Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Three more films, here we go!

First up was ABENDLAND, Nikolaus Geyrhalter's experimental documentary of Europe by night. No narrative, just a series of scenes of people who (for some reason) are still awake, usually with a nearly static camera (often the action moves off the screen and we hear the rest of the scene.) There's the surveillance van, mail sorters, late night TV news anchors, hospital workers, janitors, crematorium workers, policemen, protesters (looked something like an Occupy camp), web porn stars, worshipers, and ravers. And more that I'm sure I'm forgetting. Honestly, this movie didn't click for me until the very end, and suddenly it was magical (and maybe not for the intended reasons.) See, the final scene is a walk-through at a concert. It's one of the only scenes with a very actively moving camera. It's also the only scene where people are clearly mugging for the camera, as all the kids would look directly into the camera and yell. It immediately struck me how the camera influences their behavior. And it struck me that of course the camera was influencing everyone's behavior all through the movie. It was striking (enough that a friend pointed this out) how polite the police were to the protesters. Maybe they wouldn't have been so polite if the camera wasn't there. The porn actors were actually more modest than you'd expect. Maybe the janitors did a little more thorough job than normally. Conversely, some people (e.g., the news anchors) were clearly unfazed. It was actually a pretty remarkable feat to have the camera really be a character in the entire movie, but an unnoticed character until the the end. And again, this might just be something only I saw that was unintentional, but in a movie like this the audience has to find its own meaning. And besides, I'm a real sucker for realizations that re-contextualize everything you saw before.

ABENDLAND plays again March 3 at 11:45 am and March 7 at 5:00 pm.

I then ran over to Azucar (proud member of the Cinequest Diner's Circle) for a couple of quick beers and mini-chimichangas at the VIP soiree, and I was back at the Camera 12 for another show.

Next up was another documentary, a short and a feature. We start with the short THE JOSEPH SZABO PROJECT. An art teacher reached his students through photography. Now he expresses his philosophy of teaching, youth, and photography over his montage of photographs. Very impressive black and white photographs of his students, capturing the joy and energy of youth, as well as the struggles and concerns. And smoking...lots of smoking...it was a different time. Also, the number of pictures he has of his female students would probably lead to an investigation these days.

Well, that was the lead-in for NO LOOK PASS. It's pretty timely, what with LINsanity going on, to have a documentary about an Asian basketball player at Harvard. Add that she's a woman, and a homosexual, and LINsanity can give way for insaniTAY. Meet Emily Tay, the star of Harvard's women's basketball team. She was born in America, but her parents came from Burma. And they don't know she's gay...yet (SPOILER ALERT: at the end of the movie she tells her dad, but they don't tell her mom. But then, I assume she's seen the movie by now.) From her graduation from Harvard to her year in the second division German league, she faces questions of loyalty, dedication, love, friendship, family, culture clash, and conflicts with her coach. Even Don't Ask, Don't Tell gets involved when she falls in love with a U.S. service woman stationed in Germany. There's really very few minutes of the movie that aren't completely compelling, and often for rapidly changing reasons.

And now, incidentally, I can finally say I've seen everything that played at SF Indiefest for the last 11 years. NO LOOK PASS was the one film I missed at this year's Indiefest.

NO LOOK PASS and THE JOSEPH SZABO PROJECT play again on March 4 at 11:15 am and March 8 at 11:00 am.


And finally, I ended the night with a beautiful but exhausting version of FAUST by Aleksander Sokurov (RUSSIAN ARK.) This is actually his fourth in a tetralogy on the corrupting nature of power. I haven't seen the previous, but if I ever want a truly epic movie experience I suppose I could have a marathon of TAURUS, MOLOCH, THE SUN, and FAUST (about--respectively--Lenin, Hitler, Hirohito, and...Faust.) It's cinematography and set design is spectacular, delving into richness of beauty and ugliness. Same can be said for the sound design, which is richly layered to the point where it's difficult to catch everything that's going on (especially when reading the subtitles pulls your eyes away from what's on screen.) Dr. Faust, we learn in the opening scene (which opens on a cadaver's penis) is a respected surgeon and scholar of the human body, but cannot deduce where in the body the soul lies. His assistant, however, knows exactly where the devil lies--wherever there is money. Money Faust needs, so he signs away his soul to the town moneylender (who refuses Faust's cold ring) who then proceeds to spend the next couple of hours tormenting Faust, mostly about Faust's infatuation for the young sister of a man he accidentally killed ("It was like the Devil himself put that fork in my hand.") Sokurov's FAUST is an imposing work, that actually feels even larger than it's 134 minute running time. Afterwards, I felt like I had been to hell and back with him.

It probably didn't help that I had to keep one eye on the time. As it was I had to sprint to make it to the light rail to return home.

FAUST plays again March 4 at 1:30 pm and March 8 at 4:00 pm.

Total Running Time: 326 minutes
My Total Minutes: 268,734
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