Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 16: Dogtooth, Emek Demonstration

(the very last festival entry - finished on June 29, 2010)

I had been hearing about Dogtooth, the festivals-favorite from Greece, since it premiered in Cannes last year, where it started racking up the awards. The film has been likened to von Trier (only Idiots, really) and Haneke on the IFF website. The premise of three siblings isolated in a house with their parents is indeed interesting, but takes too long to command the attention of the viewer (of this one, anyway). I won't go into detail to avoid spoilers, but I actually have a friend who was planning to teach her children wrong words to see how they would react to the outside world. In this case, the idea is similar, but there is never an outside world. It's a world of false consciousness, very well made, I just wish it could have been more succinct.

The main event on the last day of the festival was the march to save Emek, with a big crowd, lots of noise and plenty of fun. The update on Emek is that the plans have been suspended for now, until a report from a court expert. Ascourt experts are notoriously unreliable, there are occasional protests to keep the issue alive.

IFF Day 15: Reservoir Dogs, A Brand New Life, The Time That Remains

(Actual writing date: June 8th)

Reservoir Dogs. Such a great movie. It was being shown as one of the greatest first features of the last 30 years, and I made a little presentation before the film. It absolutely holds up. If you still haven't seen it yet, go rent/buy/download. The credit sequence at the beginning is one of my absolute favorites (along with Pulp Fiction and Easy Rider), it makes you want the movie to fully start, right now!

A Brand New Life (Yeo-haeng-ja) tells the story of a little Korean girl at an orphanage, waiting to be adopted by a Western couple. It's based on the real life experiences of its director, Ounie Lecomte. There is nothing wrong with the film, in fact, the little actress is excellent, and the director manages to be not too sentimental. Nonetheless, there is also nothing extraordinary about it. A typical well-enough-made festival fare that becomes tedious when watched on the last weekend of a long festival.

I'm a fan of Elia Suleiman. Even more so after The Time That Remains, which reflects on his family's (and his own) experiences in Israel from 1948 until today. He's a Middle-Eastern Buster Keaton, calm and cool, yet full of emotions. And funny.

IFF Day 14: Honey, Life During Wartime

Honey (Bal), this year's Golden Bear winner, is the final part in Semih Kaplanoğlu's Yusuf trilogy. Over three films (Egg, Milk, Honey), Kaplanoğlu has drawn a portrait of a poet, moving chronologically backwards. I did like the fact that the time remains in the present, and the film makes it very clear that while we watch Yusuf's childhood in Honey, we have not moved back to the seventies. There are subtle references to the other two films, but Honey stands on its own. In fact, it towers over the earlier two. Most significantly, the cinematography by Barış Özbiçer is breathtaking. And while the acting has always been strong in the trilogy, coming from a little boy (Bora Altaş), it's even more impressive. Yes, the long takes are very long, but I think I've gotten used to that by now.

I clearly remember a scene from Happiness, where one sister says "We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you" and the other responds "But I'm not laughing." I also remember other bits that stuck in my head, still after over a decade. Its sequel, Life During Wartime screened here a little over a month ago, and I have no recollection of it. Except that Todd Solondz has a really low speaking voice, and I couldn't hear him even with a microphone. The film is vicious to its characters, and I can't really imagine how it would stand alone without its prequel. (This is what happens when I start a blog entry on April 21st and complete it on June 4th.)

IFF Day 13: The Misfortunates, Kosmos, Tulay German

Completed on May 18th - It's becoming hard to write these, as it's been a while...

The Misfortunates has a lovely Flemish title (De helaasheid der dingen) and an even better Turkish one (Şeylerin Boktanlığı). Story of a boy growing up among drunkard white trash Flemish men (his dad and three older brothers), to become a famous novelist (the film is an adaptation). While I usually don't like the handheld-shaky-muddy cinematography that has become so ubiquitous lately, it does work here to good effect. The film has actually won the Golden Tulip at the festival. Two of the actors were here to collect the award, and they remained here for a few days more, courtesy of Eyjafjallajökull.

Kosmos comes from the most interesting of contemporary Turkish directors, Reha Erdem. Like his previous My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var), it has brilliant cinematography and an interesting use of sound, and is slightly too long. While I loved the idea of a mystical stranger coming into town and the way he used Kars (and yet it isn't Kars), everytime the stranger spoke, I felt completely alienated and detached from the film. Apparently, his lines were taken from a number of "holy books." Maybe that's what turned me off...

Tulay German: Years of Fire and Cinders is a documentary about one of the most popular Turkish singers of the sixties. My generation does not know her well (or rather, at all) as she emigrated to France in 1966. A few years ago, my newly-found cousin Didem Pekün (we have a big family) has decided to make a documentary about this fascinating woman. As German did not want to be filmed herself, Didem had to find other ways of telling her story, and ended up including herself in the film, which she completed with Barış Doğrusöz. It's an interesting portrait with loads of archival footage, a must-see for everyone interested in German or in 1960s' Turkish cultural scene.

IFF Day 12: Save Emek!

No movies on Day 12. Instead, I went to a town-hall type meeting about an old movie theater (Emek) that is planned to be torn down - sorry, "moved to the eighth floor of a multiplex without being torn down." Whatever. Until the meeting (which had a representative from the company that's planning the deed, someone from the Architects' Council, Director of IFF and a representative from Istanbul 2010 Agency), I wasn't against the project just for the sake of protest, and I was ready to listen to the guy from the company. He, however, spent about an hour saying nothing, lying to our faces, and grinning shamelessly. There was a lot of (mostly pointless) shouting, but in the end, it was god to show that there was a strong group of people against the project. One of the major points for me was that the theater has already been declared a cultural protection site, and is not supposed to be torn, changed or moved anywhere. We actually should not even be having this discussion. Another was that it's owned by Social Security Institution, so it's public. Why is it then being handed to some people so that they can make a profit off of it, without even a competitive bidding? Who are these people? And my favorite: 'the guy' tried to convince the audience that his company had good intentions to protect the cultural integrity of the building. The bottom three floors of the complex will be occupied by a museum: Madame Tussaud.

For more information, see the website.

IFF Day 11: The Last Station

The Last Station has Helen Mirren. Magnificent. If it needs anything else, it also has a great performance by Christopher Plummer. It's about the last days of Tolstoy, which is pretty interesting. Still, ultimately I found The Last Station a bit too bland. I think what bugged me the most was the constant use of music, as if the film did not have enough faith in itself to move the audience, so it had to rely on the score. The director was there for a Q&A, but I thought it would be rude to ask him about the music...

Monday, April 19, 2010

IFF Day 10: Howl, Nowhere Boy, Mr. Nobody

Howl features parts of the poem Howl. In animation. It also features re-created interviews with Allen Ginsburg, played by James Franco. And court scenes, with the actual transcripts from the obscenity trial faced by Howl's publisher. Poetry on film hardly ever works (or never works, save Bright Star). Trial scenes are boring, animations are tedious, bio-pic scenes are alright but not exciting (except the fact that it has the handsomest cast in recent times: Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Alessandro Nivola).

Nowhere Boy is the feature debut of video artist Sam Taylor Wood. Surprisingly, it's a vey straight-forward (albeit very well-made) bio-pic about the early years of John Lennon in Liverpool. It's also very much about motherhood. What realy surprised me though (maybe I know too little about The Beatles) is how much of a troublemaker/womanizer/punk Lennon appears to be, especially compared to the younger-but-wiser McCartney. And how gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas looks, even as she ages.

Jaco van Dormael's Mr. Nobody is a very strange and very beautifully made film. It starts in 2092, when the oldest - and the only mortal - human begins to tell his life story. What makes it interesting though, is that among the (possibly to large) parallel/possible stories he is telling, he doesn't know which one is real. Neither do we. Nor does it really matter. It could have been slightly shorter, but then again, I say that about every film over 110' long.

This Sheldon cartoon summarizes Mr. Nobody perfectly.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Live from the trenches

I posted this during the march from my cell phone, but only now managed to activate my mobile blog. More pics from the demonstration to come.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

IFF Day 9: Muezzin, Blood Simple, Kinatay

Day 8 was spent in nature, with family and friends. No movies, but I did watch 24. Interesting change of pace.

Muezzin is an Austrian documentary about imams in Turkey. More specifically, it's about the calls to prayer (ezan) they chant five times a day, and a call to prayer competition apparently held each year. The film follows a few of the imams who enter the competition, through regionals, all the way to national finals. What Muezzin does, very subtly and respectfully, is show how ambitious and vain these men really are. There may not be anything wrong with ambition and vanity per se (I would beg to differ, but in some strange cultures, ambition is even encouraged); but these imams are supposed to be 'men of God' in a religion that allegedy puts modesty above all.

Blood Simple. Pure Coens, even in their feature debut. Zhang Yimou's version now looks even more dull.

Kinatay is the first Philippine film to have competed at Cannes, where Brillante Mendoza won Best Director. I don't know if there was a problem with projection or not, but after the first 30 minutes or so (within which nothing happens), the film became so dark I could no longer follow it, and I left. Sorry to say, I was not the only one.

IFF Day 7: Fish Tank, Perrier's Bounty

It's 'Beautiful Irish Men Day' at IFF.

Fish Tank has Michael Fassbender. It also has a stellar cast and a solid narration. The story of the 15 year-old white trash (or whatever they call them in Britain) girl who can dance could have gotten mushy and/or preachy, but director Andrea Arnold successfully avoids that. Nonetheless, I would like there to be a rule about not using fishtanks and birdcages as a metaphor, for possibly the next 30 years or so. One funny (or disturbing, depending on how you look at it) detail: this film was running up against An Education at the BAFTAs. The Brits seem to like their little girls...

Perrier's Bounty has Cillian Murphy, who is too pretty for his own good. He's done zombies, he's done Batman, even a Loach film, but the image that I have stuck in my mind is Murphy sashaying in Breakfast on Pluto. So I had a hard time taking him seriously as the small time crook who owes 'Perrier' (a wonderfully evil Brendan Gleeson) money and has very little time to come up with it. The film appears to try to look like a Guy Ritchie gangster flick, but doesn't have the filmic attitude, save for a cocky voice-over. I love seeing Jim Broadbent in anything, so that's a plus (he plays Murphy's father). Especially stay away if random violence in movies disturbs you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

IFF 6: The Shock Doctrine, Dancing Dreams

Docu-Day at IFF.

The Shock Doctrine was adapted by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross from Naomi Klein's book. It features the author in many speeches, too many for my taste. She essentially argues that extreme capitalism feeds on 'shock': wars, disasters, etc. She starts from the Chilean coup, goes over the fall of the USSR, Gulf Wars, mentions Katrina and the Asian tsunami, and pretty much blames everything that is wrong with the world on Milton Friedman. While it was interesting to watch some of the archival footage, I found there to be too many leaps in her argumentation. Also, I don't get the use of Fargo soundtrack. (They also use some random Michael Nyman, just like Man on Wire did last year.)

On an entirely different note, I went into Dancing Dreams with absolutely no expectations. This is a documentary about a group of teenagers who perform Pina Bausch's Kontakthof, and the sole reason I went was that I loved everything I had seen by her (see my reference in the Mother review here). To cut a long story short, I was blown away. It would be wonderful enough to see another Bausch piece (and see it being prepared), but the film also introduces some of the young dancers, who are just regular high school students, but apparently some with such fascinating back-stories that they would deserve individual films. It was also extremely frustrating and saddening, knowing that Bausch is gone forever. Favorite doc in quite some time.

(Here's a performance of Kontakthof from 1983)

IFF 5: The Girl with the Red Scarf

The Girl with the Red Scarf (Selvi Boylum Al Yazmalım) is one of the greatest classics of Turkish cinema, and I had been embarrassed long enough for not having seen it. No more! A restored version was shown on Wednesday night, with most of the cast and crew present. The director, Atıf Yılmaz, has passed away in 2006. He was one of the most prolific and significant filmmakers of Turkish cinema.

The film starts out like a romantic comedy, but soon turns into a melodrama. The load rests on the shoulders of the main couple: Türkan Şoray and Kadir İnanır, both of whom look fantastic here. I found the constant voice-overs a little distracting, but who am I to object? Two details that stood out: The little boy (who was apparently played by a girl) falls off- practically throws himself off - the swing at some point. It's very convincing, and I'm sure there'd be a gigantic lawsuit if anyone threw a 3-year old off a swing like that in Europe or the U.S. today (not sure about Turkey). Also, Ahmet Mekin (the 'other guy' - pic below) looks so much like Atatürk, he'd be rich if he were a few decades younger (there's a flood of films about, and advertising featuring the man these days).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

IFF 4: A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, Skirt Day, Air Doll, Journey into Fear

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop is Zhang Yimou's remake of Blood Simple, set in ancient China. As a comedy. The problem is, it's a slapstick comedy. Another problem is, although the daytime scenes are gorgeous (as one would expect from Yimou), most of the film is set at night.

Skirt Day, starring Isabelle Adjani as a high school teacher who takes her class hostage, created quite a skirmish among the viewers. Some members of the audience laughed and giggled in a scene that was not particularly funny, and a lady loudly proclaimed that this was very unappropriate as she was crying at the moment. About ten minutes later, after the film took a rather tragic turn, a male voice asked: "Why aren't you laughing now?" To which, others gave various replies, making the viewing process more fun than the film itself. Adjani won a Cesar for her performance here, rightly. But most of the film is set in one room, and it can get tedious and heavy-handed. And although it's shorter than 90 minutes, it feels longer - the ending especially drags on a little too much.

Air Doll is about a blow-up doll who develops a heart. She does not become a 'real' human as we know it, as she's 'empty inside'. When she says this to other people, they say that they are just like her, but she doesn't quite get metaphors. Metaphors are exactly what drag this film down, as it's full of them, but it's still a nice little film about fragile lonely people. Not my favorite Kore-eda though (that would definitely be Nobody Knows).

Pera Balık, right by Aya Triada, may be the best (and certainly the most reasonably priced) fish restaurant in all of Beyoğlu.

Journey into Fear, made in 1942 by (some of) the people who brought you Citizen Kane, is shown in the Istanbul section of the festival. This section contains "films which are set in İstanbul, of İstanbul and about İstanbul." Unfortunately, while most of this film is set in Istanbul, the cast and crew have not set their foot outside of their studio in Hollywood. Apparently, they also could not find a Turkish-speaking advisor to help them with pronunciations and accents. The story itself is rather simple: Joseph Cotten plays a U.S. Navy engineer who is pursued by the Nazis. Orson Welles is a Turkish cop. What I enjoyed the most was seeing all the familiar Citizen Kane faces in very different roles. And the fact that the film was only 68 minutes long.

IFF 3: Colony, Birds of Foreign Land, Whip It

Colony is about the disappearance of bees a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the film tells its story mostly through a handful of (rather uninspiring) beekeepers. And since no one really knows why this has happened, it cannot go beyond a few talking head discussing the possible reasons. All this talk, and sound problems to boot (soundtrack was louder than the dialogues), does not make for an exciting viewing.

Birds of Foreign Land (Gurbet Kuşları) is yet another classic I hadn't seen yet. It was shown in memory of its director, Halit Refiğ, who passed away last year. The story is of a family from Maraş (in Southeast Turkey), who come to Istanbul to get rich. Didactic and heavy-handed at times, the film is nonetheless rather daring for its era (1964), especially in terms of showing sexuality. A nude breast! Women sleeeping around! Nonetheless, all those women are whores (some literally are) and have no honor. What I found really interesting were the locations. This year the festival has a special section for films featuring Istanbul (İSTANBUL: INSIDE - OUTSIDE), and this would have fit right in there. It's pretty amazing how empty, but also how shabby and dirty the city looks.
They also showed The Intercessors, a short film Refig made in 1976 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when he was a visiting lecturer there. I don't know what his purpose was, but it feels more like the work of a film student than of an experienced filmmaker.

Whip It, my last film for the day, is not your 'typical' festival film. It's Drew Barrymore's directorial debut about roller derby girls in Austin, Texas. It's also a coming-of-age story told as a typical sports film (although maybe not a very typical sport). There are no surprises, except for maybe how enjoyable and sweet the film actually is. With no high expectations, it was a good diversion from the festival fare.

Monday, April 5, 2010

IFF 2: In the Loop, I Am Not Your Friend, Mother

Although I love comedies, it's extremely rare that I find one that makes me lought out loud. In the Loop is one of those. It's a political comedy with brilliant lines delivered sharply. Like a Yes, Minister, shot The Office style. What else would you want?

Nem Vagyok a Baratod is György Palfi's third film after Hukkle and Taxidermia. Don't take the first two as references. Story of lives crossing. Shaky camera. A very bored me. The only part I really liked was the short preceding it, Nem Leszek a Baratod (I Will Not Be Your Friend), set amongst kindergarten folk. The two films are supposed to be connected, show how we don't really outgrow the pettiness of choosing friends in kindergarten, I suppose. But really, the short film does it just fine by itself. At least I got to hear Hungarian.

Fenerbahçe Acıbadem women's volleyball team lost the final match in the European Champions League, but just barely. The game was infinitely more exciting than anything I watched so far.

Mother. It's official, Bong Joon-Ho is my favorite South Korean director. One of the most perfectly formed films I have seen in a while, and beautiful too. Starts and ends like a scene out of a Pina Bausch performance. My festival favorite so far (obviously).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

29th IFF Day 1

Day 1 was a bit of a disappointment. And apparently, I need more sleep during the festival.

First off, Element of Crime. Fell asleep within the first five minutes, left the screening within half an hour. Thanks to the lady leaving before me, it was an inspiration.

Nice lunch.

5 Fingers, from 1952. True story of the British Ambassador's valet, who was selling Allies secrets to the Germans during WWII in Ankara. It turns out my grandparents knew all these people. Great story with wonderful twists, beautiful shots of Istanbul (albeit only within the last half hour), and deliciously scheming characters as acted by James Mason and Danielle Darrieux. Best part of the day (save for lunch).

Tall latte with an extra espresso shot.

L'Immortelle, Alain Robbe-Grillet's mindgame movie from 1963. Faboulous Istanbul shots. Have no idea about the story. One of those films where falling asleep doesn't really hurt. And coffee is apparently of no help.

Happy Hour @ Aksanat has not started yet. Next week?

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle. What's the deal with Romanian editors? Are they always on strike? Is it a requirement by the international funds or by the state that Romanian films be shot in real-time, with long-takes? Moral of the story: If a trusted friend tells you a movie is not 'your type', trust him.

Home. Sushi. Desperate Housewives. There's always tomorrow (and 14 days after that, yeay!)

29th IFF Opening

First of a series of posts on the 29th International Istanbul Film Festival

The opening night. Somehow, the film always ends up being disappointing. Last year it was Welcome - depressing. This year, it was a crowd-pleaser, and I seem to be the only person who strongly disliked it. Le Concert is about a former orchestra miraculously playing in Paris and reaching "the ultimate harmony". Considering they hadn't played together in 30 years and their soloist never actually performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, it's rather surreal how it all works out.

Here are my three problems with the film:
- Dubbed in French. Granted, this is the distributor's fault, but having a bunch o Russians speak French to one another distracts me. A lot.
- Simplistic. Way too simplistic. Everything 'just happens to' fall into perfect place. Beyond predictable, annoying. And insulting to musicians who actually have to practice and rehearse once or twice before they go on stage.
- Show & tell. In a flashback scene during the grand finale (the concert - d'oh), everything is spelled out, shown, and explained with a voice-over. That was the main reason I hated Issiz Adam, and I feel about the same here.