The Los Angeles Film Festival continues to be a focused progression of independent thinking though a good part of the structure contains already distributed product. “Europa Report” (wonderfully realized) had been previously picked up by Magnet and central gala “Fruitvale Station” (very much an independent) had been scooped up by The Weinstein Company from Sundance on a well-deserved pitch for an Oscar base.
The blend however between independent and mainstream sensibilities continue to percolate as filmmakers and their influences continue to shift.
“I.D.” which takes place between the well-to-do section of Mumbai as well as its slums shows a young woman trying to unravel a mystery of a male painter who dropped dead in her kitchen. The use of extreme paradox works well here as it tries to shift the reasoning of poverty and the jarring progression of something as simple as an iPhone in a world different than ours. Ultimately the resolution is expected but the organic quality with which this reluctant woman makes her journey reflects well.
“Drug War”, from international favorite Johnnie To, is a complicated mass of work but really gets into the mind of a cop vs. drug lord in terms of thinking and loyalty. It reflects very solidly with something like Michael Mann’s “Heat” because there is the necessity of becoming something you don’t want to be when coming to an end game. The specific idea of a captain having to do cocaine in order to convince other dealers of his possibilities and then having to utterly destroy his body with ice water in order to bring it back from the high is distinctly visceral. The tension builds up which explains how most of the movie is every bit as energetic as the final shootout which is one of the better gunfights in recent memory.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, even though picked up by IFC Films, definitely retains its independent flavor with a story of love separated, not unlike Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” in many respects. Casey Affleck takes on a more mature grizzled function than we have seen from him before while still resonating his stark turn in “The Assassination Of Jesse James”. Rooney Mara, best known as the title character in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” gives an understated performance as a woman drawn into the violence of her husband’s world and who still pines for him when he goes off to prison. Rooney’s portrayal is interesting since it reflects her both as a person before her titular role but also shows the impact it had on her. Ben Foster plays a local policeman she once shot by accident and his relaxation into the role is unprecedented as he is much more known for jittery characters waiting to explode. The film is a study in stillness where life goes on despite tragedy inherent.
While the LAFF/Inside Reel interaction was brief this year with a couple other indies including “The House That Jack Built” and “Boxing Day” being reserved for TV interviews, the essence of the character base continues to shine on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.
The essence in the structure of the Los Angeles Film Festival has always been the busy area of its summer it resides in. With so many film festivals structuring in and maintaining shorter festivals, LAFF has stepped up to the plate still running in full trajectory, although the timing of this festival, directly situated between both Nantucket and Palm Springs Shorts Fest functions both well as a snapshot but, because of shorter running times of all festivals and because of budgets, makes the experience, more than recent years, brief. One day in the life however within the Regent in Westwood gives an adequate representation of the segment of films.
Branson Having just visited this city only months ago for the opening of their airport, the aspect of some of the talent there and its paradox are still in mind. This documentary which focuses on a couple different elements in Branson gives a different view from the surface exterior I saw. Now granted, the city is located within the Bible Belt arena so there is a large influx of religious intent. But there is also irony in that there is no union structure in this town so there is a lack of benefits, health insurance and higher rates of pay. The perception when one speaks is that this is a good jumping board for Vegas and could basically function as summer stock for upcoming talent who possibly didn’t have the fortune to go to one of the bigger schools. What the docu shows is something antithetical from that which unfortunately also contains truth. The film mostly focuses on a Johnny Cash impersonator called Jackson Cash who is a walking time bomb in terms of his addictions and moods but nevertheless a talent. We watch this man on camera self destruct more than once which is, in many ways, fascinating to watch. He was present at the screening along with other cast members. While unfortunate that his actual playing after the show was more playback than actually him, his seemingly heartfelt breakdown in front of the audience shows both sides of this man: a part that believes what he is saying and then another darker self that realizes the truth of the game he is playing. People don’t ever fully change. That is what this film explores, whether it is a single mom who realizes that at 33 she is past her prime in terms of performance, or a husband and wife team originally from NY who believe in the grace of God to get them through tough times but realize that practical approaches help too. Again this is one snapshot taken by an outsider (the filmmaker lives in Los Angeles). But every perspective has truth.
35 Shots Of Rum The aspect of Clare Denis’ films over the years point to her as a comparative to Ken Loach. Her films sometimes border on the mundane but function within a sense of texture. While some may argue that this is a style in itself, this might be true but, in all regards, even these methodically paced films can offer different elements (see for example, “Impolex” from Cinevegas 2009 or this very film festival’s “Los Bastardos”). The plot of Rum follows specifically a father and daughter who live together in France. She is young and vibrant and he looks like he can take care of himself. But most of the time they spending hugging and saying how comfortable they feel together. He is both lethargic and a lothario. She is not repellent in terms of beauty, has a suitor that won’t talk about his feelings and, of course, she has a daddy complex. Various other characters fill the void, most specifically a woman across the way who pines for the father and tries to insert herself as a mother figure into the picture, but it all feels too cookie cutter specific but one where the pieces don’t necessarily fit. The one part of the movie that has some style comes within a mode of being both too formulaic and past its timeliness which makes it seem caricatured. After being stranded by a broken down cab driven by the lothario dad’s would-be girlfriend, a bar woman reopens her establishment to relax the weary travelers late night. The song “Night Shift” by the Commodores begins playing as the other sounds of the bar fade away so everything is playing in stolen glances, kisses or the like. The daughter almost recoils from the first kiss of her would-be beau. The dad dances close and intimate with the woman that just reopened her establishment and she goes with it. The relationships and their connection here are very disjointed and, while the filmmaker might point to the isolation as telling, the lazy ending of the film tends to prove that the reverse in terms of presence is more true.
Los Bastardos This very simple yet supremely methodical picture may seem lazy to some (which explained some people bailing out) but it is anything but. With lyrical odes to Stanley Kubrick (the writer of the picture whose brother directed says that “Clockwork Orange” was, of particular, loved), the basic visual nature of Bastardos using long shots, minimal music, specific blocking and the like, makes the tension build to an incredible level. I knew specifically what was coming but didn’t know how or when it would happen which, despite that the storyline was superficial in this regard, didn’t take away from the impact of the eventual act that unfolds which shocked everyone in the audience. Like a similar scene (not the one that got all the attention) in Gasper Noe’s “Irreversible”, the money shot makes it so you can’t look away. It is also done with such detail and preciseness that most people couldn’t tell you how it is done. I will say one thing: rotoscope. But on a budget as small as this was, it is amazing to pull off.
The director also shot in Cinescope as an ode to Sergio Leone who this film also emulates. The thing with Cinescope specifically with the cameras is that the motion control needed with computers to be done in camera is proven. The only problem with this screening was that it was shown on a video print which in turn probably downgraded its look although its dexterity and impact still shine through. Again “Bastardos” might be misunderstood but the talent especially to be upped into a larger feature bracket is there. The problem is that integration and bigger budgets in the studio system don’t allow a fairly green filmmaker on this level experiment or work with story like in the 70s. That said, the subject matter specifically once the lead characters enter a certain house and interact with a female character with definite problems, keeps upping the ante. Adding any more details ruins the surprise. And while, a film like this, which mirrors the recent Cannes entry “Antichrist” in certain ways but has much more tension, should be seen in theaters, it will mostly get a direct to video DVD impact this week in the States. That is why film sometimes still needs to be seen in the theater no matter how technically proficient home systems simply may be, because the reaction of a large crowd still shows the power. The power of one may have a voice but it is not the same.
Having a Stella at the Zone Lounge proactivates the community together, but unlike Cinevegas a week before, there is a lack of interaction or at least people in flux. The Target Red Room always seemed to have a buoyancy to it although the bar still flowed within the Zone. This year across the board just seemed to feel the heat from the global recession in persistence whether it be lack of film sales/buys or a simple difference in perspective in terms of what should be shown or is possible whether from a programmer, filmmaker or event planner’s perspective. That said the films witnessed in short order, still show a diversity of view whether it be extreme or simplistic.