Out of the
three years that I've been to the Locarno Int'l Film Festival,
my lasting regret has been that I'd never found the time to ride
the funicular cable car up the picturesque mountain landscape.
Oh well, I've been equally cursed this year. After keeping track
of the competition screenings, I had my eyeful at the Orson Welles
Retrospective that Festival Director, Irene Bignardi, mounted.
That dashed all my free time for mountainous leisure options.
Many of the Welles classics - The Trial, Macbeth - plus B-grade
acting roles - David and Goliath, Man in the Shadow - were too
tempting to miss.
retro was a difficult task as many films had disputing rights
holders. Because Welles was destroyed by the Hollywood studios,
he had to spend the rest of his life raising money wherever he
could find it - Spain, France, Austria, England, Italy and even
Iran and the former Yugoslavia. This is why so many foreign documentaries
are made on Welles and the retro had a wonderful collection of
them. Every country had their own favourite story about their
favourite son. Also remarkable were the collection of numerous
TV episodes that Welles either directed or appeared in, including
a cameo in I Love Lucy!
Welles regretted falling in love with film towards the end of
his life. He lamented that the medium was just too expensive and
had he stayed in theatre, he would have been more successful.
But like his Harry Lime character in The Third Man, he wouldn't
have chosen the latter route. Peacefulness would only have produced
a cuckoo clock.
the reliable retrospective, Locarno had its slew of world premieres.
But as world premieres go, there were many big name disappointments.
The Quay Brothers' The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes registered a
non-reading on the Richter scale. Nobuhiro Suwa's A Perfect Couple
suffered from too much composure while Iraqi expatriate director
Samir's Snow White was truly an unbelievable fairy tale.
Frei's The Giant Buddhas.
competition fared better. Li Hongqi's So Much Rice, which took
the NETPAC Award, is an absurdist meditation on the current mean
spirit that is taking root in China. The protagonist Mr Mao goes
to live with his friend in a small town. But each day he finds
common decency becoming uncommon. His friend abuses a woman who
gives herself romantically and sexually to him. His friend even
offers the woman to him. Mr Mao meets a youth who refuses to apologise
to an old man after causing an accident. In the end, he leaves
his friend, and wanders off carrying a sack of rice, a symbol
perhaps of China today with enough to eat but nothing to believe
in. Shot in a minimalist style to produce a sense of alienation,
the theatrical look of the film suggests Li's literary background
as a published author and poet. The cameo by rocker Zuzhou Zuxiao
(perhaps this generation's Cui Jian) gives the soundtrack a commentary
stunning work in the video competition was Mohammad Shirvani's
President Mir Qanbar, a documentary of Mir Qanbar, a 75-year-old
Iranian living in a small village, who campaigns for his election
as president of Iran. We see him riding to rural villages, meeting
people and handing out pamphlets (not more than three copies per
town as he can't afford it). In a key scene, he quotes Ayatollah
Khomeini as saying that the Iranian people must believe that they
can rule the country. It's one of the strangest twists to the
film because it is a truly democratic signifier, one that dismisses
the meritocratic demands for academic and professional qualifications.
Of course, the film is a critique to Iran's current state, with
Mir Qanbar representing the little voice that is often shut out.
Shirvani directs with a post-modern pop sensibility yet there
is a sense of distance and space in his composition. His work
can only get more interesting.
was the latest edition of the Jeonju Film Festival's Digital Short
Films by Three Filmmakers. The first has Apichatpong Weerasethakul's
Worldly Desires, which works as a sort of coda to last year's
Tropical Malady. We see a film crew shooting a music video and
a melodrama in the forest. It's a series of contradictions that
he puts forward, the natural environment visited by unnatural
drama. It's playful, irreverent and a nice fun piece. Shinya Tsukamoto's
Haze follows with a tale of a man escaping an unknown prison.
Typical of Tsukamoto's work, Haze is both punishing and painful,
the images brutal and horrifying. At the end of it, you find yourself
applauding out of sheer relief. Finally, there is Song Il-gon's
Magicians, about members of a rock band who meet to share memories
three years after their guitarist committed suicide. Going backwards
and forwards through time with a slightly melancholic mood, the
film drowns in its own lack of tension.
winner of the Video Competition was Brilliante Mendoza's Masahista
(The Masseur). Highlighting the lives of workers in a Filipino
gay massage parlour, the film uses extensive flashbacks to show
how the protagonist is forced into his current occupation through
poverty. It also reveals how heterosexual men take on a bisexual
role just to get a job. Mendoza makes the best of a script which
doesn't flesh out (no pun intended) the characters enough, through
a structure of flashbacks.
in the Filmmakers of the Present section, Christian Frei's The
Giant Buddhas documents the monumental efforts to reconstruct
the giant Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which were destroyed
by the Taliban in 2001, six months before the attack on the Twin
Towers in New York. He narrates how the Taliban reacted to UN
sanctions by destroying the Buddhas. Then he shows how UNESCO
is trying desperately to rebuild the monument and, in the process,
farmers who used to live in the ruins have been forced to relocate
to a more remote area. The film is full of historical and religious
detail including a trip to China to visit the giant Buddha there
and its relationship with the Bamiyan Buddhas. Finally, there
is the irony, that two monuments were destroyed - the Bamiyan
Buddhas and the World Trade Centre - two symbols of the spiritual
and material world.