Wednesday, April 18, 2012
BIFFF Day #11 (Monday, 4/16)
The final day of BIFFF competition shines a spotlight on Belgium’s neighbor to the north with three Danish offerings, all of equally fine fettle. The event is further spotlighted by a small reception in the VIP lounge sponsored by a Brussels Denmark Appreciation Society, and quelle magnifique, some of the journalists are allowed to enter the hallowed carpeted section for a brief 90 minute stay. (Any longer and the place would start to smell, no? Oui.)
In addition to some tasty treats and a free beverage (or two), this sojourn also affords an extended opportunity to chat with fellow scribe and newfound friend, Steve de Roover. While we had seen each other around the fest, it wasn’t until after the Friedkin interview that we really started to bond, so hey, thanks for that, Billy Boy. Over the next few days, we kept running into one another, and “SuperSteve” as he is called (by a select few, at least) proves to be a wonderful conversationalist and someone whose enthusiasm and energy matches my own. He’s covered several of the larger festivals for several years now, including a decade of BIFFFs and numerous trips to Cannes. I get a little jealous as he describes his adventures among the cinematic wolves, and not for the first time start wondering what it would take to get myself back across the pond for more excursions such as this. In addition to the BIFFF, there is also the PIFFF (Paris International Fantastic Film Festival), the NIFFF (Neuchatel Int’l FFF) and of course, the mighty Sitges Festival in Spain, the biggest and best celebration of fantasy, horror and sci-fi in the world. Steve is also a filmmaker, so we chatted about that end of the business as well – he is in the process of prepping and shooting a teaser trailer for his upcoming film Innocent Belgium, and if it’s half as interesting as he makes it out to be, it’s going to be a winner. Fingers crossed.
Having spent numerous BIFFFs scribbling about the goings-on, Steve (like Gert) has met up with some pretty heavy hitters in the field and it is through him that I now make the acquaintance of super cinephile journalist and 7th Orbit Jury Member, Pat Cronenberg. No immediate relation to the famous Canadian master of body horror, Pat is immediately warm and welcoming, eager to discuss which films I’ve seen and what I’ve been thinking about the festival in general. Yes, I’m geeking out with two elite journalists and filmmakers in the VIP section of the 30th Annual BIFFF – to my right I’ve got Eric Valette, esteemed French director of Malefique and last year’s La Proie; to my right the lovely co-star of the dark and daring Danish film Beast, Marijana Jankovic, both of whom are on this year’s International Jury. Color me nerdgasmic.
Oh, and isn’t that BIFFF co-founder Freddy Bozzo walking up to me to say hey? Life is AWESOME.
As the hors d’ouevres dry up and the 6pm hour draws nigh, it’s time to head inside to get our great Dane on. It’s a solid trio, each offering an altogether different flavor while exuding excellence across the board. I’m lucky enough to be flanked by Steve and photographer non pareil, Belgin (she may only go by the singular name, though if anybody reading knows different, let me know) during the screening of Beast, which is a mindf*ck and a half, cut from similar tonal cloth as Zulawski’s Possession with fewer tentacles. The Denmark Mean Machine keeps rolling through with the amnesiac thriller ID:A and the bawdy animated comedy, Ronal the Barbarian. And, as the sun began to set on BIFFF 2012, the midnight feature unveiled itself before a boisterous and thoroughly primed crowd, who took everything that Noboru Iguchi’s Zombie Ass had to offer and made it just that much better. The audience members, including press team members Elli, Roxane, Alexandra and Laura, were bellowing from start to finish, good naturedly riffing on the film with established expressions as well as the occasional inspired original retort. It was, in a word, the perfect choice to close the fest, and I’m so glad that Jonathan persuaded me to partake instead of doing something sensible like, oh, going home and sleeping a few more hours. Listening to our demure, well-spoken interns hollering “La porte!” (“The door!”) and “Assis!” (“Sit down!”) at the top of their lungs may just be the highlight of a two week stretch comprised entirely of highlights. An amazing night, quelle noir.
I roll home, utterly sated, wondering what if anything could top the night’s experience, all the while marveling at the transition I’ve undertaken. From thewell mannered worshipper of the flashing frame I was at the outset, I have descended into the BIFFF heckling abyss – I know my cues and I know them well and don’t feel bad about it at all. (Heck, maybe this means I’ll be able to attend the next B-Fest in Chicago without losing my mind.)
One more day to go…
Beast (2011) (1st viewing) d. Boe, Cristoffer (Denmark)
A rough, raw and mystifying dissection of a crumbling marriage, but this is one domestic drama you’re not likely to see on the Lifetime channel. Scraping the same gut-level, non-realistic emotional scar-tissue terrain as Cronenberg’s The Brood or closer yet, Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, the ferocity between former soul mates Nicolas Bro and Marijana Yankovic is so visceral it cannot be contained by a conventional narrative. Instead, it operates on a metaphorical level, depicting body-horror events (which may or may not be happening) that leave viewers reeling in disorientation and fascinated revulsion. It’s an incredible high-wire collaboration between writer/director Cristoffer Boe and his three leads (Nikolaj Lie Kaas is equally effective as Yankovic’s adulterous partner) – the onscreen events are defiantly ambiguous and non-realistic, but they perfectly nail the off-balance feeling of a once raging love now cooled. Recommended.
ID:A (2011) (1st viewing) d. Christiansen, Christian E. (Denmark)
Solid Danish thriller that explores the time-honored convention of an amnesiac protagonist (Tuva Novotny) who wakes up devoid of any knowledge of her previous life, though all clues (waking up bleeding in a mountain stream, duffel bag full of cash by her side) point to it not being the everyday housewife existence. Bluffing and gambling her way through, Novotny slowly uncovers her identity even as she dodges a team of assassins clearly dispatched to dispatch her. Solid acting and well-paced action sequences add up to a satisfying popcorn-munching end result.
Ronal the Barbarian (2011) (1st viewing) d. Andersen / Christoffersen / Lipski (Denmark)
A pleasingly irreverent spin on the animated kids feature, focusing on the titular lone nebbish resident within a musclebound community of axe-slinging, ale-guzzling, fierce and furry (male and female alike) warriors. When a malevolent, supernatural nemesis overwhelms the village with a surprise attack, it’s up to Ronal to assume his destiny, questing alongside a ragtag band of misfits to find the mystical blade. There’s a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your sensibilities) amount of scatological and/or body humor and the classic tale of an outsider coming into his own is well told; the only downside lies in the unfortunate English language dub job loaded with dumbed-down Americanized vernacular and vocal characterizations. (For instance, why would a barbarian minstrel talk like a trailer trash hick? Do they really need to use “asshole” every 10 minutes just to be cheeky, especially when you can see the French subtitles do not have a corresponding term?) Hopefully, any DVD issue will come equipped with the original Danish soundtrack and eliminate this unfortunate element (one that often sabotages imported Japanese anime features) because I think there’s an audience out there for Ronal.
Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead (2011) (1st viewing) d. Iguchi, Noboru (Japan)
As mentioned above, this was the final official screening of the festival other than the Closing Night offering of Cabin in the Woods, and they could not have programmed it better. Machine Girl’s mad genius Yaguchi blows it out his backside with this hilariously twisted spin on the walking dead, afflicting victims with genetically engineered tapeworms that overwhelm the consciousness and turn them into meat puppets. As the title might indicate, these being organisms that reside in the digestive system, there’s also the unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects of random defecation and wind breakage – yes, you’ve got a fleet of shambling, farting, crapping zombies who are as inclined to point their backside at you (so that the toothy parasite can infest a new host) as they are give your flesh a munch. If you hadn’t already guessed, none of this is to be taken too seriously, the pleasures lying in the massive body count and ridiculous splatter effects that befall the hyperactive ensemble. Not for everyone, but damned if that wasn’t one of the most enjoyable big screen viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few.
2012 Totals to date: 172 films, 150 1st time views, 88 horror, 55 cinema
Picks of the Day: Beast, Zombie Ass