There is something wonderful about walking through a city at 8.45am on a Saturday on your way to a 9.15am screening, with all the hope that you’ll discover a gem. Now, Forager: A Film About Love and Mushrooms starts with a similar urge from its couple protagonists, Lucien and Regina, rising early to head into the woods and forage for fungi.
A food film with a focus on the labour behind food, and a romance that begins at the point where the relationship is already drifting apart, Now Forager has much to admire, and will do well programmed in any season around cuisine, with particular resonance with the slow food movement, and beyond that is a smart American indie that could find fans who like their drama thoughtful. On the way to the next venue I buy an apple, and remind myself “this grew from a seed, which was planted in an orchard and picked and transported”.
Then, Bingo! I encounter the first new feature that totally makes all the cinephile senses tingle. It is a portrait of Japanese filmmaker and revolutionary Maseo Adachi by French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux, titled Il se peut que la beaut ait renforc notre resolution (It May Be That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve). The film mixes a soundtrack of Adachi’s sometimes elliptical recollections of his inspiration to become a filmmaker and his time in the Red Army Faction and Beirut, with glimmers of music and occasionally Grandrieux’s own testimony, with contemporary visuals of Adachi, often at twilight, in the playground with his grandchild or in the bars of Tokyo, and glimpses of footage from Adachi’s own films.
As a paean to the creative spirit it is inspirational, and as a reminder of the repercussions of living through a revolution that failed it is absolutely riveting. Asides from one collaboration with Wakamatsu, I had only come across Adachi as a name in books, so I’m happily resolved to see more of his, and indeed Grandrieux’s (who is planning a series of portraits of politically committed filmmakers) oeuvre’s.
Tiger contender Romance Joe, director Lee Kwang-Kuk’s debut feature, is at first so reminiscent of his former mentor that he might be dubbed Hong Sang-two. We have plots revolving around filmmakers transplanted to unfamiliar hotel environments, and in the first few minutes a drunken argument across a table, prompting a strong sense of deja vu. However, Kwang-Kuk departs with a meta-element to the story by placing nearly all the characters as contingent on the narrator relating them, meaning that accounts of the web of interconnected characters are only as (un)reliable as the storyteller. It’s a slight film, shot plainly, but as winner of Busan’s audience award, it will be of interest to fans of low-key Korean cinema.
The videotheque at Rotterdam is the best that I know of and one that other festivals would do well to replicate. A closed circuit wi-fi network means that films in the library can be seen by delegates on any laptop inside de Doelen, the festival’s hub building. And the room itself has ample viewing stations, this year open until 11pm each night, meaning it’s possible to catch up on films outside the screening schedule.
Here I see The Great Northwest, an imaginative travelogue by Matt McCormick. Having picked up a scrapbook in a junkshop, documenting a road trip made by four women around the Northwest of America in 1958, McCormick decided to recreate the journey, recording the places they visited over 50 years later.
The scrapbook is a wonderful document in itself, lovingly compiled of photos, beer mats, napkins and cocktail menus (the ladies liked to drink), and even starts with the withdrawal receipts from the women’s checking accounts, $370. On the 3,200 mile journey, most striking on the surface is what’s changed, including whole towns wiped out, with the filmmaker indicating the various historical catalysts; highway construction and dam-building, the decline of the mining industry and the eruption of Mount St Helen’s. But also striking is what remains identical, with the kitsch of roadside diners and neon motels taking on a different hue when situated as the heroic survivors of bygone taste.
McCormick resists the urge to place himself at the centre of things, there is no voiceover, and his mainly factual commentary is written onscreen over the images that he captures. Yet this journey is definitely his own, and he has a friendly eye for the absurd, be it the overzealous proprietress at a ride-a-stuffed-moose attraction, the hundreds of tourists all waiting to take identical photos of the great geysers (which he teasingly refuses to show), and the highlight of any road trip – winding ever so carefully through a herd of slow moving cattle – the funniest edge-of-your-seat single shot of the festival so far. I can imagine this film will travel well at festivals, and while distinctly lo-fi in production values may hamper wider release, it would be enjoyed by many.
Then I play catch up with Sack Barrow, Ben Rivers’ 21-minute art documentary shot in the Servex Ltd factory, a metal finishing and polishing plant in Hemel Hempstead.
The colour palette, down to the blue boiler suits, wouldn’t feel out of place in a Kaurismaki film, walls of blue and green and machinery in various shades of brown. But this is not the clinical environs we imagine of modern-day industry, rather the factory exudes a 1970’s vibe, with topless pin-ups torn from magazines on the walls, and the time capsule feel echoed by the mineral-encrusted pipes. Perhaps the steaming chemicals rising from great vats have pickled the premises. It’s an affectionate portrait, and ends with an unexpectedly joyful twist, with a cheeky use of soundtrack.
Dinner follows, swapping best festival war stories with a couple of programmers from Abandon Normal Devices and Cine-City Brighton Film Festival over Mexican food, and the illicit thrill (at least for us UK-ers) of smoking indoors at the cigar bar next to the Schouwburg venue. My best film day so far, and time spent foraging has been well rewarded.