Before the film I was in the press bar and had to listen to horrible middle-class wanker film critics talk about the parties they went to at Cannes. Eventually we got into the screening, where they had free popcorn for everyone.
Whit Stillman is a well-respected director, although I had not seen his films before. He is best-known for Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. His latest film, Damsels in Distress, is about a trio of extremely annoying, naval-gazing girls called Violet, Heather, Lily and Rose, who are at college, where they run a suicide prevention club. They decide that the best way to deal with people with people with depression or suicidal tendencies is through the art of tap dance. Somehow soap features in their depression-prevention plan as well.
The film is quite funny at points, but within about 20 minutes at most you really want to brutally murder the leader of the pack, Violet. She is just very up herself and pretentious. Although she is against any form of low standards, she and her friends choose to go out with the jocks at the college for kicks. After awhile you want them all to die. Towards the end the film becomes a musical, because Violet wants to start a dance craze. Somehow that is culturally important
The film clearly owes something to Heathers but it doesn’t have either its darkness or the level of humour. Whit Stillman is clearly in love with these characters but anyone with any sense would clearly hate them with a passion. Which makes this reviewer suspect that the director is an over-privileged American brat.
The fact that this mildly amusing movie was the opening night film was the shape of things to come.
A Swedish short, Sudd (dir Erik Rosenlund,) was quite good, although due to technical difficulties it didn’t run in full. Sudd was about a girl who lives in a fantasy world where scribbles have taken over. She gets infected by these and has to scrub them off herself with an eraser. This was very inventive.
Sadly, I had to miss the Cuban zombie film, Juan of the Dead, so the next one I saw was even worse than Damsels in Distress: Bummer Summer. This was about a 16-year-old who tags along on a road trip with his older brother and his older brother’s ex-girlfriend, Lila. Set in the Pacific Northwest and directed by Zach Weintraub, it was a very predictable road movie. It was obvious that the older brother would get back together with his girlfriend, although it was slightly complicated as the younger brother also has a crush on her. The one decent thing you can say about Bummer Summer is that it was decently shot, with good black-and-white and some interesting angle. The film obviously cost less than my DVD collection, but in the end, even at 80 minutes it seemed like a chore to watch.
I meant to see White-Out but accidentally walked into a screening of Nil By Mouth (they had a Ray Winstone retrospective including a on stage interview) – which I didn’t realize until after the short film that preceded it. This was unfortunate as White-Out has had some good reviews.
Next thing I saw was a documentary and quite good: a 40-minute interview between directors Marcel Ophüls and Jean-Luc Godard (Marcel Ophüls & Jean-Luc Godard: The St-Gervais Meeting). They talked about growing up in France during World War II, and also a bit about Ophüls film The Sorrow and the Pity. Godard deliberately protested against the smoking ban by deliberately smoking a cigar throughout, and manages to knock an ashtray off the table at the start of the film. It was a very insightful and interesting mini-doc/interview.
The Color Wheel was the next film I saw, another bad US road movie. It was directed by Alex Ross-Perry, and was preceded by One Smart Indian, a pretty decent short about a Native American writer. Set in one day in Manhattan, it is about his writer’s block and was well-made. The Color Wheel is about a girl who has broken up with her horrible professor boyfriend, and gets her brother to help her move her stuff. They take a little trip, bicker and fight, and have some adventures going to a Christian-run motel. They end up having a semi-incestuous relationship near the end. That’s not a spoiler, because no one will ever see this. Her brother is played by the director and writer.
Ironically, the best film I saw was the one I felt asleep during! Alexander Sokurov, director of Russian Ark has put out the fourth in his series about the abuse of power with Faust, his take on the famous German legend. He has already completed films about Hitler, Lenin and Emperor Shōwa, and this caps the quartet. Faust has one of the most astonishing openings of a film that I’ve ever seen: a continuous shot that starts in a cloudy sky and follows a scarf or piece of paper as it floats down to a village on the crest of a hill, then cuts to a huge penis on a corpse that Dr Faust is buying to dissect to try to find the soul. Around 40 minutes into the film he meets Mephistopheles (in the film called “Moneylender”) – at which point I fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until the point he is walking up “the stairway to heaven” and ends up in Purgatory. The parts I saw were absolutely beautiful and I hope to see the film properly sometimes in the near future.