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Hiff 2008: Part 2

September 30, 2008

Sunday

No films until 1 pm equals to good night sleep. With plenty of time to spare I decide to walk rather than taking a bus. The wether is fine, and a 50 minute walk never hurt anyone. I eat my regular festival meal kebab with rice (not the best food the town has to offer, but does keep you full till the next morning, which is the main point) at the railway station. They still incorrectly claim in their front window that it costs 8.40€, while the actual price is 6.90€. The correct price can only be seen in a poster pointing inside. It’s been like this for a year already. People not willing to pay 8.40€ will stay away, and anyone entering the restaurant would’ve been willing to pay the full amount. Brilliant business.

Filmwise the day begins with a 142 minute risk; La Question Humaine aka Heartbeat Detector (2007). A surprising connection between modern, male oriented company world and crimes of the past is found this social noir. The overlong piece could do with 20 minutes of trimming, but the execution is stylish, and one can’t deny the film’s merits in introducing an interesting theory. Those who take cinema too seriously will probably grow a healthy bunch of gray hairs before the ending credits roll.

No Parking (2008 ) at Maximun 2. Perhaps the Spanish distributor over-estimated our language skills, or more likely was too lazy to double-check the package heading to the country of polar bears, leaving us with an unsubtitled print. I end up to Kinopalatsi to see Captain Abu Raed (2007). An unfortunate change in schedule, but I don’t feel to upset about it since I had some slight interest for the film anyway. A bigger problem is that I’m feeling hot as hell. Fever perhaps? I try to feel my forehead. It smells of chocolate… no, it’s the girl next to who me eating chocolate cake. Everything fine then.

”Jordan’s Amelie”, one critic praised. The good meaning film follows an old man who delights the kids of the neighborhood by telling them made up stories of his adventures as a flight captain. In reality the poor man is a cleaner at the airport. The hopelessly sugary film later takes a turn into darker family hell territories, without much success. Syrup is cheaper at grocery store, and can be served in smaller portions. Abu Raed runs over 100 minutes. Still, with Nadim Sawalha’s cordial performance you don’t feel like bashing the film completely.

Vexille (2007), a computer animation by Fumihiko Sori, the director of Ping Pong and the upcoming ”female Zatoichi” Ichi, is a prime example of the worst type animated garbage Japan has to offer. Although the setting – future Japan completely isolated from the rest of the world – sounds interesting, the film achieves nothing. It’s loaded with nerve wrecking slow motion action scenes and fearless heroes and robots that share equal charisma. Worst of all is the loud soundtrack that makes the poor viewer develop suicidal thoughts. The positives of this problem-waste are few and far between; there’s a decent piece of music in the opening credits, followed by a rather exiting ”death star invation” 95 painfully long minutes later.

Getting back to respectable movies, it was a few years ago when I saw Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates (2006). Back then I thought this director could easily reach greatness if given a more minimalistic screenplay to work with. Three Monkeys (2008 ) unfortunately takes the wrong path with family drama of a man who takes the blame for fatal traffic accident intead of his boss, and his wife and son now left alone while the father is in prison. However, Ceylan’s use of 2.35:1 aspect ratio is often impressive, and the intentionally slow and detailed pace deserves recognition. The slight disappointment is more because of the director’s huge potential than the film’s failures as an individual product.

Monday

One of the 2008 additions to festival program was screening this year’s Nordic Council Film Price nominees. Included in the competition is a total of five movies, one from each Nordic country. Some of the films have been seen in theaters already before, while some made their Finnish debut at the festival. While I managed to miss each of this year’s nominees, I did find time to examine the winner of the 2007 competition; The Art of Crying (2006).

Crying is fun in this pitch dark comedy from Denmark. The recipe to success is good poker face. Pulsing with seeming Nordic realism – that soon turns out wicked irony – the story of a ”normal” 1970 family takes all the more shocking – and hilarious – turns as it advances. Taboos are broken in the process, and the film is accompanied with a beautiful piano music and countryside setting. Performances are terrific throughout. An intelligent comedy with bite, for once.

Carrying on sad themes next up is Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007), where it’s the audience’s turn to cry. Hong Kong maestros Terence Chang and John Woo in the producer’s chair have brought little extra quality to Shinji Aramaki’s second Appleseed animation, which, according to my weak recallings, fares very poorly even compared to the 2004 original. It’s a rock and roll scifi actioner with plenty of dull slow-mo gunplay and zero character depth. The original source is Masamune Shirow’s manga. While far from the worst garbage the genre has to offer, Ex Machina features no redeeming qualities. It can be watched, but I can’t think of any good reasons to do so.

A notably better movie is Cristian Mungiu’s Occident (2002) that found a new life in the festival circuits after the directors 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007) was crowned in Cannes last year. Occident is a small drama comedy, decently entertaining and most definitely worth a recommendation for the director’s fans, but fails to be anything exceptional. It will probably find it’s fans nevertheless. To me perhaps most memorable about the film was a couple of great moments with the playful soundtrack.

A complete U-turn in terms of content takes place when Gomorra (2008 ), described as the most realistic Italian mafia movie ever made, starts in Kinopalatsi’s sold out screening. With a wide variety of characters and determination to aim at maximum level of realism, the film sacrifices entertainment values a few times along the way, but definitely offers something to think about when leaving the theatre. Because of the scattered structure I also suspect the film might hold up better on a repeated viewing. Those interested in the subject will probably gain their reward immediately.

The break

6:30 tuesday morning. I don’t want to get up, but I’ve got a train to catch. The festival is not over yet, not even for me, but I’m forced to go back to school for a few days. My Foreign Trade teacher has promised me to place a boot in my ass if I don’t deliver my assignment in time. That’s the last thing I need after four days of sitting on rough seats and sleeping on the floor. Besides, there’s a couple of other teachers who also might develop murderous thoughts if I scored too many absence marks. Back to school I go.

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