Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Les Amants Reguliers wins Prix Fipresci 2006

Philippe Garrel won the Prix Fipresci 2006 for his beautiful homage to the Novelle Vague and the May 1968 generation, Les Amants Reguliers (recently released on DVD in the UK). The president of Fipresci, Andrei Plakhov, said, "Philippe Garrel made his first film when he was 16, and by 20 had earned the reputation of the Nouvelle Vague's Wunderkind and 'younger brother of Godard'. His sophisticated cinematographic style, with long concentrated frames, is unique. His films are like fake detective stories, where mystery lies, not in the plot but in the style.”

Fipresci +

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Omar Sharif at the Cairo Film Festival

For those of you wondering about Omar Sharif's (pictured) whereabouts, fret no more. Today he's in Cairo (well, he's lived in Egypt all his life), for the opening of the Cairo Film Festival, which started 30 years ago. Sharif is the honorary president of the festival. The event goes on until 8 December and will be dedicated to the Late Nobel Prize Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who died earlier this year. Films based on his novels will be screened.

The festival will feature Arab and international movie stars such as the American actor Dany Glover and the British actress Jacqueline Bisset besides Jeremy Irons and Julia Ormond who will attend the festival's different sections. These include "The Official Contest", "Guest of Honor", "Arab Films Competition", "Arabs in International Movies", "Panorama of Lebanese Movies" and "Panorama of the Egyptian Cinema".

Cairo Film Festival +

Thursday, November 23, 2006

DVD round-up

How to remember the Holocaust, the imagined assassination of George Bush and love throughout time: a round-up of recent DVD releases I've seen this month.

The Passenger (Dir: Andrzej Munk. Poland, 1961-1963. Released by Second Run DVD) - Films about the Holocaust don't come much closer to capturing the horror of Auschwitz and the concentration camps than Andrzej Munk's 1961-1963 The Passenger. Munk died in a car crash at the age of 39 in the middle of producing his film. His friend and colleague Witold Lesiewicz decided to complete the project to what he believed were Munk's intentions and assembled it using the existing footage, still protographs and a voice over. This method, used as a necessity, turned out to be very beneficial to the form of the film, with its mixture of documentary and representation. Its economic, pared-down narrative captures with sober poignancy the awful void and sadness of this monstrous episode, concentrating on details rather than the big picture. In this sense, it' s more of a humanist film than a historic piece, focusing on the banality of the everyday routine of the camps while showing in the background the gruesome signs of the carnage - children marching down to the gas chambers, the smoke billowing out of the chimneys, inmates playing music as new interns arrive. The place is hell but one with recognisable, realist features.

The film focuses on two main characters, a former SS officer called Liza and a Marta, a Polish prisoner of war who had been under Liza's vigilance in the camp. The two women's paths cross again on a cruise liner bound for South America a decade later. Worried that Marta will expose her past to her husband, Liza decides to tell her husband her real story, first giving him a version of facts whereby she tried to save Marta, but she retracts and tells him a more truthful account, which is that she was actually ambitious and loyal to the Nazi programme. There's no better description of the film than the one provided by Ewa Mazierska in her essay that accompanies this first-ever DVD release and it's worth quoting: "Not so much a film about the reality of the concentration camps, as about the power of memory to immortalise and distort what happened there, which, according to Claude Lanzmann, author of Shoah, should be the proper subject of any film about Holocaust." Dealing with the Holocaust on filmic terms is an enormous challenge, but The Passenger points to the appropriate route. A very important film.

Death of a President (Dir: Gabriel Range, UK, 2006. Released by Optimum Home Entertainment) - If some many people hate George Bush, it is likely that someone would try to kill him. Taking this probability as inspiration, Death of a President imagines the killing of George Bush on 19 October 2007 in Chicago. A skillfully confected docudrama, it adopts all the stylistics of big time, 'serious' drama of the kind Channel Four, the producer of the series, is fond of. Although the intention of the makers seems to provide an epistemological analysis of the truth as realised by the media, it is more like an illusionist's trick, but a very good one at that. The weaving together of fictionalised and real footage of George Bush and other figureheads of his administration is astounding; it really feels like you're watching a somber retrospective docudrama made after the event (with a good dash of thriller conventions thrown in). Largely moulded on the shooting of John Kennedy in 1964, arguably the ultimate presidential assassination, it uses the event to make a commentary on American politics and the predictability of the outcome of Bush's killing: a Muslim, who seems to be innocent, is singled out as the assassin, despite flimsy evidence; the American public wants someone to pay for it and a Muslim seems like an ideal scapegoat. It then suggests that an American may have done it, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq who blamed Bush for the death of his son. This is in fact the most depressive aspect of this film. Although it wouldn't be difficult to imagine this scenario, it is very plausible that this would be the outcome of the event if it did happen, regardless of how clichéd it is. We live in the days of dumbed-down politics and contrived media narratives that despite their complete lack of credibility, the public keeps buying.

Three Times (Dir: Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Taiwan, 2005. Released by Artificial Eye) - Three Times arrives on DVD with a recommendation by no one less than Jim Jarmusch, who describes it as Hsiao-Hsien's 'lastest masterpiece'. Divided into three segments set in different temporal zones (1966, 1911 and 2005), this triptych is about love relationships and the complications that come with it. Hardly masterpiece material, but Hsiao-Hsien's minimalist, elegant style (perhaps too polished at points) is a beauty, especially in the case of the 1911 episode, in which he updates very gracefully the visual grammar of silent cinema. As we pay increasing attention to Oriental cinema, Hsiao-Hsien is definitely a name to keep in mind.

All DVDs are out now:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sighting of the month: Matt Dillon in the Amazon

I recently spotted Matt Dillon visiting an environmental project in the Amazon during his attendance at the Manaus (the capital of the Amazon) film festival. Shall we rename him 'Mata Dillon' in reference to the Portuguese word for jungle? Or am I paying too much attention to the antics involved in headline writing on British tabloids?

Mata Dilllon +

Monday, November 20, 2006

Round up: Latin American and German cinema in London

In the run-up to the Christmas season (definitely a bad cinema season), there are quite a few options around London for those who want to get a proper film fix before heading off to the Christmas break to watch The Sound of Music for the umpteenth time.

The charity Discovering Latin America, whose main goal is to publicise Latin American culture abroad and raise funds for social projects it chooses to champion, arrives at the 5th edition of its annual film festival on Thursday, 23/11, running until 03/12. The festival will take place at the Odeon Covent Garden and Panton Street in the West End, Tate Modern in the South Bank, The Ritzy Cinema in Brixton and Everyman Cinema in Hampstead. Yours truly will be presenting a section of Brazilian short films at the Ritzy Cinema on 01/12 at 6:30pm, so please come and say hello. The Tate Modern will be showing Luis Bunuel's Viridiana and the rest of the programme is a mixture of films from all over the Latin American continent. Further information from the DLAFF site.

Also starting on 23/11 and running until the 26th is the 9th Festival of German Films promising 'a strong line-up of impressively crafted and compelling new features and documentaries from some of the most exciting German filmmakers working today'. The event also features a section called Critical Cinema of East Germany, presented by the London Goethe-Institut plus the regular Next Generation strand which showcases live-action and animated shorts from German film school graduates. More info here.

(Still from Dog Pound, DLAFF, screening on 3/12)

Monday, November 13, 2006

David Lynch's cow stunt

David Lynch is back after a five-year hiatus with a new feature film, Inland Empire, which reunites the top American surrealist with the ever lovely Laura Dern (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart). Reviews have been good , but so far there's no UK release date scheduled. However, Lynch has been busy promoting his film, due out in the U.S. next month (15/12) and even took to the streets of Los Angeles to promote it. Don't you just love this man?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

See it: Stella Polare

Anyone attending the Leeds International Film Festival should check out the striking Stella Polare (pictured left), by British filmmakers Anthea Kennedy and Ian Wilbin, which screens today at 1:45pm and tomorrow at 2:15 at the Carriageworks. Stella Polare is everything that British films quite often are not: meditative, mysterious and oblivious of the strictures of conventional narrative. I saw this film at the Osnabruck Media Art festival in May this year and absolutely loved it. An inspiration for indepedent filmmakers working with video technology; it shows how much can be achieved.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Festival alert: Kassel and Leeds

The 23rd edition of the Kassel Film and Video Festival starts today and runs until the 12th. 214 current films and videos from 21 countries will be screened within the next six days, one third of which are premieres. About 100 directors and artists are expected to attend the festival for the presentation and discussion of their works. The exhibition MONITORING presents 16 media installations from five countries. The opening is going to take place on November 8 at 7 pm. The interdisciplinary conference interfiction as well as the Live Visuals in the DokfestLounge will close the festival. Altogether 68 contributions out of the program will compete for the three prizes of €10,000 in total and the A38-Artist-in-Residence Grant Kassel-Halle.

Kassel film and video festival +

Elsewhere, the Leeds International Film Festival is now well under way. The organisers remind us that although the Fanomenon Horror Weekend has now ended, there's a chance to catch some of the films at their repeat screenings - Silver Méliès winner Isolation (Tue 7 Nov), Resonnances, The Woods (Thu 9 Nov), Gruesome and Dark Remains (Fri 10 Nov). Still to come in the Film Festival are American Hardcore, a film about the American Punk Explosion (Wed 8 Nov), presented by director Paul Rachman and writer Steven Blush. Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell and Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback can be seen again later this week: the former plays on Sat 11 Nov (Hyde Park Picture House, 9:00pm) while the latter will be showing on Mon 6 Nov (The Carriageworks, 3:15pm).

Leeds film festival +