow into will know at least a few of them.  In them, the animals are mischievous shape-shifters who often assume the form of human beings, in order to trick us out of our belongings.  The Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko plays on elements of several of the stories, although mostly from the point of view of the Tanuki.  Mostly, though these stories are relatively unknown outside of Japan.

So it was with some surprise to learn that the directors of this film were Turkish and French, who went to great lengths to tell a Japanese story as it would be told by a Japanese director.  I think they managed it pretty well.

In Ningen, a fox and a tanuki collude with each other, betting that they can swipe the gold from a human through trickery.  As a proviso to make things more interesting, they agree to maintain human form until one of them wins the bet.  But many years later they still haven't succeeded, and in the meantime, they have forgotten what it was like not to be in the human world.

This doesn't immediately fit into the world we are introduced to; a middle-aged and tired looking businessman and his secretary wife struggle to come to terms of their departments' dire-looking sales forecasts.  He spends his evenings downing Saki with his friend at the red light district bar, while she broods at home over her decreasing health.  Eventually, the pressure of the job and the disgrace of failure gets to him, and an attempt to throw himself from the window of the high-rise building lands him in a mental home for a spell.

Ningen uses a traditional eastern way of storytelling that relies more on the viewer working things out for themselves rather than being obvious about it; it doesn't make clear until some way in who are the fox and tanuki, and who is their human target, to the point where you are wondering whether the story was merely a metaphoric introduction to the film.  However, this is a strength, rather than a frustration of the film, which weaves the initially separate tales loosely together at first, tightening them together until they merge as the story matures.

The result is an initially quite ordinary film that develops into something much more rewarding, and well worth a look. 7.5/10

Magic in the Moonlight (US) (wiki)

Woody Allen, despite being well over 200 years old now, is still pumping out those films.  They seem to coincide nicely with the festival circuit.  One seems to be doing the rounds every year.

Magic in the Moonlight is a jaunty tale set in 1920's France, populated by affable Brits larking about instead of doing proper work.  Colin Firth is your natural affable Brit, and he does a pretty good job of playing Stanley, a magician turned professional skeptic who, when not exciting the crowds with his magic tricks, uncovers the palmreaders and spirit realm soothsayers for the charlatans they are before any more grieving widows hand over their moneys for a last chat with their departed other halves.

Something of a celebrity in the circle, he is confounded by Sophie, a young woman who claims to have psychic powers, who appears to be the real thing - and after several demonstrations of her abilities comes to a crashing realisation that there is more to life than he has allowed himself to believe.

Now don't worry, I haven't gone all new age here.  Sophie is indeed unmasked as a fake, and Allen is not trying to tell us we should all believe in the unknown wooery peddled by these people, or even in some general higher order.  Firth's skeptic is an arrogant, narrow minded boor, whose likability is down to the fact that it's Colin Firth underneath it all; a caricature of the sort of person some would lazily term as having 'militant' views.

My take on the message here is in response to the rise of a more skeptical way of thinking in recent times, which is - sure, question and be critical of limp-minded explanations of the way the world works, but don't be a dick about it, and don't close your mind so much that the beauty of the world is also lost, a message that I can get behind given some recent events in the atheist community.  My only real problem with the film is with Stanleys' portrayal of a skeptical mind, which some will take away as being synonymous with unlikability, and perhaps even some mild mental disorder.   But if you can put that aside for a second, it is actually a pretty good film, and one of the stronger Woody Allen films I've seen in some time.  7.5/10


rush essays said...

Good slection of movies fo rthe festival. Many of these are classic films. The rating that has been given is not fair in case of some films.

Academic conference said...

Good to hear about this featival its really interesting. Good selection of movies for the festival. I wish the best movie wins the award.