Monday, 17 June 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.) 

Before Midnight

Watched a double bill of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Their beautiful perfection puts my own work to shame.
Went to the BFI to see a collection of Thanhouser's Early Cinema Adaptations. I guess the emphasis is on early (they spanned 1910-1913). I really liked two of the five they showed. It was a good evening too – there was a Q&A and introductions to each film. Glad I managed to make it along.
Saw Before Midnight. I'm not sure if it was quite everything I wanted, but I still loved it. It was just a little different from what I was expecting. Maybe expecting isn't the right word – I'm not sure what I was expecting – I just mean that it feels different from the other two. If anything, it almost feels closer to Slacker and Waking Life in its freewheeling conversations (at least in the first half – the second half reminded me more of Tape, at least in setting). More than anything, what struck me was the sense of being reunited with old-friends – which is testament to how well Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have crafted their characters. It's also very funny. Perhaps the funniest of the three. Looking at them as a trilogy, it's interesting to note how they get more sexually explicit as the trilogy progress – and therefore as the actors get older. It feels like the reverse of what you'd expect in more conventional filmmaking. There's a sense of magic and mystery in the first two which are gone from this one, which also feels like it's down to the age of those involved (a product, perhaps, of what their life experience has taught them). But as much as it's missing the magic, it could be this very absence that makes this one special, and what makes it work on its own terms. It doesn't feel like a gem in the way the first two do, but I think time will prove it to be equally memorable, and equally profound. 
Went to the BFI for a double bill: The Act of Killing and White Elephant. At times, The Act of Killing seems almost like a fictional satire of genocide power – but it's not, it's a terrifying nightmare of reality. There's no denying the film's outright power, but I felt throughout that it could have been more probing. It's only late in the film that it starts to examine the 'why', and even then it feels like it needed to go further, to build a fuller psychological portrait of its participants. For instance, when Anwar begins to awake to the full impact of his crimes and express surprise at how his victims felt, why didn't Oppenheimer ask him how he thought they felt? Was Anwar really only realising their fear for the first time? Making men such as Anwar confront their pasts is a worthwhile enterprise – but something needs to be got from it. It feels wrong to be overcritical of a film which draws attention to such barbaric acts in such a powerful way, but at the same time there is something a little disturbing about the whole enterprise. Not only is there a lack of real insight (psychological or political), but at times it feels very constructed (for one thing, the timeline of events is never clear). In all, a very powerful film, but a problematic one also – but maybe that's okay. Maybe by being problematic, it causes us to scrutinise it more closely, and thus engage even further with the issues it raises. White Elephant, meanwhile, suffered from a slightly undefined narrative trajectory, by which I mean it was unclear what it was building to (and, indeed, the ending was a weird mix of multiple ending-syndrome and extreme abruptness). But it was never less than engaging, and Trapero is a filmmaker who really knows how to use the camera – and when to cut.
White Elephant


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