FFDUBTDGB5HS – This week’s Criticwire survey question is “What movie widely regarded as a cinematic masterpiece do you dislike (or maybe even hate)?” I’ve never played along with Criticwire before and since they were so rude as to not ask me for my humble opinion, I will reply here. My point of departure will be the 2012 Sight & Sound Greatest Films Poll, since that is as good a standard for response as any.
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On the agenda today was The Angels’ Share directed by the well-decorated Ken Loach, a film I had been curious about after yet another award win (Jury Prize) for Loach in Cannes. The film starts out as brittle-edged Loachian social(ist) realism but deftly morphs into a light comedic caper, not so far off from the feel of something like Bottle Rocket by Wes Anderson. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is one strike away from going back to jail, with a newborn son to worry about and a local Glasgow gang out to get revenge on him. Because of an angelic community worker he is introduced to the world of boutique whiskey and soon hatches a scheme to siphon off a supply of the world’s most rare and expensive liquor.
Only one film on the agenda today for the Belgrade FEST because of other obligations – but it’s a big one: Spielberg’s Lincoln, screening a day after Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for best actor. Day-Lewis’ performance was a good one, but not great. There were no challenges set out for this often very daring actor. Spielberg lobbed him a softball. Fitting that he won an Academy Award for the work.
Today two acclaimed films by two respected auteurs were on the festival menu. First up was Like Someone in Love directed by Abbas Kiarostami. I have never followed the man’s career, so perhaps I am deprived of the proper glasses through which to watch his work. Like Someone in Love felt like half of a film to me. Some would call it opaque, I would call it breezily truncated. The ending is genuinely abrupt, providing the only jolt in the length of the work which also opens a mystery at the same time that it effectively shuts it closed. All of the other scenes were barely interesting as sketches.
Another day in the cramped aisles of the press screening theater at Belgrade FEST. However, this time the first film I saw was a pleasurable experience that was very much worth the uncomfortable rows. Flight directed by Robert Zemeckis hit a lot of notes from the beginning, in terms of the film’s genre and style. The airplane disaster film, a druggy comedy, a druggy drama, a courtroom procedural, and finally something of a family melodrama. The tones shift but not wildly, as Zemeckis is too slick a Hollywood director for that. Generally the performances are superb, though Don Cheadle is woefully underused as a slick corporate attorney. John Goodman’s Lebowski-style drug dealing slacker is very amusing. Denzel Washington, playing an alcoholic pilot accused of negligence, does what he does best – makes it look easy.
Today was the day they had a press conference to introduce this year’s edition of FEST, which I missed. Though I did make the presser for the film Along the Roadside directed by Zoran Lisinac, starring Michael Madsen. Madsen is the special guest at this year’s FEST who officially opens the festival, and being a big star his presence drew a lot of attention. There were more than 3,000 people crammed into the big theater in the Sava Center for the opening night screening. It would seem that after some lean years around the turn of the century, FEST is back in a big way.
The chilly end of each February brings around another edition of the Belgrade International Film Festival, affectionately known as “FEST” since it’s inception. Originally billed as a “festival of festivals”, this is where one goes to get something of a recap of the previous year’s best cinematic fare (often including the Palme d’Or winner and other treasures of international cinema). This makes FEST tend towards something of a broad survey rather than a festival with a specific culture, and as an event it is aimed squarely at the mainstream cinema audience who are hungry for a taste of things that are normally beyond their reach. There are no markets, no roundtable discussions, no retrospectives. This is not a festival for industry types or hardcore cinephiles. FEST rather aims at the middle with something for everyone.
I treated myself to a sort of happenstance double feature this weekend that provoked me to write about both films in an effort to compare and contrast — though the films would seem to be wildly divergent in both form and content. The first is Black Panthers (Agnès Varda, 1968) and the second is Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012). Can one speak about these two films in terms of shared spaces, or only opposing approaches?
There was a closing night double feature at Magnificent 7 documentary film festival, similar to the lineup for the opening night. The audience size was just as large as the one I reported on at the opening night screenings and as a result it is easy to see that the level of excitement for the length of this festival does not flag. Magnificent 7 is a rather utilitarian festival and easy to engage with, which may explain some of its popularity. Mirroring the workman-like nature of the films presented, there are a minimum of screenings along with a minimum of ancillary events. One will not find any seminars or sidebars — no festival catalogue even. After each film the director holds an informal press conference that plays more like a friendly Q&A about the making of the films. The strength of the festival is that all seven directors of the films are asked to be in attendance to present their work and also presumably to meet the audience and the small festival staff.
The second day of the Magnificent 7 documentary film festival in Belgrade brought out another large crowd, perhaps only slightly smaller than on opening night. I enjoyed a drink at the lengthy bar situated in the immense foyer in front of the screening hall and waited for the night’s selection: Sofia’s Last Ambulance (Ilian Metev, 2012), which premiered at Cannes Critics’ Week where it won the France 4 Visionary Award (at Magnificent 7, it won the inaugural humanitarian film award). I made it a point to attend this screening because earlier this week the news broke that the film would open the Documentary Fortnight 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which provoked my curiosity (as opening night films tend to do).