The rest of what we caught at the festival:
+ "The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael": Like a kid who knows his tongue will stick to the frozen pipe if he licks it, knows
it, and yet takes a swipe at the fucking thing anyway, we can’t stay
away from films with a reputation of making people walk out. "The Great
Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael" scored some ink when it premiered at
Cannes solely for that reason, and there’s nothing else to recommend
this smugly nihilistic tale of bored British youth in a small coastal
town who wander around, drink, do whatever drugs they can find, and
ultimately commit a horrendous act of violence. We’ll sate your
curiosity now: if you’ve ever needed to see someone raped first by
three men, then with a champagne bottle, then, fatally, with an
ornamental sword, then this is the motion picture for you. But feckless
misogyny in film is nothing new â€” far worse is the fact that first-time
director Thomas Clay inserts TVs in the background of several scenes, all playing news coverage of the Iraq invasion. See? The whole thing is a metaphor! How superprofound, Mr. Clay.
+ "Inner Circle Line": For about half of Eunhee Cho’s directorial debut (one of the few foreign films at the festival), we were under the impression that main character Youngju’s androgynous roommate Jin, who she disastrously sleeps with out of drunken loneliness one night, was her gay best friend. It turned out that Jin is actually her lesbian best friend â€” but ultimately the point is the same. Cho’s promising film touches on those favorite topics of indie Asian cinema, urban anomie and isolation, and its four character fall in and out of love, but, in true Chekhovian style, never at the same time. Sometimes soapy and sometimes heavy-handed, the film nonetheless makes great use of its partial setting on the Seoul subway line, which often appears to be the saddest location in the world.
+ "KZ": We stumbled into Rex Bloomstein‘s documentary knowing nothing about it, and left more than a little emotionally destroyed â€” the film sidles up to its subject, Austria’s Mauthausen concentration camp (one of the last to be liberated, and now a memorial to the thousands who died there), as if the filmmaker wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for when he started, which makes the film’s eventual focus all the more effective. Following the tours â€” groups of students, groups of travelers â€” the camera lingers on faces as guides somberly list the atrocities that occurred within the camp walls. Eventually, we wander outside the camp and into the homes and lives of locals living in the picturesque village nearby. Some people see the area as merely a pleasant place to live; others, some the widows or children of SS members, struggle with or are fiercely unapologetic about Mauthausen’s legacy. Bloomstein captures some devastating interviews as he returns insistently to the question (and it’s never a condemnation) of how one lives with such a history, none more so than one of the senior tour guides, who is so consumed with the camp he freely admits it’s destroying his life.
+ "The Last Romantic": One of the better-received films in the fest, this first effort from brothers Aaron and Adam Nee (they co-wrote, -directed, -edited and -shot the film, and Adam also stars as Calvin Wizzig) is charmingly quirky. The barely stable Wizzig is an aspiring poet who hasn’t actually gotten around to writing much poetry â€” he comes to New York to get published, and has a series of strange encounters around the city as he wanders without a place to stay or any money. There’s a woman who pays him $20 to pretend to marry her for the benefit of her Alzheimer’s-stricken father; a dancer who acts like a cat (Shalom Harlow); a famous writer (James Urbaniak) and his femme fatale girlfriend (Jane Bradbury, who, in a cute touch, is only ever shot in black and white); and the idealized girl Wizzig spots on the F train. The neurotic, strange Wizzig is sometimes funny but just as often barely tolerable â€” still, the brothers Nee come up with clever visual indicators that the story is being told as recalled by Wizzig some time later, including playing with the color saturation to create a dreamlike springtime New York that’s as bright and lush as only a memory can be.
+ "LOL": Behold the children of Bujalski! Joe Swanberg‘s second feature owes a lot to "Funny Ha Ha"‘s meandering rhythms and seeming non sequiturs that somehow add up to profound character development, and while Swanberg may not quite have Bujalski’s exquisite understanding of everyday awkwardness, "LOL"’s scenes have an aching naturalism to them, particularly as the film builds (or rather, doesn’t build) towards its conclusion. The three young men the film follows are in the process of establishing post-college lives, dabbling in adulthood, and their lives are hopelessly caught up in tools of communication â€” phones, digital cameras, laptops â€” that do nothing to aid their understanding of other people, particularly the women in their lives. There’s a keen appreciation for the discomfort of being alone with someone having a prolonged cell phone conversation â€” often "LOL"’s characters use technology as a weapon of passive aggression, an excuse not to connect with the people actually in the room with them. We weren’t thrilled with the film’s interstitial clips of one of the character’s video art projects, but we can live with it for a scene in which two people sitting on a couch IM about the person sitting between them. Not that we’ve ever done that. Nope.
+ "Rank": "Rank" is an IFC doc, so we really shouldn’t be writing about it at all, but we’re worried it’ll get shrugged off because on paper a documentary about professional bull riding sounds forgettable, and it’s not. "Rank" is unexpectedly gorgeous and melancholy, and finds some remarkable subjects, particularly Mike Lee, a 21-year-old born-again Christian from Texas with huge eyes and a massive scar on his head from brain surgery following a bull riding injury, who’s both aestheticized and innately tragic in a way that recalls "Elephant," though we seem to be the only ones who think so.
+ "Shadow Company": Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque tackle the history of private military companies, from the formation of Executive Outcomes (lord, what a name) in 1989 to the firms’ current prevalence in Iraq (there’s one "consultant" for every ten soldiers), and back through to the origins of mercenary profession and the complicated ethics behind the use of these private armies. "Shadow Company" is an even-handed throwback to the talking head-based documentary, and exists more to be informative than argumentative, despite a last-act call for more regulation.