04 July, 2016

Victory of suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here’s the thing,

If you were driving by the Paramount Cinema early Thursday morning, you would have seen a small group of people queuing. And for about a decade, I’ve always been one of them; every year I’ve queued on the day that film festival tickets went on sale to buy my tickets in person. The only time I didn’t queue was in the year where I was out of the country on the day; otherwise, I was always out there before 6am, wrapped up warmly, waiting for that moment where, joy of joys, tickets would become available.

This year, I broke with tradition. A couple of years ago, the festival went with a new ticket provider that allowed you to select your seats when buying online. (Seat selection was always my main reason for wanting to buy tickets in person.) Unfortunately the ticketing that first year was a complete mess; the second year was also challenging (particularly when the system completely collapsed when I only had a couple of films left to book and I had to start from scratch), but still it showed real signs of improvement. So this year I decided to try to book online, in the hope that the ticket provider will have taken lessons from the first two years, and this year the system would work well.

So that didn’t work out.

Tickets went on sale at 10am (for some reason an hour later than in past years). I went to my pre-made wishlist, clicked Select All, then went through the tedious process of selecting the required number of tickets for each film, one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one. Went to purchase, wait a couple of minutes, not so silently willing the site to work come on come on come on come on please please please work come on work work work I was pacing around my desk as it tried to process my purchase and then – timed out. I tried again; no luck. I tried placing smaller orders, halving my number of tickets, then halving it again; no luck. And every time I had to select my ticket numbers one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one. I must have gone through that process close to 20 times before it finally let me proceed, some 70 minutes after tickets went on sale. By the time I had made my seat selections (and I really cannot understand the computer’s logic with some of its automatic assessments of “best available seat”) and made my purchase, it was 11:29am, and 89 minutes had passed. Which is why I decided that next year I’m just going to have to go back to queuing.
So these are the films I’ll be seeing this year:
* Weiner
* The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
* After the Storm
* Under the Sun
* A Touch of Zen
* Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
* A War
* Beware the Slenderman
* Family Film
* McCabe and Mrs Miller
* Life, Animated
* High-Rise
* Green Room
* Sunset Song
* Suburra
* Swiss Army Man
* Captain Fantastic
* Graduation
* Tokyo Story
* The Red Turtle
* Truman
* Toni Erdmann
* One-Eyed Jacks
* The Daughter
* Le Ride
* Personal Shopper
* The Innocents
* Certain Women
* Paterson
* The Salesman
* Midnight Special
* Chimes at Midnight
* Johnny Guitar
* Variety
* Perfect Strangers
* Elle

I was genuinely impressed with the selection this year, as you can tell by the number of films I’m attending (my most films in a single festival).I’m particularly excited about the selection of classic films this year, especially as they’re all films I’ve never seen. I’m most looking forward to Chimes at Midnight, the Orson Welles film where all of the scenes featuring the character of Falstaff from five different Shakespeare plays are compiled into a Falstaff-centric narrative; it’s supposed to be Welles’ favourite of his films. I’m also excited to see Robert Altman’s anti-western McCabe and Mrs Miller, as well as my first film from Yasujiro Ozu, the famed Tokyo Story. I don’t know much about Marlon Brando’s sole directorial effort One-Eyed Jacks, and I’ve never even heard of either wuxia film A Touch of Zen or Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar, but they all look fun.

There’s a really promising list of documentaries this year. I start the festival with Weiner, supposedly a fascinating inside look at Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York mayor which was derailed by the second of his sexting scandals. I’ve heard good things about Life, Animated, the film about a young man with autism who learned to communicate and engage with the world through Disney movies. There’s an interesting-sounding documentary called Under the Sun, in which the filmmaker captures the efforts of the North Korean propaganda machine trying to manipulate his documentary about a young girl in the country. Beware the Slenderman also sounds intriguing, about two girls who murder their friend and then blame it on the Slenderman, a recent urban legend whose creation took place entirely on the internet. And there’s a fun-seeming Werner Herzog documentary, Lo and Behold, about the development and potential of the internet. In an effort to reduce the burden of all my films I very seriously considered cutting The Music of Strangers (a documentary about an ensemble of international musicians brought together by acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma), but I just couldn’t bring myself to miss a film that just looks joyous.

Last year I finally saw my first Hirokazu Kore-eda film, Our Little Sister, and was just utterly charmed by its simple beauty; I’ve since seen his earlier film I Wish, which was just as great as I had been led to believe. At least on the basis of those two films, he seems to have a real talent for carefully observed family drama, where the joy of his work is in just spending time with his characters. So I’m excited about his new film, After the Storm, about a divorced father trying to connect with his ex-wife and son. I’m also thrilled to see The Salesman, the new film from Ashgar Farhadi. A Separation was my favourite film from that year, while The Past was similarly a powerful experience, and I can’t wait to see what emotional knots he ties me in this time.

I’m a bit uncertain about going to see Swiss Army Man, as the film really does not appeal to me. As with most film fans I first heard of the film when people reporting from Sundance described it as the “film where Daniel Radcliffe plays a talking, farting corpse”; I simply cannot imagine enjoying a film about a corpse with so much flatulence that it apparently allows him to be used as a jet-ski. But while many people seem to really hate the film, many other people seem to really be passionate about the film, and feel that there’s a lot more depth to the film. That kind of divisiveness of response can often be a sign of a film that’s doing something interesting. So I’ve decided to be open to the experience, and we’ll see how I feel coming out of the film.

I’m excited about the Live Cinema event this year, a German film about trapeze artists called Variety. I'd never even heard of the film, but these events are always a highlight of the yea. In addition, a work colleague is one of the musicians providing the accompaniment to the silent film, and he really enjoyed the film; apparently the trapeze sequences are particularly intense. So that should be fun.

And there are three films that I’ve been waiting for for quite a while, hoping for a festival screening. I’ve enjoyed several of Jeff Nichols’ films in the past; Take Shelter and Mud were both beautiful intimate character films, and so while I never would have picked him to make a science-fiction chase film like Midnight Special, he’s a strong director and I’m interested to see what he can do with the genre. On the other hand, I’ve never seen any previous works by Jeremy Saulnier (although I really want to see Blue Ruin), but I’ve heard so much great word about Green Room (about a punk band under siege from neo-nazis) that I feel I need to see the film. I’ve also never seen any of Ben Wheatley’s films, and his new film High-Rise seems to be incredibly divisive (indeed my friend eT saw the film and did not seem particularly enthused), but the positive reviews I have seen make the film sound rather fascinating; it should be fun to see how I respond to the film.

Adding it all up, this is the first year where my schedule involves me seeing an average of over two films a day. That makes me quite scared; five years ago I tried to do 34 films (which is an average of two films a day), and it damn near killed me; by the end I was not enjoying myself and wanted the festival to just be over. And this year I’m going to try and squeeze a few more films into my schedule. But I’ve thought this through, and am taking a couple of days off work at the end of the festival; not to fit in extra film screenings, just to sleep, and rest, and relax, and try to prepare for the final festival push without completely exhausting myself. Hopefully that will allow me to make it to the end of the festival. But for now, I’m just waiting for the festival to start. Waiting..., waiting..., waiting..., waiting..., waiting...,

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