Rotterdam 2012 - In Absentia (Day 2)

Posted on January 30, 2012 by Kate Taylor

Categories: Festival Reports

Friday starts in a rustic mode, with two very different set films in the countryside.

Nana follows the almost unbearably charming eponymous four-year-old as she hangs out on the farm where her father works, and then in the remote house she shares with her mother, who is perhaps depressed.  When her mother leaves one day and does not return it is up to Nana to take care of herself, something that she does with aplomb.  Occasionally Nana could be confused for a tiny old lady, so clear she is in her outlook, and this is a highly unsentimental account of the resourcefulness of a child’s capacity for self-sufficiency.

I was attracted to Nana on account of its director Valrie Massadian’s previous work with Nan Goldin, and certainly this background in photography lends a fantastic sense of composition to proceedings, whether it’s the scenery as Nana goes picking wood in the forest, or the matter-of-fact slaughter of a pig at the film’s opening.  Winner of best debut at the Locarno Film Festival, this film would probably translate well to UK cinema audiences.

Rural Poland is our setting for It Looks Pretty From A Distance, the debut feature by artists Wilhelm and Anka Sasnal, in contention for the Tiger Award.  Starting in a deceptively low-key realist manner, it does indeed look pretty, as we watch the inhabitants of a poor village go about their labouring, gossiping and trying to scrape money together, always filmed with a remarkable depth in the image, people and objects covering distance in the frame.

When a man walks into the forest and does not return to his property for a few days, things start to get truly weird, as the villagers move in on the house, and a darkness at the heart of the community becomes apparent, shocking in the routine nature of its atrocities.  It’s a measured film that unfolds slowly, with few footholds for the audience, making it tough viewing, but its impression lingers.  It also spells my first official theme to emerge (three films = a theme, right?), which is people going AWOL into the forest.

We’re back in the metropolis for Tokyo Playboy Club, another Tiger Award contender.  This time a gangster comedy, where a brothel owner finds himself in hot water when an idiotic employee steals money from the till and an old friend returns to town who cannot put a lid on his violent temper.  After a promisingly stylish opener the film was happy to slide into some pretty painful cliches (the dimwitted prostitutes irked me most, but then every single character was meant to be a bit dim), and in the end I had to put this down to a difference in sense of humour.

Someone else absent without leave in Rotterdam was Aki Kaurismaki, and after 25 minutes had elapsed in the sold out event for Le Havre, meant to feature a Big Talk (IFFR’s director in-conversation events that happen before the film), the audience started a slow clap.  Whether drunk, or just not enamored of the format, Kaurismaki proved a truculent and unwilling interviewee, sitting on the floor of the set, and giving three word answers under his breath.  The interviewer did well to remain composed and kept trying to coax a little more responsiveness from him, but when he needled “why are you so nervous?” she replied “I think I need a drink!” got a big cheer and then the audience boo-ed him off.

The film itself is probably brilliant. It was certainly good looking and seemed to have Kaurismaki’s deadpan humour in abundance from the audience response.  However, I made my first slip-up on not checking the subtitles in advance, which were in Dutch, so the film became an exercise in testing my GCSE French to the limit.  I look forward to re-watching it on its release in the UK in April.

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