International Film Festival Rotterdam
25 January - 2 February, 2003

[NOTE: Ratings for Day One highly suspect due to frequent jet-lag-induced nodding out. Slept 13 hours; I'm good now. Also, love Burger King? Come to Rotterdam. Every three blocks, I kid you not.]

Sat 25 (special all-virgin extravaganza!)

Virgin of Lust (Arturo Ripstein, Mexico/Spain/Portugal): 33
[Combines my two least favorite genres: masochistic sexual obsession and coded political allegory. Use of wide-angle lenses ill-advised; 140-minute running time borderline sadistic. Brief musical numbers help ease the pain.]

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Guy Maddin, Canada): 74
[Basically just a Maddinesque adaptation of Stoker's novel with a little ballet tossed in almost as an afterthought. Pretty wonderful, but still not as wonderful as Maddin's response to an angry balletomane during the Q&A: "To be honest I don't know much about ballet, don't really like ballet, and we probably could have used someone...almost like you on the set as a technical advisor."]

Sun 26

Tales From the Gimli Hospital (1988, Guy Maddin, Canada): 59
[Frankly, I can kind of see why this didn't make more of a splash at the time (rejected by TIFF, etc.) -- style's already fully formed but the glib, callow undertone suggests a precocious art-school brat with more ambition and enthusiasm than ideas. Many striking moments, but even at a mere 72 minutes it gets a little wearisome.]

A Brutal Game (1983, Jean-Claude Brisseau, France): 71
[Wow. Arresting sensibility at work here, mining unnerving emotional paradoxes from blatantly melodramatic material. (The plot, such as it is, suggests The Glass Menagerie if Amanda were a tough-love serial killer instead of an aging Southern belle.) Doesn't quite come together, but man. Brisseau's non-rep outside of France now officially unaccountable; yours truly now officially on a mission to see as much of his oeuvre as possible while here.]

/On the Run/ (Lucas Belvaux, France/Belgium): 77
[Experience not especially richer the second time but I appreciated the film's singleminded, pitiless ferocity a little more all the same. Still deciding whether it replaces Turning Gate on last year's top ten -- second viewing of that a distinct possibility also.]

Mon 27

Cinemania (Angela Christlieb & Stephen Kijak, Germany): 65
[Guaranteed to make any semi-functional movie junkie feel much, much better about his/her habit. Still a tad uncomfortable to watch, though, given that I frequent all the venues depicted, am on bland head-nodding terms with Jack Angstreich and have given Harvey Schwartz my fucking autograph (when I introduced Dog Day Afternoon at AMMI last year; I gather he was collecting them from all the critics). Hideously fascinating, but it really needed an Errol Morris, somebody with a more generous view of eccentricity; Harvey's bizarre, solipsistic hee-hee-hee gets milked for cheap laughs on several occasions, and dignity in general makes only intermittent cameo appearances. Note to Jack, should he stumble onto this: Wear your hair long, man. Seriously.]

Fear X (Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark/UK/Canada): 12
[Where X = stilted dialogue; canned portentousness; endless footage from surveillance cameras for that sub-Egoyan effect; blood-red hotel corridors for that sub-Lynch effect; Turturro on autopilot; James Remar under the impression that he should look 5% more stricken in each consecutive shot; dumbass "all in his mind" plot twist (shut up, you should thank me for spoiling it); "also starring Deborah Kara Unger." Note to cbf: No sign of Kim Bodnia, you're off the hook.]

Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (Takashi Miike, Japan): 44
[Miike's yakuza flicks tend to bore me whenever nothing outrageous is happening; this one's got a handful of laugh-out-loud sight gags (near-victim of strangulation walking around with severed hands still attached to his neck; rocket-launcher hijinks), but dialogue scenes are plentiful and deadly. At least he seems to be paying some attention to composition this time. Note to self: Almost out of toothpaste.]

Tue 28

La vie comme ça (1981, Jean-Claude Brisseau, France): 63
[Overdetermined but compulsively watchable 16mm study of a young woman's gradual politicization and subsequent destruction at the hands of The Man (or L'homme, I guess). Weird, absorbing juxtaposition of banality and violence gives way to Loachian hand-wringing, but the lead actress, Lisa Heredia (who seems to have worked only for Brisseau and Rohmer) should have been the Sylvie Testud of her generation. Can't wait to see this guy's later work, I'm thinking, whereupon I run smack into...]

Secret Things (Jean-Claude Brisseau, France): 53
[...which for the first half-hour looked like easily the greatest soft-core porn movie ever made -- so much so that I started worrying about how I was going to justify an 80+ rating without relying on the phrase "my dick was never not hard in my opinion." Brisseau's intellectual rigor seems to have either deteriorated over the years or gone on holiday, though, and the film becomes increasingly risible as it tries, with even less success than The Business of Strangers, to perform gender-reassignment surgery on In the Company of Men. After much internal debate, I have reluctantly concluded that for the most part it's pretty damn stupid. I wonder whether there are any more screenings...]

Wrecked on Road 17 (Luc Moullet, France): 39
[One of those zany foreign comedies where the jokes seem purely theoretical, like things that might amuse an alien species composed largely of radon and selenium. I kind of chuckled once or twice, but even then I wasn't entirely sure what was so funny.]

Jealousy Is My Middle Name (Park Chan-ok, South Korea): W/O
[Patience, alas, is not mine. Muted love triangle might well have been creeping somewhere of interest, but way too deliberately for my taste. Didn't I already walk out of this movie last year? I believe it was called The Mars Canon at that time.]

Wed 29

/An Amazing Couple/ (Lucas Belvaux, France/Belgium): 82
[Not quite as funny the second time -- par for the course with farce, really -- and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to ignore this film's symbiotic relationship with On the Run, to the point where I may have to dispense with my long-held "ties are for losers" credo and just declare them a diptych. A decision for another day (and continent).]

Oasis (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea): 56
[Thought this was gonna be excruciating for a while, but the uncompromising performances and carefully modulated tone (occasional cutesiness tempered by harrowing acts of physical and emotional violence) kind of won me over, at least until the deterministic finale. Expected a fantasy sequence at the end, very much impressed that I didn't get one.]

Road Movie (Kim In-sik, South Korea): 58
[People will soon be talking about this one, I predict. Visually robust, constantly surprising, explores roughly the same emotional terrain as Wong's Happy Together without half as much whiny dysfunction. Strange, vaguely Godardian use of chronological ellipsis contributes to a general sense of mild disorientation. Didn't much care for where it ended up, but a promising debut.]

Thu 30

Island (Girish Kasaravalli, India): W/O
[Basically Kazan's Wild River told from the POV of Jo Van Fleet instead of Montgomery Clift -- which is to say, without any sense of moral conflict whatsoever. And there aren't even any sprightly musical numbers (suggested titles: "Damn That Dam I Say!"; "The Coming of Progress Threatens the Most Cherished Rituals of Our Ancestors") to pep you up between didactic speeches. Catalogue calls this Kasaravalli's most mature film to date, which I suspect is roughly akin to calling Ghosts of Mississippi Rob Reiner's most mature film to date. He's the fest's third Filmmaker in Focus (along with Maddin and Brisseau), but I think I'm done.]

A Transistor Love Story (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand): 45
[And it seemed so irresistible at the outset, too. Loved Pan's big goofy grin and shamelessly narcissistic poses; loved the corny Judy-Mickey vibe of his romance with Sadaw; loved the "Don't Forget" production number (and its eventual reprise) -- got hooked, frankly, only to watch in escalating bewilderment as the film then proceeded to take one pointlessly grim and unpleasant turn after another. Guess that must've been the idea, but what's this movie trying to say, exactly? Following your dreams will destroy your life? Beware of goofy narcissists (until they return, penitent, many years later)? Very strange, and not stimulating-strange à la Blissfully Yours, either. Plus it got started late and I wound up being unable to make it across town in time for buzz-magnet Nói Albinoi, so now I'm resentful and cross as well as bewildered and disappointed. Fuck this movie in my opinion.]