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Film Festival Day 15, 08/08/2014

I’m writing this just as I’m about to run out the door for my last day of the festival.  Happy 40th birthday, Blair, Paul & Dee!

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The Wonders is about a family (mother, father, 4 girls, and a woman staying with them) who are running a small embattled family farm and apiary. The father is abrupt, authoritarian and suspicious; while he clearly loves his daughters (and relies on the eldest more than he realises), he is teased by his neighbours and friends about the fact that he has no sons, something that clearly preys on his mind, and almost certainly one of the factors in his decision to take in a boy who is heading to a juvenile home if he doesn’t shape up.

This boy is no wise-cracking teen; he shies away from any touch, and says as little as possible. The eldest daughter is frustrated by the way the other girls shirk work at any opportunity, and the fact that her father is trying to get this outsider to take her place, and that he refuses to consider entering into a competition that could win them money that they need to continue.  But even there, she is not some precocious spokesperson for the writer; she’s just a kid.

The obvious artifice of the TV show (with its faux-Etruscan costumed contestants) contrasts with the gritty reality of the farming life it is supposedly celebrating, where even in a medical emergency the real disaster is if no-one remembered to change the buckets that are catching the honey.

Ultimately, the story isn’t big.  But I’m not sure it needed to be.  I don’t have any need to rematch it, but I’m not sad I did.

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Going out with rock stars seems like a losing proposition, especially in the sixties and seventies. Jimi: All Is By My Side does not present Jimi Hendrix as a saint or a villain; he seems smart, but not always able to make the smart choice. And charming and mellow, but with flashes of violence — and jealousy, even though he did not treat the women in his life as well as he appeared to expect to be treated.  It touches on the racism that he experienced in Britain, and the way that some of the science fiction of the time influenced his philosophy… I hadn’t realized that the “Star Child” idea was bubbling away in music well before the whole P-Funk mythology (as in, for example, “Mothership Connection (Star Child)”).

The film finishes with Hendrix getting on the plane back to the States, still not sure whether he’ll be able to translate his talent into long-term success. I don’t know enough about his actual story to know how closely they stuck to the facts, but it was a story that felt like a real life had at least been waved in its general direction.

It was good, and people were good in it. I enjoyed it.

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In another movie about memory and loss of person, because I apparently enjoy being made sad, First Cousin Once Removed was a set of interviews carried out over many years with and about poet and translator Edwin Honig, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  He doesn’t remember people, and requires some prompting to remember events and people from pictures (when he remembers them at all), but he still seems to be able to speak in epigrams and rhymes.

We get to know the people he’s forgotten, and there is an image of a man who is brilliant, but who does not seem to find it easy to be kind.  He remarried after his first wife died, and adopted two boys as babies; his wife left him with the kids, and one of the sons is still estranged, even though the man he disliked has all but disappeared.

The flashes of humour and insight make the man’s state even sadder.  But I guess that it also shows some hope — that there’s things going on inside, however sporadically. I think I’m going to want to mull this film over for a while before I decide how I feel.

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Continuing this cheery theme, The Inheritance is a documentary about Huntington’s disease, made by someone who has inherited the disorder from her mother; she and her two brothers are positive and asymptomatic, but her mother has been suffering from symptoms for some time.

On the hierarchy of fears, loss/change of personality due to illness may rank even higher than loss of memory.  And while everyone knows that we’re all going to die eventually, and grow old if we’re lucky, I think it’s the knowledge that it will come earlier than normal, and that it will affect those who love you so much, and that you’ll become a distorted shadow of yourself and a burden that makes the idea of having such a diagnosis so overwhelming.

This documentary is certainly not the most polished that I’ve seen, but it is probably one of the most personal. And it manages to be informative as well as very human – the issues that the film-makers are dealing with get screen time, but not to the exclusion of actually useful information, or the stories of other people.

I thought that this film was not only good, but useful.  I hope it gets a small screen appearance at some point, since it’s something that it would be good for more people to see.

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Snowpiercer is a lot more violent and dark than I expected. In some ways, it reminded me of The Fifth Element, in that you have to accept that some things are not going to make a lick of sense from an engineering point of view, because they are trying to present more of an emotional truth than a technical one.  And there are times where it looks like a comic book brought to life – in fact, I’m sure some shots were set up to replicate a frame of the comic it was based on (based on the way things were arranged in the frame).

The taciturn hero turns out to have good reasons to reject the hero-worship of one of his friends, and there were a number of excellent actors getting to have fun in this film — Tilda Swinton with fake teeth and a plummy accent berating the second-class passengers to know their place, and her obvious devotion to the weird semi-religion of the train was very enjoyable to watch.  And there’s a recurring theme of losing arms, and of hidden plans.

Even though I mention the “don’t get hung up about how the tracks are maintained” thing, I have to admit that there were times I couldn’t help but wince at the resources that they were needlessly wasting, given that there was nowhere to replace many of the things that they were destroying — this is especially true at the end.  But that’s just the resource management game-player in me.  And the disgust of some of the characters at the source of the protein in their protein bars made me think about how culturally specific food taboos are, and of Japanese kids roasting grasshoppers.  And when someone’s clairvoyance is introduced, I found it weird how it was treated at the level of “hey, you know kung fu!” rather than at the “hey, you’re an alien!” kind of surprise

It was full of action, fights, and cool looking shots.  And there were lots of nice details, like the translation discs so that those who only spoke Korean (or English) could communicate with each other.  But it is a lot darker than you might expect from the slightly stylized sets. I liked it, but I might need a while before I watch it again.

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