Sunday, August 5, 2018

MIFF: Opening night not on opening night, and Oh Noe you didn't

It's my fifth MIFF but I'm still experiencing firsts.

Never previously had I seen the opening night film at the Melbourne International Film Festival. This year, I did.

I just didn't see it on opening night.

An encore screening of Paul Dano's Wildlife, which kicked off the festival on Thursday night and which my wife saw that night, was my opening film of a Saturday night double feature. I followed it with the latest gasp-worthy film from Gaspar Noe, Climax.

Wildlife actually represented a second first for me, as it was closed captioned for the hearing impaired. I haven't seen a film presented that way at the festival before -- I don't think I've ever seen a film presented that way, period. I'm not sure how many different films they give this treatment during MIFF, but it makes sense that the opening night film would be one of them. It was a bit distracting, of course -- your eye is trained to flick down to the bottom of the screen to glean information from the subtitles, even if you don't need that information -- but I got used to it eventually. I don't think it impacted my enjoyment of the film. Other things impacted my enjoyment of the film -- like, the quality of the film -- but more on that in a minute.

I'm not entirely clear on why this was selected for the hallowed position of festival opener, it being directed by an American and starring two other Americans (Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan). It does, however, also star Ed Oxenbould, a teenage actor who is indeed Australian. Wouldn't necessarily seem like enough to earn this plum status in the festival, but okay.

Oxenbould actually introduced the film, which was kind of cool, and gave me a little sense of that opening night razzmatazz. He was sticking around for a Q&A after the session.

I usually stay for the Q&A, if I have time and I like the film. But I had only 50 minutes between my two screenings, during which I had to grab some dinner. And, I did not like the film.

I do plan to review this, so I'll just say for now that Dano was fighting an uphill battle making a period piece set in 1960 about a family living in Montana. In order to make it distinctive, Dano needed to really do something unusual with that essentially bland material. Uh uh. It's a story of a kid (Oxenbould) trying to navigate the growing estrangement of his parents, but it makes the fatal mistake of focusing almost none of its energies on the kid himself. We know nothing about him. All we know is that he's really concerned about his parents separating and devotes almost all of his available bandwidth to fretting about them. Oh, and to being very nice. Among many unbelievable things in the film, it's hard to imagine why such a nice boy would have been the offspring of two assholes.

It's especially a shame as I love Dano as an actor, as written about at length here. His choices as an actor are much more interesting than his first choice as a director.

I cleansed my palette with some McDonald's (hope my wife isn't reading this) and then it was off to hope I could keep it down in a Gaspar Noe film.

Oh my.

Some context: I love two of the three Noe films I've seen, those being Irreversible and Enter the Void. I have not seen I Stand Alone and I think Love is just meh. Which is especially surprising given that "meh" is not the reaction you expect a Noe film to elicit. (Look, it has real sex and a part where a penis ejaculates at the camera, which was in 3D when people saw it in the theater. So it's still Noe. I still found it meh.)

Climax is in the same ballpark as Irreversible and Enter the Void in terms of quality.

I don't want to say too much about it. I will probably also review this because I just have to write about it. I've got a lot to say. But for those of you just innocently reading my blog who did not want a Climax review, I think it's best to advise you to go in cold.

I will say that the film contains some absolutely incredible dancing, as it is about a bunch of dancers. And by dancers I don't mean ballet or ballroom dancers, but breakdancers? hip hop dancers? I'm not sure the best way to refer to them. Anyway, they are genetic freaks, some of whom can contort their bodies and do crazy things with their arms, as though shoulders are just a suggestion rather than a limiting factor in their movement. And needless to say, probably, since it's Noe, much of this stuff is shot in one take and from a crazy angle.

I will also say that if you don't like Irreversible and Enter the Void, I don't think this is going to be the one to win you over.

Okay. With 40% of my MIFF viewing completed in just over 24 hours, I'm now off until Wednesday.

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