It’s day seven, and the exhaustion is finally starting to hit me. I was nodding heavily during the first three films I saw today, though I’d estimate I saw around 95% of each of them. Nonetheless, that’s a disorienting way to watch a movie, so my thoughts on those films will be a little more scattershot than usual. This is one of the major hazards of watching this many movies in such a short period of time. It’s surprisingly draining. There are just four days to go now, but my schedule is crazy from here until the end of the festival, so I’ll need to push through and get rest when I can.
I went into today’s first film THEEB completely blind, without even a hint of what the plot or themes might be. The film takes place in the Arabian desert during the First World War, where a pair of Bedouin find themselves visited by a British officer carrying a mysterious package. They set off across the desert to guide him to his destination. The younger of the brothers, named Theeb, which means ‘Wolf’, is forced to learn quickly and adapt to match the violence of his environment when the expedition runs into trouble.
The desert photography is fantastic, and at times aims to deliberately remind us of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, watching from behind as a camel is ridden into the distance. The film is smartly paced, with lengthy conversations finding themselves interrupted with sudden jolts of violence. Young teen Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat is really convincing in the lead role, which is a difficult task considering all that Theeb goes through before the film is done. This is a full-on survival adventure movie set against a beautiful backdrop, and it’s the best film I saw on the daytime subscriber pass today.
Not far behind it, however, was the day’s second film. Roy Andersson’s Swedish comedy tableau… thing A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE is surely the oddest film playing in the competition. The film takes place on a series of elaborately built sets, where the camera will sit still as a scene plays out in full. Early on these scenes are strangely funny, with some of them feeling almost like long-lost Monty Python sketches. Later, the comedy becomes less direct and the scenes become more philosophical, if not particularly hopeful. There’s a recurring motif of characters talking on phones saying, “It’s good to hear that you’re doing alright.” We witness the less happy sides of these conversations.
The colour scheme is deliberately drab. I’d hate to think how many tins of beige paint they went through while building those sets. Some of the scenes have a message behind them, such as one horrifying sketch late in the film with the name of a Swedish oil company plastered across it. Most of them seem to be vaguely amusing non-sequiturs. I’m glad there’s somebody out there making films like this, even if it doesn’t remain entertaining all the way until the credits roll. I may seek out the other two films in this trilogy.
The day’s third film was another competition contender, but for my money a far less interesting one. BLACK SOULS is an Italian gangster film directed by FRANCESCO MUNZI, which owes an awful lot to widely seen films including THE GODFATHER. Three brothers from the same criminal family have each gone their separate ways, but are drawn together in conflict when people start getting shot, and more people are shot in retaliation.
This is a good-looking film with a moody green and black colour palette. The acting is all of a consistently high quality. The dialogue seems well-written. This could have been a good film. The trouble is that this plot is so suffocated with genre tropes that the film barely even seems to exist in its own right. Every action is a reference or a reminder to a hundred other films, and none of it stands out of the murk. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
The final film for subscribers today was Hong Sang-soo’s new multilingual drama HILL OF FREEDOM. Sang-soo is well-known and well-liked amongst festival crowds for films like IN ANOTHER COUNTRY and HAHAHA. He has a very particular style, employing low-fi visuals, and having characters from different countries communicate awkwardly in English. The oddity of this second-language communication, as we see here in HILL OF FREEDOM between a Japanese man and the residents of a Korean village, is that subtlety falls by the wayside, and people say exactly what they really mean, even when it would be considered rude or forward in a native tongue.
Sang-soo is also known for gimmickry in his storytelling, and here the story is told in the form of a collection of letters, which have been dropped and are being read out-of-order. Broadly, this is the story of a man looking for a woman he once loved, and having a number of very frank conversations. This is a film I know to be popular among fans of Sang-soo’s work, but for me it just served as a confirmation that I don’t like his style of filmmaking. The film scrapes its way to a barely feature-length 66 minutes, which was more than enough for me. If you know you enjoy him, just ignore me and watch the film. It’s probably great.
That’s it for another day, and we’re on a sprint towards the finish line. Daytime subscribers still have almost half of the competition left to see, though, so it should be a very interesting final four days. Tomorrow’s schedule is for another four films, including the single-shot film VICTORIA.
By Shaun Heenan