Sound of Noise (dirs. Johannes Stjärne Nilsson & Ola Simonsson, 2010, Sweden)
Saturday was set to be my hardcore day, with back to back screenings of several of the most violent films in the festival (specifically the one-two punch of Red White & Blue and I Spit On Your Grave the remake), so it was a happy coincidence that my late-morning screening was one of the oddest and cheeriest films in the entire programming. I literally felt a grin materialize on my face and remain there for the whole film. Not that it was an extremely funny-haha film: rather, it bore this irresistible innocence. The premise came from the director duo's short film Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001), which, in its tight tale of societal tomfoolery (the six characters, for an unsaid reason, break into a flat and, via a rigidly calculated time sequence, compose songs w/ kitchen accouterments, bathroom fixtures and living room tchotchkes), totally set the positive vibe for the full-length. The film opened w/ a pounding rock-drumming sequence w/ the woman from that original six-piece gang speeding on the highway in a van. The camera pans behind her and indeed there is a dude (also from the gang), seated at a full trap set in the back of the van, performing said drum sequence. That sold me on it. The plot deals w/ "musical terrorism", w/ the six-piece regrouping and waging a four-movement performance on the city, w/ a musically-lacking detective (his entire family are either conductors or top symphonic musicians) hot in pursuit. As their antics grow (a particularly fascinating composition in an operating room, w/ wheezing bellows, beeping sounds and hand-clapping, reminded me of skeletal Detroit techno and super-early Autechre), our detective's music-related hearing declines, though he can hear conversation and ambient/natural sounds just fine. I got vibes from Stereolab and German prog, like Can and Faust, maybe even a bit of nonabrasive Pan Sonic. In the end, everyone wins: the musicians accomplish their piece and our detective doesn't really mind his inability to hear music anymore; in fact, he rather likes that peace and quiet.
Bibliotheque Pascal (dir. Szabolcs Hadju, 2010, Hungary)
A haunting film that, after its scene-setting opening sequence, begins rather beautifully, in a sun-streaked city with lovely Mona dancing to a band, and segues further and further into a very dark, phantasmagoric realm, like layers of nightmares, until she ends up in bleakest London and we're so deep in the dream (I'm pulling an Inception here, I realize) we can't rouse ourselves until it's over. The dialogue at the very beginning, b/w Mona and a caseworker for her daughter, is important, but it's OK if you don't catch it all. The seeds of the conversation scatter throughout the narrative, coming into sharp focus when they're called for. Basically, she had a brief relationship w/ some mysterious thug named Viorel, who literally materializes from the beach sand, and raises her daughter herself. She meets Vacariu (who I thought was her father but now I'm not sure) who is ill and persuades Mona to accompany him for treatment. Mona entrusts her daughter w/ fortune-teller Rodica (Mona's "aunt") and leaves on the train. Then Vacariu hands her off to some thugs for cash, and they kill him and forcibly take her to London, selling her to a dandyish sleaze who runs the bizarre burlesque Bibliotheque Pascal. Mona is locked away in the upstairs private rooms, each one a lair themed on literature (Antigone, Desdemona, Joan of Arc, Katherina Minola) but entirely perverse (one's a dungeon, one a stark-white room w/ rubbery bondage equipment). Mona's is Joan of Arc, and she is clothed in combat fatigues and her hair partially shaved and then braided. She is forced to learn several lines of dialogue from the tale, and then "acts" it out w/ the male player, an older besuited man who rapes her. Back in Hungary, Rodica puts Mona's daughter on display for the town for fundraising, as the little girl apparently has the ability to project vivid dream sequences. In London, Mona is forced into the all-white chamber (the Desdemona room), dressed in a full catsuit and hood, and thrown into a rubber vacuum bag, where the two male players attempt to suffocate and rape her. But! She is rescued by her daughter's dream projection, of "dad" Vacariu leading a marching band into Bibliotheque Pascal, freeing the sex slaves from their captors, permitting her to return home to her little girl. Back in present day, the caretaker isn't buying her story, so Mona summarizes this torqued narrative in a few clear lines: well maybe it went this way, single mother, needed money for her daughter, left the girl w/ her aunt and went to London to prostitute, didn't get the funds, was cheated by her pimp, returns to Hungary but loses custody anyway. Whichever story arc we're to believe, the enfolding lucid dream or the bullet-points summary, Mona gets her daughter back and they have dinner together (empty bowls, all of it pantomime but full of laughter and genuine merriment) and storybook time in bed, and the camera pulls away to reveal they're acting this out in a showroom in a massive home interiors store.
Red White & Blue (dir. Simon Rumley, 2010, USA/UK)
I described this beautiful and punishing film to my friend and film co-fanatic Jackie as three spinning tops. Two brush together tentatively, and it's all good, they're still spinning around. One of those brushed up against the other and it's still all good, they're all doing their thing. Then one lurches over and all three crash, caroming off one another in the most brutal degree of destruction. But this film is beautiful, absolutely beautiful. It bleeds Austin, TX, so it was perfect seeing it at Fantastic Fest. The Highball, Austin Diner, Spiderhouse and Toy Joy all appear, to the degree that Austin is like the fourth main character. We have Erica (Amanda Fuller, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who spends her time picking up and sleeping with men, then Polaroiding them afterwards for her scrapbook. We have Franki (Mark Senter, Cabin Fever 2), this hot-headed fledgling punk musician who had a casual encounter w/ Erica and has his hands full w/ his dying mother. We also have Nate (Noah Taylor, Vanilla Sky, Alice in Wonderland), the lean twangy stranger, ex-military w/ a verrrry violent past (he tells, not quite confides, this to Erica). Nate's also not looking to sleep w/ her, either, so though she's wary of him at first, Erica begins to warm to him as a possible friend, and begins cleaning up her act. Nate, meanwhile, looks after her. An explosive surprise brings Franki back in the picture, he tracks Erica down at a bar w/ some help from his bandmates, and...well the floodgates burst open, and there's Nate w/ his wheels of strapping tape hooked to his belt and a wicked hunting knife in his hand. The impetus for Franki and Erica reuniting, plus the secrets all three characters harbor, will shock you but I'm not going to talk any more about that. Rather, the beauty: this scene in the saloon Broken Spoke, w/ Nate exiting the loo, walking through the crowd, realizing Erica's missing but her purse and glass (shattered) remain behind, then stalks through the rooms of the bar, confused, frightened, agitated, searching for her, w/ the background a boke of neon beer signs and two-stepping couples, is enchanting. Even as we know nothing good will come of what's destined to happen next.
I Spit On Your Grave (dir. Steven R. Monroe, 2010, USA)
Why did this remake even happen, you may wonder. Why did the original happen...did the world need such a notorious rape/revenge film such as I Spit On Your Grave, let alone a sequel for 2010, over 30 years after the original came out and was banned? I've seen the original more than once — the last time was specifically for research to compare/contrast to the new film — and I can't say definitively YES, such a film is necessary or NO, it never should have been made. It has been made, it's there, as shocking in 2010 as it was in '78. As for did there need to be a sequel, not so much a shot-by-shot but still a nearly faithful retelling of the original, w/ elements blended in for present day? I can say w/o a doubt that this remake achieves a purpose: it does close up some gaps in the original (why didn't Jennifer go to the police in the original, for instance?) while fully 3D-ing the characters, w/ all the animalistic violence that comes w/ that. Johnny the gas station attendant and his buddies are no longer the smooth talker and two jesters: they're palpably dangerous, their veins flowing w/ hot blood and vitriol. Johnny especially goes from the suave pretty-boy in the original to simmering w/ rage and hatred, prepared to humiliate and defile Jennifer exhaustively, until he gets bored. Stanley goes from the hothead to an overweight sleaze armed w/ a DV camera and a voyeuristic streak. Andy remains the harmonica-playing narcissist, but he has an erratic rage as well. The end result is more viscerally disturbing than the original, w/ the pain felt all around magnified. Their assault on Jennifer is as drawn out as the original, as they force her to chug vodka, fellate a gun barrel, fake drown her in a puddle — and then there is the rape and Jennifer's wobbling walk through the woods, half clothed and shivering with pain. She gets them back big time, no longer seducing them like in the original but tricking them, entrapping them, tailoring each execution to their respective egos, and dispatching them w/o remorse. Not to give away their demises, but lye, fish hooks, a horse's bit and a shotgun are a few of her devices, along w/ a shed covered w/ tools and farming implements. And after the last one is gone, Jennifer walks away, to where we don't know.
The Dead (dirs. Howard J. Ford & Jonathan Ford, 2010, UK)
This was an incredibly existential zombie film. Think more along the terms of Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf (only not as bracing) or like John Hillcoat's The Road, in that it's near-future and post-apocalyptic. We're in the arid coast of Africa, unfolding like a Lovecraft landscape, both exhilaratingly alien (weathered rock formations and rolling dunes in all directions) and decidedly earth. Only it feels more like the former due to the prevalence of zombies. Nearly the entire world is affected by a living dead virus, meaning most of the people around white U.S. lieutenant Murphy (Rob Freeman, Saving Private Ryan) are slo-mo trudging, blank-eyed, flesh-hungry Black zombies. But as long as there's like only one coming up on him, Murphy can dodge them and flee w/o firing a shot. He teams up w/ another human, Sgt. Dembele (W.African superstar Prince David Osei), who lost his wife to the zombies and whose son was taken to safety by the army. They cross the dun landscape, contrasted by a jewel blue sky, fighting zombies, on their way to the army base, until Dembele gives his life to save Murphy's, leaving Murphy to go it alone until he reaches the Alamo-like enclosure. He realizes there that HIS wife and kid back in the States have died, as has like 90% of the population, succumbing to the living dead. Murphy meets Dembele's son and the two men face the oncoming crowd of slo-mo zombies, and the film ends. Bleak stuff, no? Like I said at the beginning, this was my hardcore day.