The Milwaukee Film Festival 2010

Viewed at MFF so far:
A Somewhat Gentle Man
Women Without Men
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Cold Weather
No One Knows About Persian Cats
William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
The Red Chapel
Last Train Home
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
OSS 117: Lost in Rio
Blue Valentine


The Milwaukee Film Festival 2010

2009's opening night

On a turbulent fall evening there’s a line going around the block leading into the Oriental Theater. I stroll in through the front door, bypassing them all, then insert myself directly between some bodies to claim my press pass. A corpulent negress next to me is appalled. The antechamber is a cacophony, the most crowded I’ve seen Milwaukee get outside of the State Fair and Summerfest. They’re serving Spotted Cow at the bar, and I realize that something special is happening here for all the Milwaukeeans.

Inside the enormous main Oriental Theater, which is lovely, the entire house is totally packed. Some backward anonymous male profile can be seen and heard jamming on a big old movie organ which echoes in the hangar-sized space. After an understandable 15 minute delay, a Milwaukee Film employee – I assume – takes the stage and delivers a cute introductory speech, and while I didn’t so much care, I must say he does a good job of riffing in a very casual way. I am surprised, however, as he proclaims that Milwaukee is the greatest city on Earth, and that in short order the Milwaukee Film Festival will be the greatest film festival on Earth. It’s like a father telling his son he’ll be President of the United States. If we Milwaukeeans are so secure in our artistic community, do we need such reassurances?

The movie is about to begin. The screen looks crisp and perfect. The pithy sponsor ads come up and it’s unfortunate but we’ve all accepted that such things cannot be avoided. But, I’m sorry Milwaukee Film, I am disappointed with the sponsor-title-presentation-introductory Opener thing. It is a bit embarassing. The Opener from 2009 was spare, light, very pleasant, and the modest digital titles didn’t make one think about the fact that he was looking at such things. I daresay it had a touch of austerity, opposed to 2010′s move towards commercialism. This year, well, it’s a damned quirky little short film (are there any others?) wholly reliant on superficial comedic writing, and which transparently showcases digital effects – with, btw, less precision than in 2009! I cringe knowing that I’ll be seeing this at least a dozen more times. The simplicity and modesty of last year’s opening is much preferred.

The opening film, Blue Valentine, was not for me, but it’s probably fine festival fare – as such things go. To read a more thorough and emotionally charged extrapolation, please see my review.

And despite my packaged tirade, I’m quite looking forward to rest of the festival – primarily Uncle Boonmee, Metropolis and Breathless, Women Without Men, No One Knows About Persian Cats, Katalin Varga, Vengeance (though I’m dubious), ‘The Complete’ Mesrine (which I pray doesn’t suck), The Red Chapel (produced by Zentropa!), and perhaps All That I Love. There’s a film called Cold Weather which looks pretty iffy, but was made by a man who sounds alarmingly like myself – despite being a card-carrying member of the Mumblecore “movement” (I don’t know if he actually carries a card for that). I was really hoping for Another Year, Enter the Void (which I’ll see on Sunday at Chicago’s Music Box), Certified Copy, Of Gods and Men, Promises Written in Water (that would’ve been outstanding), Essential Killing, Miral, I’m Still Here, Black Swan, and more. But, seriously, I’m sure at least a few of those will be debuting next year. I know how these things go. It’s just fine.

Breathless (50th Anniversary Restoration)

God, what can I say? This may have been the dozenth time I’ve seen Breathless, first time in the theater, which I won’t deny I felt required to do. I noticed a few things I had not picked up before, but mostly I expanded my understanding, as I have with each viewing, of Breathless in France in 1960. It’s perhaps the first film is that incestuously a film. Belmondo is so young I can hardly believe it. Godard’s confidence in his voice is admirable. I’ve heard complaints that fans lose interest when Godard “gets political,” which really just means, to them, after 1966. I was struck with how political he was from the start. Granted, the tone of Breathless matches that of Belmondo – intelligent, insouciant, arrogant and unscrupulous – but Godard’s criticism of capitalism, relatively dormant here, is definitely marked, and it all comes from America. Michel Poiccard is the first “entitled” character, the brat who grew up watching American films and now comments on the American image of itself in the 50’s, which is naturally quite ripe for parody. He will end in ruin – but what other choice is there? I need to see much more late Godard, but so far I’ve seen nothing more than Godard pronouncing problems. I don’t know if he has a clue of how to adapt to them (2010’s Filme Socialism could, who knows, very well be about just that).

I can’t help but think Godard is 100 times smarter than Truffaut for one reason – there’s a scene in Day for Night in which Truffaut, playing a film director, “finds his inspiration” by stealing pictures of Orson Welles that are outside a movie theater. It’s one of the least inspired scenes I’ve watched in a film. Not that Truffaut is inept (all the time). Godard’s equivalent is simply looking at Belmondo looking at Bogie. Truffaut never wanted to be cool, whereas here it seemed to be an obsession. Was Godard more than a modern hipster, in the right place? I’ve always been curious about just how intelligent Godard really is… in “Meetin’ WA,” his interviews with Woody Allen, I left distinctly unimpressed, Allen looking surprisingly more intelligent. Or is it just that somebody like Allen is more comfortable in his own skin, less obsessive over abstractions? I digress.

Every time I see Breathless it is more of a genre exercise than, perhaps, some sort of artistic experimentation. By the end, however, it’s so damn youthful. I won’t need to see it agian for 10 years. Oh – – – – the restoration looks exceptional. It’s great. See it 4 yrself.

Cinema’s first high-five? I challenge my expansive, dedicated readership to produce a high-five that precedes 1960.
(postscript: the answer is here)

A new favorite film.

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