Archive for June, 2014

rsz_2014-05-18_135943“It feels like we’re living in another world”, said one of my fellow Nisi Masa peers. This is Cannes, at the height of the film festival, and everything feels very strange. It might have been the time we were drinking in Le Petit Majestique, a watering hole for anybody too degenerate to get into the parties, as a man made up as the Toxic Avenger posed for photos with delighted revellers.

One thing that struck me in Cannes was the disproportionate amount of French people inhabiting the place. I couldn’t turn for a Jacques, a Celine, a Pierre, a Jean Paul or a Francois blocking my way. The festival was rife with fevered discussion, strangers gesticulating wildly across the Croisette. I engaged in numerous illuminating and deep conversations with the locals; what did I think of the promotion of female directors in the competitions? Was it a cynical attempt to quell last years controversy, or a valiant effort to right the wrongs of industry patriarchy? “Je suis Anglais”, I shrugged, “Je ne parle pas français”.

Cannes is at times ugly, vulgar and seedy, but it also has an irresistible charm and buzz to it that draws you in. Beneath all the fake, elitist glitz and glamour there are people working with great passion. Film makers who have toiled for years with their minds and bodies, struggling to externalise their worldview, and perhaps in turn make the viewer feel connected to its creator, and therefore the human race as a whole. Then we have the perverts, the writers and cinephiles, desperate to make sense of the world but scared of living, finding solace and escape in intimate tales from around the world.

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

There is a great disparity in the world of Cannes and the films that are on show there. The films are often focused on impoverished people, struggling through their lives, beset by tragedy. The festival, meanwhile, is saturated with somewhat closeted, comfortable industry people in Raybans and critics wearing chinos, manicured within an inch of their lives. Is this their Hollywood blockbuster, their escapist cinema? Are the emotional outpourings their explosions, their car chases?

Queueing plays a huge part of the festival as well. In this age of ‘now’ the act of queueing feels quaint and refreshing. It feels so strange that in a matter of seconds one could be streaming a film on Netflix, yet in Cannes you are made to wait an hour, maybe more, to watch the film. I had a strange admiration for the soldiers around me, putting aside their frenzied lives, to act out the most noble service they could in the situation: standing still. What were they thinking about? The film? The others in the queue? Ruminating on their lives? There is too much time to reflect in queues, it’s unnerving.

The Nisi Masa workshop I participated in was invigorating and often inspiring, The other participants had a genuine passion for cinema and writing. What struck me most was, even though the majority spoke English as a second language, the intensity of feeling pierced through the broken syntax and phrasing. As a shamefully ignorant student of languages I was impressed with the dramatic use of words, at odds with the somewhat conservative way English speakers often write in.

Run by Phillipe Lacote

Run by Phillipe Lacote

As to the films, it was a mixed bunch. Darker Than Midnight, a queer coming of age tale set in Catania’s underbelly was disappointingly high pitched and hysterical. Girlhood, a Parisian set teen drama directed by Celine Sciamma of Water Lilies fame was sparky yet felt less distinctive than her previous work. Catch Me Daddy, a Brit thriller, started off brightly with shades of Lynne Ramsay’s hallucinatory visuals, yet devolved into another ‘gritty’ chase movie. Run was a solid, nomadic film set in the Ivory Coast, a bit like Forrest Gump if it had been directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Refugiado was a well directed, well acted Mexican film about a mother and son fleeing domestic violence, not always as grim as it sounds.

The two best features I saw were It Follows and Amour Fou. It Follows was an original, dreamy American horror that subverts the slasher genre. Amour Fou saw the return of Austrian Jessica Hausner after her success with Lourdes. Jokingly described as a ‘romantic comedy’, it is a loose biopic of the writer/poet Heinrich Von Kleist and his affair with Henrietta, a dying housewife. Incredibly dry and somewhat alienating to most viewers, I found it to be wryly amusing and in its own way quite touching. Special mention goes to the short film Thunderbirds by Lea Mysius. Set in rural France, the thin plot follows a vaguely incestuous brother and sister as they go hunting for birds. It had a strong, brutal visual style reminiscent of Bruno Dumont and a distinctive atmosphere to boot. Definitely one to look out for.

Until next time….

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If we think about horror films as a medium to explore human fears at their most primitive, then you would think that there was an infinite space for filmmakers to plough through. For the most part, however, it feels like a genre devoid of invention or respect, an easy commercial outlet relying on a raft of cheap tricks. Occasionally you will see a film that seeks to subvert these tropes and try to bring some creativity to the genre, which David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows has.

The film is a subversion of horror films, not something completely new. A teenage girl named Jay (Maika Monroe) living in American suburbia has intimate relations with hunky Hugh (Jake Weary). Things start to go awry when we realise that Hugh has ulterior motives; he is being stalked by a shape shifting monster that will only relent if he passes on the curse through intercourse. Only when Jay has sex with another person will Hugh be safe, and so the chain goes on.

It is a simple but effective premise, familiar enough to slot it alongside other slasher films but with a touch of surrealism that marks it out. What makes It Follows terrifying is the execution of this set up, with the creature taking on a different form each time. It could be a grizzled mother, a demonic schoolkid or a hulking giant. As Hugh warns us, they are always walking towards their prey. The prey can never stand still, they always have to be wary of the figure in the distance.

While the concept is fertile, Mitchell’s overall vision of the film is also striking. Setting out to make an ‘arty horror film’ in his words, It Follows has an eerie, dreamlike quality, almost like Gus Van Sant had decided to swap his Bela Tarr boxset for a John Carpenter collection. Filmed around Detroit, the film has the feel of a ghost town, the teenage characters leading an almost idyllic existence where adults are almost entirely absent. If one was to read anything into the film, you might say that it explores the idea of innocence being corrupted. One fellow viewer described it as a potential miracle for sex education teachers.

Mitchell creates a beguiling mix of innocence and threat through soft, hypnagogic visuals and floaty tracking shots. The pacing of course ramps up a gear as the creature nears, but for the most part it is a languorous film. Music plays a huge part, and in Disasterpiece’s pretty and dangerous Italo Disco score we have a formidable contributor. The minimalist electronica is a throwback to the scores of the Italian giallo horrors of the 70’s, by directors like Dario Argento and Mario Bava.

The film was never meant to be about the actors or their dramas, but they all give solid performances mannered in the horror style. They have a naturalistic, candy floss quality to them, again reminiscent of the characters in Van Sant’s films. Yet  Mitchell invests enough in them to make the audience empathise with their plight; she is an innocent thrown into a situation she doesn’t deserve, and has the moral quandary of inflicting her curse on someone else or submitting to a grisly death.

I saw a few films at Cannes but none of them were as exciting or refreshing as It Follows. A horror film for people who don’t like horrors, It Follows subverts the genre enough to feel new while still retaining the core essential scares. It is an aesthetic delight and its simplicity works wonderfully. We may just have a cult film in the making.

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