A festival like BAFICI, which prides itself in its wild eclecticism and its ability to signal-boost tiny little art films from far-off lands, is clearly going to have some clunkers as part of its vast lineup. But the disappointments are part of the joy of a film festival like this, a veritable smorgasboard of cinematic expression– the “disappointments” are as much a part of the experience as the amazing discoveries that were smattered throughout its impossibly wide (500+ films!) selection. I never really walk out of a BAFICI screening thinking “wow, that was a waste of time”, even if the movie was absolute garbage. I’m glad for the experience of being exposed to accidents and misfires and risks that ultimately don’t pan out. It’s a wonderful freak show.
It just so happened that days four, five and seven of my BAFICI experience this year were littered with these aforementioned clunkers– a couple of flat-out bad films, a couple of underwhelming “meh”s, and one astounding discovery. Days seven, eight, nine and ten were much better– we’ll be covering those next. For now, here’s what was on deck for my second batch of films (following the first three days, which were covered in this post).
I should start out by saying that the above picture is not a still from Downloaded. I couldn’t find any good ones online, so I decided to simply honor the director by putting up a picture of Bill & Ted. And I know, I know, the whole film is actually posted online, I could’ve gone on the stream and simply captured a screenshot from it… but I just kinda wanted to post a picture of Bill and Ted.
Look, whenever you’re dealing with a topic as complex and as polarizing as “downloading culture”, you’re going to face the challenge of whether to give your film an ideological bent at all. Does your documentary have a thesis statement, or do you aim to simply present the facts and perspectives as objectively as possible from both sides of the argument? One is infinitely more entertaining and engaging than the other. Of course, it would be a terrible thing for documentary cinema in general if the filmmakers’ only concern was to push an agenda onto the audience, but with a topic as (relatively) banal as illegal downloading? Take a stance, man. This film is fine– it’s entertaining, it’s incredibly informative, it’s most definitely worth a watch. But it’s not particularly gripping, it’s not particularly powerful, and it doesn’t tell me anything I haven’t already seen in the comments section of a Trichordist blog post. Solid, but you could reasonably expect better from Alex Winter.
How to Disappear Completely
Harmony Korine’s 2008 experimental VHS film “Trash Humpers” is the last time I remember leaving a screening feeling so bewildered, confused and ill at ease… and that’s a film about old men having sex with trash cans in a post-apocalyptic future. That now-overused message board expression “what did I just watch?” is completely apt for something like this. An absurd, decidedly surrealistic, sometimes claustrophobic mood piece that weaved oneiric passages into traditional narrative in a way where they seemed to struggle for dominance. This film is visually stunning, but ill at ease; compelling at times, but ultimately tedious. I’d like to watch it again, though not exactly for pleasure. Mostly I just want to make some sense out of it.
Gente en Sitios
Semi-improvised slice-of-life reenactments by sundry Spanish pseudocelebrities. Platitudes and self-conscious quirkiness. On a bad day, I’d call this tiresome, gimmicky bullshit. But there are a few things I enjoyed about the film: the theme of a “country in crisis” removed from the realm of the abstract and presented in the form of real people, which makes for a powerful statement. Also, there’s a palpable warmth to the proceedings, like a group of friends putting together their annual talent show. There are bemused chuckles scattered throughout, like a less clever Jarmusch film. But yeah. Tiresome. Tiresome is the word.
Execrable. Easily the lowlight of the festival. A film so dull, so clumsy in its execution, so flimsy and inconsequential and empty that I’d almost completely forgotten about it the next day. Awkward, pointless and excruciatingly dull, its only saving grace being its cast. I’d almost prefer an offensively terrible movie to something so staggeringly mediocre; at least I’d have been entertained, rather than just feeling like I’m watching a work-in-progress where the final act is missing. The final act where something actually happens.
Mistaken for Strangers
Talk about a sharp contrast. This was easily the best movie of the “mid-festival slump” and perhaps one of my favorite films of the entire festival. This movie is an embarrassment of riches: laugh-out-loud hilarious, deeply affecting, incredibly clever and poignant and real. A film that had every opportunity to be a run-of-the-mill “rock doc” about a band on the road, but through luck and consequence ended up being something much more engaging, much more honest.
The premise is simple: The National, one of the most successful “indie rock” bands around, is going on tour. Lead singer Matt Berniger brings his brother Tom along to help as a roadie. Tom is an aspiring filmmaker and decides he wants to take the opportunity to make a documentary about the band, but he also happens to be an oafish manchild who straight-up sucks on just about every level. It becomes instead a documentary about this really lonely guy, with huge potential, who simply let every opportunity pass him by, and his resentment towards his brother’s success. It’s a sweet, sad, hilarious and poignant story about disappointment and anger, with The National and their music as a framing device. I don’t want to write much more about this film now, as I’m going to be including it in a future installment of Music Documentaries About Failure & Disappointment (read the first installment here), but this is genuinely one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Just beautiful.
Un Chateau en Italie
A mostly lighthearted, mostly inoffensive little movie with some nice dialogue and some genuine familial warmth. Pleasing cinematography, likable characters, delightful humor, whimsical plot, some dashes of piquancy and melancholy– not too much of either, just enough so that it doesn’t feel too much like a family film. I have nothing negative to say about this movie– it’s well-meaning and well-made, if perhaps a little too cutesy? I don’t know. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of modern independent cinema, but maybe that spectrum is a lot wider than I give it credit for. Hey, I liked it. It put a smile on my face. The older ladies in the audience were absolutely smitten.
A meandering rumination on… what? Man’s carnal nature? Excess? Violence? The futility of human relationships? The darker corners of our psyche, where we fear to tread unaccompanied? I’m not really sure. Whatever it is, it was glamorous as all hell, and it looked absolutely gorgeous. But then foreboding doom and listlessness have always looked great on camera.
Days seven, eight, nine and ten will be posted soon. It got a lot better!