Fantastic Fest 2013 Day 4

Mattie Do

Mattie Do, director of Chanthaly and the first female film director ever in Laos.

The Fantastic Fatigue is now setting in. I even skipped the earliest movie slot in the day. (In my defense, I used that time to have an amazing brunch with my friends Cargill and Jessica.) However, I am soldiering on, and being rewarded with great movies.

Also, I met Thomas Cappelin Malling outside the theater and got to tell him how much I loved Norwegian Ninja, which I saw at a Fantastic Fest several years ago. Achievement unlocked!

Dir. Mattie Do

Chanthaly is less of a horror story than it is a drama with ghosts. It is a character study of a young Lao woman with a heart condition, who is kept virtually imprisoned in her home by her health and her protective father. Her mother died under mysterious circumstances during her childhood, and now she has begun seeing apparitions and having doubts about the foundations of her caged life.

The film gets more mileage out of quiet contemplation than the usual ghost movie toolbox of jump scares and creaky sounds. Chanthaly is also most interesting when the plot takes the ghost tale several extra steps in the third act. This is a film that rewards patience.

This film has a very interesting pedigree. It is only the ninth film ever made in Laos. It is also the first Lao film ever to be directed by a woman. Director Mattie Do is an explosion of energy in person; it is almost hard to imagine that such a vivacious, high-octane person would make something as delicate as Chanthaly.

If you ever get a chance to talk to Mattie in person, do it. She has amazing stories about the Lao film industry, and particularly about making art under a communist regime. Yes, in some places, you can be arrested for telling a ghost story.

Dir. Ari Folman

The Congress is a strange, strange science fiction film. The main character is a fictionalized version of actress Robin Wright, whom we all know as Buttercup from The Princess Bride. Robin sells the right to her scanned likeness to a movie studio, on the condition she never performs again and the movie studio can make films with her computerized self in perpetuity. The film then takes leaps into the future at 20-year intervals, eventually landing in a fully hand-animated dystopia that looks like Peter Max ate a box of crayons.

Based on a Stanislaw Lem story, The Congress is sci-fi with some real scope. Some of the film’s themes don’t feel fully formed, but at moments the film’s vast scope truly works. The human drama at the center of the movie definitely hits home, thanks in great part by a great performance by Robin Wright.

My biggest problem with The Congress is the same one I had with Folman’s previous film, Waltz with Bashir. The pacing of both films hits a steady beat and never changes; in both movies, I never truly got a sense of urgency to anything. Yet that may just be my personal tastes talking. The Congress is definitely an ambitious film, and you’ve never seen anything quite like it. Definitely worth a watch.

Dirs. Simon Hawkins and Zeke Hawkins

It sure is satisfying when you see a film made by friends, and it turns out to actually be good.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place is a neo-noir set in rural Texas. The plot kicks into motion when a teen boy steals thousands of dollars from his boss in order to have a final weekend party for his two college-bound best friends. Unfortunately for them, the boss winds up being smarter and more manipulative than they dreamed, and soon they are blackmailed into planning a larger robbery.

The film is a solid offering in every way. The cinematography, the editing, the acting, the script… it all works. The dialogue has that special snap that makes the best films noir really pop. The film’s only failing is that moments of the conclusion feel contrived, but that’s minor in comparison to all the movie’s other charms. Good stuff.

Dirs. Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

The more I think about this one, the more I like it.

The two Israeli directors behind Big Bad Wolves were the same men behind last year’s Rabies, the first horror film ever made in Israel. I loved the hell out of Rabies, and I’m pleased to report that Big Bad Wolves is even better. These filmmakers had great polish right out of the gate, and now they have a film that really has focus and impact.

Big Bad Wolves follows a trio of men: an accused pedophile, a man whose daughter was killed by a pedophile, and a cop who was fired from the pedophile’s case. The film soon turns into a brutal three-way cat-and-mouse game.

It’s all an intense allegory for bigger things in the world. It is very important that this film came out of Israel. However, aside from the film’s deeper meanings, it is also great on the level of a simpler narrative. You may be surprised that it is even a very funny film, to the level that it has some of the finest black comedy I’ve ever seen.

Big Bad Wolves is not for the feint of heart, but it is one helluva thing.

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