Friday, August 12, 2016

Graduating MIFF

If you want to look at MIFF 2016 as a kind of university -- and I don't know why you would except for the purposes of my current metaphor -- then it's time for me to graduate.

No better way to do that than with a final film called Graduation.

That was the second film of Wednesday's double feature and my final for 2016.

I ended up seeing 11 films, not the 12 I had once expected. I had actually originally expected to see ten, but finding extra tickets here and there put me in line to see two more: The Lure, which I saw (and loved) last Friday night, and Suntan, which was to be my final film on the final full day of the festival this Saturday (tomorrow) night.

I didn't need to see either of those -- ten was already twice the total I'd seen in any other MIFF -- but once I'd gotten it in my mind that I'd be seeing them, I got a bit sad when the opportunity to see the last one dropped off the table. My wife had mistaken the number of tickets that were still remaining on her minipass, so we didn't actually need to spend one more for me to see the Greek film Suntan this Saturday.

The reason that was kind of unsatisfying is that a) there were still three full days of the festival remaining, and one half day, when I saw my last film, and b) I didn't really realize at the time it would be my last film, so I didn't have the chance to appreciate it as such. (Especially since I found it pretty disappointing, but more on that in a moment.)

I did, however, recognize it could be my last film -- I didn't yet have the Suntan tickets, though at the time I thought it was just a matter of going to the MIFF website to purchase them -- so after the double feature on Wednesday I did pay a visit to the Blackhearts Club, just to see how they'd done it up in 2016.

This club -- not always called the Blackhearts Club, but called that this year -- is a pop-up festival lounge in the ground floor of The Forum Theatre on Flinders Street. The Forum is where I had seen three films so far this year -- Toni Erdmann, After the Storm, and Wednesday night's Graduation -- but only part of it is devoted to screening movies. The smaller part, actually. This used to be a massive venue that could seat quite a large number of people to watch either a movie or a live musical act. Nowadays, they've divided it into two parts, so the downstairs still is set up as a performance space with a floor that can take temporary seating, then tables and booths sloping upward toward the back of the theater, in kind of that old-school configuration you see in movies like Goodfellas. The upstairs is a proper smaller screening room, though "smaller" is relative, as it still does seat several hundred people. The whole building is ornate and gorgeous and any opportunity to set foot in it is one I cherish.

On a random Wednesday during the festival, though, the Blackhearts Club was not particularly lively. They had some Dean Martin playing rather than a live act or a DJ, and though the ambiance was pretty nice -- sophisticated tables set up with some classy accoutrements and other martini-inspired atmosphere -- I was one of about only 30 or 40 people spread through the whole space. Feeling like I had to do something to appreciate this part of the festival, I bought a beer and read things on my phone while I drank it. Seemed a bit symbolic of the sadness of the end of the festival, even though I didn't know at that point that my 2016 festival was over. (I'd actually tried to go to a hoppin' version of the Blackhearts Club on Saturday night, to wile away the 40 minutes between the end of my 11:30 movie and a 1:54 a.m. train back to my house, but the party that night was not open to the public, the bastards.)

So, these movies.

I really liked Paterson, Jim Jarmusch's new film, which started out the night at the Comedy Theatre on Exhibition. Since I've got a review of it up that I'm pretty happy with, I'll just point you to that and move on, especially since I've got some wrap-up stuff I want to do at the end of this post.

Graduation was more problematic for me, possibly because my expectations were impossibly high. Romanian master Cristian Mungiu is a hard act to follow, even if he's the one following it. His previous two films were 2012's Beyond the Hills and 2007's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Both were five-star movies for me, and both could have been my #1 movie in the year they were released (or the next year, since they didn't come out in theaters where I could see them until the next year -- Beyond actually did take top honors in 2013, but 4 Months had to settle for #2 in 2008, though I think I like it better).

Well, this is still definitely a Cristian Mungiu movie -- it's got the long takes, it's got some of the mise en scene, it's got the moral ambiguity and the difficulty of assigning blame among a bunch of parties who display varying degrees of guilt. But it wasn't compelling, and I think the subject matter was the problem. The movie is about a series of moral compromises, cheats and favors related to a girl trying to get the grades to get a scholarship to a university in England and a man who can indirectly help her who needs to move up the list waiting for a replacement liver. It does have a fair amount to say about the current state of Romania (i.e. not good) and what steps may need to be taken to escape it, but I just never much cared about any of the characters and found myself falling asleep near the end of a long running time. I liked it, but only marginally.


There was a funny additional reason I wanted to see Suntan: I had a title all ready to go for the blog post that would have accompanied it. It would have been "MIFF: Ending in an N."

Perfect, right?

Only if you know what I'm talking about. Which I would have explained in the post.

See, something very weird happened with the movies I selected this year, totally randomly: Eight of the 11 titles ended with the letter N. Okay, seven, but the eighth ended with an N sound. If I had seen Suntan, it would have been nine of 12.

Here they are, in the order I saw them:

The Salesman
Certain Women
Toni Erdmann
Seoul Station

I noticed it happening as I went along, but it played no role in any of my decisions on which tickets to buy. Not even Suntan, the one that never transpired. Only After the Storm, The Lure and I, Olga Hepnarova deviated from the pattern.

I just think it's funny.

I suppose I could have used that title for this post, but the title Graduation already gave me other good titling possibilities.

One final piece of MIFF business. Since I saw so many films, I thought it was worthwhile to rank them. So here is my ranking for the films I saw this year at MIFF, most of which were pretty wonderful:

1) Toni Erdmann
2) Seoul Station
3) After the Storm
4) The Lure
5) Paterson
6) The Salesman
7) Certain Women
8) Christine
9) Graduation
10) Baskin
11) I, Olga Hepnarova

And now, at long last, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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