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Rotterdam 2012

A roundup of reviews, impressions and more from this year's edition.
The DailyAce Attorney

We have a report or two from the International Film Festival Rotterdam on the way, so this'll be something of a supplementary roundup, collecting reviews, impressions and so on from the festival that runs through Sunday. The first main event would have to be the world premiere of the film Takashi Miike is now calling Ace Attorney. The IFFR has posted a video record of Gawie Keyser's "Big Talk" with Miike that took place on Saturday. The introduction's in Dutch, and it's followed by a trailer with English subtitles (much longer, too, than the first trailer) and the conversation itself is a mingling of questions in English and answers in Japanese with Dutch subtitles. Miike obsessives, though, will be able to sort out what's being said.

"The IFFR and Miike have been friendly towards each other ever since Audition had a few legendary screenings over here back in 2000, and it was a very odd year when there wasn't a Miike film during the last decade," writes Ard Vijn at Twitch. Ace Attorney is, of course, "an adaptation of a very popular string of courtroom-based adventure videogames. And unlike a lot of his other output, this one is squarely aimed at mainstream audiences…. The first press screening earlier in the week left many reviewers dissatisfied, some angry even, and there were people saying the film was disastrously crap. Yet at the paying public's World Premiere, the atmosphere was very different. The crowd ate it up, gamers and non-gamers alike." When Ard Vijn wrote his enthusiastic endorsement of the film on Saturday, it was in "the top 10 of the audience awards list with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5, which is very high indeed."

[Update, 2/4: At the Playlist, Brandon Harris finds Ace to be "consistently stylish, frequently corny and always watchable, even as its inspired passages flame out long before its 130 minute plus running time comes to a close; like much of Miike's big budget work, it is significantly overlong, with flights of fancy that wear thin rather quickly."

Update, 2/11: Ard Vijn talks with Miike for Twitch.]

"Colorful, funny and thoroughly entertaining," finds Screen's Mark Adams. More from the IFFR itself. Adams also reviews the festival opener, the "thought-provoking crime drama directed with control and style by writer/director Lucas Belvaux, 38 Witnesses (38 Témoins)," and the Serbian film Clip (Klip), which "will court controversy due to its young teenage cast and sequences of highly explicit sex acts…. Of course, teenage angst is a subject matter much beloved of filmmakers, but writer/director Maja Milos shows a lot of courage with this bleak and harsh story of teenage self-destruction, with the sense of hopelessness amongst the young generation in Serbia the backdrop." At Cineuropa, Boyd van Hoeij notes that, as the 14-year-old Jasna, Isidora Simijonovic delivers "a knock-out performance." [Update, 2/1: Wendy Mitchell interviews Milos for Screen.]

The Option

Aaron Cutler's filed a first review from Signals: The Mouth of Garbage (more), which the IFFR calls "a retrospective of controversial Brazilian trash, pulp and avant-garde films all with the notorious red light district of Boca do Lixo as their birthplace." Aaron: "Many were made far from any studio system, quick (two weeks of shooting or less) and cheap ($50,000 or less), using nonprofessional actors, found locations, and large chunks of improvised dialogue. They often punched both the government and commercial cinema in the nose by telling acidically funny stories out of sequence, with odd camera angles and abrupt music cues to break the spectator's prison wall of sentiment. They showcased sex and violence and other things that life permitted, but that the screen usually didn't. And, perhaps most importantly, they chose marginal people as their subjects, the kind whose voices you wouldn't normally hear in a movie. Who are they? A man with his arm around a woman in [Ozualdo] Candeias's 1981 black-and-white film The Option answers the question, staring at a crumbling stone house: 'There must be all kinds of people in the world, eh?' He's covered almost completely in shadow, and she's lucid white."

Also at the House Next Door, Michał Oleszczyk: "Sharon Bar-Ziv's late debut feature, shot over the course of five days after an intense period of rehearsals, strives for a handheld immediacy and raw emotional power that it only intermittently achieves. More than anything else, Room 514 plays like a stripped-down, if not downright impoverished, version of A Few Good Men, in which an army newcomer's zeal is pitted against the unwritten, near-atavistic code of old timers and their ruthlessly programmed minions."


At Press Play, Kevin B Lee reviews L, "writer-director Babis Makridis's first feature [trailer], which premiered at Sundance and by appearances fits snugly within the Greek posse who brought us Dogtooth, Attenberg and ALPS. These films amount to a bona fide Greek micro-movement that deserves its own nomenclature: Athenscore? The Haos School (named after queen bee Athina Rachel Tsangari's production company responsible for the first three films)? L plays as if that gang had made a parody of Drive to mock Ryan Gosling's car-obsessed chivalry… L is the most overtly comic of the bunch, both in script and style, with confrontational close ups out of Sergio Leone by way of Napoleon Dynamite, and a lovably hubristic protagonist a la Ron Jeremy or Ricky Bobby that could have been played by Will Ferrell on downers…. The other film that holds its own from start to finish is Voice of My Father, a relaxed, beautifully composed Turkish film about an ethnic Kurd who visits his mother and discovers tape recordings made by the father he barely knew, who worked and died in Saudi Arabia. Deeply personal (based on the family of co-director Zeynel Doğan and scripted by co-director Orhan Eskiköy), it uses the voice recordings to haunting effect, triggering hypnotic scenes that flood the present moment with nostalgic pain."

Back at Twitch, Ard Vijn recommends Julia Murat's first narrative feature, Histórias que Só Existem Quando Lembradas (Stories Which Only Exist When Remembered).

Viewing. The IFFR is offering a "series of exclusive YouTube premieres of films screening at the festival, available for 24 hours."

Updates, 2/1: "As modest and self-explanatory as its lower-case title suggests, small roads is James Benning's latest contemplation of American landscape as an awesome man-made sculpture," writes Michał Oleszczyk. "In contrast to RR, which was focused on moving railway vehicles, small roads examines the ways in which paths — firmly asserted in asphalt and only occasionally traversed — shape the visible world."

Also at the House Next Door, Aaron Cutler takes us back to the Brazil of the early 70s:

Glauber Rocha wrote an essay, "An Aesthetic of Hunger," that outlined his ideas for a dialectical, politically engaged cinema. Cinema Marginal's ideological leader, Rogério Sganzerla, responded with "The Aesthetic of Garbage," claiming his greatest goal was to make disposable films that could be forgotten in a week. One group desired revolution, another chaos.

Marginal filmmaker João Silvério Trevisan felt the second desire keenly, initially calling his 1970 debut feature How I Killed My Father after one of its characters, a blissed-out youthful idiot who keeps crying that he murdered Dad as he walks with other misfits along a country road. [The title of the finished work would be Orgy or: The Man Who Gave Birth.] The essentially plotless film's spirit, Trevisan said, was a mix of Buñuel and Bresson, but also rooted in the work of Brazilian poet and playwright Oswald de Andrade, who had written in 1928 that "All that interests me is what is not mine. The law of man. The law of cannibalism." The film's slapstick collisions between different Brazilian archetypes, whose train grows larger and larger as it approaches the country's mythical birthplace for an immaculate birth, simultaneously fired at the influences of a patriarchal society and of a patriarchal film culture.

Brian M Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, who've taken The Patron Saints, "a hyperrealistic portrait of a nursing home and its inhabitants," to Rotterdam and are getting ready to see the world premiere of their narrative feature Francine, "about a recently released prison inmate with a complicated affinity for animals (played by Melissa Leo)," post the first of a series of diary entries (lots of snapshots!) at Filmmaker.

Howard Feinstein recommends three films, the "masterful" Room 514, Michel Lipkes's "hauntingly poignant" Malaventura and Francisca Toetenel's short, Katya, "one of the most impressive Dutch films I have seen in years." Also at indieWIRE, Brandon Harris has an overview of the CineMart.

La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser

Updates, 2/2: "Beautifully shot in luminous black-and-white and willfully obtuse, Davide Manuli's The Legend of Kaspar Hauser (La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser) is littered with memorable images and moments of surreal humor," writes Screen's Mark Adams. Vincent Gallo "crops up in twin roles here — as The Sheriff (speaking English), a heavily-bearded rambling disco-bearded peacekeeper and The Pusher (in Italian), dressed completely in white and driving around the dusty town on his motorcycle — and is the perfect fit — the film is essentially a series of chapters made up for long-takes with free-flowing largely improvised dialogue."

"It's hard to find adequate words to convey the rare beauty of this film," writes the Celluloid Liberation Front for Film International. "The skeleton of a society that is no more welcomes an androgynous Kaspar Hauser, shipwrecked on the shores of a deserted island where the sheriff patrols empty alleys and duels with his own image reflected in a mirror. A techno-western whose frontier is not that of conquest but of loss, the founding myth of civilization is reduced to its ghostly remnants: the self-delusional puppets of a collapsed order."

[Update, 2/4: "It's hard to know who's responsible when a film goes as deeply, terribly wrong as this one," writes Brandon Harris at the Playlist.]

Back to Mark Adams, here on Richard Goldgewicht's Pablo: "A wonderful delve into the life and talent of the renowned film title designer, artist, trailer maker and full-on bohemian Pablo Ferro, this enthralling documentary is a must for any lover of cinema and is likely to spark retrospectives and tributes at cinematheques around the world."

"In an alternate universe, The Margin would be deemed every bit as integral to the history of the avant-garde as Meshes of the Afternoon." Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door on Ozualdo Ribeiro Candeias's 1967 film.

Updates, 2/4: What you'll see if you press play: "Indiewire/Press Play editor-in-chief Kevin Lee talks with fellow critics Aaron Cutler (The House Next Door/Cine Qua Non) and Michal Oleszczyk (The House Next Door) about what films to see, old and new, in and out of competition."

"The Red Light Bandit is an electric, legendary movie, one Brazilian cinephiles know practically by heart," writes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "Its director, Rogério Sganzerla, was 21 years old when he made it, and the anarchic energy of his 'Zorro of the poor' could only have been captured by someone so young."

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay talks with Nicolas Provost about The Invader, a "sort of Taxi Driver set within the world of European immigrant culture," and posts a batch of photos and notes from the festival.

Updates, 2/9: João Callegaro's The Pornographer (1970) "could also be called The Movie Buff," suggests Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "Carlos Reichenbach's Lilian M: Confidential Report, made five years later, is an equally weird comic-book tragedy." And in another entry, Aaron wraps up the Boca do Lixo series.

Wrapping the festival as a whole are Brandon Harris (L) and Kevin B Lee (Press Play).

Update, 2/11: "The first time I saw a Coffin Joe film, I knew it wasn't my thing. It took me a while, though, to recognize how important he was as a symbol." Aaron Cutler on the man and his influence at the House Next Door.

Updates, 2/12: Artforum runs an overview of this year's edition from Dennis Lim: "The wide range of offerings, along with a smartly programmed array of short and experimental work, help divert attention from the grumblings (which seem to grow louder each year) that Rotterdam's central event, its Tiger competition for first or second films, is not what it used to be."

Aaron Cutler wraps it up at the House Next Door: "While my beat consisted of older Brazilian films, the new Brazilian films I saw at Rotterdam were nearly as exciting. Three stood out, each of them, in different ways, addressing film history." And they are: Júlio Bressane's Rua Aperana 52, Mendonça Filho's Neighbouring Sounds and Marcelo Felix's Eden's Ark.

Updates, 2/21: De Filmkrant's Slow Criticism 2012 project covers the Bright Future program.

Anny Gomes talks with Gabriel Velázquez about his debut feature, Iceberg, for Ioncinema.

Update, 2/28: Film Comment editor Gavin Smith presents his overview and a Rotterdam 2012 top ten.

Update, 3/8: Robert Koehler looks back on the Bright Future section for the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Update, 3/20: "This year's edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam somehow felt like a strategic compromise, while capitalizing on profitable brands (i.e. Ai Weiwei), the artistic direction hinted at lesser-known and uncharted possibilities in the world (of moving images)." An overview from the Celluloid Liberation Front in Senses of Cinema.

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