IFFR 2008 Wrap Up

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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IFFR 2008 Wrap Up

Ardvark here, this is the ScreenAnarchy website and, even though I still have to post some reviews and interviews, another International Film Festival Rotterdam has passed.
So something would be seriously amiss if we wouldn't have a recap from our loyal reader/contributor Peter Cornelissen (aka. "Petcor80" in the forum).

Astonishingly, while our areas of interest definitely overlap our movielists do not share even a single title this year. And we didn't do this on purpose!
I already wondered why I hadn't run into him but it just shows how large this festival is, with 250 features and 650 shorts...

So without further ado heeeeeeere's Peter!!

"The IFFR 2008 – a report by Peter Cornelissen

It was a strange year for the IFFR and me. The festival had a new director, continuing financial problems took some toll, the selection of films didn’t look that exciting for a lot of people as there wasn’t a massive rush for tickets as per usual (although in the end of course a lot of screenings were sold out) and then there was a personal thing that made me almost miss the festival entirely, but in the end I was able to roam around in Rotterdam for three days and see more than a third of what I had originally planned.

(more after the break! AV)

While the new director didn’t have a lot of impact on the main selection (the power of the programmers became very clear this year, painfully so) the side programmes collected under the “Free Radicals” banner that he did curate, got a lot of attention because of it. This once again showed the main strength of the festival, the successful combination of mass audience and high art. The average “Rotterdam” visitor is open to experiments and challenging works, while at the same time a movie like ‘No Country for Old Men’ has a record speed sell out (while it also has a nationwide regular cinema release in two weeks!?!)

Since a few years I really try to make time for the side exhibitions between all the movies. I loved the Quay brother’s exhibition and the “kinetic light objects” of Villa Photon last year. This year I spend some (sadly limited) time with the drawings of Cameron Jamie. Very interesting works. They look simple at first glance but, especially when seen together, they seem to really be about something. The style reminded me a bit of the drawings of Gunter Brus and H.R. Giger but, as I am no expert in this field, there might be better reference points. As the “artist in focus” of this year, he also had all of his film work shown. With subjects like backyard wrestling, public-access television and Halloween decorations, I expected something related to the works of Harmony Korine but the film I saw, ‘JO’, looked more like an art-installation piece. (N.B. Korine was one of many directors that were strangely absent at the IFFR this year. No Takashi Miike, no Kim Ki-Duk… If I were the new director the first thing I would do is have a good talk with the programmers!! Korine would have been essential to the Free Radicals selection in my opinion and I was really looking forward to and expecting his new film at the IFFR). ‘JO’ shows images of a Jean d’Arc festival in Orléans and of a hot dog eating contest in Coney Island all set to a powerful Noise track by Keiji Haino. The haunting atmosphere that the wall of sound generates makes the experience, the images come second. In this way it was similar to the installations ‘Modell5’ by Granular Synthesis and ‘Epileptic Seizure Comparison’ by Fluxus artist Paul Sharits that I visited only too briefly. All these works show the power of noise; not only in music but also in cinema.

The best film of the festival for me was the short ‘Yûkoku’ (Patriotism). An adaptation of a Yukio Mishima short story directed by the writer himself in 1966 in collaboration with Domoto Masaki. It’s a slice of pure “ero guru”, the very Japanese form of “grand guignol” in which sex and horror are taken, together, to grotesque extremes. It’s also prophetic because it’s about a soldier who is part of a failed coup and commits ritual suicide. An act Mishima himself had carefully planned and finally put into practice in 1970, after which ‘Yûkoku’ was virtually prohibited and lost. While the style of the movie is minimalist and restrained (making it all the more powerful), the ideas behind it certainly aren’t and when the blood begins to flow it, it really pours out guts and all. I don’t know if manga artist Suehiro Maruo ever saw this movie, but if he did I know where he’s got his inspiration. Masami Akita’s ‘Lost Paradise’ is another clear reference point. ‘Yûkoku’ was part of the “Private Rituals” programme that screened only once during the festival and featured two other shorts by famous directors with only one movie to their name. ‘Un Chant d’Amour’, a gay movie from 1950 from the French rebel and writer Jean Genet, is filmed in the poetic style of the early French masters but is also proudly and, I guess, defiantly explicit, which was the cause for this movie to be banned. I think it holds up today and could be very erotic for gay men and straight women. And then there was also ‘Miracle’ from Pop-art artist Edward Ruscha. A movie that wasn’t banned, but Ruscha still hasn’t return to the film format for his art. Maybe a shame because I found ‘Miracle’ a very clever and funny movie that makes excellent use of the short form. Festivals are essential in keeping important movies like this available and “alive” and I was very pleased to have been able to attend this unique screening!

In the feature length department it were the established names that delivered the best work. ‘Aleksandra’, the new movie from Aleksandr Sokurov may not be the movie he will be remembered for the most (it gained only lukewarm response in the media) but it’s a masterpiece by definition. Beautiful, powerful, funny, poignant and captivating. It has something to say about the Russian war in Chechnya which maybe makes it a bit inaccessible for the casual viewer, although Sokurov tries to keep it universal too. The master was present at the screening, but he sadly didn’t do a Q&A afterwards. There was a larger public interview with him the next day that I, of course, had to miss.

A few of the “newbie” films I checked used subtle story telling with a minimalist / poetic approach, clearly inspired by the masters of today (e.g., Sokurov, Ming-liang, Tarr), but they didn’t get even close to that level. I was especially sorry for Pere Vilà, who’s ‘Rail Road Crossing’ ended up very close to the bottom of the public scores. There was a continuous walkout during the screening I attended and it has to be said that the film is kind of boring. But on the other hand it’s very successful in capturing what it wants to portray: boredom to the point of suicide. And I don’t say that to be funny. I really respect the movie for that, it’s just that it didn’t add anything to my life and I do not feel compelled to see the movie again or recommend it to anyone.

To finish this recap of the festival and with suicide being a main theme so far, I am going to talk briefly about two South Korean movies that almost celebrate this act of self-destruction. It’s not strange for art movies to do this. People like to think art is free of the formulas and cliché’s that plague Hollywood and genre movies, but I think this is far from the case. The times I have seen movies with either a romantic suicidal loner or a kind hearted hooker are almost countless (But maybe it’s just that I am just fascinated by a kind of morbid romanticism - I love Leaving Las Vegas – and seek them out, because there are also lots of art-house films about good food, cute animals and poor kids. Yet these are only more cliché’s, the kind of sentimental subjects that sadly always score well with the general IFFR public).

‘Let’s Finish!!!’ (Whang Cheol-Mean, 2006) Is about a woman and two men who have met on the Internet and decided to end their life together after they have spend all their money on one last road trip. The woman is just too romantic about suicide. She hosted the website where the three have met, takes an mp3 player full with versions of “gloomy Sunday” (the most famous piece of music about suicide) along for the journey and she is obsessed with leaving a good-looking corpse behind. Then the one guy seems very energetic and cheerful and the other just doesn’t say anything. Strange and flat characters considering the serious theme, that make the whole movie, dare I say it, a bit pretentious? Well, uninteresting at least. It isn’t played for laughs either, unless the constant bickering between the woman and the cheerful guy were meant to be funny. The other movie, an anthology of three shorts made by upcoming directors, on the other hand tries it’s very best to be hilarious. ‘Fantastic Parasuicides’ (Park Soo-young, Cho Chang-ho, Kim Sung-ho, 2007) has a few great moments. It’s over-the-top, absurd, bloody in places and filled with fun plot twists. But also hampered by a low budget, the anthology format and the fact that none of the three stories rises above comic book aspirations. In the first story a young suicidal girl learns the value of life from three ghosts (or figments of her imagination) that involve her in strange gun battles and romantic entanglements around her school (or in her mind). In the second a police officer who can’t take the work anymore goes to a beach to kill himself only to be involved in a deadly fight with three beach bums, and he only has three bullets. And the final story is about an old and lonely man who feels abandoned by everyone on his birthday and decides to end it. He then gets involved with a crime and turns out to be a saviour and maybe not so lonely after all.

Well that’s it from me. Next year is my 10th IFFR anniversary, so it better be good!
My scores for the films I saw:

Yûkoku 9
the Mourning Forest 8
Alexandra 8
Sad Vacation 7,5
Miracle 7
El Cielo, la Tierra y la Lluvia 6,5
Un Chant d'Amour 6,5
Fantastic Parasuicides 6,5
Rail Road Crossing 6
JO 6
This World of Ours 5
Let's Finish!!! 5
Winter Story 5

Ardvark here again, and my thanks go to you Peter! Awesome wrap up as always.
Hopefully we'll meet next year!

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Peter CornelissenFebruary 9, 2008 3:53 AM