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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

European Film Festival Round-up and Scorsese's Departed

This year marks a decade since the European missions in Trinidad first came together to present the European Film Festival, which ended yesterday after a three week run. The first festival, if my ever-increasingly faulty memory serves, was held at the old Deluxe cinema in Port of Spain (now the swanky Zen nightclub) and screenings were free of charge. Many of the films were also of the arthouse or experimental type (including some classics), and audiences were small. Ten years on and the festival finds itself at the upscale, American-style Movietowne multiplex. It's now $15 per film, the films are mainstream and contemporary, and the audiences are bigger than ever.

This year I saw seven films--one quarter of the 28 on offer. If that's a representative enough number by which to judge the festival as a whole (and I don't see why it isn't) then I think it fair to say that the festival was a good, though by no means great reflection of current European cinema. Most of the films were just that, good but not great, competent without really taking any risks, artistically or thematically.There was the chatty French comedy examining the minutiae of bourgeois life (is it ethical to kill mites in your kitchen is about as pressing a problem these people seem to have); the enjoyable but formulaic Dutch one about Moroccan immigrants (traditional patriarch, long-suffering wife, rebel daughter, confused son, etc); the Italian drama crammed full of religious symbols and abstract theological discourse (surely they don't go around quoting St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas all day in Italy?).

Two films stood out. The animated French feature Les Triplettes de Belleville (or Belleville Rendezvous) is a strange, wondrous, original and very funny creation by Sylvain Chomet, deeply satisfying on a host of levels and worth multiple viewings. Then there was Perry Ogden's low-budget, mini-DV Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl, a blend of documentary and fiction, about Ireland's marginalised, itinerant Traveller community. This was the sobering note on which the festival ended last night, and whatever else the slightly stunned and subdued audience, obviously disturbed out of their comfort zones, may have thought of it (Thank God that's not my life? That wasn't exactly what I had in mind for an evening at the cinema?) I couldn't help but think that this is precisely the sort of cinema we here should be concerning ourselves with making.

Overall, then, the European Film Festival continues to give us by and large light fare for our consumption. Nothing wrong with this--the weakest film was probably better than your average piece of Hollywood nonsense, and the audiences seem generally pleased with what's on offer anyway--but if you're looking for something more substantial, you'd be better off looking elsewhere (like StudioFilmClub, for example). Oh, and if you're looking for British films, you should probably look elsewhere as well. Inexplicably there was only one British film at the festival this year, the Constant Gardener, a Hollywood film. I know Britain doesn't think much about being a part of Europe, but does that attitude have to extend to the film festival as well?

****

Also saw the new Martin Scorsese, the Departed, recently. It's been touted as a stunning return to form for the man, his best since (fill in the blank with whatever film you think was his last masterpiece). I was fairly underwhelmed by it. Apart from a fantastic opening sequence (thereby fulfilling half of Who drummer Keith Moon's declaration that it's your entrance and exit that matter most, it doesn't really matter what goes on inbetween), apart from the opening, and a few nice stylistic touches here and there, the Departed is overplotted and desperate, packed with so many Hollywood A-listers jostling for the attention of a guy named Oscar. At times the film feels, if not like Scorsese consciously parodying himself, then like a film not to be taken all that seriously: the trite final shot basically confirms this. There's also a terribly anachronistic scene in a porn movie theatre that's obviously meant as a nod to Taxi Driver. But what a far cry Taxi Driver--which Scorsese made exactly 30 years ago and which was screened at SFC--is from this film! Di Caprio is no De Niro. And Scorsese now is not the Scorsese he was then. But the soundtrack is killer.

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