2012 Milwaukee Film Festival Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12Oct/120

Milwaukee Film Festival – Everyone in Our Family, Found Memories, The Sessions, and Detropia

We hope you've enjoyed these brief reviews from Kyle at the Milwaukee Film Festival.  Andrew and Kyle will be back next week with Akira Kurosawa's The Lower Depths!

Everyone in Our Family (5/5)

Everyone in Our Family is a tense, quickly moving, and involving Romanian film that takes a kind of Breaking Bad approach in a shorter form. By that I don't mean that it focuses on similar subject matter, but rather that it presents us with a man at the beginning who by the end has transformed into someone very different. Here one may argue that how we see him at the end of the film is how he has always been, and that throughout the course of the story we see a carefully managed facade disintegrate to reveal his real nature. The plot concerns Marius (Serban Pavlu) going to pick up his 5-year-old daughter from his ex-wife's house so that he can take her to the seaside for a quick vacation. We gather through initial conversations between Marius and his father that he is only allowed 10 days per year with his daughter, with the implication being that he was taken advantage of during the divorce proceedings.

The film causes us to empathize with him at first, presenting the girl's mother as careless and manipulative; when she refuses to let him take the girl—claiming that she is sick even though she seems cheerful and ready to go—Marius becomes more and more desperate, revealing both the psychological toll the whole situation has had on him as well as the depths to which he will stoop to get his way. The film manages to be both darkly humorous regarding Marius' unwillingness to recognize the escalating severity of his own situation and devastatingly intense as the two ex-spouses choose vindictiveness and personal attacks over the wellbeing of their daughter, who is simply a casualty of a toxic domestic situation.

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Found Memories (5/5)

A woman walks down a hall with a lantern lighting only the upper half of her torso, which seems to be floating through the darkness. As she moves closer, the light hits more of the things around her, gradually expanding the frame. She reaches a table in the foreground, so close only her hands and the table's contents are visible, and here she methodically begins to bake bread by candlelight. This sequence takes several minutes, and it is this sort of deliberate, meditative space Found Memories inhabits. It may be my favorite film from the whole festival.

The structure of the movie follows essentially the same parts of the woman's day over and over: she gets up while it's still dark to make bread, opens a small cafe with a friend who may at first be mistaken for her husband, goes to church, places flowers at the front gate of the closed and locked town cemetery, attends an outdoor dinner with the other 7 or 8 inhabitants of the village, and ends her night by writing a letter to her husband, who we learn is deceased. This cycle is repeated many times throughout the film, but with the routine changing and expanding each time to reveal more of not only her life, but her fellow townspeople as well. Soon, a young woman backpacking in the area arrives looking for a place to stay for a few days, and her presence in the village brings subtle but important changes to the routines of all those living there, in part because she is so young—mid-20s or so—and they are all upwards of 70, with a sad commonality being that many of them seem to have lost children early on in their lives.

There is no plot to speak of, but the way Found Memories carefully reveals brief glimpses of the few characters' backstories, lingers on the implications of these new revelations, and then folds the information into atmospheric and sometimes surreal depictions of life in the village creates a sort of thematic narrative so involving you don't even notice it unfolding. Likewise, the final scenes have a logic to them that the film arrives at without ever signaling that's where it was heading. It leaves you with the impression of a particularly effective ghost story, and its subtle look at the unpredictability of life and the roles we play is worth multiple viewings.

10Oct/120

Milwaukee Film Festival – Tchoupitoulas and Klown

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Tchoupitoulas (2/5)

Tchoupitoulas takes the form of a documentary following three young brothers through the New Orleans nightlife, though it plays more like a collection of extra footage from a documentary, and many of the scenes lack a feeling of authenticity. The one thing the filmmakers have done incredibly well is evoke a distinct and haunting tone with some beautiful shots of empty and abandoned areas that contrast the vibrancy of the rest of those they encounter. The one scene truly worth seeing features the boys coming across what appears to be an abandoned cruise ship at an empty dock and exploring the inside of it with equal measures excitement and fear.

This is all too little spread too thin, however, with the rest of the movie regarding everything they see and everyone they meet with a detached monotony mistaken for dreamlike cinema vérité—here are scenes that should showcase some of the most interesting people and unique locales that one could hope to find, and yet much of the time it's like the filmmakers accidentally left the camera on after their initial interactions, and what we're seeing is the bored aftermath. Conversations with those encountered and/or more time spent with the three young men who act as our de facto guides through the city would have made for a genuinely interesting experience, but somehow they've managed to make New Orleans seem boring.http://www.cinefamily.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/klown1.jpg

Klown (4/5)

Klown is a ruthless, uncomfortable, vulgar, and sometimes mean-spirited comedy based on the Danish TV series of the same name. It's also hilarious. The movie concerns three characters: Frank Hvam and and his friend Casper Christensen (both played by actors of the same names—if I were an actor in this movie, in these roles, I would not be using my real name), and Frank's 12-year-old nephew Bo. Frank is, simply put, an idiot. He is so clueless as to his own actions and their repercussions that it's a credit to the acting that we kind of believe this is a character that could exist. Casper is like a combination of Thomas Hayden Church's character in Sideways and Bradley Cooper's general demeanor in The Hangover, and his reckless bravado propels the two into a number of situations the likes of which cannot be described here. The two find themselves on a debaucherous canoe trip—the endpoint of which can only tastefully be described as a very diverse international bordello run by the elderly leader of their book club—saddled with Bo, who Frank has essentially kidnapped in order to prove to his pregnant girlfriend that he has “father potential.” And if you think the premise sounds tasteless, just watch the movie.

If Klown were even one degree less committed to its utter irresponsibility, if there were any attempts at all made to mitigate or soften the offensive nature of the events, it would fall apart. It works so well in part because it makes so few cliched attempts to change or redeem the characters, who are essentially faced with one sitcom situation after another. An American version of the film would see Frank finally “getting it” in the third act and making valiant efforts to become a father figure to Bo—what's so funny about Klown is that Frank thinks he “gets it” all along. When he realizes at the end that some of his actions have hurt the young boy, his solution to make up for it is such an irresponsible version of the “character turns things around with a grand, understanding gesture” cliché that it's clear the filmmakers are consciously subverting the format. It's certainly not for everyone—some of the jokes are a bit too mean or malicious for their own good, and I don't know that I even want to see it again—but the actors sell it all in a way that's downright impressive, and for the most part very funny.

9Oct/120

Milwaukee Film Festival – Aujourd’hui and Shorts: Out of This World Program

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Aujourd'hui (Today) 5/5

Aujourd'hui is a sometimes entrancing film about a man who wakes up knowing that it will be his last day alive. His family and friends in his town in Senegal also know, as the movie informs us at the beginning that this is a place “where death still warns of its passing.” This advance knowledge isn't treated as something mystical or supernatural—simply as another fact of life. The movie makes the premise work by addressing it on a basic emotional level; what would you do with your last day, who would you talk to and what would you tell them, what would others tell you? These are not original questions, and the film doesn't attempt to render them profound with any sentimental or formal techniques—it simply observes as the man goes through this last day, including everything from a traditional final gathering where his family relates all the things they remember about him to one last brief encounter with a former lover.

The man is portrayed as somewhat of a mystery by Saul Williams, who through very little dialogue and incredible expressiveness in his face and mannerisms, presents a character simply coming to terms with all he will miss. There is an incredible shot with Williams standing in an empty courtyard after he arrives late for a party held for him by the city council, plastic cups and chairs scattered around, and one gets the impression that the man arrived late for his whole life. There is brief talk throughout the film about how he once went to the U.S. to study, but returned home prematurely, and this seems to stand in for the character's lack of commitment to everything in his world. Some shots of him returning home through a solitary landscape and a surprising surreal flourish at the end make the story extraordinarily memorable, even as nothing really happens throughout. This is one to seek out.

http://boswell.indiebound.com/files/boswell/ShortsOutOfThisWorld_l.jpgShorts: Out of This World Program

Short films are difficult to review as most people will never have access to them unless through a festival or if they get nominated for an Oscar and play in a limited theatrical release sometime prior to the awards ceremony. I've tried below to briefly tease what each short entails and use them to comment on what the short form in film often does (or doesn't do) so well.

The Voorman Problem (3/5) – Since they require less investment on the part of an audience, short films can often get away with acting as nothing more than a clever extended joke leading to a punchline, as with this story of a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) seeing a prison inmate who has convinced himself and all the other prisoners that he is a god who created the world 9 days ago.

Foxes (5/5) Foxes presents an Irish suburban couple whose marriage tension sets the stage for a series of bizarre events that follow the appearance of foxes in their backyard one night. Incredibly effective if somewhat silly, this plays like someone packed all the menace of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist into one of David Lynch's deceptively picturesque suburban settings, and it acts as a great example of how well-mastered tone and formal techniques can work to great and memorable effect even when layered over the most basic skeleton of a story.

43,000 Feet (2/5) – I've seen short films that seem like test runs for feature-length versions, but the very brief 43,000 Feet has the feeling of a film envisioned at full-length only to find itself at a deficit of ideas. Composed of the sort of free-associative narration of a man falling from a plane in his moments before he hits the ground, this one demonstrated very well how a little can go a long way.

The Route 43 Miracle (5/5) – Combining awkward humor, a bit of magical realism, and surprisingly effective sentimental touches, the filmmaking behind The Route 43 Miracle is so assured that it can get away with telling an unexpectedly touching story by combining some standard cliches with its original elements. Because of the short form, we fill in the blanks that we'd normally require a feature to do for us, resulting in what is essentially a strange version of the “distant parent reconnecting with their child” story told in Cliffs Notes form.

The Centrifuge Brain Project (4/5) – This mockumentary is a great example of how short films can take a type of overindulgence in a joke that wouldn't hold up at feature length and deliver it in just the right amount. Following the efforts of a group of scientists to test the effects of exceedingly ridiculous (and eventually impossible without the help of hilarious special effects) amusement park rides that subject the human brain to extreme gravitational forces, this is like a Christopher Guest film turned to 11.

Voice Over (3/5) – Prescribes to the punchline rule by having a narrator jump back and forth between three distinct stories in which “you” are the main and only character, correcting himself repeatedly until finally arriving at the fourth and “correct” story, which contextualizes all the others in a cute and funny way. Yet another example of a narrative device that could yield disastrous consequences in a feature-length film, but which works in a short because of the amount of investment required.

The Twin (5/5) – A story about a diver who finds a tiny, bearded version of himself hiding in his throat one day, who he eventually coughs up and raises as a child. The Twin is both quietly hilarious and kind of poignant, working as a mixed metaphor both for how parents try to form their children in their own image as well as how one regards changes in themselves over time. This is one of those rare shorts that feels like a feature, sacrificing nothing in terms of plot or character development because it strips its story down to only the most essential interactions, and then presents them with nuance and complexity.

5Oct/120

Milwaukee Film Festival – Goodbye and Beyond the Black Rainbow

With the half-way point of Kurosawa's career reached last week, Kyle and I have decided to take a break.  For the next week Kyle will be sharing his thoughts from the Milwaukee Film Festival.  We'll return with our Kurosawa coverage on 10/19.  For now, here's Kyle!

So the Milwaukee Film Festival is going on right now and I'm trying to see as many movies as I can. The selection of films is surprisingly large and varied, so I've tried to pick something from each program, and wound up with quite a few from The Onion/A.V. Club Milwaukee's roster, appropriately titled “Cinema Hooligante.” They also have a special ad produced each year by a local advertising agency to recognize all of the festival sponsors that plays before each movie, and this year's includes what looks to be a Jerry Garcia wizard driving around the city in a VW minibus with a projector on the top. That's a little part of the festival everyone should experience, so you're welcome. The ratings out of 5 accompanying each movie are what I gave them on the Audience Award ballot.