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.
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!