MFF 2012 DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master

COMPLETE MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 COVERAGE

DAY ONE: Starbuck – Opening Night Party
DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S
DAY THREE: Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
DAY FOUR: Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC
DAY FIVE: Pink Ribbons, Inc. – 11 Flowers – How to Survive a Plague
DAY SIX: Romancing in Thin Air – Elena – The Imposter
DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life
DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show
DAY NINE: Las Acacias – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman
DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master
DAY TWELVE: Mourning – As Goes Janesville – Blackmail – The Ambassador
DAY THIRTEEN: The Invisible War – Klown
DAY FOURTEEN: Old Dog – Little Red – Five Star Existence
DAY FIFTEEN: The Sessions – Detropia

10-7 Su
11/15

Tonight’s single-showing Spotlight presentation will be the debut film of Dustin Hoffman, 75 years young, the film adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play Quartet. It takes place on an appointed old British estate which has been turned into a geriatric home for aged musicians of all flavors and focuses on four former opera stars whose upcoming annual gala performance, in Sandler-esque plotting fashion, must raise enough money to keep the institution from closing. The lecherous, ribald antics of Billy Connolly (welcome) and drolly smart asides of Tom Courtenay (very welcome) are interrupted by the appearance of a former super-diva played by Maggie Smith (welcome, welcome), Courtenay’s once flame, who is dragged into the gala performance of a quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto – after 80 minutes of wounded dignity, reconciliation, and snappy Hawksian dialogue (mostly right at the beginning). There’s also the home’s chief doctor played by Sheridan Smith (this is what Lindsay Lohan would look like if she were a real person) and the institute’s dopey director played by Michael Gambon – who, I realized, I may have always seen play an unreasonable authority figure. Clearly he makes this persona work, but must he be typified as such? Surely he has more range. It is the generous talent in front of the camera which makes Quartet endurable, often enjoyable, in that very light popcorn way. It is foreseeable that best actor and supporting actor noms will crop up (is there any other point to such an exercise?) particularly for Maggie and Billy, who make the film. The secondary cast is largely composed of former opera stars of, I would imagine, notoriety.

The Oriental Theater’s main house (1056 capacity) is again packed to the brim, teeming with viewers – a good portion of whom, I learn, starred in or worked on the film, a significant Milwaukee production. Before the film starts, director Terry Green takes the stage for a few words. I had seen Mr. Green speak – extensively – earlier in the day at the somewhat terrifying Financing Your Film panel (where I also fortuitously learned… …wait for it… Shane Carruth has finished his next feature, A Topiary! He lives!). Mr. Green inspired suspicion in this viewer from nearly the outset, however, and this gut uncertainty would prove accurate after sampling Green’s wares that evening. Before the screening begins Green insists to the audience that the film is “yours” and I would retrospectively muse that this could perhaps have been an effort at absolution… oh, I’m just too cruel.

I’m not going to criticize the film at length, like Dead Weight, because too many locals are involved and I don’t wish to ostracize myself, and such films need all the good press they can get – not my press. So I’ll just say that from the second it started I was instantly filled with dubiety that never subsided, largely due to the positively bombastic scoring which runs through the entire film, proves highly distracting and is, more importantly, utterly fucking useless; scoring can typically be irritating because it will emotionally lead its audience, but in this case I’ll be damned if I have any idea what feeling this gloomy dissonance is meant to inspire. No God No Master is a film which is desperate to be as bankably Hollywood as it can be and I have no indication that Mr. Green speaks the language of cinema. At all. Student films may be unendurable but at least film students have a basic fluency. Can Strathairn save the day? Not with one note which is stretched thin like silly putty. The story? If you can follow it. Compare the film to, say, Miller’s Crossing and you’ll begin to understand what I mean. Once we eventually fade to black there are five pages of epiloguic title cards… but it does, in fact, end.

written by David Ashley

Seen so far:
Starbuck
Ethel
Come As You Are
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
V/H/S
Sans Soleil
Dead Weight
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Inland Empire
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
11 Flowers
How to Survive a Plague
Romancing in Thin Air
Elena
The Imposter
5 Broken Cameras
Goodbye
High Tech, Low Life
Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Off White Lies
The Milwaukee Show
Las Acacias
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Policeman
Quartet
No God No Master

Ranked:
Sans Soleil
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Inland Empire
Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Goodbye
Elena
5 Broken Cameras
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Policeman
Las Acacias
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
11 Flowers
Ethel
How to Survive a Plague
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
High Tech, Low Life
Come As You Are
Off White Lies
V/H/S
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
The Imposter
Quartet
Starbuck
Romancing in Thin Air
No God No Master
Dead Weight

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