HKIFF 2012: Day 12 Dim Sum Reviews: Jafar Panahi, Modest Reception & more

James Marsh, Asian Editor
My penulitmate day at HKIFF 2012 saw lots of frantic reshuffling as I struggled to see the films I really wanted to, while also dealing with the tricky logistics of negotiating the city at high speed. It resulted in a massive win, however, as I caught a film I had previously heard nothng about, based solely on the fact it was at a closer venue, which turned out to be one of the best of the festival!

Day 12 (3 April)




This Is Not a Film (dir. Jafar Panahi/Mojtaba Mairtahmasb, Iran)

Hailed around the world for directing such films as The White Balloon, The Mirror and Offside, Panahi has been arrested and harassed numerous times by Iranian authorities. In late 2010 he was sentenced to 6 years house arrest and awarded a 20-year ban on filmmaking, scriptwriting or giving any kind of interview to the foreign or domestic press. This Is Not A Film is a document shot by Panahi and his friend Mairtahmasb at Panahi's home on the day he is due to hear the result of his appeal. He remains good humoured about his plight but nevertheless seems unable to bear this stifling of his artistitry and endeavours to do "something" about it with his friend. At first he tries to read aloud and reenact one of his completed but unfilmed screenplays, only to quickly realise that "telling" a film is a fruitless exercise. As such their conversation becomes as much an examination and deconstruction of filmmaking and the identity and strength of the artform as it is Panahi treading a very fine line between making a film and merely having his thoughts caught on film. This Is Not A Film is by its nature an incredibly personal project, but also a larger expsose on the state of Iran. It is frequently humourous, but also moving and incredibly powerful, albeit on the surface little more than one man killing time in his apartment. 




Modest Reception (dir. Mani Haghighi, Iran)

This was a film I stumbled into completely by mistake, knowing nothing more than it was also from Iran. The film is the story of a rich couple, driving through one of the most desolate and war-ravaged regions of the Iranian wilderness, in a car packed full of money. Their trunk contains fifty clear plastic bags of newly printed banknotes, which they proceed to distribute among the poor inhabitants whom they encounter along the way. Who are Leyla (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Kaveh (director Haghighi)? Are they a married couple? Are they colleagues? Brother and sister, perhaps? And more pressingly, where did they get this money from and why are they distributing it in such a slapdash and incredibly insensitive manner? Have they stolen it? Are they on the run? Are they in fact crazy? All of these questions tease at the audience as we follow these characters on their increasingly bizarre mission. The result is a film that grips you from its opening moments and refuses to let go. Energetic, humourous, stylish and shocking, this is perhaps the closest thing to a genre film to have come out of the Iranian New Wave and one of my favourite discoveries of the festival! 




Crazy Horse (dir. Frederick Wiseman, USA/France)

In La Danse, Wiseman explored behind the scenes of the Paris Opera Ballet for three years and the result was a hugely informative and engrossing documentary, albeit somewhat frustrating in its reluctance to let its audience really feel the time structure of the piece and understand how the ballet's schedule moved from one production to the next. Crazy Horse is a much more simplified version of the same approach, pulling back the curtain on the famous Parisian nightclub, famed for its gorgeous nude dancers and innovative routines. There is no need to understand how much time is taken developing new musical numbers, and because of the brevity of each piece Wiseman spends far more time letting te dancers and the results of their labours speak for themselves. Not for the shy or modest viewer, there is no mistaking that this is a film about nudity and the beauty of the female form and as a result more than earns its Category III rating. That said, the film never feels sordid or Wiseman's camera leering, and as a result there is little reason for audiences to feel embarrassed or shameful when watching this 150-minute parade of pert breasts and pronounced posteriors. Rather, Crazy Horse is a far more affordable way of experiencing the club for oneself, while getting a rare glimpse of the mechanics of such an establishment, from the choreography classes to frantically rushed rehearsals, to auditions and the inevitable tussles between the creative and financial interests of such a business enterprise. Fascinating viewing.

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