Partisan, The Fool, Out of the Mist, Results: the festival continues apace

by David Larsen / 22 July, 2015
I don't understand how Scheherazade survived the chaffinch story. In all of world literature, she's the great master of the cliffhanger: every night she tells the king a story so interesting that he puts off her execution another day in order to hear the next bit. The chaffinch story is the final one in Miguel Gomes's six hour, three film, ten chapter anthology series Arabian Nights, and by the end of it the only things keeping me in my seat were rabid completism, and curiosity as to how many people would walk out. (Only a dozen or so.) Maybe the king slept through it.

The maddening thing about this film is that it's so full of brilliant glints and so urgently of-the-moment... and yet so deadening overall. The motivating conceit is to throw together stories showing Portugal in the wake of the crushing IMF-imposed austerity measures, stories from "the untidy world". Gomes uses a vast range of techniques and modes, jumbling documentary and magic realism, comedy and tragedy, the absurd, the unlikely... the film is what you'd call a rich text. It's also a splendid metaphor for a film festival, being a kaleidoscope of differing solutions to the various problems of cinematic storytelling; aside from the little detail that in a festival - certainly in this one - most of the solutions on display tend to be ones that work.

Some of Gomes's stories are scintillating and tightly structured. Some of them just drag on, and the story about the chaffinchs just... lasts... for... ever. This is by far the most ambitious thing I've seen in the opening days of this festival, and its best moments are so very good. But I can't recommend it. If you want a taste, go for Part Two. (In its strongest story, "Tears of the Judge", a judge's attempt to uncover the root of a crime turns into an endlessly ramifying succession of stories within stories, with every perpetrator able to point to some other perpetrator's motivating action, so that the buck never stops passing, and everyone in the story is at once innocent and guilty. Europe's economic crisis in a TARDIS-deep nutshell. It's at once enrapturing and infuriating, because it shows you what Gomes can achieve when he stops twiddling his thumbs).

But the festival-as-anthology metaphor: it's really working for me. Also the idea of lots of stories in conversation with each other. As I sat down for the final Arabian Nights yesterday, a friend was just settling into his seat in the row in front of me - "You were behind me at Pigeon Sits On A Branch, is this some weird stalking thing?" - and an older guy came over to shake my hand and remind me that we'd sat next to each other at Sherpa on Monday. We all discussed highlights and lowlights.

Sherpa
Sherpa


My Sherpa guy was one of the ones who walked out of Arabian Nights; but we both felt Sherpa was a highlight. After the Monday screening there was a Q&A with Metro editor Simon Wilson and the film's producer, Bridget Ikin, where she explained how their film crew came to be on site at Everest Base Camp when the worst disaster in the mountain's history occurred last year, a tragedy which laid bare the fracture lines in the relationship between European climbing companies and the Sherpas who make Everest expeditions possible. The film is visually stunning, but its great achievement is to show how people of good will can completely fail to comprehend the cultural ground they're standing on. Just essential viewing.

I recognise this moment: this is the moment where I start wanting to describe every film I've seen in the last two days, and I'm due at today's first film in 65 minutes. Okay, Arabian Nights and Sherpa done, four to go: some speed reviewing.

Partisan
Partisan


Partisan: hauntingly well shot, well written and well acted drama about cult programming and child assassins, managing the difficult feat of making an imaginary community in an unspecified country feel at once specific and as though it could be anywhere in the world. One of those films with intelligent eyes: every camera positioning choice feels alive in ways that are hard to define but impossible to miss.

The Fool
The Fool


The Fool: heavy-handed and finally boring, taking the same general subject matter as last year's Leviathan - Russian offical corruption, and the doomed quest of an everyman figure to make the system work ther way it should - and hammering it so hard it shatters.

Out of the Mist
Out of the Mist


Out of the Mist: Tim Wong's alternative history of New Zealand cinema is densely argued to a fault. (The eloquent narration makes so many heavily charged assertions that grappling with any one of them becomes difficult; they fly at you hard and fast.) But there are so many interesting films mentioned here - I hadn't heard of at least a third of them - all with excerpts so that you can get a sense of their style, and the ideas in play are so vital. Multiple viewings recommended.

Results
Results


Results: less wildly bizarre than Andrew Bujalski's last comedy, Computer Chess, but managing a similar feat in going into a particular subculture - the gym as self-improvement cult - and twisting its language out of shape in quietly hilarious ways.
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