Oct 5, 2013

24FPS @ LFF 2013 Mini-Reviews

Dir: Rick Rosenthal
The new LFF programme divides films by a series of themed headings.  Drones comes under 'Thrill', but would probably be more suited to 'Debate', because that's what it revolves around.

A two-hander, Drones is set in a portakabin in the desert where Jack (Matt O'Leeary), an experienced drone pilot and Sue (Eloise Mumford), a new recruit he's training sit observing a suspected terrorist, waiting for the opportunity to kill him.  They observe that their target may soon be arriving home, but as more people arrive at the house Sue begins to get cold feet about their orders.

Drones is as of the moment as movies get, the debate about the ethics of the use of unmanned aircraft and the way that it can be see to turn war into a video game is very much a live one.  The film articulates both sides of the debate passionately, though it increasingly seems to take sides as the film goes on.

At times it's an engaging debate, rooted in character and in two exceptional leading performances, especially from O'Leary who has gone from being a child star to become an interesting and daring young actor.  Unfortunately the screenplay is also prone to passages of bludgeoning obviousness that feel like regurgitated talking points.  This is especially the case when other characters play a part in the drama, as the supporting performances are rather cartoony at times.

There is an inherent drama behind the debate, and the real time structure does make the film increasingly tense, ratcheting up the stakes minute by minute.  This tension, along with O'Leary and Mumford's performances, help the film overcome its clunky moments and director Rick Rosenthal's very basic lensing.  There may well be better films to be made about this issue, but Drones is tense, timely, and sure to spark interesting discussion.

Dir: Matt Wolf
Knowing my weakness for coming of age movies you're probably thinking 'was there ever a title more suited to Sam'?  You have a point, but unfortunately Matt Wolf's documentary on the evolution of the 'Teenager' in the 50 years leading up to the coining of that term is a mixed bag.

Most of the film is composed of archive footage, which is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand footage is well chosen, it's informative and often funny (especially as we get towards the 40's and clips from American educational and hygiene films) and the editing is great, skipping nimbly between ideas and clips.  The problem is that this approach can feel shallow, less a film than a mixtape.

The multiple voiceovers are similarly both a good and a bad thing.  They are all very nicely delivered, especially Jena Malone's as the American girl and I appreciate the idea behind them of giving a personal narrative to the film.  The problem is that these are clearly not personal narratives (as attested to by multiple writing credits and a lack of any sourcing for the narration) and that, in a documentary, undermines the desired effect.

Teenage tells many interesting stories, some of which could really benefit from more breathing room.  The story about a young British socialite in the twenties who wanted to be famous but ended up as one of the country's first young heroin addicts is a good example, a sad tale that is skipped over with unseemly haste.  However, the best (and simultaneously most disappointing) part of the film focuses on a group of young German people whose affection for Swing music led to them rejecting Hitler's philosophies, and ultimately to almost all of them being killed by the Nazis.  I never knew anything about this, and I would love to see a film really delve into this forgotten history.

With just 79 minutes to cover 50 years Teenage is often frustrating, even in its best moments.  It's well crafted and puts its thesis forward with conviction, but it's bitty, messy and never totally fulfilling.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears
Dir: Bruno Forzani / Helene Cattet
The second film from artists and giallo fans Forzani and Cattet is as odd and as esoteric as its title would seem to promise. Some will find it maddening, some will find it exhilarating.  The one thing I can say with some certainty is that the more film you have seen, the more points of reference you have, the more you are likely to get from this film.

The basic story appears simple; a man returns home from a business trip to find that his wife has vanished.  He and the Police begin to investigate and he begins to believe there is a killer living in his apartment building.  It's not that simple of course, because Forzani and Cattet filter this basic framework through an incredibly surreal series of sequences that make a nonsense of your aspiration to construct a timeline or to maintain a sense of what is real and what is not.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is not so much narrative as it is patchwork; a collection of influences stitched together in scenes that feel only loosely connected, often more like a collection of shorts than a feature film.  Usually I would count this as a flaw, but so much of this film is so inherently riveting from a purely visual standpoint that the narrative is less important than it might otherwise be.  Forzani and Cattet draw from throughout film history for their influences, but standout moments include a black and white sequence whose staccato motion calls to mind stop motion animation as it draws on Un Chien Andalou, German expressionism and film noir in a beautifully brutal series of images.    Of course there is also a great deal of influence from Italian horror directors, with a series of head stabbings and eye closeups that could come straight from Fulci and a bright, luridly colourful, lighting scheme straight out of Suspiria.

As exciting as this film can be I also found it frustrating at times.  I found myself craving a story more and more as it went on and Forzani and Cattet's imagery began to become repetitive (the endless returns to a particular door in the film's last half hour eventually became grating).  I also had the feeling that, ultimately, as beautiful and visceral and cool as it is, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears doesn't add up to much more than a collection of technically and visually thrilling set pieces.  It hits home as a piece of art, but it doesn't engage me on any other level than the visual.

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