London Film Festival 2007
Spank's LFF Diary, Friday 19/10/2007

Spank's LFF Diary, Thursday 18/10/2007

Reviewed today: Glory To The Filmmaker!, Redacted, Valzer.

Glory To The Filmmaker! 1.00pm: Glory To The Filmmaker! (official site) [happy now, Suze?]

Hey! Beat Takeshi! (Ideally, for that opening to work, I should have a link to Ambulance's song of the same name, but I can't find one.) Takeshi Kitano was the director of the first film I ever reviewed on the interweb, and he's been a welcome presence at the LFF ever since he came over with Sonatine back in 1993. Love for his movies in the UK probably peaked in 2003 with his swordplay spectacular Zatoichi, but things haven't gone so well for him since then. His 2005 entry at the LFF, the curiously deranged Takeshis', still hasn't been officially released in this country two years later.

Takeshi has admitted that Takeshis' was the start of a deliberately self-destructive phase in his career, and Glory To The Filmmaker! continues in that vein. As in the previous film, Takeshi plays himself: a film director who's received international acclaim for his violent gangster pictures, but is now utterly fed up with them. The first half of the film sees him working through several different genres he hasn't directed before - family drama, period piece, romance, horror, sci-fi - while the second half settles down into the absurdist story of a mother and daughter, and their struggle to make a quick buck from a wealthy businessman's bodyguard.

The trailer for Glory To The Filmmaker! rapidly cuts between all the genres that Takeshi experiments with, and makes it look like an utterly out-of-control mess - Epic Movie with Ozu references, or something like that. In fact, at least for the first half, it's more like Kentucky Fried Movie with Ozu references, which is a much better prospect. The main surprise, to be honest, is how restrained the various movie parodies are: most of the biggest laughs come from the narrator complaining about how Takeshi is unable to direct any of them properly.

When we clumsily slide into the second half, there are more recognisable jokes, but they're spectacularly dumb ones - lots of slapstick, falling over, hysterical yelling and out-and-out stupidity. It's curious, because what we used to like about Takeshi in the West was the way his films weren't just one thing: they mixed comedy, violence, romanticism and coolness all in the same frame. Now, he seems to want to deliberately avoid that, which may explain why all these qualities are still there, just compartmentalised within the film.

Nevertheless, it's not the complete disaster I was expecting, and certainly a step up from Takeshis': there are several genuine laughs buried amid all the silliness, and the frequent chopping and changing of approach means you'll never get bored. But it's hard to shake off the feeling that this is a 45 minute story, padded out with a number of sketch parodies which are more entertaining than the main feature. We could, of course, take all this at face value and assume that Takeshi genuinely doesn't know what to do next: and if that's true, I hope he works it out soon.

Valzer6.30pm: Valzer

Assunta (Valeria Solarino) works at a swanky hotel in Turin, and today's her last day. For the last ten years, she's been doing regular stints there as a chambermaid to support her true vocation as a supply teacher. When she started, she was part of a team of three: the others were her outgoing-verging-on-nympho friend Lucia (Marina Rocco), and the rather more withdrawn Fatima (Zaira Berrezouga). When Lucia's long-lost father turns up to visit his daughter during Assunta's final 90-minute shift, it's the cue for some reminiscence and soul-searching.

The figure of 90 minutes may give you a clue that this story is told in real time: what it doesn't prepare you for is Valzer's major selling point, in that it's all told in one continuous shot. Maurizio Calvesi's camera follows the characters all around the hotel and never cuts once. Suze suggested afterwards that this sounds very theatrical, and that's certainly true: more than once, as we moved between rooms from one story to another, it brought to mind nothing so much as my experience at The Masque Of The Red Death earlier in the week. Thinking of it as theatre also prepares you for the film's most astonishing coup: that its single shot contains several flashbacks, presumably accomplished with some incredibly fast costume changes behind the camera.

This may sound like a gimmick, and one that's a lot easier to pull off in this digital age where you don't have to change film reels every ten minutes. But it's surprising how quickly you come to accept it as a storytelling convention. All the emphases that would normally be performed in the editing are accomplished by camera movement instead: and all of them are completely in service to writer/director Salvatore Maira's story of how basic ideals struggle to survive in modern society.

It's not entirely perfect, mainly because of a subplot involving a secret cabal that runs Italian football. The film has an interesting argument about how the corruption in soccer is not only symbolic of corruption in Italy as a whole, but helps legitimise it. Unfortunately, it's an argument presented as a literal lecture to the cabal, which is a very clumsy way to get the point across. Particularly when the rest of the movie is such an elegantly constructed piece of work - moving, warmly human and jaw-dropping to look at.

Redacted 9.00pm: Redacted (official site)

Best bit of serendipity of the Festival so far: having stayed a little bit too long at the post-Valzer Q&A, watching Salvatore Maira give several evasive answers to the question "so how the fuck did you do that?", I had to belt across town to meet up with The BBG and Suze in the Hand and Racquet prior to our next film. On the way I had to cross Trafalgar Square, where the LFF has kindly organised free screenings of silent movies on a big inflatable screen. So as I dashed across the Square, conscious of the fact that I was late, I suddenly realised I was being accompanied by the NFT's legendary Neil Brand, playing silent movie chase music on his piano. A final ta-daaaa! as I walked through the door of the pub would have been nice, but I guess you can't have everything.

From there it's off to the Odeon, and the first of several films at this year's festival on the subject of the war in Iraq. Brian de Palma's one takes as its starting point the reports of a recent war atrocity, in which US soldiers raped and murdered a teenage Iraqi girl. What makes Redacted unique is the manner of its telling: it's been said that Gulf War II is the first multimedia war, so de Palma uses visuals from a number of sources to give us multiple viewpoints of the incident. The raw footage of ground soldier Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), obsessively videoing his comrades at a Samarra checkpoint and waiting for the shot that will get him into film school: the reports of a local news team: surveillance camera footage from the army base: YouTube blogs from both soliders and protesters: and a ravishingly beautiful but utterly meaningless documentary shot by (arf!) a French crew.

At the very least, you have to admire Brian de Palma's balls. After thirty-odd years as a mainstream Hollywood director (Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and many lesser works), he's come up with a film that could easily destroy any credibility he had with the part of his American audience that supports the war. It's far too gruelling to work as entertainment: it's nothing less than a raw scream of rage at what's happened to the young men out there, centered around a rape scene that's horrifying to watch. And the technique (as is usually the case with de Palma) is fabulous: each film source has its own unique and instantly recognisable style, from the lickable gloss of the French documentary to the raw artefacts of an execution video. Shot in HD and projected digitally at this screening, it looks devastating, with the internet sequences rendered in such clarity you can read all the comments under the videos on YouTube.

But I'd suggest that the extraordinary visual technique subtracts from the power of de Palma's story - and helps point up some of the major flaws in his script. All his attempts at hyper-realism count for nothing when the people on screen are all speaking in Hollywood cliches, starting with a character stating in the opening scene that "the first casualty of war is truth" and carrying on from there. Not to mention that his character names are so symbolic as to be positively Jacobean: good guys called Angel and Lawyer, bad guys called Rush and Flake. (And a soldier caught in the middle called Blix.)

All of this could possibly work in a film that wasn't so desperate to set itself up as an attempt to mould its multiple sources into an overall truth. Here, it's so distracting as to make you question that truth. It's nevertheless important, because it puts an uncompromising viewpoint out there in the mainstream, and the montage of images from the war it closes with may give its audience pause for thought. Redacted is a film with admirable motives: I just wish it could have been better.

Notes From Spank's Pals

Redacted

Suzanne Vega Fanclub - The decision on going to war with Iraq has progressed over the last few years through: don't do it, too late we've done it, why are we doing it, what's done is done so let's do the best we can with it, remind me again why are we doing it, and fuck it how do we stop doing it. So while in Washington the architects like Powell, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have now moved on to different careers, and the five star generals constantly brief the media on why this was a bad idea after all, it is the Marine grunts on the ground who are left to deal with the day to day reality.

Redacted starts off as a laudable attempt to show how this actually pans out for them. Thus we are embedded (by virtue of one of the grunts' Sony minicam) with a small group of marines whose job it is to man a roadside checkpoint in Samarra. Thus one of the first things we learn (which is borne out by most documentaries I have seen) is that for a soldier a war zone involves just hanging around ninety five per cent of the time, followed by small moments overdosing on adrenaline when something actually happens. So for instance standing around every day in full robocop gear in the oppresive heat, just manning a checkpoint, is a boring and resentful occupation. Little wonder then that when a unidentified car doesn't obey the hand signals, the first instinct is to massively overreact. Also as the commentary says, the soldiers have split seconds to decide whether they are dealing with a suicide insurgent or not.

So far so good, but I'm afraid from this point on there is a real drop off. In the first instance the commentator tries to make the laughable point that Iraqi motorists run checkpoints (and thus get shot) because they are mostly illiterate, and are just not good with road signs. Well I don't know about you, but I tend to think a number of men in uniforms pointing M16's at you, shouting and holding their hands up has a kind of universal meaning. However what kills the movie stone dead is the caricature marines, who are either 100% psychotic or well meaning good guys. Thus we are expected to believe that in response to one of their own getting killed (like that is a rare occurrence), rogue elements can just go on some unofficial mission to rape a young girl and then kill her (oh yes because one of them wants some pussy). I mean yes we all know there has been a trail of atrocities committed by US forces in Iraq, but somehow I just can't buy into the simplistic premeditated version of events on offer here. If anything the US Marines these days appear to have learnt the hard lessons about winning hearts and minds, and the atrocities are now being committed by private security firms like Blackwater USA.

Finally (and why do directors do this - Von Trier being another guilty party), events are rounded off with a series of 'real' pictures of dead/burnt Iraqi civilians and children. Real except for the last one, which was the actress who played the young girl, and one of the earlier pix was the same actress who played the pregnant woman who was shot at the checkpoint. Whether that makes any of the others more or less credible, who cares? It is emotive button pushing, which insults not informs.

So changing the subject, I am not sure if I am pleased or disappointed that the prefilm festival trailer is actually last year's one. Although I am very disappointed that the swirling pre film BFI/LFF light in the Odeon West End had gone awol.

Comments

SpankTM

"the prefilm festival trailer is actually last year's one"

Oh, great, two more weeks of listening to people who don't know what the Pizza Hut one is.

Suzanne Vega Fanclub

Good idea re: official site links.

I am very happy.

Fischer

At the Q&A for Hannah Takes the Stairs, the first participant complained that the trailer was the same as last years and "very boring". The twat.

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