A film buff’s personal rocky horror show: the good, the bad and the ugly

French film festival program guide 2016

French film festival program guide 2016 – currently screening in Brisbane

These have been rocky, heady times for this film devotee so far this year, with a rather messy overdose of Awards and Festivals. For instance, after a viewing binge of the Golden Globes, then the BAFTAs, culminating in the Oscars, I have experienced a peculiar form of Awards indigestion and heartburn. The three look-alike ceremonies have all blurred into each other. As, by now, there has been Awards entrail-dissection overload, I will certainly limit my observations here to a sprinkling of Oscars moonshine, mixed with some spicy French films as the icing on the rather doomed, indigestible cake.

There were few surprises along the Oscars pathway awakening me from my near-comotose state, after weeks of trying to see all the nominated films (I failed). Spotlight was an unusual Oscar winner choice for many, because it was widely thought that The Revenant would shoe it in. I was pleased that such a topical film about criminal child abuse by clergy and the massive coverup by the Catholic Church won the top award, mainly because of the horrific issues highlighted, rather than for its superior excellence in film craft. (Please note those issues, Cardinal Pell and Pope Francis…)

I will never retrieve those, what some would say, ‘lost’ hours both at the cinema and glued to my television screen – which is fair enough, given that I actively chose to indulge in these events and their ramifications, in all their decadent, tainted glory.

My own Oscars horror movie

The local cinema brightly advertised an Oscars viewing event with champagne, cheese, biccies, and cake. How could I resist, even though I don’t like champagne all that much.   Figuring that I could overcome that particular beverage obstacle,  I relished the idea of enjoying the awards for once on the big screen. Joan graciously agreed to come with me,  and we arrived around the corner just after 10 am, as scheduled, drinking coffee instead of champers. There were about 40 – 50 people there, and by 10.30 am, we lined up to go into the big cinema.

The talkative woman in front of us kept complaining about having to wait to get a seat. However, she said something worth hearing: while our tickets were only $15 a head, a rival cinema had an Oscars screening event on at 11.30 am, where you had to dress up and compete for a ‘best dressed’ award on a mini red carpet.  And that event cost $35 for champers etc. Joan and I were glad we didn’t have to parade in front of the fashion police, and also apparently we had landed ourselves a bargain.

Then came the big shock. The flustered manager came out to open the cinema, apologising that he had mistakenly thought the red carpet build-up would be currently on Channel 9, but alas it wasn’t. Nine was still playing the morning show called Today Extra, and the Oscars would start now for us at 11.30, at least an hour later. He muttered that they wouldn’t finish until about 2.30.

Lurching from crisis to crisis

The people in the queue became pretty fidgety at that news, and cake and glass in hand, consulted earnestly with each other. Joan and I decided to sit it out until 11.30, watch the Awards for the first hour, and then go to lunch nearby. In any case, I was taping it all at home, and would eventually catch up with anything we missed. I must confess that I had initially been mystified by the advertising for this event which claimed the Oscars lasted from 10 am – 12 pm, but, foolishly, I thought they must know what they were doing…

The fiasco continued with Nine’s Today Extra program repeatedly insulting our intelligence, with advertising overload and the inevitably inane advertorial segments. On the big screen, this program loomed as even more offensive. Some young women rose imperiously after about 15 minutes, announcing to all that this was a total disgrace, and they would demand their money back. They stormed out and a few others followed their lead.

One woman near me had her mobile phone on and was listening to some other loud program on that device. Usually in a cinema I would ask such an ignorant person, firmly but politely, to please turn off her phone. But I didn’t have the heart, given the already derailed circumstances. Trash horror overload was coming at us from all angles. We lasted another 15 minutes, until Today Extra became too much even for me, a longtime academic in film and television, who had been seizing the whole experience as a multilayered semiotic text, hurtling, like most reality television programs, towards inevitable disaster.

A flashback to a film love-in

Eventually, after skipping out and negotiating free tickets to another screening, after a bite of real food, I came home and caught up with the whole Oscars gig, fractured though it was, time-wise. Many media commentators have discussed at length the Oscar statues bestowed, the deeply offensive all-white nominations issue, as well as the insults to Asians. Chris Rock’s opening gig was quite impressive, his very presence holding it all together, despite some awkward, difficult moments. I was pleased that Leonardo, Alejandro and Emmanuel received their Oscars for The Revenant.  I have been in love with Alejandro G. Innaritu’s work since I first saw his debut film Amores Perros (Love’s a Bitch).

A memorable first film.

A memorable first film.

After a preview screening of Amores Perros earlier this century for a motley group of us reviewers, I simply couldn’t move from my seat for quite some time. I was so overwhelmed, devastated and impressed by the film. This was in the old Dendy cinema in George Street, Brisbane, which permanently had a unique musty smell. This film certainly transcended the olfactory and comfort limitations of those memorable surrounds.

My students thereafter had to endure studying this amazing three-hour long Mexican film, as one of many confronting films in my unit International Cinema. Happily, I know that most of them completely ‘got’ Amores Perros too, along with Innaritu’s later films. One of those students, I am proud to say, subsequently worked in the camera department on The Revenant. She wrote to me from on the set, knowing how much I loved his films.

A diet of French films: sweet and sour love triangles and the tart money shot

As a prelude to the currently screening French Film Festival, I went along a while ago to see a special one-off film buffery screening of the controversial film by Gaspar Noe, Love 3D.  I had found his most famous film, Irreversible, incredibly powerful and disturbing, and I looked forward to catching this film, although it had received very mixed reviews and opinions. As one reviewer from The Guardian graphically puts it, “Gaspar Noe’s Love is a fantastically doomy, porny melodrama of erotic despair, all in super-strength 3D…Sex is the main star…in all its fleshy, messy, dreamlike, 3D glory.” The money shot was overkill, but to be expected…

The love triangle is a well-worn cinematic trope. This triangle recurs in a French film I have seen more recently –  In the Shadow of Women, a dire, barely digestible film by another French auteur, Philippe Garrel.

At the French Film Festival - a disappointment

At the French Film Festival – left a bad taste in the mouth

In both these films, the male protagonist is supposedly a filmmaker, although neither of them has any real, demonstrable talent. The filmmaker hero who is sexually involved with two beautiful women appears to be, in both films, some kind of masculine directorial fantasy projected and reenacted on screen. No irony here.  Thank heavens the self-indulgent film In the Shadow of Women wasn’t in 3D. One of those in a year is sufficient, although after In the Shadow, I am liking Love 3D a lot more.

A scene from Love 3D

A scene from Love 3D

Cinema audience: not so musical chairs

Yesterday during the day, I went to a French film at the Festival called La Belle Saison directed by Catherine Corsini. I have been heartened to find that the French film industry can claim about 50% female filmmakers. The USA and Australia do not compare at all well on this gendered score, although Australia is better than the US. This film by an up and coming female director, depicted the moving story of a lesbian relationship in the 70s. It was well directed and the main actors performed their roles very capably.  This was a pleasant film, with interesting insights into sexuality and women’s politics issues in the 70s, as well as the tensions between rural and urban France.

La Belle Saison. Not so belle in the audience.

La Belle Saison. Not so belle in the audience.

The problem this time was with the audience, not the film. There were only about 10 people in the largest cinema at Palace Centro. I moved up a couple of seats in my empty row to be more centred, only to be confronted by two bossy latecomers who practically sat on top of me. No flexibility was evidently there, so I sighed and moved back to my spot. Mea culpa. I should have waited until after the film began. I also hoped for reasonableness to prevail regarding seat allocation rules when hardly a soul is there.

Meanwhile, a young disabled man in a wheelchair was sitting not far away with his carer, and he was moaning loudly before and during the film. All power to him I thought, although I was a bit concerned when the bossy women arrived. I thought they might complain. Then a crippled man on crutches came into the cinema; not finding his allocated seat comfortable,  he and his companion moved to other seats where he could stretch out his injured leg. Just as the film was about to commence, a woman came in and insisted on moving him and his companion, so that she could sit in her allocated seat, despite the fact there were many better seats for her across the aisle and towards the centre in the same row. So the poor crippled person had to move again.  I found all this personally quite disturbing. I know when the cinema is crowded, the Festival seat allocation system works well. But when there is only a sprinkling, some give and take is ok surely…

Some friends had to walk out of the screening of another promising Festival film The Bureau, as the subtitles didn’t show up at their screening. They didn’t stay and did get a refund. I had hoped to see that film, but now I am not so sure. I do hope that the Cannes award-winning film Dheepan will live up to its reputation…fingers crossed for a very satisfying, tasty film treat this time.

Hoping for a great film here in the tradition of La Haine...

Hoping for a great film here in the tradition of La Haine…