Tuesday, April 10, 2012

BIFFF Day #3 (Sunday, 4/8)

Day #3 began with a bit of hometown pride, screening Brussels’ own Fabrice du Welz’s breakout horror feature, Calvaire, one I’ve been a fan of since first encountering it in 2006. I was excited to meet the writer/director, but this was not to be as he disappeared following his introduction to the film…and never returned. (Apparently, he’s in pre-production on his latest feature in Paris and needed to get back to work.) Even so, I was pretty bummed and spent the better part of an hour attempting to track down his contact info so I could chat with him at some future date. Ah well.

Continuing to make new friendships (including actress Naila Ma who stars in three of the CollecTIFFF features - a dozen or so of short films shot specifically to precede the evening features - and several CollecTIFFF directors) while strengthening existing ones. Before each screening, each press member must stop by the main booth to check in and pick up admission tickets from one of the lovely ladies on hand. (This is done to keep folks from gathering tix for an entire day’s screenings and passing them off to friends, I suppose.) The upside is that each new film is now bookended by an enjoyable gabfest at the press booth with a growing group of familiar faces. I think I’m still in the lead as far as those who’ve been present for nearly every screening – hoping to keep it that way.

Did I mention that there is a body painting booth where nearly naked men and topless women are getting all dolled up with brush and pen? Well, there is and there are.

The other thing I learned is that if you are unable to make a screening (God forbid!) at its normally scheduled time, there are computers upstairs in the press room where you can watch digital copies of nearly all of the BIFFF 2012 films on a bank of computers with headphones. Obviously, this is less preferable to the full-on big screen treatment, but in the case of Alex de la Iglesia’s latest effort, As Luck Would Have It, where the print being shown did not come equipped with English subtitles, the upstairs screening room turned out to be a lifesaver for this particular non-Dutch/French/Spanish speaking doofus. I’ll likely make use of these digital screeners again, in the case of catching up on late night movies that I’m too shagged out to stay up for, and definitely for two other Spanish language films (Nacho Vigalongo’s Timecrimes follow-up, Exterestre, and the buzz-building Cuban zom/com Juan of the Dead).

No interviews (though I’d hoped to sit down with du Welz for at least a second or two), it was still a big damn day, seven films logged before we pedaled back home in the drizzle. I had to note, the rowdy festival setting may not be the best for quieter films or ones that require an emotional investment to carry off their spell. The BIFFF crowds are a vocal lot, sometimes inappropriately so, as was the case with Lucky McKee’s already viewer-divisive The Woman. Lots of hooting and hollering throughout, which is not what I would have expected nor what I feel the film deserves. Luckily, the language barrier actually comes in handy here, as the various catcalls only register as indecipherable outbursts, followed by general laughter (or not), which don’t really take me out of the movie. Had I been able to understand what was being said, it might be harder to stay connected. Hopefully this will not prove to be a problem later on, as I don’t think my Anglo cries of “Be quiet!” would be well received. If it proves overly distracting, I may take to screening some of the later-night features (when the alcohol flows a little freer) in the press room – nice to know that option exists.

Calvaire (aka The Ordeal) (2004) d. du Welz, Fabrice (Belgium)

This rare genre offering from Belgium presents a few novel twists on the well-worn “travelers off the beaten path” trope. After his car breaks down en route to the next holiday gig, low-rent crooner Laurent Lucas stumbles into a backwards backwoods community devoid of women. Taking shelter at a nearby inn, he soon finds himself captive in a nightmarish scenario that manages to surprise and unnerve without resorting to eviscerations. Kudos to director du Welz, who co-wrote the script with Romain Protait, for his skillful evocation of dread-filled atmospherics, as well as one of the strangest dance sequences ever to pass through a camera lens. Watch for appearances from Eurobabe Brigette Lahaie and High Tension’s Phillipe Nahon.

Don Quixote (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Gan, Ah (China/Hong Kong)
A fairly zany but enjoyable spin on the Cervantes novel, with delusional Gua Tao believing himself an invincible knight-errant out to slay dragons and rescue fair maidens. As fate would have it, he soon finds himself on just such a noble quest, accompanied by his trusty Sancho (Wang Gang), battling the forces of evil in the form of nefarious noblemen. Energetic and juvenile in the best ways, with enjoyably slapstick combat scenes.

Pig (2011) (1st viewing) d. Barrial, Henry (USA)
A man (Rudolph Martin, who resembles a younger, handsomer version of Billy Bob Thornton) wakes up bound and hooded in the desert, with no idea who he is or how he got there. Writer/director Barrial’s intriguing sci-fi thriller has deservedly invited favorable comparisons to Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, although it also finds some interesting political axes to grind as well. Hard to say more without spoilers, but solid stuff.

Road, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Laranas, Yam (Philippines)
An intriguing variation on the anthology format, taking the viewer through several different timeframes, each of which further explaining the events of the previous story, and all taking place along a lesser-traveled byway. While the interlocking storylines and present day wraparound is intelligently realized, Laranas does utilize more than a few clichéd J-horror devices and some thinly drawn characters. Not bad, but no knockout either.

As Luck Would Have It (2011)
(1st viewing) d. de la Iglesia, Alex (Spain)
Another superb black comedy from the Spanish master of the format, bursting with lively, unique characters and an ingenious central scenario. Unemployed former advertising star Jose Mota (there are constant references to his “spark of life” Coca Cola campaign) is already having a bad day when he fails to get hired by a former friend and discovers the hotel where he and wife Salma Hayek honeymooned has been demolished to make way for a museum. But through a bizarre series of events, the former publicity hound finds himself in a media-magnet life-or-death situation, one that could revive his career even as it threatens his mortality. Another don’t-miss effort from de la Iglesia, following last year’s crazy clown mindfreak, The Last Circus.

Woman, The (2011) (2nd viewing) d. McKee, Lucky (USA)
Working from a script by himself and bad boy novelist Jack Ketchum, McKee unfolds a haunting fairy tale about a feral female (Pollyanna McIntosh) captured by Sean Bridgers’ evil ogre of a family man, keeping her in his workshed while his complicit family pitches in to conceal and contain their new prize. There is some extreme, uncompromising violence and degradation on hand, but the real damage is inflicted on a psychological level (a Ketchum staple) with the weak-hearted preyed upon by the smiling monster dressed as Man. Great performances, and if taken as a mythic parable as opposed to realistic drama, it definitely goes down easier on a narrative level. One slight quibble: the jarring alt rock tune-filled soundtrack, which left me wondering if McKee was trying to fit in songs from every one of his friends who had a band.

Julia X (2011) (1st viewing) d. Pettiette, P.J. (USA)
A serial killer (former Hercules star Kevin Sorbo) encounters more resistance than expected from his latest victim Valerie Azlynn, who turns out to have more on the ball and tricks in her toolbox than your average screaming mimi. Basically an extended battle scene between raging psychotic and scrappy Final Girl, one that, in spite of some memorable violent sequences and plot twists, wears a hole in the carpet with its endless running over the same ground for 90 minutes. Fun for a while, but then wears out its welcome – probably would have made a terrific half-hour short, as all the karo syrup and CGI splatter in the world can’t cover up the padding here.

2012 Totals to date: 137 films, 117 1st time views, 70 horror, 25 cinema

Pick of the day: As Luck Would Have It

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