Six more pieces of solid cinema from the cinephile circuit

Upstream ColorThe Melbourne International Film Festival has come to an end, and I’m left with copious notes on films that I’ve yet to fully review.

While I attempt to readjust to the horrible glare of sunlight and real life, and before I put together a few long-form reviews of some of the festival’s best offerings, here are six more brief reviews from MIFF2013.


A Touch of Sin

Zhangke Jia directs this loosely connected series of shorts exploring the dark side of contemporary China and its recent period of economic growth. Starting off with a bang, A Touch of Sin quickly runs out of steam as it becomes clear that each consecutive episode of this production is destined to end in exactly the same way as the last.

Visually striking, brutally honest and at times quite moving, this is a film with plenty to offer – just not in the one sitting.

Upstream Color

Shane Carruth made waves with his debut feature, an impressive entry into the science fiction genre, Primer. Primer was an elusive examination of the metaphysical consequences of time travel, a tightly wrapped riddle that begged to be decoded, even as it became clear that any attempt at a comprehensive solution would ultimately come up short.

If that sounds like a frustrating rather than enlightening experience, then Upstream Color will probably drive you to the point of madness. A vague story of drug-induced hypnosis, kidnapping, love, pig farming and worms will frustrate more conservative viewers as it becomes increasingly clear that there is to be no entirely satisfying conclusion. For those willing to go along for the ride, this is a textually rich meditation on the human experience that can be muddled over for a long time to come.

Boasting visuals equal to that found in the work of Terrence Mallick; a powerful score; and strong performances all around, this is a more than impressive follow up to Calluth’s debut.

Approved for Adoption

A stunning fusion of documentary and narrative animation are used to explore the tumultuous life of the talented cartoonist, Jung, who started out as a South Korean orphan before finding himself adopted by a Belgian family. Gorgeous animation, insightful scripting and a genuine sense of pathos are key in making this an incredibly visceral experience as the viewer travels on the emotional rollercoaster that is Jung’s youth.

Vic+Flo Saw a Bear

A lesbian couple (formerly convicts) attempt to start a new life together in rural Quebec, far away from their earlier lives. Domestic bliss soon evaporates as human frailties, differing personalities, a probation officer, and a sinister old enemy convene to interfere with their dream.

Expertly playing with audience expectations and defying them at every moment, Denis Cote produces a film that casually shifts between the comedic and the catastrophic.

The Day of the Crows

Jean-Christophe Dessaint directs this near perfect animation about a young boy who lives in the forest with his deeply-traumatised and brutal father, a hermit who has elected to abandon the horrors of civilisation in favor of the natural world. Inevitably, circumstances lead the wilding into the land of people and their machines. As he pieces together the mystery of his father’s past, the young man begins to develop his own sense of self in the world.

Beautiful, funny, disturbing and at times quite traumatic, this is a rare example of western animation being used to its fullest potential.

Lygon Street: Si Parlo Italiano

Shannon Swan and Angelo Pricolo codirect this documentary on the history of Lygon Street, the ‘Little Italy’ of Melbourne, Australia. Going back to early post-WWII migration, the viewer is given a quick run through of the initial Italian migration experience; the culinary revolution brought about by the introduction of Italian culture to Australia; and a quick glance at that most infamous of organisations (and non-existent according to most of the interviewees here), the mafia.

Relying primarily on the input of a handful of the streets most famous (and a couple of infamous) store owners, this is a decent effort to encompass a large amount of history in a short space of time. This can also be a problem at times; an occasional tone of excessive reverence sometimes gives the impression that some of the more interesting stories are being waylaid in the interests of posterity. Of course, a counter-argument could easily be made that those sorts of stories are exploited in the interests of entertainment quite enough.

Either way, a solid effort that will be greatly appreciated by the Melbourne community.

More belated reviews from the Melbourne International Film Festival to come.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

7 thoughts on “Six more pieces of solid cinema from the cinephile circuit

  1. Upstream Color is my favorite movie of 2013 so far. I hosted a screening in Madison and spent an hour puzzling over its mysteries over beers in the theater lobby afterward. I think we got to some kind of an answer . . . I think. Thanks for a great post!

  2. You said the magic words James- ‘Terrence Mallick’ – so I will be looking forward to trying to fathom out Upstream Colour. I have watched ‘Primer’ twice, as I love the time travel concept. Still not sure if it worked…
    Both animations look very good too, though I am not so sure about the Chinese shorts, despite generally adoring Chinese Cinema. Thanks for an interesting selection, and looking forward to more. Regards from England, Pete.

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