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Marcella and David eating a “traditional Korean dinner”

Jeonju is famed for its food, and this year we’ve had a fair share – enough to require some post-festival fasting.  Last year my luck in seeing films was very good, with only a few turkeys, and a good handful of wonderful films.  This year, so far, not so good.  We started off a few days ago with  the only film we could into that day,  Hadewijch, by Bruno Dumont.  I’d read of this director a number of times in the last years, and as the description said it was Bressonian, which is what inclined me to go.  Well, critics seem to see only the most superficial of things, so at the end of this film the protagonist, a religiously disturbed rich Parisian girl jumps in a lake to commit suicide.   I guess for some critics this makes it “like” Mouchette.  However nothing in the style or method approaches Bresson, and the result is utterly unbelievable.  I was handicapped by there being no English subtitles, but my French was enough to follow along, though I suspect had I been able to fully follow I would have disliked the film even more for its heavy-handed explications of a not credible story-line.  The basic line is this young girl, initially seen in a convent from which she’s evicted for looking to be a “martyr” carries on with her Catholic obsession, is seen with her rich indifferent family, and then takes up with some Arabic men, and goes to Palestine with them, the unknowing donkey to bring some explosives back, and then disillusioned she cryingly visits the convent again, weeping at a little pieta, and goes to a lake to drown herself.  Cross cut with this is a worker turned convict who is released, goes back to work at the convent doing construction, and rescues our girl, hugging her, and voila, redemption for two.  Totally unbelievable.

Redemption Dumont style

Next up was Jacque Rivette’s newest, Around a Small Mountain.  I have never been a Rivette fan, finding his films pedestrian visually, and like-wise his mise-en-scene ( fancy French for where he puts and how he moves the camera) I find clumsy and inept.  And his theater-games conceits I find far less than the thrilling stuff of some critic friends of mine who seem to adore him.  To me it is all a bit shallow and obvious.  So I did not approach this film with high expectations, but wanted to see if maybe I was wrong.  Well, the small mountain remained pretty small in my book.   A little tale set in a circus milieu in the south of France, in which an Italian interloper finds out the hidden secret of  the little band, with the circus providing the Rivettian theatrical tropes.  It was all perfectly OK if trivial entertainment, perhaps flawed by Jane Birkin’s less than convincing performance.   Sergio Castellitto was fine performing in his and his own wife’s script.   And at this point in my life, I need to spend 90 minutes on this kind of tired re-run of Rivette’s apparent one-trick pony show?

Theater, anyone?

And then, missing what I was told was a very interesting “master class” (whatever those are) by Pedro Costa, we went to see Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. His previous Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy each showed a weird transgressive talent, able to mash conflicting styles and deliberate artlessness while providing a vaguely acute entry into the worlds of misfits and American trash-culture. Trash Humper decisively fails to do so.  Instead here Korine serves up a steaming pile of shit from A to Z: shot on VHS, a grungy image recurrently punctuated with “play” “rewind” and other old VHS deck instructions, along with electronic smears, jaggy lines, and other signifiers of VHSdom. Or dumb. Aesthetically, unlike his earlier transgression against professionalist video, this one is just a pure mess. And clearly willfully so. This technical cloak is used to carry a mindless, narrative-free sequence of truly stupid scenes, seemingly cooked up on the run, of three characters (including Korine, his sister and another soul) with make-up and face stockings, intended to be old. They hump garbage cans, dumpsters, trees; give blow-jobs to branches, jack-off various items, all at random, while engaging in other infantile actions – beating and shredding a plastic doll, riding around on bikes, and here and there with other “weird” people, all of whom tend to run out of lines as did Werner Herzog in Julien Donkey Boy, looping the same phrases again and again. Trash Humpers is surely intended as a fuck-you shocker to any viewer, and is utterly without any redeeming qualities.  And in it’s shallow repetitiveness it is boring as hell.

It’s “value” resides not in the film, but in the fact that it was shown by numerous festivals solely on the basis that it was made by Harmony Korine. Had any other misguided soul sent it to any festival, it would have been rejected in 3 minutes. Ah, but fame is a whore, and festivals are certainly among those cultural institutions which trade in celebrity. In this instance among others the film won first prize, despite being a fiction, at the Copenhagen documentary festival, was shown at the Toronto, New York, London, and others, including here.  Despite Korine’s somewhat interesting comments about it, it is an artless piece of junk passed off by would-be guardians of culture as worthy of your time.  Only in a pathological sense is it so.  Sad to think some worthy film, likely by an “unknown,” got bumped out of screenings in these places.

Fuck you, says Harmony


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