MIFF Blog: Day For Night

August 17, 2019
A cinema marathon can often result in a blurring of emotions, as our Melbourne International Film Festival blogger discovered with his latest feast of cinema.

I have returned faithful reader! A bombardment of films over the past week, packing in as much as I can before I have to leave for an overseas trip – thus curtailing my ability to watch many more films over the approaching final weekend.

There is an irony to seeing so many films one after another in that the more you see, the less time you have to let the film sink in before you shuffle along to the next one.

I Was At Home, But

First one up at Hoyts Melbourne Central, as the ticketing system went down, everyone losing their minds even though there’s a bunch of fallback options to make sure everyone gets in.

A joyously framed piece that basks overlong in its hypnotically still cinematography, like design covers for a high-end European furniture company. As threads from past and present coalesce at a relaxing, almost glacial, pace we are witness to scenes that we peer into between conversations, only able to grasp the snout or the tail. A projection of form over function.

Care, attention, detail, yearning for control – it emanates from widowed mother Astrid and out to encompass the film. Each chore, demand, exercise, errand and interaction made by her holds, or swells a torrent of confusion and exhaustion. I was struck by a question – why do we watch these things? Innocuous moments that are beautifully constructed, the antithesis of a struggling, flawed human at the centre. I Was At Home, But at times is more thesis than story.

Even here, I stumble upon the notion of familiarity, be it genre, style or filmmaker. I am not familiar with Angela Schanelec’s work and I was not at all sure what to expect. Underdone. A babe in the woods. Her work here draws elliptical, scattered lines. Amplifying how existentially dire everyday circumstances can be, overlaying one narrative over another, and leaving the multitudinous threads to flow into the unknown, daring the viewer to come hither.

The Mountain

Ah, the grand old Astor Theatre. She’s going strong as always, a place that echoes the event status of films, instead of it being a distraction for people; something to do for a couple of hours.

For me, horror is all about the dread, the unknown and enveloping sense of despair wrapping its tentacles around the characters. That’s not to say that The Mountain is a horror film, but the dread and despair, the wiping away of life, of the dominance of monsters in plain sight can very much make it feel like a horror film.

I commented to my viewing partner that it was a beautiful, depressing experience. We kept waiting and waiting for it to find another gear, stuck as it was in a rhythm that strives for control and dominance, and yet becomes untethered and a mental slog. Metaphors abounded so obviously and bluntly that there was nothing really left to explore. The vacant eyes of Tye Sheridan hint at something more interesting beneath the surface, but it withers in the shadow of Jeff Goldblum’s remarkably restrained turn as a conniving, snake oil salesman of a lobotomist. I thought it ended many times before it did, a story stretched too far for its own good, even if its magnetic, tilting visuals hold an indefinable power of stunted masculinity caught in the pastoral realm of 1950s America.

End of the Century

I was here for End of the Century. Admittedly I was eye-rolling for much of the dialogue-free opening. A single man lazing about the beaches of Barcelona, his AirBnb apartment, cafes and bars. But what it hides is a love story so beautifully, achingly modern and tender that I was cursing myself for assuming I was already going to be disappointed by the film.

I wrote in my notes that it’s easy to go through a day without talking, at most, required for interactions when purchasing something. I’ve had that experience multiple times, and when you look back, realising how little you’ve said, it draws a sense of isolation around you. When the first crackle of dialogue sounds between Ocho and Javi, the film breathlessly springs to life. Such is what love can force.

That was that. I was swept up by their story – tracking two different periods of time, which I must admit, when I initially read the description, had me assuming it involved sci-fi elements. Look, anything to do with time and I am a million percent in. And they nailed the way connection, love, romance and attraction are shuffled out of order these days. Best to get the first kiss and the sex out of the way before deepening your understanding of one another. It becomes open, natural, clumsy, endearing and realistic. As the dialogue sparkled, it reminded me of the banter and conversations I’ve had with the people I’ve loved romantically. To capture such tenderness and intimacy, shed of all pretentiousness becomes an exuberant experience.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

There I was, pleasantly enjoying this wonderful period romance that couldn’t be more French if it was a baguette smoking a cigarette with a beret on. A surging tide of hype precedes Portrait of a Lady on Fire and I was swept up in it, my mind cratering as I attempted and failed to figure out who Noemie Merlant reminded me of, caught in the bright, shifting tone of the film, the terse comedy, scintillating looks, the spicy eroticism encasing the story, when director Celine Sciamma lands a nuclear bomb of a final shot. A thunderous, shattering closing that has me listing like a ship bombarded with torpedoes; that made me want to shout and pump my fist in hysterical exaltation and helplessness. And then I wondered if others in the audience had been hit the same way.

This slow burn love story kept its cards close, the restraint magnified, palpable. It barely spills over, even with each spurt of romance – until that final shot. And oh, how deep the tension is released. Snapping gloriously like a fibre optic cable a million miles long finally being cut after centuries. It is a furious maelstrom of catharsis and the unsaid power of love that cannot be acted on, and yet can never be denied. It almost overwhelms the rest of the film, so much of it dominated by the bold, back and forth performances of Merlan and Adele Haenel.

They are as binary suns, forever circling each other, unable to reach out, for if they do, it would destroy them unequivocally. The ache, the drive, the desire, the poetic tragedy of it all. In its own way the film is an inferno, it’s –

Oh it was Shailene Woodley!

Monos

I’m running out of cohesive thought as I drift towards the Forum Theatre. Monos hits me hard, but I am dulled by exhaustion and its convulsive, rambling visuals. At least Mica Levi’s score provides distinctiveness. Thus, I am numbed to its effect.

It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a story, that barbaric nature of society so close to the surface of what we have in front of us. It’s just a lot. Too much, never enough. A bunch of caricatures from better films masquerading as characters who are detestable yet hardly interesting. A shotgun blast of scenes across mountains, rivers, jungles. Perhaps its full force is better suited to a clearer mind, instead of my burnt-out shell from a full day of films, and the effects of eating an entire pizza.

Sunset

I cannot go on any further, and yet, I must. If for no other reason than to stare grimly into the face of abyss where my expressive mind once resided, and could engage with the stories being splashed across the screen.

At first, Sunset buzzes with a febrile energy that’s permanently sun-dappled, electrified by Juli Jakab’s relentless lead performance. I am drawn to Lazlo Nemes’ style like a moth to a flame. The constant motion employed for the long handheld tracking shots as if we are attached closely, intimately to the character, our world reduced to only what they can see, or can’t. The tactile world building, the pulsing darkness of global tragedy emanating just above, the exquisite staging of action scenes that burst like wildfire.

Maybe it was the exhaustion finally taking its toll, or the amount of films I had seen up to that point where they all started turning into the same blob of light and sound, but the plot turned laborious and clunky in the middle without ever quite rising back up again. The spectre of the Great War looms heavy over the film. Its bloodshed, insanity and horror perhaps mirroring the degradation of narrative cohesion, a promise of what’s to come.

Journey to a Mother’s Room

Journey to a Mother’s Room continues to wrap itself around me in a loving embrace. One that feels familiar and oh so common. Its simplicity and starkness, the control at keeping the story unpretentious and warmly down-to-earth, allows for a wonderful and moving exploration of a mother and daughter relationship. There were moments that felt so real, ripped out of my own memory – I recall my parents doing the exact things that Estrella does for her daughter, Leonor. This was a pleasant surprise, a spur of the moment thing. I was unsure whether I had enough in me to at the very least be aware of what was happening on screen.

There are no dark secrets to uncover, nor shocking deaths to comprehend. It doesn’t succumb to expectant cliche. There is simply the quietly profound ebb and flow of life, where change is subtle yet constant, and we are caught up by it. A gentle stream that we have all felt before. Of the echo of childhood reverberating around an empty nest, of the constant of parenthood, of irreversible loss that stirs the embers of positive growth.

It slips around you, so assured, as if it’s always been there, approaching an uplifting and cathartic end without ever feeling forced.

Leave a Comment