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30 July 2007 @ 09:12 pm
MIFF day 3  
By Day 3 I was getting kinda tired (late night drinkies the day before hadn't helped) but still had lots of stamina. Alas, it was to be my last full day at the festival for a couple of days as I got word that we could move back into our renovated home and the following day was spent moving and cleaning.

The Mourning Forest
The story of The Mourning Forest is a deceptively simple one. Shigeki lives a simple but happy life in a retirement home in the Japanese countryside. He attracts the interest of Machiko, one of the young workers. She's mourning the death of her son, and Shigeki still mourns the death of his wife, 33 years earlier. When Machiko takes Shigeki on an excursion they get lost in the forest. The emotional journey for these two characters forms the main body of the movie. We learn next to nothing about those they are mourning--the focus is on the surviving characters and the way they relate to each other and to the forest.

It's actually very difficult to say very much about this movie. There are no 'spoilers' to give away as such, but it is such a delicate, deceptively simple movie that I don't want to say too much. I imagine some would be bored by it and there are some illogicalities in the plot which, if you weren't grabbed by the mood of the movie, could be quibbled with (why doesn't Machiko use her phone when the car breaks down?). It's also not a movie that leaves you with a lot to talk about afterwards--it was a good movie to see alone. It has a gentle majesty.

The War Tapes
I absolutely adored this documentary--it's unlike anything I've ever seen. The filmmaker Deborah Scranton chose to give the cameras to the soldiers themselves and they recorded over 1000 hours of footage, which have been edited down to form a dense and riveting documentary that gives you a birds eye view of life in Iraq. Of course there are still limitations (one scene was censored, for example--but the soldier is interviewed about the cut scene), but the candour with which the soldiers report their lives is amazing.

The documentary also follows the three of them when they return home, and it incorporates interviews with their family and loved ones. Some of the most moving and intimate material includes extracts from one soldier's diary and video footage of an IM conversation between one soldier and his wife. I think this really strengthens the movie since it shows the two sides and the way that no matter how hard those at home try, they can't fully understand what the soldiers go through.

The most sympathetic of the three soldiers hree to me was Zach, a Lebanese American who had migrated as a child, and who could speak Arabic. His politics were in stark contrast to most of the unit and he was wryly aware of his position. One of the best scenes of the movie for me was him berating fellow soldiers for buying SUVs and saying 'fuck the oil, it's not fucking worth it'. Oil and the politics of the war inevitably crept into conversation and there was a strained aspect to the conversation with the soldiers. One of them asserts that it's not about oil 'but even if it were, it would be worth it'. They also express cynicism about KPG and Halliburton, the military contractors whose convoys they guard. They know that a lot of money is being made by people like Dick Cheney and as they struggle with morale, they increasingly see war as a money making exercise.

I fully confess that I don't understand what makes someone go to war voluntarily, but it also interests me, and there were some interesting surprises in the movie for me. The way the soldiers collectively define the enemy was particularly fascinating--their reactions to the deaths of a) insurgents, b) a third-party national and c) an Iraqi civilian woman are radically different from one another.

Ultimately this movie is a testament to the creeping nature of trauma. It takes the viewer on a vicarious journey where small shocks follow other shocks, forming a series of minor and major horrors, with only boredom in between. It shows the continual banality of war. One of the soldiers jokes about guarding the 'shit trucks', that pump effluent from the camps out on to the fields. He says that when they mention glory and democracy they should mention this too.

The camerawork is understandably shaky and blurry at times, but there's also some amazing sequences, like the sped-up footage of one long convoy mission on a highway. It is confronting, but I can't imagine a better documentary at giving you a feel for what it's really like to be a US soldier on the ground there and I think that's an important aspect of understanding the war.

A Mighty Heart
Michael Winterbottom is a fantastic director and under his direction Angelina Jolie shines in her portrayal of Mariane Pearl, wife of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist kidnapped in Pakistan. The film follows the true harrowing events described in Mariane's memoir of the same name (Mariane still works as a journalist in France). It is an intimate recreation of the days and hours leading up to Daniel's kidnapping and those that follow. It's very tense and riveting, and this is definitely the most sophisticated role I've seen Jolie play. Mariane was five months pregnant when Daniel was kidnapped.

The supporting cast are also outstanding, though I didn't know many of the actors. Two in particular stand out--the actress who played Asra, the Indian journalist whose house the Pearls were staying at in Karachi (her house becomes the centre stage of the investigation, besieged by journalists), and the actor who played the chief investigator for the Pakistani police.

The realism of the movie is also a big selling point--the dialogue feels unforced, and the sense of chaos in the melting-pot that is Karachi was captured perfectly in the cinematography. A Mighty Heart is quite a long movie, but it makes riveting viewing and is a moving portrait of an extraordinary woman who remained committed to intercultural understanding despite the attrocities committed to her husband.

Black Sheep
This is the stupidest and funniest movie I've seen at the festival so far--and it'll take some beating. If comedy-horror is not your thing, DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. It's fairly dodgy acting, contains lots of cliched jokes about New Zealanders and sheep (in defense of us mean Aussies, the director was a Kiwi!) and a whole lot of gratuitous gore. And evil sheep. :D Visual effects courtesy of the WETA Workshop (of Lord of the Rings fame)--they must have had fun animating the evil lamb foetus, for example.

There was a lot of laughing and a lot of groaning in the audience--and it got riotous applause at the end. I suspect it'll be a bit of a cult hit in the box office here. The acting isn't great, the lines are predictable (but that's half the fun) and it's complete nonsense (an evil laboratory on a farm?). The lead guy was the weakest link for me, though I did enjoy the device of having him have a pathological fear of sheep from his childhood--even before anything goes wrong. And the supporting cast were quite fun--the elderly housekeeper, the Maori farmhand and (unusually for a horror flick) the love interest were all good value. I was glad to see them do something more than 'random hot chick' for the female lead--Experience (that's her name--I'm not kidding) was great fun--she's a greenie who was breaking into the property to uncover the genetic engineering. She's totally OTT (everything is) but she added even more quirkiness to the movie.

It's gross, it's disgusting, it's stupid--it's a 'bad' movie--but the absurdity made it totally work for me. If you're a horror fan, it's always fun to see a new twist on the cliches--and this one has definitely carved out its little niche in the genre. Pretty good work for a first time director!
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Beckygiggleloop on July 30th, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to see Black Sheep! :)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on July 30th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
It is very, very silly. :)
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Retro girlbop_radar on July 30th, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, I haven't seen 'The Namesake'. I would LOVE to see the Macbeth performance though--sounds fabulous! I will have to hunt it out. Thanks for the tip!
Spink Tight III: H & A make outspinkkitty on July 30th, 2007 05:17 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to see Black Sheep either. heeheeee

I actually saw it was on demand for free about a month ago but for some reason i never watched it. silly old sheep frakker me! where is my loyalty? i must have been waiting for my opportunity to pay for it, must support nz economy!

i must tell u that everytime i see your MIFF headings it makes me giggle becos thats what i say when i'm pissed at my hubby but not really. as in

hubby: "wife! sorry, i spilled my water all over your pillow, can i have a cookie?"

me: "NO! MIFF!!!"
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lois no morningsbop_radar on July 30th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC)
must support nz economy!
Absolutely! :) Those WETA guys need something to do now the LOTR franchise is over.

me: "NO! MIFF!!!"
Hee! It's such a weird word, isn't it? I'm so used to it, but say it out of context and people are all, wtf?! But there's no way I'm typing Melbourne International Film Festival for every entry. *yawn*
jude_judith82jude_judith82 on July 30th, 2007 11:28 pm (UTC)
I don't think I've ever been as interested in so many documentaries in my life. All of the ones you've written about have sounded compelling. Well almost all LOL.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Empire Records leanbop_radar on July 31st, 2007 12:02 am (UTC)
Hee! Well I must be doing them justice then. The documentary section of MIFF is always very strong. Documentary features don't usually boom at the box office but there's some amazing filmmaking going on out there.
smact46smact46 on July 31st, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)
Your reviews are great. I cant wait to see the war tapes and a mighty heart after reading them. I too have seen black sheep an I concur whole heartedly with your comments!! I thought it was a hoot, right up there with Shaun of the dead. I laghed my head off.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on July 31st, 2007 02:05 am (UTC)
Cool! I'm glad you are enjoying the reviews. :-)
brokenmnemonic: Amusedbrokenmnemonic on July 31st, 2007 10:39 am (UTC)
All of these films sound interesting - for some reason, the Silent Forest reminds me a little of Bergman's Wild Strawberries, although I'm not sure why. A rewatch coul dbe i norder.

The War Tapes sounds like the sort of film I need to put Steve on, and then we can argue back and forth over it. One of my favourite books is a book of pictures taken of the Falklands War - but pictures taken by the soldiers, rather than the press. That generates a view of the war unlike anything else I've ever seen, and it sounds as if this film might do the same. What was the censored scene about? I'm curious what made it in and what didn't. I think it's easy to understimate how much war really is long periods of boredom interspersed with periods of frantic terror. Do you think watching something like the War Tapes might alter someone's view of BSG?

A Mighty Heart sounds like a film I'd watch if it was on, but I'm not sure I'd go out and hunt it down... I know I should be more sympathetic to Daniel Pearl and his family, but it was just one of those things that didn't register for me. I don't know why - lack of empathy is something that worries me at times. Black Sheep sounds like one of the must-see films of this year for me though :D I'm looking forwar to it already, and it sounds like it's as big a hoot as Shaun of the Dead or Braindead... and I love both of them :D

And let's face it, who better than a Kiwi to make fun of Kiwi's? That makes any sheep gags in-jokes rather than nasty comments... and a movie this bad must be great :D
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Leebop_radar on July 31st, 2007 11:19 am (UTC)
There was something Bergman-esque about 'Mourning Forest', *nods*.

then we can argue back and forth over it
Hee! There's a lot to argue about. It was actually one movie that I wished I'd seen with someone--it's the kind of movie that makes you want to go 'what about the bit where...?' afterwards.

What was the censored scene about?
They filmed some dead insurgents and they were kicking the bodies and saying how glad they were they were dead and so on (with, er, rather more swearing than that). A dog came up and started eating one of the bodies and they laughed about it. I can see why the military censored it, but I think it worked really well to have the soldier recount the scene in interview--and he basically stubbornly defended his behaviour. You do see dead bodies in the movie though and that was almost refreshing (if that can be said!) given how highly sanitised the news footage usually is. I kind of think it's important for an adult audience to see that and for us all to realise that yes, people are DYING--on both sides.

Do you think watching something like the War Tapes might alter someone's view of BSG?
Perhaps. I think it gives an immense amount to think about in terms of soldier mentality and group culture. It's all so much more 'real' because it's in our world, in our time--perhaps it would be a bridge to help people understand that kind of pressure. I think people still dismiss BSG as scifi despite the realism.

A Mighty Heart sounds like a film I'd watch if it was on, but I'm not sure I'd go out and hunt it down
Yeah, I'd probably have been the same were it not for the festival and needing to make the most of my pass. But I definitely didn't regret seeing it, though it's not a movie I'd watch twice. Oh, and you can't have empathy for everyone all the time--you'd get empathy fatigue!

it sounds like it's as big a hoot as Shaun of the Dead or Braindead... and I love both of them
It is very much in that vein. ;-)

That makes any sheep gags in-jokes rather than nasty comments.
Yes. :-) And there are a bazillion of them. It's definitely a 'classic' bad movie.