MIFF2010 Day 14: Annoying Surrealism, Suburban Paranoia and Mumblecore

After a rough day yesterday of confrontation with audience members and a set of bad films peaking with Trash Humpers I was beginning to wonder if the festival had nothing left to offer me.
My first film today didn't change my opinion but the day culminated in what is definitely one of the best things I have seen all festival, I talk about the wonderful CATFISH here.
The ups and downs of MIFF roll on. As Lenny Kravitz wisely sung, it's not over till it's over.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
 
I freely admit that I wasn't in the right frame of mind for a film like this. After being burnt the day prior with a load of bad films my patience was pretty low for an obscure, virtually plot-less, art-house film high on pretension. I think even at the best of times this French/Sri Lankan co-production would be a slog though.
 
Between Two Worlds begins with a man plummeting into the ocean from an unseen source in the sky. He then transports to the middle of a riot going on in an unnamed city, meets a woman who may have just been raped. They then get in a van which randomly stops for them, drives for a little while until it reaches the jungle where the driver and the woman sneak off together for hanky-panky while our man sleeps in the van. The film basically continues along this stream-of-consciousness approach becoming more and more oblique.
 
A conversation between two fishermen early on where they tell each other a story about a lost prince returning to claim his throne offers some kind of framework to view the film on but even this becomes a stretch later on. While the film apparently has some rich textual layers I'm not sure how many viewers will be bothered with delving deep into the film.
 
Superficially it is one of the most visually striking films I have seen all festival, which was what held me from walking out to be honest. Writer/Director Vimukthi Jayasundara has a fine grasp of film language and composes some absolutely beautiful frames. He seems very interested in formal visual patterns and rhythmic montage. One sequence following a group of men emptying out a waterhole with buckets ends up coming across like a tribal war dance.
 
It's undeniable that there is great skill in this film but it's just ultimately so obtuse and measured that I found it very difficult to enjoy. By the end I was pretty over it to be honest.
 
THE BURBS
 
I love this film. It towers above anything else Dante has ever done in my opinion. It is his masterpiece of suburban commentary and one of the most subversive films to come out of Hollywood in the 80s. Even Tom Hanks is great in it and it's certainly the first time I have seen Corey Feldman in a film screening at MIFF so that's gotta count for something.
 
Hanks plays Ray Peterson, an anxiety ridden suburbanite taking a week off work to relax. Of course there is no relaxing living in a street filled with characters such as Lt Mark Rumsfield, an ex-veteran who loves his gadgets (Bruce Dern in brilliant form!) or Art, Ray's slovenly neighbour whose wife is away. The new residents of the street make quite an impact on Ray and his friends, mainly due to their conspicuous lack of presence.
 
The paranoid suspicions build as Ray and the others begin to observe weird occurrences coming from this mysterious house and the group begin to suspect they have a family of homicidal maniacs in their street. Dante builds this growing suburban paranoia brilliantly and turns his film into a stunning critique of the classic American suburban 'community'. You're either with us or against us.
 
The studio imposed ending sadly blunts the satirical edge slightly but not enough to destroy the film completely. Luckily the marvel of YouTube gives us the original ending. It only very slightly different but it alters one key moment that affects ones whole viewing of the film.
 
I love Joe Dante and I love The Burbs. Kudos to MIFF for highlighting one of my favourite filmmakers and hopefully others will regard him as highly as I do. He is truly one of the most literate and bitingly subversive filmmakers working in Hollywood today.
 
BEESWAX
 
I wish I enjoyed mumblecore films more. I get the feeling I am missing out on something whenever I see one of these films. Andrew Bujalski is the official unofficial progenitor of the mumblecore movement and his 3rd film Beeswax expands upon the concept slightly while still being a defiant example of the movement (I've also heard it referred to as Slackavetes which I think is a much more appropriate description for what these new filmmakers are doing).
 
Beeswax is aesthetically interesting in a defiantly slight way. It is not worth trying to give a plot synopsis suffice to say this is a naturalistic slice-of-life following some thirty-somethings living in Austin, Texas.
 
Bujalski has an interesting way of beginning and ending scenes at abrupt moments. He cuts away mid-conversation from two people talking about something seemingly important only to enter the mid-point of another conversation that seems elusively banal. Even the film itself just seems to start and stop, not really beginning and ending in a traditional sense.
 
Bujalski also has a fascination with language and miscommunication and much of the film consists of conversations falling apart through the limitations of words. It's an interesting idea and it's played in a marvelously naturalistic way.
 
I'm sure a lot of people will relate to much in this film. But really I felt like the aesthetic, designed with maximum verisimilitude in mind, ironically kept me at arm's length from actually connecting with the film on any emotional level. While it's lack of a contrived narrative drive is a trademark of Bujalskis it really left me with an appreciation for the film but not an affection.