Top 10 Festival Films: Torino Film Festival

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Matt Micucci picks his top 10 films from the 31st Torino Film Festival (22 – 30 November 2013).

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10 – Sweetwater (Sweet Vengeance) (Logan Miller, Noah Miller)

 

The Miller brothers put a stylised and even exaggerated spin on the all too often seen formula of the revenge film. Sweetwater  is, in fact, a blood triangle set in Western times between a super-villain religious fanatic, a free spirited renegade sheriff and a former prostitute angered by the murder of her husband. As a Western, it resembles much more the freshness of spaghetti ones then the classics of Americana.

 

The Millers bring their own personal stylistic touches that make Sweetwater an invigorating mix of violence and gore with the occasional laugh-out-loud comedy touch. The cast, particularly its lead players Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs and January Jones, plays along with the fun atmosphere of the film with some entertaining extravagant performances.

 

Some may find its eccentricity excessively annoying and slipping into parody, but there is no denying that Sweetwater is an enjoyable romp all the same.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Robert Rodriguez, 2003), I Do Not Forgive…I Kill! (Fedra West, Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent, 1968)

 

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9 – The Dismantling (Le Démantélement) (Sébastien Pilote)

Joining a small trend of films about farmers struggling to keep up their rural lifestyle in the 21st century, The Dismantling is the tale of a sheep farmer who chooses to sell his sheep farm that was handed down to him from his own father in order to come to the financial rescue of his daughter.

Despite the fact that this film may be seen as a man’s relentless descent into a self-inflicted unhappiness, this film is quite enjoyable and even crowd pleasing. This is not only because The Dismantling paints an interesting and intriguing domestic picture through wonderful photography that really treasures its countryside surroundings. It is also due to a great leading performance by Gabriel Arcand, who balances his character’s quietness with his own facial expressions that conceal benevolence, melancholia and unconditional love all at once. Furthermore, the sheep farmer is portrayed with an air of solemnity and heroism, as if he were a lone ranger alienated from the outside world and mighty in his struggles to fight back the fast paced urban modern way of living. This in turn leads us to wonder whether what we are seeing is the act of unconditional love of a father for his daughters or a sign of defeat of a man of older and outdated principles in this technological age – the latter point strengthened by a profound hostility towards an unwanted computer being brought to his house.

This core dilemma is quite troubling and the aforementioned descent culminates in an ending full of poetry and an unsettling contrasting joyful despondency, which fulfils the power of the intimate and sometimes even uncomfortable character study that is certainly worth the wait, even through its dead moments and a slow start.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – An Unfinished Life (Lasse Hallstrom, 2005), It’s All So Quiet (Boven is Het Stil, Nanouk Leopold, 2013)

 

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8 – Traffic Department (Drogówka) by Wojciech Smarzowski

Smarzowski takes a corrupt and immoral police traffic department as a starting point for his provocative thriller that comments heavily on social and political decadence as well as a total lack of violence. The central plot follows one of the members of the traffic department wrongly accused of a murder and desperately trying to clear his name. Doing so he unearths scandal upon scandal, from small community ones to ones of international scale.

While the plot would wrongly lead one to think it unoriginal, Traffic Department is very engaging and wilfully challenging, making use of sharp editing and shooting footage from different cameras from professional ones to iPhones. This leads to a jumbled jigsaw-like pace that induces and even forces the viewer to play an active part in the film and interact with it.

The conclusions it draws are shocking and confrontational as we witness a fundamental lack of morals and a natural lenience of the characters to vice, particularly with the seven main characters of the titular department with each one standing as a representative of each one of the seven deadly sins. Thought provoking and fearless but be warned – this is no work of light entertainment. Traffic Department is experimental and a film that could easily be classified as difficult, though it remarkably became the highest grossing film in Polish cinemas that year.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2003), The Wedding (Wesele, Wojciech Smarzowski, 2004)

 

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7 – Men Show Movies and Women Their Breasts (Manner zeigen Filme & Frauen ihre Bruste)(Isabell Suba)
 

Isabell Suba takes on sexual discrimination and film festival snobbery in her guerrilla filmmaking mockumentary that is among the most exciting and rebellious pieces of cinematic experiments of modern film.

After her own short was picked for Cannes, she sent an actress to pose as her and shot a film of her experiences as a filmmaker that comes to contact with the less glamorous side of the biggest and most talked about film festival of the year. Thus, this is how a huge opportunity ends up being a disappointment. Some of the conversations between the central characters of the director and producer drag and then there may be a whole argument about the relationship between the filmmaker and the producer being uncomfortable, as well as the individual characters being pretty stubborn and unlikable. But that is faithful to the realistic approach that Suba chooses to employ.

Interesting and captivating, as well as filled with compelling observations, Men Show Movies and Women Their Breast certainly makes its statement loud and clear.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – Lost in La Mancha (Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe, 2002), Lenny Cooke (Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie, 2013)

 

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6 – Cycling with Moliére (Alceste á Bicyclette) (Philippe Le Guay)

Films about acting are rarely as delightful and mature as le Guay’s Cycling with Moliére. Here, in the French countryside, two actors battle it out for the role of Alceste in Moliére’s celebrated play The Misanthropes as they rehearse for an upcoming production.

The film works on many levels, with its underlying themes of passion and ego played tastefully and almost disguised with finesse under its reassuring chamber comedy approach that almost disguises the screenplay’s intelligence in its juxtaposition with Moliére’s work. Furthermore, everything is perfectly balanced, such as the comedy with the intimate portrayals of the characters that reveal a more compelling and dramatic side to Le Guay’s work.

Of course, it all would never have worked without its great leading performances, with Fabrice Luchini as the retired and disenchanted cynical actor who connects with the character of Alceste in a personal way delivering a particularly remarkable performance.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – Sleuth (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1972), The Trouble With Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)

 

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5 – The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (Shane Meadows)

A documentary on the reunion of one of the biggest and most influential bands in modern music, The Stone Roses. Shane Meadows, who shot the film, brings his own passion to the table and allows his love of the fan to be a guiding light in the making of his documentary. The result is as infectious as the music and the energetic feel of the piece create an atmosphere of excitement that seems to genuinely represent the very same excitement that followed the news of a seemingly impossible reunion.

On top of that, The Stone Roses: Made of Stone allows an intimate behind the scene look at the band and looks at its history from another point of view. A truly remarkable stand out documentary as far as rock and roll music documentaries go, in the end it kind of comes down to the people’s personal tastes. Those who aren’t fans of the Roses will criticise Meadows for failing to restrain his own adoration of the band, while those who love the Roses will only be able to moan the absence of hits like Love Spreads in the soundtrack.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – Shine a Light (Martin Scorsese, 2008), 24-Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

 

4 – A Train to Moscow (Il Treno Vá a Mosca) (Federico Ferrone, Michele Manzolini)

A Train to Moscow represents the crème de la crème of archive documentary. The story is that of a man from a small Italian town a few years after the Second World War who had the opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union and meet Stalin as a supporter of the Italian communist party. The trip and the social culture of the times are well reported by the fact that he had a hobby of shooting videos with Super-8, and that is the footage that makes up the film.

Ferrone and Manzolini, understanding the power of these amateur films, convey their power by allowing them to entrance the viewer with a hypnotic pace conveyed by some good editing decisions and soundtrack picks. This gives the documentary a priceless dreamlike quality that makes it a wonderful and priceless experience, which is ultimately full of melancholia and represents an important time of hinted socio-political rebirth of a nation deeply affected and disenchanted by the horrors of warfare but also its resulting disappointment.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012), Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)

 

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3 – The Stag (John Butler)

John Butler’s take on the Irish bachelor party traditions is not the infantile comedy that we have been used to expecting – a prejudice mostly shaped by more expensive production that make use of similar elements. This is the story of a man getting married and going off on a ‘Stag’, a trip to the mountains, with his friends and his future brother in law to be, a man whose infamous reputation as a loose cannon has people calling him ‘the machine’. Despite their initial friction, they slowly end up connecting not only to nature, but with each other as they reveal personal sides with one another that will have made their trip worthwhile.

John Butler’s film is filled with hilarious creative comedic gags, yet it is its emotional depth that catches one off guard and makes The Stag infinitely more rewarding than similar films. The Stag has this remarkable ability to be hilarious one moment and the next harrowingly intimate thanks to a very clever and well balanced screenplay. Though the cast does not include any big names, they all do a great job in conveying the strength of the film and its story. Furthermore, The Stag plays up on the Irish element of the film almost fearlessly.

Entertaining and overall rewarding, this seems to be destined to become a true gem of Irish cinema’s comedy genre and there is just no reason why it shouldn’t be.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997), Three Men and a Leg (Tre Uomini e una Gamba, Aldo Baglio, Giacomo Poretti, Giovanni Storti, Massimo Venier, 1997)

 

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2. – This is Martin Bonner (Chad Hartigan)

A real treat. Hartigan builds a great atmosphere in his tale of escape from alienation, re-kindling with the outside world and human warmth. This is the story of Martin Bonner, an Australian born man who moved from the East Coast to the Nevada Desert for work, and his meeting with an ex-convict Travis as he tries to re-connect with the outside world and his estranged daughter.

The film overflows with convincing humanity, whilst its unhurried pace and its lack of usual cinematic hyperbole makes it all more rewarding. In other words, This is Martin Bonner achieves exactly what it sets out to – it portrays hope but doesn’t force an ending though perhaps it captures a beginning in the most compelling of ways.

The simple beauty of the film is translated fully by the style of cinematography that recalls classic filmmaking by making use of old fashioned techniques such as zooms and 360 pans that not only rekindle cinema with some casually forgotten evocative feelings but also reveal a particular side of the US. This in turn leads to the construction of an atmosphere beautifully charged with nostalgia but also melancholia. A remarkable film of simple beauty.

 

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy, 2003), About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)

 

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1. – Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)

The Coen brothers shift slightly out of their comfort zone with a more character driven story that has an urban grittier film. Inside Llewyn Davis follows the predicaments of a struggling folk singer in new York City in the early sixties as he struggles to get the recognition and fame he feels he deserves as a musician. All the while, he certainly suffers for his art, constantly penniless – so much so that he is unable to even afford himself a winter coat – and encountering nothing but closed doors.

Oscar Isaac in the leading role is absolutely amazing and delivers the kind of magnetic performance that was required. In fact, his face alone is able to reveal an endless array of emotions from anger to frustration, concern and disenchantment to sadness and kind-heartedness. He’s a lot like a beaten dog, who despite the hardships takes his fair share of beatings and still relentlessly gets up for more. This is what also leads him on a desperate and in many ways hopeless trip to Chicago to meet a big producer and show him a latest work of his. On top of that, he is able to evoke great feeling through his singing as well as his acting.

Strong support is provided by the likes of Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman. On a narrative level, the film is engaging from start to finish. Though one would expect a certain frustrated and angry tone to dictate the tone of the film, Inside Llewyn Davis is soft-spoken and has a type of unexpected warmth that makes it endlessly charming. What is absolutely remarkable, in fact, is the way in which Joel and Ethan Coen are at their ease at not only telling the story in an engaging way, as they have after all done in the past. It is the way in which they remain totally respectful and faithful to not only Llewyn’s dreams and visions but also to the cultural atmosphere of the times and the type of music that is the true driving force of their latest work. And at this point, it is only right to mention that the soundtrack is memorable and it’s easy to see that some of its numbers in particular will spin off and take on a life of their own beyond the film. The photography is also arguably much grainier that in any other film by the Coens. This evokes the style of the cinema of the time, the American New Wave, where a lot of the films were also character driven. This adds to the faithful atmosphere of the time and conveys the prestige of the work that is certainly among the most solid that the great American filmmakers have ever made.

WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKED – Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969), Cisco Pike (Bill L. Norton, 1972)
NOTE: This top 10 does not include films I included in the Top 10s from the Venice Film Festival, the Cork Film Festival or the BFI London Film Festival. It does, however, include all of the films I watched and reviewed at this year’s Torino Film Festival.
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