14 July, 2011

Attack of Suspense, Laughter, Violence, Hope, Heart, Nudity, Sex, Happy Endings... Mainly Happy Endings

So here's the thing.

If you had driven past the Michael Fowler Centre carpark at 6 in the morning on 6 July 2011, you would have seen ... well, I do not know what you would have seen, because for the first time in five years I did not queue for film festival tickets. At the time, tickets went on sale, I was in Australia on an educational course. So I had to make my ticket purchases by fax (did you realise that faxing was still a thing?). As a result, by the time they managed to process my fax, some six hours after tickets went on sale, my seats were nowhere near as as good as those I would have had had I been able to queue. (Sigh.) Plus I have different seats for every film - I much prefer it when I have the one seat that I can occupy throughout the festival. (Sigh.) (I have a hard life.)

In any case, the fax went through, and I managed to secure tickets to the following films:

* The Tree of Life
* Cave of Forgotten Dreams
* Page One: Inside the New York Times
* The Man from Nowhere
* Arrietty
* 13 Assassins
* Tabloid
* Meek's Cutoff
* Let the Bullets Fly
* Taxi Driver
* Footnote
* Submarine
* Fire in Babylon
* Martha Marcy May Marlene
* Project Nim
* Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
* Metropolis
* Le quattro volte
* The Yellow Sea
* Nothing to Declare
* Senna
* Another Earth
* The Forgiveness of Blood
* Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
* Goodbye
* The Guard
* Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure
* Point Blank
* Pina
* Drive

I'm also planning to try to take a half-day off work to catch a daytime screening of A Separation, since all the night screenings clashed with other films I'm seeing.

Yes, that is 31 films. That is far and away the most films I've ever seen at the festival. And there are still more films I'm still debating adding to the list. (Part of me actually wants to hit 34 films since, with a 17 day festival, that's an average of two films a day.) [EDIT: Indeed, I did add another three films - Hot Coffee, Anton Chekhov's The Duel, and Sleeping Beauty - to bring my total to 34.] But it's a really good festival this year - I had almost 20 films that I recognised and wanted to see even before I started reading the film write-ups, and my initial long list of films was over 50.

Last year, one of my disappointments was that they weren't showing the restored and nearly complete silent-classic Metropolis. But this year, they are. Yay! Sure, I've seen it by now, and even own it on Blu-Ray, but I cannot wait to see it on the big screen with an audience. It will also obviously be exciting to have a chance to see the restored Taxi Driver - arguably Scorsese's greatest film, with Bernard Herrmann's beautiful final score - on the big screen. (They're also showing La Dolce Vita, which I saw once and didn't like. I was going to give it a second shot (since it's La Dolce Vita), but the only screening clashed with something I really did want to see, so I abandoned that idea.)

In past years, the cinemas used for the festival haven't been equipped for 3D films, and so we've frustratingly missed out on the 3D films that screened in Auckland. I'm particularly glad this situation has been rectified this year, since Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Pina are two documentaries ideal for 3D. Cave presents the earliest known cave paintings, using the 3D to capture the contours that the cave artists made use of, while the idea of using 3D to capture dance choreography in Pina is also promising.

Like most people my age, I grew up watching the Muppets, and they hold a very real place of affection for me (I've been known to cry watching this video from Jim Henson's memorial). As someone who grew up in a pre-Elmo era, I do not like the little red monster - I feel the character is just too childish, and he occupies too similar a space to Grover, who was always one of my favourites. But I like what I've seen of Kevin Clash, Elmo's Muppeteer, and I like that he seems to really use his high-profile position as Elmo to publicly promote his artform. So I am looking forward to seeing the Being Elmo documentary, if only because there is sure to be behind-the-scenes footage of people working with the Muppets. And that will be cool.

One of the very first episodes of This American Life covered a story about a couple of guys who, back in the 80s, recorded the audio of his neighbours loudly and abusively arguing, and how these recordings became a viral sensation long before YouTube. I've listened to hundreds of episodes of TAL since then, but apparently that story stayed with me, because as soon as I saw a film listed called Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, I recognised the titular phrase, remembered the story, and knew I had to see the film.

There are some really exciting documentaries in the festival - films like Page One, following a year in the life of the New York Times, or the new Errol Morris film Tabloid, or the film about the rise of the West Indies as a cricketing nation (Fire in Babylon). And while I'm really not a car racing person, I've heard a lot of self-proclaimed not-car-racing-people give really positive reviews for the Senna documentary, so I think that should be good.

There's no way I would ever have been interested in Le Quattro Volte (which, as primarily a meditation on life involving goat farming, sounds almost like a parody of the worst type of art film) were it not for the memorably passionate review that Mark Kermode gave the film, where he almost seemed moved to tears just by recalling the beauty of some of the scenes in the film. On the other hand, I definitely would have seen Terrance Malick's new meditation, entitled The Tree of Life - it is after all the new Terrance Malick film - but the mixed reviews that came out of Cannes and its general release have me concerned, because I want it to be really good. Still, I'll see it and hope for the best.

Then there's the films I'm seeing solely because of the filmmaker. Meek's Cutoff wouldn't ordinarily appeal - a wagon trail western told from the point of view of the women - but I loved Kelly Reichardt's previous film, Wendy and Lucy (a heartbreaking film about a young woman trying to find her dog - absolutely devastating). Similarly, I'd never even heard of The Yellow Sea, but knowing it's from the same guy who made the cop-turned-pimp-hunts-slacker-serial-killer film The Chaser that I really enjoyed made it a must-see. And Project Nim - a documentary about a chimpanzee being taught to communicate - would probably be interesting anyway, but the fact that it was from the director of Man on Wire pushed me over the edge.

And then there are all the films I've heard about, either during Cannes or Sundance, or just during their general release overseas. I'm looking forward to finally seeing Submarine (a very well reviewed coming-of-age comedy), Martha Marcy May Marlene (about a girl who escapes a cult), Another Earth (in which a second planet Earth appears in the sky), and 13 Assassins (apparently a very good samurai film, and the first Takashi Miike film I've ever wanted to see).

And then there's just the films I've not heard of, but think sound interesting. The Forgiveness of Blood, about a modern-day youth trapped inside his house due to 15-century honour codes and blood feuds? Sounds good. Footnote, an Israeli comedy about duelling father-son Talmudic professors? I've never seen that before. Nothing to Declare, a comedy about French/Belgian tensions between two border guards? Could be fun. And I'm definitely interested in a French fast-paced pulp action thriller like Point Blank, or a 1920s-era Hong Kong action film like Let the Bullets Fly.

My main disappointment this year: I was really hoping they would be screening We Need To Talk About Kevin. I recently read the source novel, about a woman trying to work through the events that led her son to commit a Columbine-style massacre and considering her own responsibility in creating this monster, and while I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, I thought it was very good and was glad I read it. The film version was one of the best-reviewed films at Cannes, and so much of the novel depended on the nature of the way the story was being told that I'm really curious to see how they could make it work as a successful movie. But I guess I'll just have to wait and hope for a general release.

So hopefully this will be a good festival. It will be long and tiring, and I expect to be absolutely exhausted by the end of it, but regardless, I am very excited. We're just over two weeks away from opening night, and I'm counting down the days.

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