The #MAMI2017 Haul
In the order that they were seen, with brief reviews. The titles in bold are the ones I liked or loved.
1. Beach Rats
Starts off strongly, but gets a little lost — much like the protagonist. The camera's gaze is the most interesting part because it ogles at the fit, young men much like we're used to seeing it linger over women’s bodies.
2. The Party
Delightful, crackling dialogue with fabulous performances from Patricia Clarkson and Cillian Murphy in particular. So elegant, so funny. Shot in black and white, with a fantastic little twist at the end.
3. Loving Vincent
Oil painting on film — a shifting, shimmering vision. Visually, this is an incredible experience and would have been a fabulous short film. As a full-length feature, it gets boring because the plot is terribly weak. Also, the dubbing sounded very awkward.
4. Most Beautiful Island
Superb build-up followed by an epic anti-climax. Pretty certain New York City's billionaire's do crazier, scarier stuff and that the Russian would be a whole lot harder to crack. Some of the ‘chilling’ moments feel a bit like they were inspired Fear Factor.
Gem of a film about an expat son who has come home to Palestine to help his father with his sister's wedding. So much is conveyed with so little, and you feel like you're now in Nazareth. The little frictions of everyday life are used beautifully to articulate the dilemmas and difficulties of being a Palestinian at home and away from home. Excellent acting, very skilful writing and that last scene with father and son on the roof? Perfect.
6. The Florida Project
Not a hint of artifice in this candy-coloured world of little joys and big poverty. Doesn't have the electric newness of Tangerine, but still charming. The kid playing Moony is ridiculously cute. Also, so good to see Willem Defoe in a role that doesn't require him to be evil or chop off his balls etc.
7. The Workshop
One of the festival’s hidden gems. Laurent Cantet is a small-scale god for effortlessly weaving so many elements in this film about a writing workshop in a small French town. There isn’t one preachy moment despite Cantet diving headlong into serious issues like Islamophobia and social inequality. Mostly though, this film is about the importance of art in everyday lives, and the dull burn of boredom. Great acting, brilliant writing. Find this, watch this.
8. Scary Mother
Intensely disappointing. Cinematography is gorgeous, but can't distract you from how self-defeating (and misogynist) the plot is, despite its fabulous potential. By the end of it, all we get is a deranged, delusional woman instead of an author. Not just that, a deranged, delusional woman who needs her father to explain her art. So much for rattling patriarchy’s chains.
9. Beauty And The Dogs
A film about gang-rape without one titillating, self-indulgent moment. Stellar performance by the lead actress who makes sure we feel the frustration and fear her character does, as the system forces her to run around in circles because she wants justice and won’t keep quiet. Entire hall broke out in applause when she had her moment. Never boring or dreary despite being dialogue-heavy and predictable in parts.
10. 24 Frames
Unabashedly arty and so incredibly moving. I could write essays on this (come to think of it, I probably already have since I have seven and a half pages of notes for this film alone). Full of windows, vulnerable creatures and predators, crashing waves and swaying trees, barriers and frames within frames. Sentimentally, that last one is my favourite.
11. On Body And Soul
As love stories go, this one's luminous. A surreal idea — what if you met someone in your dreams? — rooted in a very real and bleak world of anxiety, loneliness and gore. The slaughterhouse scenes are such a contrast to the delicacy of the relationship we're seeing develop between the leads. Full of wry humour and tenderness. Brilliant.
12. The Third Murder
A little dull visually, especially for a Koreeda film. This was like an extremely long episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit, but with a Japanese cast. Last 20 minutes — very good. The scene with the layered reflections is perfect.
13. The Other Side Of Hope
Deadpan, hilarious and filled with joy — not words you expect to use for a film that's mostly about being a Syrian immigrant in Finland. Great soundtrack in which (mostly old) men sing cheerfully about bleakness and despair.
14. Call Me By Your Name
Beautifully shot and a sun-warmed portrait of how a relationship unfolds, but not brilliant. Just a little self-indulgent and it takes far too long to get to the most interesting part: the secrets of the Professor (played by the amazing Michael Stuhlbarg). Good, but has serious flaws/ gaps.
Strictly ok. Feels vaguely like the story of a Scandinavian Damien. There are some strong, dramatic moments and instances of gorgeous cinematography. The film spends most of its time in a tricky space that seems to suggest not living the strict, Christian life is unleashing the power of evil. Fortunately, it does eventually redeem itself. Fantastic sequence when Thelma goes to see a dance performance and has one of her 'fits'.
Probably one of the most cleverly-edited films in this year's festival. Moving, heartwarming portrait of an autistic couple, Dina and Scott. That scene with the empty beach, sunset sky and the audio of the 911 call — brilliant. One of those documentaries that leaves you thinking about details long after you've left the cinema.
17. The Venerable W.
Chilling examination at the way the Rohingyas are being killed and Ashin Wirathu, a monk who is rabidly anti-Muslim. No frills, no distractions, just an unwavering look at how hatred is sown and bears fruit. It's disturbing how easy it is to think of certain monk-turned-politicians in India while watching this. Silver lining: W, with his shiny smile and soft voice, is actually scarier.
18. Bright Sunshine In
One of the biggest disappointments of the festival. Who'd have thunk Juliette Binoche and Claire Denis would come together to make such a flimsy film with a weepy, needy heroine who is incomplete without a man by her side? Last scene with Gerard Depardieu is cute.
A sculptor and a dancer must negotiate creative, emotional and physical spaces when they decide to live and work together. Fantastic use of sex scenes, which actually work as storytelling devices while being sensual and untitillating. Brilliant writing, great acting, striking cinematography and unforgettable choreography. Everyone who is an artist, or at least thinks they're artistic, should see this.
20. The Day After
Biggest credit to this film: it spun a web of charm around me even though I saw it right after the exquisite Pendular. Also about love and its demands, this one's lighter and funnier. Shot in black and white, this has some delightful moments and great characters, like the seemingly awestruck Areum who nevertheless slices the hero and his arguments to pieces. Very good.
21. Sicilian Ghost Story
Started off fine before sinking into unrestrained Gothic cheesiness. Touching in parts and a solid performance by the girl, but it feels like the film is trying to hide the brutality of the mafia in prettiness.
The only Indian film I managed to see this year. It's a triumph that would warm the cockles of the liberal heart, but technically, the film isn't polished enough. It's an activist film through and through, which means that it can't be bothered by details like technical errors or acting standards, and layered characterisation. There is a lot to love in the film though, particularly in terms of the process by which the film was made.
23. A Fantastic Woman
Truly fantastic. Daniela Vega is magnificent as a grieving girlfriend who is treated with contempt because she's trans. The more she restrains herself in face of rudeness and insensitivity, the more you want to cry. Tangent: wondering whether it's a coincidence that the boyfriend looks like Carl Frederikson from Up and wants to take his partner to Iguazu Falls.
24. Devil's Freedom
It sounds a little insensitive, but we've been told so much about the gruesome cruelty of the mafia that this documentary just doesn’t manage to feel like a punch in the gut. Perhaps if it had focused on one aspect, like the intimacy between the Army, police and the cartels, it would have made more of an impact. The flesh-coloured, balaclava-esque masks are a smart and disturbing touch though.
This one coils itself around you slowly. The cinematography emphasises the greys, which is fitting since there aren’t any black or white characters; only black and white people. Some of the landscapes reminded me of Sebastiao Salgado’s photography. Most of the characters are seeking freedom, only it means different things to different people. For one, it’s not wearing shoes and for another, it’s not wearing chains. The silent mother-in-law and the slave who won't surrender are great characters. Very good.
No narrative, amazing cinematography, and incredible editing and direction from Monika Willi, who crafted this out of footage sent to her by Michael Glawogger's sudden death. The only word that describes this film is ‘poem’. The way Wili uses sound, words and light is amazing. This is the stuff of magic.
27. April's Daughter
Neatly-told, but what a mess of a script. Inconsistent characters, lopsided in the way it gives too much attention to one character and as a result makes the others flat and uninteresting. The pacing is uneven and the ‘twist’ at the end is about as twisted as a straight man in a suit. Strictly OK.
That voice! Clever use of archival material and sensibly, the film steers clear of trying to be clever because Chavela's life is interesting enough without needing show-offy direction. Go listen to Macorina now.
29. Monterey Pop
Watching this with a crowd that knew the songs, loved the artists and was ready to clap and hoot — it was like going back to 1967 and being at the concerts. Great restoration and what a treat to see Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Alla Rakha as young men, playing like gods.
Cracker of an opening. Rea Lest is extraordinary and another member of the sisterhood of tremendous actresses in this year's festival. Set in a surreal world where the reality is far more grotesque than the monsters and ghosts. This is a bizarre, beautiful film that’s shot in black and white. Still haunted by the image of how the gown mimics the swollen swirl of a drop of blood dissolving in water, only for the luminous heroine to emerge from its darkness.
31. Oblivion Verses
Iranian director, shot in Chile, set in a graveyard, this is a film that feels like a fairy tale. Just consider a few of the characters: a grave digger who collects stories and will only dig graves of those who can share life stories with him; the bureaucrat who surrounds himself with alarms only to lose track of time and forget what he’d set the alarms for; a man who remembers everything but people’s names and carries scars on his back. If it wasn’t for the surreal bits which are beautiful but seem to exist only to confuse the viewer and make the film ‘poetic’, this film would be brilliant.
A crazy, gorgeous film that is both an homage and a history lesson. It’s also hilarious in parts and tremendously thought-provoking. Manifestos by artists, architects, filmmakers and intellectuals are woven together to create this brilliant examination of what art should do, what it can do, and how many hopes we’ve pinned upon it. I had no idea there’s a Wikipedia that lists all the manifestos referenced in the script, but turns out I did identify most of them. Insert triumphant fist pump here. Speaking of triumph, is there anything Cate Blanchett can’t do?
33. The Square
An utterly brilliant look at modern society through the prism of contemporary art. Laugh-out-loud funny, unforgiving in its criticism and keen in its insight, there’s so much to love and ponder over in this film. And that’s after you’ve torn your gaze away from Claes Bang’s chest. This is a great example of how a film about the charmed lives of the 1% doesn’t have to be insular and ignore all those who exist on the fringes of that super-privilege. The perfect end to the festival.