From April 12 to April 29, the annual CPH PIX Film Festival was held in Copenhagen, and yours truly was on the spot on behalf of Flickfeast. I watched some forty movies from all over the world, and it was a grand experience. My focus lay on genres like sci-fi and fantasy, action and martial arts, and also historical, literary and political movies. A major theme in current European cinema is that of the plight and travails of illegal African immigrants trying to get into Europe. European cinema, while neither as entertaining nor as commercial as the output of Hollywood, tends to compensate by being highly political and treating issues like the troubled life of disadvantaged groups, including the Roma population. Sadly, this focus is also too intellectual and elitist (to say nothing of depressing) for these movies to ever reach a wide audience. European film-makers are dedicated and radical, but they seem to react against the American film industry by refusing to make their movies properly entertaining, which is a bit like shooting themselves in the foot. They really should take a cue from Shakespeare and try to combine depth and pop culture.
When I attend a film festival I am personally most eager to see sci-fi and Asian martial arts action. CPH PIX 2012 was rather weaker in these areas than last year, which I thought was a pity. Still, the movies this year included some very impressive ones (like Poongsan and The Sorcerer and the White Snake) that more than compensated for the less interesting entries. I reviewed twenty-five movies of the forty I saw; most of the rest were not good enough to review (plus, eventually I did succumb to fatigue, leaving maybe one or two of the worthier movies unreviewed). The reviews appear below, and afterwards I’ll briefly take you through some of the other movies I watched as well.
4 Days in May
By Day and By Night
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
Gantz: Perfect Answer
Juan of the Dead
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Postcards from the Zoo
The Raid: Redemption
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Where Do We Go Now?
Now, here is a fuller report of the festival experience, which also includes comments on some of the movies I did not review.
The festival kicked off with the fantastically funny “nazis on the moon” movie Iron Sky, which I actually saw twice (though the second time was in ordinary release, and not part of the festival). It is a complete masterpiece for anyone who enjoys crazy sci-fi with a satirical byline.
The second movie I saw was the Japanese Tominaga Park, about three bumbling high school boys who got in and out of trouble. I thought it was immensely dull, and I question the wisdom of showing it at a film festival at all. After the excellent documentary Corman’s World (see review above), I viewed Carmelo Bene’s One Hamlet Less from 1973. The festival had a Carmelo Bene series, which frankly smelled a bit like an act of desperation. Bene is an outdated and inferior Fellini/Pasolini wanna-be, appreciated by only a few connoiseurs, and he cannot ignite much popular interest. The showing I attended could attract only a tiny handful of audience members, and Bene’s take on Hamlet was dull and nonsensical. But with lots of nudity.
Later I caught Twixt, a new low-budget Francis Ford Coppola movie with a few brief 3-D scenes. It was a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe, starring Val Kilmer as a thriller author doing a signing session in a small sleepy town. And while it was pretty all right and probably accomplished what it set out to do, it was also a slow and slightly boring movie, without much of interest going on on the screen. One noteworthy thing was that Kilmer’s character’s ex-wife was played by Kilmer’s real ex-wife, Joanne Whalley.
A few days later I had two of the worst experiences on the festival. Joseph Conrad’s famous words “The horror! The horror!” applies well to the ordeal of sitting through Almayer’s Folly, probably the slowest and dullest art movie I have ever seen. A movie like this really should have a warning label attached to it, and not be shown to innocent patrons who are led to believe that it resembles a normal movie. You think you know pain? You will long for something as sweet as pain when you try to watch this particular sleeping pill.
The day after I was foolhardy enough to subject myself to Beyond the Black Rainbow, which was almost as awful. Super-slow, no plot that made sense; just some imagery reminiscent of ‘70s psychedelia, with various horror elements thrown in. Kind of a reverse 2001 – A Space Odyssey, with the main part being weird and only the very last part being halfway understandable. I hated it.
Jump Ashin! was a Taiwanese true story about a troubled gymnast whose one leg was shorter than the other. A very decent drama with some nice street fights and believable characterization. Not much more than that to say about it, though. 4:44 Last Day on Earth was a disappointing low-budget drama about the last day on Earth, where people largely just kept doing what they always do. Though one guy jumped out the window. Yawn. Then I saw Francine, a very low-key Melissa Leo drama where she got released from jail and ended up going back to jail. Rather depressing and not very illuminating. Later that night I watched 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, which was absolutely awful; I very nearly walked out.
A couple of days later I caught Land of Oblivion, a thoughful and thought-provoking drama about the fate of some of the local people who lived near the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. That was pretty good, but perhaps so pensive that it was largely undramatic. Next, Le petit poucet was a French fairy tale; a well-acted version of the Tom Thumb tale. It was quite entertaining, but I thought the ending was stupid and unconstructive. No doubt it was the authentic ending, but the story would have benefitted from a better one. Another of the dullest experiences of the festival was the French/Italian That Summer (original title: Un été brûlant), about some friends and their girlfriends doing absolutely nothing that we haven’t seen before a thousand times.
The Last Man on Earth (Italian title: L’ultimo terrestre), directed and written by a couple of Italian comic book creators, was pretty entertaining; to a great extent it was a successful exercise in absurdity and humor, but while I had hoped for idea-driven sci-fi, it was more an “oh, well, hm, that’s nice” kind of movie about a weird introverted guy than one with any real bite or edge. The title of the movie doesn’t make sense to me, although the point is taken that the protagonist was just as much an alien to human society as the real aliens were, if not more so.
The last movie I saw on the festival was the Chinese 11 Flowers, taking place in the last year of the cultural revolution in 1975. It was mostly well-made and entertaining, but featured a shirt as protagonist for a long while, which was, well, a bit too much of a stretch.
So, those were the movies I did not find worth reviewing; they were certainly not all bad, but that doesn’t mean I have particularly much more to say about them than what I’ve mentioned here. Of course, some of them were indeed very bad, but, there always has to be some of those in order to make the good ones seem that much better, hasn’t there? It’s the order of things.
The CPH PIX Film Festival was a good experience overall, and it gave me the idea of perhaps sometime holding my own private film festival where I watch a couple of movies every day and latterly review them on this site. I’ll make sure to pick movies I really, really want to see, maybe based on a particular theme, so I can hopefully avoid the worst turkeys. It also requires the luxury of time, but I guess I could squeeze in a private film festival in December or thereabouts. Sounds like fun, eh?
Well, if I have the opportunity I may well repeat the festival experience at CPH PIX next year, although I think I will be more critical about which movies I choose to see. There are too many bad and boring movies in the world and life is just too short for those.
I’m Tue Sorensen, signing off for now.