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Film Festival Day 4, 29/07/2013

Not sure of a theme today?  Maybe… families?  The ones you get born with, and the ones that you choose for yourself, for good or ill?

 Film #15: The Rocket

Set in Laos, it was a fairly simple story – in the main character’s hill tribe they believe that twins are unlucky (or more specifically, one is blessed, and one is cursed); he brother is born dead, but his grandmother has to be persuaded not to make sure by killing him. After a series of unfortunate events, the boy ends up needing to build a record-breaking rocket to win enough money to buy the family a house and land.

Really, really good performances from the child actors, and some excellent supporting cast. And the reason the explosions of old ordinance look so impressive is that they’re real – the film-makers conceived of the film while making a documentary about kids selling scrap from the left-over bombs that are scattered throughout the country, and were able to reuse some of the footage.

The film-makers where there, and talked about the issues that they faced working with a trilingual crew (Laos, Thai and Australian), and that they’d set up a scholarship for the two kids until they finish secondary school. Not, they hastened to add, from the profits of the film… since, like most independent films, they don’t expect to make their money back.

I enjoyed it.

Film #16: Ginger and Rosa

The Cuban missile crisis is looming, and Ginger is worried about everyone dying in a nuclear armageddon, while her best friend Rosa is more interested in snogging boys. Ginger’s parents, meanwhile, are splitting up, with her father proclaiming the need to ignore convention and follow what he thinks is right – a sentiment that should always be closely examined if it happens to mean that you get to abandon responsibilities and sleep with your students. Lots to like about this, including a really nice gay couple that just weren’t a big deal, and a strong feeling for the time.

I remember someone a few years older than me talking about having nightmares about nuclear war, and I’m really glad that it didn’t seem as pressing to me.

I wasn’t that excited about the adolescent poetry, but I thought that the film was good.

Film #17: The Act of Killing

This was a weirdly candid film, and not just about the Indonesian Communist purges that happened fifty years ago. One of the people in the film running for a political position openly talks about how much money he’d be able to extort if he got elected, while another dismisses his chances because he doesn’t have any money to bribe the voters. We follow gangsters around as they shake down ethnically Chinese traders, and hear an old gangster laughing about commiting horrific acts. A bright-eyed young woman interviews those who killed, chirping brightly about their service to the country, and encouraging the paramilitary in pink and black cammo the studio audience to applaud; and important officials talk about how the country needs gangsters, and repeats the mantra (heard throughout the film) that their word for gangster comes from the phrase “free man”.

And the main focus of the film is elderly grandfather who grins and plays with his grandchildren and enthuses about American cinema; in once of his first scenes, he slowly makes his way up the stairs to the roof of a building, and talks about how the blood got too smelly when they beat people to death up here, so they developed a very clean method with a bit of wire tied to a post and wrapped around their neck. And then he shows the camera, with the help of a grinning friend, the mechanics of how it all worked, and then talks about how he’d go out and dance in the nightclubs, and shuffles his way through a few moves.

As the film moves on, we see the film within a film that’s granting the movie-makers this access – re-enactments of typical events of the time, done in a weird, theatrical, self-aggrandising way, with sets, props, and dancing girls. We see also see a few snippets of the anti-Communist propaganda film that schoolchildren were made to watch in order to make sure they hated Communists properly. And as the film moves forward, we see various different reactions; those who deny they knew what was going on, those who seem to miss the rape and torture, and even those who say that what they did was wrong, and that the anti-Communist propaganda was nonsense – but that they refuse to feel guilty, because they’ve decided not to. And we get to see the main person we focus on move slowly from vague unease to unwilling empathy with the thousand or so people that he killed, in part by playing one of them as a role.

There is a lot that is really hard to watch about this film. The fact that these people have never even been told that what they did was wrong, that they still feel proud of it is hard to accept. I’m glad that I saw the film, but it was hard watching it at times.

A lot of the credits said “Anonymous”. I hope that those who helped make the film possible don’t get in trouble over it.

Film #18: Mistaken For Strangers

This isn’t really a film about the indie rock band The National. Instead, it’s much more about how you (as a film-maker) deal with the fact that your brother(as a rock-star who has invited you along as a roadie) is much more successful than you are.

I don’t really like the default Jack Black character – the irresponsible guy who wants to party and rock out, who’s a little insecure and easily distracted, and who annoys people trying to do their job by focusing on something irrelevant instead of what they’ve promised to do. And that’s what confuses me about the brother – in the film, that’s exactly who he comes across as. But he’s the one editing the film, so why make himself look bad? Why document his own screw-ups? And how does that person on the screen make this well-made, pretty engaging movie?

Film #19: Outrage Beyond

Ah. A simple old-fashioned overly-complicated Asian gangster movie, with slightly exaggerated characters, convoluted plots, honour, betrayal, trickery, revenge, and plenty of violence.

I enjoyed the fact that you had to work a little to keep track of who was betraying whom, and while some of the characterization was a bit pantomime, it meant that the action right in front of you tended to be easy to follow. I enjoyed it, but it definitely wouldn’t be for everyone.

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