Not this year! This year I have: PRIORITY QUEUING. OMG the joy! I get to walk past 200+ freezing people and sweep into the cinema ahead of them. :D Totally worth the MIFF membership $ (even before you consider the other discounts we get)!
Anyway, the films...
This has been the highlight of the festival so far for me, though on a Saturday night with a late start, it was tough going. It's long and pretty dry visually, since it consists predominately of interviews. However, the subject matter was completely fascinating and it's really had me thinking a lot about it since.
Jacques Verges was the son of a Vietnamese mother and a father from French colony Reunion. At 30 he defended Algerian separatists, including freedom fighter Djamila Bouhired, who he married. He went on to defend Palestinian terrorists, the wife of Carlos the Jackal, Magdalena Copp (with whom it's implied he had an affair) and Nazi Klaus Barbi, among others. He is currently defending Khieu Samphan, PolPot's No.2. He offered to defend Saddam Hussein and when asked if he would have defended Hitler, he said 'I would even defend Bush... as long as he agreed to plead guilty.'
In the movie, he comes across as a strongly charismatic figure with a strong ego and a dry sense of humour. The filmmaker has described him as 'a perverse and decadent aesthete'. He is enigmatic in the extreme and one of the most fascinating parts of the documentary dealt with his 8 years of disappearance during the 70s. The diversity of theories about his whereabouts during this time include: that he was with PolPot, that he was an East German spy, that he was in a Palestinian terrorist camp, etc.
What came through to me from the film was that Verges was and is passionately anti-colonialist. He believes in violence as a legitimate means of political action, and he takes delight in standing alone against the established order (as in the defense of Barbi). While this may appear chilling, I found it hard not to like him at some level, which was confronting but fascinating.
If you're at all interested in the subject matter, I highly recommend checking out the film's website, where, among the wealth of resources, you can view a short special on Verges's disappearance, read about the main protagonists in the film and view a trailer. There's also a link to the blog, where, if you read French, you can read Carlos's reaction (and 'corrections') to the movie (his handwritten letter is PDF-d and posted there).
The showcase country for this year's MIFF is Romania, so I decided to see at least one Romanian film, and this film won the Un Certain Regard award at this year's Cannes festival so it seemed like a top pick. And I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'd give it the 8 or so stars it's pulled on IMDB so far. It comes with a tragic story: the filmmaker died in a car accident in 2006, before this, his first feature, was completed. So it appears in unfinished form--however the story is 'complete' in the sense that it reaches a conclusion. I'd guess there was more editing to do (it's lengthy) and post-production work. It definitely felt rough round the edges, and perhaps that's why it didn't quite satisfy me. However there were a lot of things to enjoy about it.
The central story is both darkly humorous: a NATO train carrying military equipment to Kosovo in 1999 is stopped in Romania by an overzealous station master. It comes out in the course of the movie that the stationmaster has his own reasons for waylaying the train. However, it's also a farcical exploration of the impotency of bureaucracy. Within the film there is also the story of the stationmaster's daughter, played by the charismatic Maria Dinelescu, who is determined to get out of her deadend town by charming an American officer.
There are a few comedic highlights that I really loved: the local town put on a faked 100-year-anniversary dinner, complete with Romanian Elvis, in order to get the soldiers to hang around. The cranky American captain unable to resort to physical threats or bribes having to find alternative ways to deal with the situation was also classic: at one point he puts an apron on and cooks dinner with the stationmaster, who appears to delight in this scenario.
So yeah, it was charming (if a bit stereotypically 'picturesque wacky Balkan peasants'), but not (for me) astounding.
Animation With Dogs
This felt like a safe bet, since with short films even if some are dodgy, there's always bound to be one or two you enjoy. This year MIFF had animation programs 'with dogs' and 'without dogs', since apparently dogs were the trend for 2008! We felt 'with dogs' must surely be superior!
My verdict is that this was so: indeed, the more dog there was in a given film, the better the film. With the exception of 'Chicken of God' which was classic in its own way (it's a chicken of GOD!). It was particularly encouraging to see some really great Australian animations, including one about a dog on an outback farm who just wants his owner to throw his ball for him. My other favourites included a dog who wanted to join the fire brigade and a dog with an electric collar to stop him barking (he is forced to try not to bark at everything from cats to alien invasions). As with most animations, the humour was largely visual so it's kind of hard to describe them.
Three down, eight to go!