Back in the ‘dam and ready for some mind-bending cinema, fueled by Vietnamese street food and coffee caught between venues. This year we are promised a leaner selection of films, following last year’s occasionally scattershot programme quality. Day one begins and ends with scenes of a sexual nature, a bookending of blow jobs, and a sharp reminder of the daring nature of programming that Rotterdam prides itself on.
We begin with Clip, a Serbian film on adolescent lust, in competition for the festival’s Tiger Award. Pretty teenager Jasna perpetually documents her life through her cameraphone, and desperate to catch the attention of a boy at her school, records herself in a series of sexy poses with an MTV lingerie aesthetic that contrasts her humble family life where her father faces terminal illness.
The film brings to mind last year’s Tilva Rosh, also at IFFR, which involved a pair of Serbian skater kids, knocking around in abandoned spaces and recording themselves doing Jackass-style stunts. Clip shares the commentary on a youth to whom self-documentation is a normalised form of expression and escape, but also a catalyst to self-destruction, and there is common nihilism at play.
All the pleasure-less bumping and grinding of Clip is certainly pretty depressing, and the film wallows in the murky waters of pornification, so concerned with a harsh authenticity while characters remain underdeveloped, that a wider social commentary is conspicuous by its absence. Any film that has a much-needed title card on the end credits to reassure the audience that no underage persons were involved in the nudity or sexual acts, is unlikely to translate to non-festival environments
In total contrast, Ace Attorney is the latest film from Takashi Miike, based on a Capcom videogame. A big messy confetti canon of a film, the first ten minutes are such baffling melange of genre and narrative modes that it takes a while to recover. Less steampunk than megabyte fever dream, ‘cyber-baroque’ might cover it.
A new bench trial system is the setting for a series of courtroom battles as rookie lawyer Phoenix Wright must establish the murderer of his partner, in pitched battles with counsel, where virtual CSI projections are summoned at will, and the drama hinges on a well-placed holler of “Objection!” across the room.
Aided by the victim’s sister, a spirit medium conjuring encouraging words from beyond the grave, and his hyper friend in the role of the slapstick fool, elements of broad comedy and the supernatural blaze through with a zaniness that only falters due to repetition and the extended running time. Also, Wright is no Sherlock, and any crime fans will be frustrated with the pace, especially as the culprit becomes clear to the audience a good hour before our hero twigs on. But there is a definite charm here that could appeal to children, who may also be more enamored of its surreal flourishes. One for the 8 foundation, perhaps?
Staying in Japan, but heading back into low-budget territory, next is About the Pink Sky, a black and white digital feature with non-professional actors. Our heroine is Izumi, a thirteen year old with a left-field sense of morality, who finds a wallet containing 300,000 yen. As she uses her own cheeky logic on the redistribution of wealth, we watch as she tries to wriggle out of the consequences, which include producing a newspaper full of good news for a boy her friend has a crush on. Photographed impeccably, it’s an airy, light film, that relies on the audience falling for Izumi’s charms, but she is neither a Zazie nor a Juno, and to this viewer it remains a wispy confection.
The highlight of the day, by far, came in the form of Tiger Award for Short Films Programme 1, with the selection offering the kind of perception-altering experiences that make IFFR a destination for examining the edges of cinema.
Im Freien was filmed in Iceland by a crew of three, where an image was captured every three minutes for three months (with a half an hour break to change the film rolls every eight days). As a silent 23 minute film, it was not only a feat of time-lapse and double exposures, but its rough terrain vs modernist leanings place it in an interesting land art context, which intersects with the likes of Semiconductor, although by placing a body in the frame director Albert Sackl diverges by asking questions about nature and Man with a capital M.
Mati Diop will be known to many for her lead role in Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rhum. Having won the Tiger Award for her short Atlantiques in 2010, Diop returns with a couple of films in this year’s festival. Big In Vietnam takes as it’s starting point a film shoot for what seems a pretty schlocky period adaptation about ‘sensuality’, but departs from here when the lead actor wanders deep into the forest, never to return. The director and her son head in opposite directions and a long night and morning of the soul ensues on the streets of Marseilles. Shot in a grungy digital this is a moving and perceptive meditation on lost people, that shows immense sensitivity.
Influenced by Dick Hebdige’s classic tome on subculture, Phil Collins presented the meaning of style, a five-minute lyrical portrait of a group of skinheads in Malaysia. Reveling in the sharp fashion against locations including a basic cinema and a palatial terrace, the film hints at questions around colonial legacy, and the anti-fascist origins of the skinhead movement, while a set of butterflies add to a pretty aesthetic, wrapped in a soundtrack from Gruff Rhys & Y Niwl.
The last film in the programme, Springtime, harked to a 1970’s performance art tradition, where filmmaker Jeroen Eisinga, sits in front of the camera, with a swarm of bees covering his arms, torso, and eventually his face. Maintaining a stare into the camera lens for as long as he can keep his eyes open, in black and white the creatures squiggle all over him like television static, disappearing into the wall behind. Uncomfortable viewing becomes hypnotic, underscored by the fact that this is a potentially fatal stunt.
Finally a total treat to end the day was George Kuchar: Wrap Party, a screening of the last two films Kuchar completed before his death in 2011. Having been lucky enough to see a selection of Kuchar’s Christmas films in London as part of the launch of the excellent Kuchar-flavoured edition of Little Joe magazine, I was prepared for the mix of weather commentary, diaristic monologue and filthy interludes of HotSpell, detailing Kuchar’s motel encounter with some bad meteorological mojo. Meanwhile, Empire of Evil is pure trash noir, with an orgy of students from the San Francisco Art Institute camping it up as a homoerotic crime syndicate self-destructs turning innocents to killers, and good girls bad. My festival has begun!