09 February 2010

Police, Adjective.

Then I realized: it was odd to call the film Police, Adjective. I was at the library, and I opened up their big dictionary on the table. A transitive verb, yes, a noun, certainly, but no listing as an adjective. My MacBook's dictionary doesn't have police listed as an adjective. It does have 'police procedural', an instance I think of police being used as an adjective, although in my MacBook 'police procedural' is listed as one word and as a noun, defined as 'a crime novel in which the emphasis is on the procedures used by the police in solving the crime.' Police, Adjective is a police procedural film that deals with the ambiguity of basic concepts, concepts misshaped into amorphousness by semantics, culture, education, beliefs, etc.

And the joke is consulting a dictionary over the title of Police, Adjective. I can't begin to describe the suspended state of hysterical absurdity (punctuated by the still life bowl of fruit on the table, and chalk-drawing on the board, and a secretary's search for a dictionary) which the film ends on. Some of the film's biggest detractors claim its final moments almost single-handedly save an otherwise obnoxiously boring movie.

The movie's very boring, is what most people were saying today at PIFF, following its screening yesterday. I heard a couple local Portland critics saying it was the worst film of PIFF thus far. Get the fuck out of here, as they say.

Police, Adjective is a film in which long takes search out natural rhythms, and the temporal fabric echoes the vast moral field which is the film's playground. The film is about a policeman who contemplates essential questions with enormous consequence in the mundane circumstances of modernity. Police work is an ideal conduit for expressing everyday dullness (and habit and ritualization as obstruction from comprehension of the meaningful) because of cinema's legacy of glamorizing police work. Here is cinema's most illustrious genre, a genre which for many defines the medium, and here it is stripped bare. Which is why everyone can at least understand the semantic, bureaucratic farce at the end (another great one occurs between the husband and wife over a song, and their dispute illustrates how words can function as obstacles between raw feeling and rationality - and who understands words better, the husband, who understands words only as tangible objects, or the wife, who participates in the struggle to grasp the intangible depths of words).

The final semantic journey charts itself between conscience - law - moral - police: a policeman in a boss's office is asked to turn the dictionary pages to each word as they discuss whether or not a raid should be executed on a teenage boy (where is the teenager in your mind as this conversation takes place?). I also overheard the Portland critic tell his friend that he felt like he was being lectured to the entire film, and that the final question was simply a matter of strict adherence to the letter of the law* versus the spirit of the law. But it's more than that. It's about a buried feeling, hard to name, hard to express. Where does it originate, and how true is it? A feeling embedded in the soul. And also, importantly, how much of our lives are shaped by how well we can express ourselves?

This is the spirit of the film that goes deeper than the words debated in those final moments, and though I can try to be persuasive on this point, part of my argument will remain trapped within me, inexpressible for various reasons, owing to the words I use and the way I search to express them, and that's something Police, Adjective understands about people and their lives. I've never seen it expressed so well, so clearly, in a film.

*The film has deadpan letters of the law jokes. Visual puns that make me shit my pants from laughter just thinking about.

07 February 2010

True Stories/Stop Making Sense/Demons.

We have cocktails and appetizers at Bar Mingo until 6:40, and I don't want to run the twenty blocks so we take a cab to the theater. Someone with us knows the cab driver. We make it just in time: the girl walks toward the camera down the two-lane road hugged on all sides by fields, great open Texas fields. Byrne begins his narration, introducing the town. His voice is mostly relaxed, with undulations of terrific joy and puzzlement.

John Goodman works in a microchip plant. He wants to find a wife. Sad music causes him to lie down on the floor. He can remember kids' names if they sit in alphabetical order. He dances (there're musical pieces, frequent but spontaneous, for example a great moment has Byrne in a field, reflecting with a real estate agent on the curious nature of housing developments, and as the camera tracks with Byrne a group of kids appear screen right; they carry instruments and burst into song). Goodman is Byrne's traveling companion through this mostly relaxed narrative tapestry (it also has undulations of terrific joy and puzzlement). Byrne's car is not leased, it's privately owned. He's a crazy driver.

It's an easy to like movie. It's critical but affectionate, and it's more curious than critical. It's more perceptive than curious. It's more funny than perceptive.

Ten minute intermission. We avoid security cameras. The movie has started when we re-enter, so we crouch as we cross the front of the theater to our seats. We're front row. I want to dance but I'm too self-conscious about it. There's seriously a dance floor in front of the screen. I notice the guy next to me keeps shaking his leg, and then I notice that I keep shaking my leg. I think that in our heads me and this guy are the purest dancers here, the real dancers. I stop shaking my leg, my theory being that the energy will grow and I will explode into a dance frenzy on the stage. Sometimes in bursts I hear the audience singing along. Sometimes they clap after the songs. I stare at the screen, mesmerized.

On the way back I call a lamp pole a lamp post, but no one says anything to me about my mistake.

We arrive twenty minutes early. The previous movie hasn't let out. We wait on the sidewalk.

It's more gory than I remembered. I try to keep a list of the types of brutality: eye gouging, face tearing, throat slashing, bulging sores erupting with green puss. I think next time I'll bring paper if I want to keep a list of types of brutality featured. Terribly creepy and visceral fang sequences. My favorite moment used to be the helicopter breaking through the roof, but now it's the girl pushing the theater screen with her hands, an effect reminiscent of Videodrome.

I keep yawning during the movie. Am I tired (later, I'll come home and watch thirty-forty minutes of Man of Aran, waiting to fall asleep), or am I bored? Maybe you can't follow Stop Making Sense with Demons. I blank out for about twenty minutes, after the pimp dies.

05 February 2010

PIFF Week One, Press Screenings (+/-).

The first film is Russia's Hipsters, Monday morning 11:00am. I eat a cinnamon bagel before I go. I don't know anything about the film, the experience is about encountering cinema with infinite trust. What I see is a 50s Moscow Soviet Union drama with scattered musical sequences. A group of psychocandy-colored dressed early-adults are cinematic post-Jarmusch/DiCillo rockabillies. The female lead is Oksana Akinshina of Lilya 4-Ever.

In the first sequence the audience laughs merrily, but the laughter doesn't continue in a united sense. Hipsters strides through its jokes too speedily and derivatively for them to grow in meaning, and its jubilance is exaggerated. It still manages to create infrequent shivers of joy within me. But a film that should be about the joy of discovery takes place in the machinery of convention. Being post-modern it's also hyper-aware and ironic about this (as one characters ultimately states, "The freer the person, the simpler the clothes"). The film unwinds itself in the final twenty minutes, beginning approx. with the birth of the African-American-Soviet-Union baby, and its final message is that you can't be hip for long. But fucking everybody can dance in the street.

I eat at Chipotle. At 2pm A Prophet starts. Jacques Audiard's perfectly crafted, badass, and crushing gangster film. "A better life, for me and my friends."

Blueberry waffles in the morning. Tuesday 11am, the Iranian About Elly. A film with a grueling twenty minute centerpiece. The cast is terrific, each playing their role with bravery and openness. "As lies and deception compound into catastrophe, About Elly focuses on the behavior and values of the Iranian middle class, illustrating how convention, conformity, and tradition can be restrictive, even among those who fool themselves into thinking they are not guided by them."

If you asked me to name my favorite of the week, and told me you'd abstain from kissing me if I didn't reply, I'd tell you my favorite was About Elly. This is a perfect poster for the film. This is how innocently it all begins. On vacation with friends and family, in a seaside villa, your children with you, someone goes missing. Someone is probably dead. And how do you explain to the police, to the person's family, and to yourself, how this has happened? The film examines the shades of guilt cast over the vacationers, and as small white lies build toward a state of total fabrication and confusion, each person goes through a series of confrontations with their own blame and guilt. As a viewer, I do as well.

I eat at Chipotle. It's raining and I don't have a jacket. Ajami is at 2pm. It's a non-linear slums story from Israel/Palestine. Its dimensions are revealed from different angles in dileniated chapters and culminate in a shocker ending.

Two green sauce burritos, from Trader Joe's, for breakfast. Wednesday 11am is Terribly Happy. A Danish Twin Peaks (lumber truck giveaway) by way of Hot Fuzz. It's best when it's funny, and sometimes it's hilarious. It also exhibits blends of tragedy and humor, terror and bliss, paranoia and provincialism. It bursts with a low-key creativity and I hope Henrik Ruben Genz builds in this direction.

I eat at the Persian House. 2pm is Fish Tank. Fish Tank is the first one I'd heard about prior. It won the Cannes Jury Prize. Andrea Arnold had done this previously with her debut Red Road. The protagonist is a teenage hiphop dancer who lives in Essex, England, in a monolithic apartment complex with her mother and younger sister. In a great early moment she head-butts another girl, then tries to free an old white horse tied up next to a trailer home. Arnold treasures her character (played by the real-deal Katie Jarvis), but never lies to us about her, and this means she never forces us to see her in a single way. The elasticity of her emotions enrich the film's shifting textures of bravery and fragility. Arnold's talent as a filmmaker engenders cohesion and broad-ranged poetic realism.

No breakfast. 11am, Art of the Steal. It stunned us all. A comprehensive documentary about an absolute instance of commodification of art. It's a brave wide-eyed film.

Lamb meatballs at the Persian House. 2pm Girl on the Train. The female lead character is great, but her journey is overstated, especially one day following the subtle tragedy of Fish Tank. In a key scene she leans on the shoulder of a young boy and explains away the whole film. Later, the boyfriend explains it again. The second half should have been titled "Explanations" and not "Consequences," essentially. Give Catherine Deneuve something to do!

11am this morning Mid-August Lunch, a delightful, short Italian comedy from screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio, who crafts richly detailed moments and cleanly developed characters. The film left me with the sensations of a genuine visit. It also was the most consistently funny film of the week. Or as I told a friend, it's a smile of a film. That's what I told my friend, "It's a smile of a film," which means that I actually talk like this in person too. I should also mention that these audiences are basically me and a pack of the elderly. They loved it too.

A downtown restaurant, chicken parmigiana sandwich. 2pm today is Home. Another terrific surprise. The film journeys into madness by following a family of five whose house becomes highway adjacent property. It's not a straight trip though, and the film is always vacillating, and always exposing its characters in full dimensions. The level to bizarre detail is astonishing.