1.45pm: Everybody Is A Killer
I admit I'm still a little sheepish about that whole South Of The Clouds debacle - you remember, I went to see a film because I'd seen an earlier one by the same director, didn't enjoy it, then looked up my review of the earlier film and discovered that I hadn't liked that one either. Because there are so many films on offer in a festival this size, you end up using the feeblest possible reasons for making selections, and can sometimes end up making mistakes like that. However, I feel on surer ground with Everybody Is A Killer. I've only seen one previous film by director Dominique Deruddere, but it was the rather wonderful Charles Bukowski adaptation Crazy Love. That film's stayed with me for a very long time, primarily because it contains - and I want you to understand there is not a single trace of irony in the rest of this sentence - one of the most sensitive and moving depictions of necrophilia I've ever seen in cinema. (Don't ask me how many depictions of necrophilia I've seen to base that judgment on. Just... don't. Okay?)
Deruddere's latest film is set in a small French town, which is being terrorised by resident Maurice Weckman (Harry Cleven) - he beats his wife in public, he harasses anyone who gets in his way, he's a nasty piece of work altogether. The women of the town insist something must be done, and the men mumble a lot and pretend they didn't hear anything. Meanwhile, the town mechanic Francois (Francois Berleand) visits psychiatrist Vincent (Samuel le Bihan) with a problem: his wife Julie (Nadia Fares) is only sexually aroused by violent men, and their marriage is suffering. Vincent tells Francois to play along with his wife's fantasies. The next morning, Weckman is found dead with a Ferrari wrench-shaped hole in his skull. It seems like an open and shut case, and Francois finds his love life and his reputation take a turn for the better as a result. But things are never quite that simple.
This couldn't be considered a followup to Crazy Love in any way - that was seventeen years ago, though it's curious to note this is only the fifth film Deruddere has made since then. But it's clear from the two films I've seen that he's obviously fond of what happens at the murkier end of the moral spectrum. By the midpoint of Everybody Is A Killer, he and writer Guy Zilberstein have managed to successfully set up a universe in which killers are feted, and non-killers are treated with contempt. It's all played with the lightest of touches, so you don't really notice it happening: but once they've got the framework in place, they proceed to play merry hell with it. The result is the sort of good-looking, wholly amoral fun that only the French seem capable of pulling off so smoothly.
Izo is coming. And he's pissed off. People disagree as to what exactly Izo (Kazuya Nakayama) is - a vengeful spirit, a system disruptor, a necessary irritant that the universe needs in order to evolve. Whatever he is, he's currently rampaging through a thousand years of Japanese history all at once, and anyone who gets in his way ends up as human sashimi at the point of his sword: soldiers, yakuza, schoolchildren, demon timeshare salesmen, you name it. When challenged, he claims he's seeking vengeance from the rulers of the world. But is Izo's mission a quest or a curse?
Since Dead Or Alive back in 2000, the LFF has been working its way through the enormous back catalogue of director Takashi Miike, trying to keep up with his humungous work rate. Izo marks the point where they've just about caught up with him: it was only released in Japan three months ago (though he has made another two films in 2004 we haven't seen here yet). A year on from Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, this takes the swordplay genre and brutally reduces its story dynamics to those of a video game - Izo meets someone, fights and kills them, meets someone else, fights and kills them too, and so on. Aside from some philosophical musing on what Izo's purpose is, that's about it, apart from the second yelling troubador of the week (after Woman Of The Breakwater), commenting on the action in song every couple of reels.
Inevitably, the problem with Izo is that its story is literally just one damn thing after another. This makes for some hilariously surreal dislocations (such as Izo running out of a samurai swordfight directly into a group of yakuza wielding baseball bats), but doesn't work as a structure that can be sustained for over two hours. Miike's usual style and playfulness just about keep the thing moving throughout, but it's somewhat weak compared with most of his other work. Mind you, he's probably completed another two films since I started writing this review, so I'd imagine he doesn't care.
Supply and demand, that's the name of the game. Wong Kar-Wai was in London four years ago promoting In The Mood For Love, and while he was here casually mentioned that some of the characters would reappear in a new film called 2046. Since then, Wong fans have followed the progress of 2046 with some trepidation, wondering if the title referred to the year in which it would eventually get released. The film's been delayed several times for a variety of reasons - the limited availability of its all-star cast (Tony Leung has apparently made ten other films during the production of this one), the outbreak of SARS, the complications of working with CGI for the first time. After a rough cut was lukewarmly received at Cannes 2003, Wong started reshooting and recutting. Notoriously, the finished version was meant to play at Edinburgh this summer, but was pulled at the last minute because he was still reshooting and recutting. Now it's here, and excitement has reached fever pitch: the returns queue for tonight's screening stretches as far as Pizza Hut (the true mark of an LFF hit), and I know of at least one person who's travelling two hundred miles just to see tomorrow's matinee. It would take a truly astonishing film to live up to expectations like these.
2046 is the story of Chow (Tony Leung), a hack writer who may or may not be the same one who featured in In The Mood For Love, depending on which interviews you read. On the rebound from his breakup with Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung), he takes up residence in a Hong Kong hotel, choosing the room next door to 2046 for sentimental reasons. We follow his on/off relationships with a number of women - party girl Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), hotel manager's daughter Jingwen (Faye Wong), and the confusingly-named professional gambler Li Zhen (Gong Li). During the odd moments of the day when he isn't dallying with the most beautiful women in Asia, he's writing a sci-fi story, also called 2046, and we see how the events and characters of his life bleed into his fiction.
I've been complaining privately - but not here, which I admit is a bit careless - that we haven't had any truly great movies so far this festival. Well, finally, here's one. Those sky-high expectations I was talking about earlier are met and exceeded. It's easy to forget how surprising In The Mood For Love was four years ago: it took your idea of what a Wong Kar-Wai movie was, and then added an unexpected languid poise and huge dollops of romance. The new film takes his work one stage further. All the things you loved most about ITMFL - the quietly understated performances, the lush costumes, the repeated use of old music to generate a hypnotic mood - are, if anything, even more intense than ever before. But the short fantasy sequences from Chow's sci-fi work point up the beauty of the 'real' sections even more, giving the film as a whole a unique flavour.
And amazingly, despite all the post-production tinkering - hell, post-production production - it all flows magnificently as a piece. I'm sure Nick will be complaining about Maggie Cheung's blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance, and with good reason - when cinematographer Chris Doyle showed a montage of clips from 2046 at his Edinburgh Film Festival talk, there were a fair few Maggie scenes in there that never made it to the final cut. There could be some extraordinary bonus material on the DVD, if we're lucky: but in the meantime, the film we've got now is pretty extraordinary in its own right.
Notes From Spank's Pals
With George Bush on my Mind
The Belated Birthday Girl - A Spanish theatre company, on the road with Lorca's Play without a Title, are forced into a sudden cast change by a tragedy, and a hot young TV soap actor is sent down to be the new member. The device of throwing an outsider into a close knit group with their own secrets and problems and seeing what shakes out is well-worn, but in this case you add into the mix that the US are about to invade Iraq, the Spanish government are supporting this, and the outsider is fervently anti-war, and you have a shake-up with strong social and political consequences. The cast are all absolutely terrific, and the script is intelligent and often very funny. At times the politics seems a little overplayed, but the justification is given in the final scene: a monolgue from the Lorca play which we hear snippets of in rehearsal and performance throughout the film, finally performed in whole with the credits rollng alongside. Thoughtful and entertaining.
I Like Working
The Cineaste - Today I thought I’d take advantage of the BFI’s kindly gestures to make the LFF more accessible to us disadvantaged south Londoners, and headed down to my nearly-local cinema, the Ritzy.
This film makes a wonderfully visceral comment on the facelessness and arrogance of monolithic bureaucracies, companies which reduce work to nothing more than time-and-motion numbers and which treat people as unfeeling robots.
Anna (brilliantly played by Nicoletta Braschi) is a contented administrator with a large company, with no more than routine difficulties at work, easily dealt with. But then the company is taken over, and a whole new management team move in. And there’s a brilliant piece where the new suits hold an office party to launch the new beginning – there’s a hilariously pompous speech from one of them, full of management-speak buzz words like synergy, team-building, and interdependent advancement, but which actually says the square-root of sod all. Soon Anna is mercilessly picked on as a scapegoat, and asked to do all manner of boring and mundane jobs she has no experience of, as well as to sort out a sensitive rearrangement of the working hours of the shop-floor workers, which the suits are too gutless to do themselves. And lo and behold, she starts feeling stressed out, and can’t cope, and her domestic bliss with her daughter starts to come apart as well.
We see these situations as a succession of scenarios, almost documentary style. I found the subject matter gripping. The film itself could have developed these issues a little more – apart from Anna’s difficulties with her daughter (played out in rather a restrained way), the only thing of Anna’s life outside work we see are a few scenes of her with her elderly father. There was little variation in the level of tension, no melodrama, not even any humour to provide any contrast. But for me it was a wholly believable account of an uncaring organisation ruthlessly grinding an employee down to breaking point, made all the more so by the fact that it’s actually based on a real case, which brought about a change of employment law in Italy. A must-see for anyone who feels that they’ve worked for an organisation that’s a wholly faceless monolithic bureaucracy hellbent on squeezing its employees dry.
The Belated Birthday Girl - As one of Miike's cheerleaders around here, I feel it's my job to say something about this. I guess there was a weight of expectation on it, what with it being the first Miike film to include Kitano in its cast, but I have to admit it's far from the best Miike I've seen, and I don't think it would give anyone who has seen none of his work before a particularly good impression. While there are things to like about it, particuarly the juxtaposition of this mad, unstoppable killing vengeance spirit from Samurai times with modern day scenes - I particularly liked a quiet one where he ran through the house of a family having dinner - and while there were some lovely visuals at times, it felt wilfully weird much of the time. It did keep me engaged, and keen to see whether there was going to be anything more substantial to it, or how it would resolve, but in the end I have to own up to being a tad disappointed by it. Still, afterwards we went to the ICA and saw some video art on show there, and that made me realise this still was recognisably a film, and recognisably made by someone with film-making talent. It's just he can do much better.
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