Rotterdam Film Festival 2009 Report
Time Out ventured to icy Holland for the 38th Rotterdam International Film Festival
The first film caught was the latest by Singaporese underachiever, Royston Tan, who, after such numerically-inclined films such as ‘15’, ’24 Hours’, ‘4:30’ and ‘881’, has made '12 Lotus'. It’s an over-long and shoddily structured musical about the sheltered life of an over-sensitive pop singer. I say ‘pop’, but it’s actually what’s known locally as ‘getai’, which is a form of brash stage performance that involves gaudy, spangle-heavy costumes and irksome (though undeniably catchy) bubblegum pop tunes. Tan’s aim is to create a sprawling comic drama in which the pain of existence is seen through the prism of eccentric and artificial mise en scène, though the shots are so poorly framed and sequenced and the humour so often resorting to camp innuendo, that ’12 Lotus’ doesn’t manage to accomplish even a tenth of its intended emotional kick.
Québécois highschool drama 'West of Pluto' retained much of the realism of the former, but also doffed its cap towards the early works of Richard Linklater and Larry Clark in its complex and truthful depiction of teenage growing pains. The film, by feature debutants Henry Bernadet and Myriam Verreault, follows a handful of 15- and 16-year-old students before, during and after a big house party, intimately observing their interactions, allegiances and shifting conducts as the night moves on. For the first half, it works well, using big dollops of humour (mostly through the deadpan editing) to ally us with the characters, but, admittedly, it runs out of steam on the home straight.
Tongue-in-cheek fun was to be had at the screening of filthy Frenchman Jean-Claude Brisseau’s 'A l'adventure' (following the erotically-tinged ‘Choses Secrètes' and ‘Exterminating Angels’), as a young woman quits her office job in search of the perfect orgasm (only in France!). She hooks up with various sexual adventurers, from a couple into voyeurism and whipping, to a man able to deliver the most intense orgasm imaginable via hypnotism, and is finally only satisfied by the philosophical musings of an elderly cab driver. It’s cod, kitsch and totally ridiculous, but thankfully, Brisseau knows it.
Other new works included Carlos Serrano Azcona’s 'El Árbol' (produced by Carlos Reygadas), a short but dawdling social realist drama which takes an over-the-shoulder look at a divorcee wandering around Mexico City as he tries to find a meaning for his life in sex, drugs, alcohol and, finally, reforming a bond with his children. It’s clear that Azcona prefers a laissez-faire approach to filming, eliciting a modest intellectual depth from simple, quiet observation, though, more often than not, a protracted scene of walking through empty streets yields precious little in terms of drama or poetry.
Also decent but flawed was Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s follow-up to last year’s superb ‘Private Property’. 'Élève libre' (‘Private Lessons’) is a theoretical and emotionally cool essay on the ambiguous relationship between sex and work. It takes a dispassionate gaze at a transitional period in the life of a young teenager who is simultaneously failing in school and becoming sexually curious. He directs his queries about school and sex to close friends of the family, who in turn offer overly-frank counsel which evolve from the passive to the practical. The young Lafosse obviously has a great career ahead of him in probing and thoughtful chamber dramas, but this one pushes a little too powerfully at the bounds of realism to make it an outright success.
Two films that are locked down for a UK release are the latest from Japan’s Hirokazu Koreeda, 'Still Walking' – a family comedy so intelligent, funny and wise that few would have been surprised if the great Yasujiro Ozu’s name had popped up on the credits. Also to look out for is 'Tulpan', Sergei Dvortsevoy charming docu-comedy from Kazakhstan about the trials and traumas of big-eared nomad Asa who is desperate to win the beautiful but illusive Tulpan as his wife. There’s a hilarious tot who runs around on a wooden horse, Asa’s best friend who drives around in a tractor that he’s plastered in pornography listening to ‘Rivers of Babylon’, and a heart-stirring scene where our gawky hero delivers a lamb on the barren steppe.
Author: David Jenkins
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