Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 9

We're at the halfway point. The big second weekend has started. 3 more films on Friday.

First up was DEAD SLOW AHEAD. I admit, I only saw this because it kinda fit perfectly as filler in my schedule. And I ended up being very surprised by how much I liked it. Even more surprising be it reminded me the most--at least superficially--of LEVIATHAN (SFIFF 2013) which I absolutely hated. Superficially, they're both mostly wordless, observational films about the life on a boat. And it would be really interesting to play these side by side as a demonstration of what (for me) makes a film enjoyable or unwatchable. In a word, it's cinematography. While LEVIATHAN intentionally removed the eye behind the camera, in DEAD SLOW AHEAD, director Mauro Herce--who is most famous as a cinematographer--very intentionally chooses beautiful angles, and scenes that capture both the human interest and technological wonder of a giant cargo ship on the sea. When a leak threatens their cargo (wheat) the crew springs into action to save what they can. And that's about all that comes up in terms of a narrative story. Instead, it's all about Herce's choice of camera placement, and the beautiful, intriguing, sometimes surreal or hypnotic images he captures. I could follow him pointing his camera at stuff all day.

And then I saw a film that was truly nuts...called NUTS! I had heard (from being a silent film fan) about the old "goat glands" treatment--that a crazy quack doctor was implanting bits of goat testicles into men to cure anything--especially impotence, but also lethargy, dementia, malaise... In fact, there's an industry term for early talkie scenes added into otherwise silent films--they're called "goat glands scenes." Well, this is a mostly-animated (there are a few talking heads for authority) about Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, the man who invented the goat glands treatment, and made a fortune on it as well as several other "alternative" medical cures. In a genius move, most of the movie is adapted from Brinkley's authorized biography, which casts him as a genius hero set upon by the lesser, narrow-minded men of the AMA, especially Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the AMA. Not just a pioneer in medicine quackery, Brinkley was also a pioneer in radio, getting his message to the masses. And in politics, when both his medical and broadcasting licenses were revoked, he ran a write-in campaign for Governor of Kansas, which would've been successful were it not for illegal dirty tricks (i.e., "John Brinkley" or "Dr. JR Brinkley" were not considered valid write-in votes. It had to be "J. R. Brinkley"--periods and all, even "J R Brinkley" was invalid.) There's an abrupt twist--much like in his life--at a trial pitting him and Fishbein against each other. His patients weren't allowed to testify, only doctors could give expert advice. So of course that stacked the deck against him. Also...the fact that he was a quack sticking goat nuts inside mens' nutsacks and selling them water with blue dye as a cure-all didn't help his case one bit. This was a beautiful, hilarious, incredible film. Perhaps my favorite of the festival so far. 

And then I ended the night with the Dark Wave show, UNDER THE SHADOW. Set in a Tehran apartment during the Iran-Iraq war, it's the story of Shideh and her daughter Dorsa. In the opening scene, Shideh is told she cannot continue her medical studies (a combination of being a woman and being a naive leftist during the revolution.) When her husband (who is already a doctor) is drafted to the front lines, they're alone in their apartment. Frequent air raid sirens usher them into the basement, but Dorsa won't go without her favorite dolly. After a missile strikes but doesn't blow up, strange things start happening. I.e., ghostly hauntings, Dorsa sees them first, but pretty soon so does everyone else. It's a wonderful slow burn, dramatic, and truly frightening. Iranian cinema has been greatly respected for years, and I have to confess I haven't been all that into it, mostly because it focuses on "slice of life" storytelling that tends to bore me (Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying he wants his movies to be a "slice of cake" instead of "slice of life" and I tend to agree.) So it's thrilling for me to see an Iranian genre film, taking a lot of that slice-of-life aesthetic and using it in a slice-of-cake horror flick.

Total Running Time: 237 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,687

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