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Film Festival Day 13, 07/08/2014

The top row of the “what bus is coming when” panel isn’t working at the Courtney Place bus-stop, which initially meant that I was pleasantly surprised by unexpected buses a couple of times, but now means I look at my phone rather than rely on the panel, which presumably isn’t what they intended.  It’s a fault that’s not entirely obvious when looking at the panel, which may be why it’s persisted for weeks.  I’m not sure who to tell, but it’s meant that I’ve been able to explain the situation to a few people who’ve looked worried, and occasionally have a chat; but I’d prefer working public infrastructure over the chance to be sociable, generally.

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Is it worthwhile to try and commemorate people who are forgotten? If the only people who’ll hear the eulogy are the priest giving it, and the council officer who wrote it (based on the few clues he was able to glean from the deceased person’s flat), is there any point?  If no-one noticed that a person died apart from the landlord, how much effort should you put into trying to find someone to care?

In Still Life, council worker John May believes in making every effort, and has spent 22 years trying to find the next of kin who have passed away, and making sure those who have nobody are treated decently; judging from his neat but spare apartment and regular dinner of tinned tuna, toast, and an apple, that’s all he does.  But his younger, smarmier boss, who has been with the borough council for two months, has decided that John spends to much effort, takes too much time, and pays for too many funerals; so to save money, his position has been amalgamated with a similar role in a neighbouring council, where his peer is much happier to dump the ashes of the unknown in bulk, and to dispose of cases quickly.  John has a few days to complete his last assignment, and then he is “moving on to new challenges”, as his boss puts it.

This could have easily been a redemption story, a story of transformation where he meets a manic pixie dream girl and breaks out of his middle class, middle age shell while learning life is for the living, or some such self-involved rot. It is not that story, and I’m really glad that it’s not.

Instead, it’s a affirmation story — that doing your job as well as you can is worthwhile, that caring about people is the right thing to do, and that public service is a real thing, and a good one.  And that quiet people are still important, and don’t need to become loud people to be valuable.

I liked how they handled the ending, and I liked the movie.  I might see if I can persuade C to watch it.

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At Berkley was a four hours and change documentary in the no-narration, no-interview style.

It felt too long.

I mean, it didn’t waste the time, exactly – it showed a wide cross-section of Berkley, from the classrooms to the staff meetings to the campus life, including a largely incoherent fee protest and the staff’s response. But there’s a reason you can’t just film a lecture and stick on the web if you want people to actually watch it – we’re much more tolerant of a slower pace in person.

I feel like I got some interesting insights into how Berkley differs from my university experience, and some of the snippets of lectures and behind-the-scenes minutiae were the sorts of things that I enjoy seeing. But this film, as these sort of documentaries tend to be, was too long.

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Unnatural History, the short that played first, was a fairly well done unsettling-doco-with-found-footage.  I thought that the fragments in other formats worked well, with the typical photos-that-drift-across-the-screen-and-change-zoom giving it the appropriate feel, and the video artefacts and grain giving it the appropriate aged effect.  But I’m torn, since I’m not sure that what they were going for ever works.  What I mean is, you can either go full National Geographic/History Channel “something weird happened”, in which case the documentary makers will try to explain it properly; or you can have the fake doco be about something tangential, and imply that the makers don’t realize the horror that they’ve uncovered.  The latter allows you to do tricks like the beginning of Marble Hornets, where the viewer notices things that the editor/filmmaker apparently didn’t.   I don’t think either approach is easy to do well, but they found an excellent setting to do it — the Rangipo desert looks suitably ominous.  In conclusion, it didn’t quite work, but it was close.

Moving on, the second doppelgänger film that I saw, Enemy, was much more straightforward than The Double — no byzantine bureaucracy or zeerust.  However, there is a underlying feeling of unease,  and the suggestion of shared dreams between the minor actor and history professor, and occasional flashes of the super-weird that implies that something else may be going on.  There’s a strong suggestion that the actor is involved in some sort of weird club, and I’m not sure why having a double makes you freaked out and hostile… although that is part of the plot of one of the episodes of Welcome to Night Vale, so who knows.

I keep on wanting to say that the professor is nicer, but that is not true — from what we see, he’s merely the more diffident. I liked it well enough, but not enough that I can imagine recommending it to anyone.

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The short Eloise was well acted, well dressed, had a cool location, and a mediocre script that set up something that seemed interesting, but failed to pay off.  It’s possible that it was too smart for me, or that I missed something vital, but I basically didn’t feel anything much at the end.

The Babadook gave me goosebumps several times.  Part of it was how easy it was to see the whole story as being a simple psychological tale — mother who loses her husband, finds lack of sleep and support coupled with a child with behavior issues driving her too far.  But they do a good job with the supernatural too, with a super-creepy children’s pop-up book, and while they’re not shy about showing the monster, they also do a good job of merely hinting at him when that’s more appropriate.  And a nice thing about the child is how determined he is to fight back, to the best of his abilities, while still wanting to save his mother.  And it’s still possible, even at the end, to read the movie as ambiguous.

The son is good for his age, though certainly not flawless; the mother is very good.  I enjoyed it a lot, and will never suggest that C watches it, since it was properly scary.

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