Monday, 26 March 2012

Vilnius Day 3 & 4

The good weather has given way to snow and cold but the hospitality and relentless schedule of films has kept us warm. At this rate, I'll end up seeing more films than in Berlin!

Three more competition films. I probably should refrain from talking to much about them as we have to judge them in a few days, but we saw: THE MAIDEN DANCED TO DEATH, a Bulgarian film about two brothers trying to put on a dance production in Budapest; VISIBLE WORLD, an austere Slovakian feature with a lead actor that looks a lot like Billy Bob Thornton. And finally, COURAGE, a Polish drama also about two brothers in conflict. We have four more features to watch to complete the competition programme (I saw some of these already in Sarajevo - A TRIP, AVE & LOVERBOY)

THE FIRST MAN was a sincere yet flawed adaptation of Albert Camus' novel which fails to engage the audience despite the incendiary material it's dealing with (the Algerian-French war of the 1950s-60s, so beautifully rendered in Pontecorvo's BATTLE OF ALGIERS). The performance by Jacques Gamblin is fantastic, particularly since he is given very little to work with, and the flashbacks are cliched and slow the contemporary story down.

Yet another Herzog film, one that previews tonight in the UK, INTO THE ABYSS is the German director's exploration of a triple homicide in Texas and the aftermath for both victims and perpetrators. The film is so bleak and grim on every level that I felt as though someone had placed a huge slab of stone on my chest and it took all night to remove it. But I am uncertain how much that has to do with Herzog's film and how much to do with the subject itself. The story is populated with poor, uneducated people whose lives are a spiral of substance abuse, violence and prison time. Herzog's style of seeking out eccentric characters and looking for comic oddballs doesn't really work in this instance and it often feels like he has contempt for his protagonists. That contempt often crosses the line into ridicule and what should have been an austere and respectful piece becomes comedy for snobbish intellectuals as we laugh at the illiterate roofer or the delusional death row wife.

Four more features to go for the competition and I'm sure I'll watch some other films.

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