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Four  times now I‘ve gone to Jeonju, starting in 2000, their first festival, and each time the city seems to have grown in quantum leaps.  In 2000 it seemed a very modest small provincial city, though the festival, sizable at the outset, was well organized but had a kind of inferiority complex in which they kept inquiring if things were OK, and done well enough.  They were.  And they still are.  10 years later Jeonju begins to take on the sense of a real city, if small compared to Seoul.   And the festival has expanded, now showing 180 films in 10 days.  And this past year they seem to have built themselves a handsome 4 story building to house a kind of museum-gallery and their offices.  They mean business!   Marcella and I were there only 3 days this year, showing Mr Right, a 30 minute short done with my students at Yonsei.  They’d rejected Parable, my last finished feature, rather to my surprise.  It has yet to get a festival invitation.

Despite the brief stay, we did see a handful of films, most of which, luckily, were quite good.  We missed a handful I would have liked to have seen, as they’d already been screened the previous days of the festival.  Those missed included Bujalski’s newest, Beeswax, two new Straub films Le Genou D’Artemide and Quie Loro Incontri, The Exploding Girl by Bradley Rust Gray, Melancholia by Lav Diaz, The Northern Land by Joao Botelho, Modern Life by Raymond Depardon, and a few others where I had some acquaintance with the films – if only having read about them, met the filmmakers, or seen earlier films.  Looking in the catalog there are at least another 30 films I would have liked to try.   The ones we did manage to see were sometimes second choices as the first was sold out.  Some were blind dates on the word of a friend.

What we did see were these, thoughts and opinions appended.

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Four Nights with Anna, Skolimowski

The festival did a Skolomowski retrospective, showing all of his films, and he was present, for his 69th birthday.  I’d seen, long ago, a few of his films, though I forget just which (Moonlighting is one).  This is his last, done after a 17 year absence from filmmaking (he also paints).   While I found it OK, it seemed a kind of shaggy dog, bleak humored tale drawn out far too long – it might have suited 40 minutes, but not 87.  The most remarkable aspect was its murky dark imagery, which often was scarcely visible – I have never seen another film so given to night-time and closed-room darkness, in which almost nothing is visible in many shots.  The story was obliquely told – an obsessive guy looks at woman, obsesses, breaks into her apartment, etc., all “for love.”  It really wasn’t enough to  sustain the time, despite Skolimowski’s grimly funny asides.

Nocturne 29, Pere Portobello.  A Spanish filmmaker of the 60’s and on, of whom I had never heard until last year when his The Silence Before Bach showed in Jeonju (and elsewhere), which I did not see.  This one is from 1968 and was a totally engrossing surprise, a pleasant revelation.  Utterly non-narrative, in very high-contrast B&W (mostly – there are several color sections inserted), it played with(out) narrative conventions, with the cinematic apparatus, homages to past cinema, silence, sound, disruptures, weaving together elements in a disjunctive mode, and for the most part sustaining a constant level of tension and interest.  I can’t recall the various elements, only that they were compelling and prompted all kinds of thoughtfulness.  About 15 minutes before it ended it came to a sequence where I felt it should have stopped, a man walking into the sea reading a newspaper, the last image of the paper floating on the water, the man disappeared.  However it went on through another handful of in-themselves interesting sequences, but ones which to me seemed needless, and came to a nebulous lack of conclusion.  It made me consider the differing natures of artistic temperaments, and I think it is inherent that those who can imagine the sequences found here also cannot know when to stop, though they are so determinedly personal and egocentric, they cannot surrender their work to an outside editor who might curtail their excesses and arrive thereby at a “better film” in consequence.

nocturne29

This view, pondered as I watched, seemed confirmed by the second Portabella film we saw, Warsaw Bridge (1989), where the shattered non-narrative lacked the harsh tensions of the earlier, and yet went on and on.  Businessmen, and intellectuals, all sent up in sometimes elaborate mise-en-scene, the chattering classes chattering, though the satire was both so obvious and so toothless it lacked any real sting.  The narrativeless form in this instance did not make for synergies between scenes, but rather simply seemed flaccid.  The ending made for a good joke – shots of a beat up old plane used to get water to fight fires alternating with shots of a man getting his scuba gear together, going out in a little boat and going in the water; the plane is seen scooping up water, dumping it on a forest fire, all edited in a musical operatic manner.  A sudden end, a title card with a newspaper announcement about a scuba diver clad body found burned in a fire.   As a stand alone short, it was very punchy, as a denouement to the long, elegant, but formless film that preceded it, it seemed like a cheat.     In conclusion I understood why I had not heard of Portabella before – I suspect all or most his work has this character and hence deflates itself.

warsaw bridgeWarsaw Bridge, Pere Portabella

In 2002, at the Yamagata (Japan) documentary festival a young man came to me asking some advice.  He was Auraeus Solito, a Philippino.   He was at the festival with his first film, done in 16mm, which I saw and found to be the worst example of laboratory trashing I had ever seen.  Set in the tribal land from which he came, one could hardly see through the mal-processed celluloid, ill-exposed, smattered with endless chemical mishaps – none done on purpose.  I was direct with Auraeus and encouraged him to change to DV.  We kept in contact and I pressed the matter, while he – having studied film – held onto his film fetishism, insisting somehow film was better.  I kept my argument – the matter of money, that the end result will (can) look better than 16mm, the sound is stereo digital not mono-wobble, etc.   He finally relented and made a film in DV,  Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros), which became a kind of festival hit in 2006, showing around the world, which though I haven’t yet seen.  He sent me a little thank you note for having pressed him on the matter of DV.  Since he’s made several more films, and at Jeonju he was showing his most recent, BoY.  I bumped into him the day before his screening – turned out his hotel room was next to mine – and when I told him I’d be going to his film he expressed some nervousness, making light of it, as if preparing me to be let down.  I discounted that and sat down for the screening optimistically.

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BoY, Auraeus Solito

BoY is an overtly “gay” film, as apparently are most his others.  Basically a coming out film about a young boy who goes to a macho dance club, it is an exuberantly shot work, with very lovely imagery and camerawork (Louie Quirino), and excellent performances, all narratively woven together in a music-like flow.   Set in the club and in Auraeus’ own home (which I visited some years ago) with a bedroom full of acquariums, this is a colorful film in every sense – capturing the bitchy club scene, the seamy side but without wallowing in it, and allowing fully human qualities to emerge.  There’s a long “romantic” love/sex scene between the boy and his macho-dancer pickup boyfriend, and a realistic conclusion that the low-life rent-boy and his middle-class newbie were not fated to last.

During the post-screening Q&A, there was an awkwardness, usual kinds of questions and a veiled kind of anxiety.  The film had just been censored and not allowed to screen in Singapore (Asia’s bastion of weird morality).  I finally raised my hand to say two bits and told him I thought it was a beautiful film – lovingly crafted, cinematically hand-in-glove with its content, and that I was happy I’d had a tiny bit in shoving him into DV to do it (this one was shot with a little HDV camera, though the festival’s transfer to digi-beta left it looking not as good as my straight DV Mr Right, but one could see left untampered it was a stunning visual film).   I did make a few pragmatic inquiries that had been left dangling:  the film took 10 days to make (a rush of work to do that), and cost US$17K.  Quite an achievement and I expect to hear a lot more from Auraeus in the future.

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BoY

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Manoel De Oliveira, age 100, with Luis Miguel Cintra, on set

Shifting gears considerably, the next film we saw came from Portuguese centenarian Manoel De Oliveira, whose most recent film, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Singularidades de uma rapariga loura) was screening.   I went, telling Marcella we could duck out if we didn’t care for it and catch another film starting half an hour later.  Of the films I’ve seen previously of his, they all struck me as too dry, overly literary and overly intellectual in their cinematic structuring, where one felt the mental laboring going on. So I was prepared to discreetly depart.

blondeEccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Manoel De Oliveira

Instead I was given a pleasant surprise.  Eccentricities is a slight moral fable, told in a severely minimalistic fashion, a story in one sense about story-telling.  Starting with a title card, with a quote, “If you are going to tell a story… tell it to a stranger”   the film then opens on a train passing through Alentejo, a younger man sits beside a slightly older woman.  In a single set shot which is recurrently returned to, the man tells the woman his story.   Initially this shot is confusing – I don’t think intentionally – as the actors seem to be reading their texts off a teleprompter, and the woman thereby seems to be blind, not looking at her conversational partner.   The man commences to tell his tale, and we cut to a cleaned up, non-existent contemporary upper-class Lisbon, but one weighted with the etiquettes of a long ago era.  The acting is arch, if gently so, and we follow a comedy of manners, as the man, an accountant, spies a girl in a window across the street from his desk.  She carries an oriental fan.   He falls for her, and the story is her pursuit of her, which in the rules of this imaginary time, require of him the means to pursue, to meet her, to ask for her hand.   All of this is done in exquisitely mounted little set-pieces, including, after he has lost his job with his uncle’s company for daring to consider marriage, a stripped down bed-sit of sumptuous utter minimalist taste.  Returning to our train-ride conversation, the story takes its turns, arriving finally at a happy conclusion, as the couple, after several long disruptions incurred to meet the requirements, go shopping for a wedding ring.   The final denouement arrives, though clues were offered along the way, as a complete surprise.

The tale here is so slight, that the real story is in the telling.  Oliveira is masterful in his concision, taking his literary style with a light-handed touch, as if he barely needed to be present.  Like most really good art, the hard work is invisible, and it is only the ease and naturalness which emerges to show itself.  A lovely film.  It reminded me of several other films of similar simplicity – Kauriskmaki’s the Match Factory Girl, and Rohmer’s Le Rayon Vert.   Each is stylistically itself, but each is disarming in its directness and simplicity.

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Next installment in a few more days.  Need time to do some other things here.

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2 Comments

  1. Jost, check this out. I-Movix SprintCam. 1000fps man! Fucking gorgeous imagery.

  2. Unrelated to your post, Jon, but I thought you might enjoy this:

    http://www.inbflat.net/


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By More BoY For You « Man of the Rose on 27 Jun 2009 at 2:39 pm

    […] that the low-life rent-boy and his middle-class newbie were not fated to last,” states Jon Jost, a respected digital cinema pioneer filmmaker. Hence, proving that there’s more to just […]

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