Underwhelming films but overwhelming schmoozing on Day 3 of MIFF

March 4, 2013

MIF_2011._willem_The_Life_and_Death_of_Marina_Abramovic._By_Lucie_Jansch_13

Day 3 of the Miami International Film Festival started as a bit of a drag with a pair of films that underwhelmed. However, the night ended on a high note as the festival’s director invited me to a VIP party to close the night in celebration of that night’s career achievement award recipient: Lasse Hallström.

I spent most of my time at O Cinema that day, walking in with high hopes for Bob Wilson’s Life & Death of Marina Abramovic. Though I could not have expected to see a filmed version of the actual stage play/opera by Robert Wilson with music by Antony Hegarty and Matmos, I had at least hoped for something beyond brief scenes from the performance and people patting one another on the back. It starts promisingly with Wilson recounting the moment the performance artist called him up to ask him to design her funeral.

The snippets from the performance and rehearsals were as startling as anyone familiar with Wilson’s work should expect. Willem Dafoe delights wearing expressionistic face paint like a Technicolor version of the makeup painted on the actors in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. bob_wilsons_life_and_death_of_marina_abramovic_posterHowever, I could not help but notice the sentimentality of it all, which stands in stark contrast to the aesthetic of the work of the performance artist herself. Abramovic is well-known as having put her body through the ringer for her work. She stood against the idea of staged performances with fake blood. Wilson’s work is stagey to the extreme. Abramovic searches for some pain to relate with, and it arrives in her taking the role of her own, abusive mother.

In the end, the talents here are unparalleled and maybe should be forgiven some self-appreciation. Perhaps an exploration of a staged, rehearsed performance with props and costumes will serve Abramovic well in her continued evolution as she approaches a deeper sense of her own mortality. An artist should be allowed to evolve for the sake of the integrity of her art, which should never be reduced to gimmick in order to maintain relevance. The documentary was interesting though it did not leave me as enraptured as I would have hoped for.

The film also opened with a very loose narrative short film that had nothing to do with Abramovic. “Ebb and Flow” was a 29-minute short that at first seemed to recall Pedro Costa’s work in the slums of Lisbon, with an opening scene of a shirtless man hanging laundry inside a bricked building in shadows sliced by incongruent light. ebb-an-flow-rodrigo-marianaThe film turned out to be a series of loosely linked scenes about the young man trying to raise a young daughter in Brazil while keeping a job building extreme car stereos. Oh, and he’s deaf. Though the scenes are often rambling and slight, with little conflict, they are quite humanistic and raw.

I broke up the screenings at O Cinema by dashing over from the Wynwood base of the art house to Downtown Miami and the festival’s primo venue, the Olympia theater, for Hallström’s career achievement award tribute and presentation. I greeted he and his wife actress Lena Olin at the end of the red carpet where festival director and kind champion of this blog, Jaie Laplante introduced me with words of flattery. Olin and I had a nice chat, and I was happy to shake Hallström’s hand after “meeting” him only over the phone for a conversation that ended up published in the “Miami Herald” (read it here).

They were soon whisked away for the presentation of Hallström’s career achievement award. I watched it from the back of the room. It began with a montage of marvelous scenes from some of his more famous films. During the intertitles someone messed up the dates noting Abba: the Movie as a 1985 film and then My Life As a Dog as coming from 1977. Murmurs from the crowd proved I was not the only one to have noticed this flub. But the typo was soon forgotten, as one enchanting scene after another surprised members of the audience. They gasped at the breadth of this man’s work since his U.S. debut in Miami, which included Chocolat, Cider House Rules, Once Around, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The producer of Hallström’s first English-language film, Once Around, actor Griffin Dunne presented the award, noting the embarrassing amount of tears he shed when he first saw My Life as a Dog. When it was his turn to speak, Hallström could not help but express how precious the moment was when the film premiered at the 1987 Miami International Film Festival. It clearly stands as one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

As I had already seen that night’s Hallström film ahead of my interview with the director, I headed back to O Cinema for one more movieErrorsOfTheHumanBody-Poster-565x798. Part of MIFF’s Mayhem series, Errors of the Human Body proved downright disappointing. I had hoped for something at least slightly Cronenbergian, but ended up with a film way too long for its own good. It lingered on scenes for so long dread turned to boredom. To make matters worse, the film ended with a twist that trumped anything prior. As one moviegoer outside O Cinema exclaimed, “I feel as ripped off as when I watched Lost!” Errors has been picked up by IFC Films, so you may be able to see it for yourselves soon enough, be it in a theater near you if not on-demand.

After that film, I took up Laplante’s invitation to stop by the VIP party at the Epic Hotel, a fancy new hotel a few blocks south of the Olympia in Downtown Miami, just before the Brickell financial district. It was a chilly walk on an extra cold night for Miami (like yesterday, low 50s), but it proved worthwhile. After not seeing anyone I recognized around the whole bar, I saw Olin and Hallström sitting alone at a small table and approached. We ended up chatting the night away. I mostly spoke with Olin who shared her feelings about what a leap of faith acting in film is, considering she came from live theater in Stockholm. She shared that, while making the Unbearable Lightness of Being, she had feared the end result would be an embarrassing mess. But what a nice surprise she would be in for, as most cinephiles know.

Later, one of 1990s great American independent filmmakers came over to introduced himself, who Hallström seemed not to know. Olin and Hallstrom at afer party. Image fourtesy of MIFF Facebook pageWhit Stillman is at the festival as part of the jury for the festival’s long-running Knight Ibero-American Competition. I gushingly vouched for the talent of Stillman while also introducing myself to him. We bonded after he dared asked if I had ever panned one of his films, and I shamelessly admitted that indeed I had (read it here). Regardless to say, an interesting conversation turned even more interesting, as we all hunched over the tiny table to hear everyone speak.

At the end of the night, I wished Olin and Hallström a pleasant trip back to their home in New York for which they are headed to today. Stillman shared his email address with me, as he and I look to make plans for meeting at some point during the festival. I hope to make up for my harsh review of Damsels in Distress, which the Stillman-centric fansite whitstillman.org called “thoughtful.” The man was utterly agreeable and down to earth and is truly looking forward to our conversation, which I hope to share here.

Today, I have a ticket to only the following screening:

Monday, March 4th
7:00 PM: MY GERMAN FRIEND (EL AMIGO ALEMÁN)

001_MY_GERMAN_FRIEND_THISONE_l

It’s a weekday, so it will mean a lot of writing. Among assignments to get to: transcribing an interview with actor Brady Corbet who will be down at MIFF on Friday to host a 35mm screening of Robert Bresson’s masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar (if you have nothing else to see, buy tickets).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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