2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Reviews - 20,000 Days on Earth
Can't Stop the Movies

2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Reviews (#2) – Nick Cave Spends 20,000 Days on Earth, and Human Capital, France’s Submission for 2015’s Foreign Film Oscar

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Nick Cave 20,000 Days on EarthKyle Commentary Banner

20,000 Days on Earth – Dir. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard (5/5)

What ended up being one of my favorite movies from last year's festival, The Institute, was a kind of half-staged documentary that played with the audience's understanding of reality in the same way the alternate reality game that was its subject played with the perceptions of its participants. Now here's an equally fictionalized “documentary” chronicling Nick Cave's hypothetical 20,000th day alive. Cave at one point tells a friend that he can't ever reinvent himself—that the role of a rock star (a term that's weird to hear him apply to himself) is to remain a definitive but simply drawn projection of the audience's desires. It's that same awareness of the techniques—both personally and artistically—people use to craft and project their own sense of identity that Cave, Forsyth, and Pollard bring to 20,000 Days on Earth.

Shot and edited like a highly styled fiction film and yet proceeding through a number of mundane daily interactions with his therapist, bandmates, and friends (most of which seem genuine and unscripted, albeit generally staged), the movie mines memory in its attempt to examine Cave's creative process. Frequently jumping in via heavily scripted voice-over, Cave himself provides running commentary that illustrates how his writing emerges from some of the deeper concerns that inform his daily outlook. There are also some nice techniques that play with the nature of memory and reality, such as a series of sequences in which we see Cave driving alone, then in the next shots talking to friends who've appeared in the car with him (Ray Winstone of The Proposition makes an appearance), then alone again.

Nick Cave in His Archive

Nick Cave in his "archive."

One of the highlights is a surreal visit to his personal “archive,” basically a large file room where several archivists retrieve personal materials from Cave's past—including photos projected on a large screen—so he can reminisce about different periods in his life. It's like a weirdly satirical take on Chris Marker's Sans Soleil.

Interlaced throughout the movie are a number of performances, ranging from band rehearsals to video of previous shows, all culminating in a concert (that I think was staged for the movie) coinciding with their most recent album. The confluence of the numerous philosophically-tinged conversations, Cave's hypnotic stage presence (even when he's just sitting at a piano by himself), his dramatic, self-aware voice-over, and directors Forsyth and Pollard's sleek, almost crime-movie aesthetic make for one of the best films at the festival so far. Well worth seeking out, whether you're a fan of Cave's or not.


Human Capital Paolo Virzì

Paolo Virzì's Human Capital

Human Capital – Dir. Paolo Virzì (4/5)

Human Capital had some callbacks to American Beauty for me while it was going. While it plays with time and structure a bit more, both involve events that ultimately lead to a killing (revealed at the very beginning), both are populated by families whose self-erected barriers cause them to remain at great distances to one another even while living in the same home(s), and the characters in each are looking for something intangibly “more.” Paolo Virzi's film is more somber at times—this is purely a drama—and much of the unrest is economically rooted until the third act, but Human Capital is very much a film about people acting against their better judgement in hopes of evading their current reality.

The basic premise involves two families—one middle class and one very wealthy—the high school-aged children of which are dating, and the ways their lives intertwine. That's only a baseline, as the plot of Human Capital is constantly shifting with the introduction of new (or different) character perspectives. Director Paolo Virzi's screenplay (shared credit with Francesco Bruni and Francesco Piccolo) is constantly doubling back on itself to reveal new motivations or cast events we've already seen in a different light. This isn't quite a Rashomon effect—all the pieces add up to a clear, cohesive whole—but as a domestic thriller with undercurrents about the effects of greed and national recession, it works very well. That it is meticulously well-shot and paced doesn't hurt either.

Next Update (Tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 4) – All horses all Saturday with weird Icelandic sort-of-comedy Of Horses and Men, and definitely-not-a-comedy Horses of God.

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Posted by Kyle Miner

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