First report from L'Etrange Festival :
Missing the DR9 documentary really annoyed me, and I kinda neglected the festival thereafter and couldn't catch everything I had planned (Unfortunately I also missed Wavelength and Serene Velocity!). Anyway still saw a few:
The Act of seeing with one's own Eyes, a grossing out silent documentary by Stan Brakhage, on the daily routine of a coroner, opening up corpses like if on a conveyer belt. Disturbingly it reminds me of Geyrhalter's documentary on food processing industry, Our Daily Bread, and seeing inanimate human bodies being disemboweled, trepanned like pigs is not something I enjoy watching in a comfortable theatre as if it was entertainment. This questions more than the simple voyeurism of art. Brakhage over-uses obscene close ups, the only thing he was not allowed to film was the eyes of corpses, but looking at their sex and inside their skull was ok apparently.
The title is the literal translation of the Greek etymology of "autopsy". Diamanda Galas, who selected this film in her Carte Blanche, and was projected along with Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage (some people thought it was a clever choice apparently), quoted Franju saying about his documentary Le Sang des BÃªtes/Blood of the Beasts (made 22 years before Brakhage's) that filming it in color would have been offending. So Franjupreferredd to use sound for animal necropsy, and Brakhage used silent color for human autopsy.
In one of his early documentary, Kieslowski also filmed an operation room at work with patient's flesh being ripped open and their bones exposed. a really difficult experience to watch.
Les Yeux sans visage / Eyes Without a Face (1960/Georges Franju/France) is a much better film than I expected from this type of low budget exploitation flick. Excellent noir cinematography, and a strong atmosphere. For instance the facial mask act is amazing. Unfortunately the ending is a little hasty and clumsy. Despite the approximate script, the mythological content is profound and powerful (a near female Oedipus). A father figure who "kills" his daughter because she's promised to a young man (who is doctor like the father!). A daughter held prisoner by her father and a "step-mother" (the real mother died), because she lost her face in an accident. The father experimenting to reconstruct his daughter's face turns into a serial killer. Ultimately the daughter rebels and kills her step-mother and her own father.
The Hawk is Dying (2006/Julian Goldberger/USA), a small budget "indie", was at Sundance and Cannes, but is very badly written IMHO. The premise largely comes from Ken Loach's Kes (1969) and Barry Hines' novel. Here, transposed in southern Americana (with caricatural rednecks),adaptedd from anAmericann novel (Harry Crews), the hawk lover is adult and lives with his obese sister and her (allegedly autist) son. The autist son is a disposable melo character who is discarded after 20 minutes. Everafter his uncle parades around his hawk, in an attempt to train it, instead of attending the funeral. All this is so artificial, contrived, shallow,incrediblee, just a pointless caricature (or mockery). This could be used in film school to point every wrong possible decisions a director can make. The only worthwhile aspect is Giamatti's moderated performance and his acting with a real hawk throughout the film.
Two funny short films that won awards at this festival:
Counter (2004/Volker Schreiner/Germany) A frantic montage of quick glimpses at numbers seen onscreen through the catalog of cinema history, counting down from somewhere around 280 to 0. Room numbers on the doors, clock, timer, building level, speedometer, bank note, telephone number, ticket, bill, handwriting... And the brief context of these numbers, the location, the set, the photography or the actor hints at what film it comes from, but it goes so fast it's difficult to remember them all.
A Half Man (2005/Firas Momani/Canada) A stop-motion claymation of a human body cut in half from head to toes so it looks like a medical cross section, where we can see all organs inside. Ironic scene when he goes to the doctor and faces an anatomy poster in the waiting room that looks just like him. Really interesting work on the lighting and shallow focus.