Some of you eagle eyed twitter fiends will have seen that I recently had the opportunity to take in (for free!) the DiscoveryZone film festival, which is still a very young festival being only in its third year. Luxembourg, being a small country, reveled in the opportunity to place local films alongside festival staples borrowed from the schedules of Sundance, Toronto and other European events. Despite being a new festival the organization was good, publicity seemed to reach a wide audience and the overall experience was warm; as on many occasions you recognized fellow cinema-goers from other films in the festival. The crowning glory of the festival was its choice of venues, aside from the obvious choice of the multiplex for the set-piece events of the festival (opening night and the awards night), they made the excellent choice to take over half of Utopia (Utopolis’ smaller cousin) and the Cinematheque. Both of these small venues sustained the intimate feel the organisers we’re aiming for. The Cinematheque being a real treat, the oldest cinema (I believe) in Luxembourg, having retained its 1940’s glamour and style, and on the balcony the seating too (ouch!).
If I was to label any criticism at the festival it would be language. I love world cinema and I love independent films, but sadly the local Luxembourgish offerings were restricted to native speakers. Sadly that meant my film choices were limited to a select few American or Canadian options. I totally understand that the festival is designed to be in a mixture of languages, evidenced by the film introductions being conducted in the applicable language of the film. But if the festival was designed to give a platform for the local film industry, then they missed a trick.
So what of the films? Well here is my rundown from 7 through to 1 (most enjoyable) of my festival views.
The first film of my festival, and the most disappointing. I had high hopes for the concept; a group of girls need to find the money to go on Spring Break in Miami, but run into all sorts of trouble and the decidedly shady character that James Franco plays. The film’s style was up close, wobbly cam shots and plenty of flesh on display. However seriously the first half of the film took itself, it unraveled into panto and farce in the second half. The point I lost faith in this film was when gangsta Franco sat down at his piano next to his swimming pool to sing Britney Spears’ “everytime”, whilst three girl wearing pink my little pony balaclava’s danced whilst wielding semi-automatic machine guns. Just read that last sentence again. Yeah that’s what I thought too?! Deeply implausible farcical concept that seemed to be for the amusement of the Director and Franco.
Call Girl (Swedish)
I can’t begin to say how let down I was by this film. The trailer makes this look like a fast paced, 70’s stylisesd thriller, focusing on the daring do of a Call Girl madam who provides entertainment for senior government officials in the run up to an election year. This is a true story, which has caused much consternation in it’s native Sweden for implying that Olaf Palme was also implicated in the scandal. The film has an excellent soundtrack, borrowing heavily from synth inspired Kraftwerk beats, the soundtrack to the action is significantly enhanced by taking nearly two hours before an ABBA track is clumsily inserted to remind us this is Sweden. A lot of the commentary about this film surrounds that excellent attention to period detail (I agree) and the juxtaposition of the election campaign’s key issue of women’s rights against the unglamorous depiction of senior government officials engaging in illicit sex. The second point is almost obscured by none of the characters talking about this hypocrisy (this could be wrong as there were no English subtitles) and because the story jumps between the stories of two girls decent into the sex trade and that of the lone wolf police officer investigating the corruption of officials. This film would’ve been better (and shorter) for focusing on one of those stories, my suggestion being to tell the story of the girls’ gradual detachment from society and the complex relationship they have with their madam (the final 30 minutes a great example of the Stockholm syndrome- no pun intended).
The place beyond the pines
The daily mail gave this film a good review…. Nuff said? Nah let’s not be hasty. Starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, this is set in a typical small American town in upstate New York. Gosling’s character robs banks to provide for his estranged son and ex-fling. Cooper is the cop that inadvertently becomes involved and the story moves on focusing on him. The plot is effectively 3 short stories merged into one, I won’t ruin it by explaining this, as to describe it gives away the suspense. What the three stories lack is a thread between them to hold them together, and so the jump through each one feels slightly forced and each story requires a sort of 5 minutes series of explanation scenes/shots to bring the viewer up to speed. Having said that I enjoyed the stories and I though Cooper put in another good performance (following on from Silver Linings playbook) which hopefully will see him put those awful Hangover movies behind him. Gosling, was, well, eye candy. He is becoming typecast as the hunky silent youngish man with issues; which are never fully explained. Don’t get me wrong he is good at this (Drive, Blue Valentine, Gangster squad and now this). His range of facial expressions and his physical movements on screen make up for the lack of dialogue his characters are provided. In summary a decent watch but unconventional plot and direction.
Queen of Versailles
Having read Robert Frank’s two excellent books (Richistan and High Beta rich) on the pre-2008 crash rich and the follow-up on their fall from grace I already knew how this one went, as he profiles the couple at the centre of this drama. This documentary chronicles the life of Real Estate king David Siegel and his stereotypically rich trophy wife Jacqueline, from pre-crash to inevitable decline as they try (unsuccessfully) to build the largest private residence in the US modeled on the Palais de Versailles. The book really makes you not want to ever be rich, the documentary shows that the new rich are only billionaires on paper and that this is a precarious life to lead. The two central characters are superb, David; brought up poor and destitute has a much better understanding of the value of money, rants and raves at the excesses of his family (even before the fall), even imploring them to turn off the lights to save electricity. Jacqueline; a damaged former beauty queen with a big heart and sense of community, but tragically out of depth in the real world. The best scene in the film is when Jacqueline and some of her (8) kids fly economy to her old neighborhood, on arriving at the airport she goes to the rental car desk to hire a car, asking the poor guy at the desk “who is going to be my driver”… comic genius. This is a great documentary, which David tried to stop being shown. This puzzled me as the film paints him as committed to his business and his employees, doing everything he can to save his empire, the only unflattering scenes are when he is around is family; where he is understandably pretty annoyed at their continued excess whilst he is scrimping and saving to revive his business. Great documentary, catch it if you can
Another documentary about a Spanish kid that impersonates an Texan child that has been missing for three years, and goes to America to take his place in the family’s affections. Told by the protagonists, with dramatized aspects to make the story flow. This is how documentaries should be made, it works like a film building suspense up to an almighty crescendo, containing twists and turns to keep you deeply engaged in the participants. As a story this is pretty improbable, as the truth it is even more compelling. Wonderfully crafted, leaving more questions than answers, a really impressive documentary.
I couldn’t separate my two favourite films; Lore and 7 boxes. They both have phenomenal performances from their leading actors, they both have engaging stories, they are both beautifully shot.
Lore is a film about the children of an SS officer, and their journey (without their parents) across Germany in the last throes of world war II, to get to the safety of their Grandmothers house. Again this is shot in close-up, and is imbued with a sense of nature being all around them as the make the trek north. I watched this film in German with French subtitles, despite this it maintained my interest and even without understanding every aspect you are still drawn to the characters. It is pretty stark and a challenging watch; they are hungry, their 18 month old brother is close to starvation, they find out their father was a leading proponent in the Holocaust, they have to challenge their values by teaming up with a Jewish kid to survive, the lead character is forced to come of age in a society that is falling apart at the seems. I found this thought provoking and moving, as well as showing the opposite viewpoint to the typical WWII movie.
7 Boxes is the Paraguayan equivalent of a Hollywood action movie, in which cars are replaced with wheelbarrows. Fast-paced, thrilling, farcical (at times), fun and full of suspense. What’s in the boxes, why does everybody want the contents, why are the police so inept, etc etc. I loved it, the audience loved it so much that when the credits rolled it got a round of applause (the only movie I saw at the festival that got this response). Every South American film seems to be compared to City of God; this film has that same yellowy sun bleached look, but I would say where City of God is complex and dark, 7 boxes treats its subject matter as light entertainment. Great film, seriously suggest you check it out!