I have a tendency to cut things a little too fine. I look at the clock, figure there’s another 5 minutes to spare and carry on with whatever menial task I’m occuping myself with. Inevitably, cutting it fine leads to getting in late. For all the screenings I’ve attended at this festival, I’ve shown up to about half of them a few minutes into the film. This couldn’t, and shouldn’t have happened today (but it did), as missing a few minutes of these particular screenings would have meant almost missing them in their entirety. Yes, today belonged to the shorts, specifically the cream of the Romanian crop, in two screenings entitled Romanian Retrospective: Medium Length Films and Roman Retrospective: The First Generation of New Romanian Cinema. Both instalments featured the first steps and latest short efforts from the leading directors of the Romanian New Wave.
No two shorts were exactly the same, although you could detect the aesthetic of some of the current films in a few of them. One noticeable difference from any contemporary Romanian feature I’ve seen was the use of a few surrealist elements, for example in Liviu’s Dream (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2004), whose title is fairly self-explanatory. The one short that stood out the most was Marilena from P7 (Cristian Nemescu, Romania, 2006), a fairly lengthy tale told from the perspective of Romanian children, eager to take a leap into manhood through relentless pursuit of the town’s prostitutes. This short was notable for its visual flair and delicate balance between the humour of childish fantasy and the harsh reality.
Thus ends my festival foray into the latest output from the current Romanian movement. I can safely say that amongst the shorts and three feature-lengths I’ve seen, there’s plenty on offer through several different approaches; here is a cohesive film movement with recognizable traits, whilst at the same time no films overlap negatively and infringe on each other’s aesthetic. It’ll be interesting to see where the movement goes from here, what the established directors produce next, and if the next generation can significantly build on its momentum.
It’s been ten years since the release of cult sensation The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez, USA, 1999), and its tenth anniversary was celebrated at the festival on Friday the 13th of November (spooky!), bolstered by the presence of the film’s producer, Robin Cowie, who stayed for a Q&A session after the film. He revealed some interesting tidbits that, along with the sheer amount of names and companies present in the end credits, make this feature seem like much more than a simple trip to the woods with a few cameras. Pre-production, we learnt, took an eternity, with auditions taking place almost up to a year. Despite its bare bones feel, a ton of work went into the planning of this movie, in the same way that a ton of post-production went into making Colin a watchable zombie romp.
As for the film itself, it’s debatable as to whether it still stands up to this day. While it may have set off a trend for first-person camcorder movies, the concept has grown bigger and louder in recent years, with titles such as Cloverfield and [REC] upping the production budget significantly and in turn, the impression on audiences. Watching this relic in retrospect, the whole thing comes off rather flat; I’ve never understood the hype myself, being merely 11 years old when the film came out, but what you see for the majority of the film is essentially three young adults being overly melodramatic, gasping and huffing and puffing. If you can buy into that, then this film has you in its claws. To be honest, nothing really hits home anymore, especially the underwhelming climax. Best seen as a nostalgic relic, an example of great internet marketing, and a testament to huge revenue from a tiny budget, The Blair Witch Project is becoming smaller and smaller as time wears on, in spite of its devoted following.
I enjoy a good horror movie as much as the next person, although some of the tired conventions often leave me yawning in my seat. Take Macabre (Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto, Indonesia, 2009), for instance. Group of young friends drive through the night. Group encounters helpless woman in the road. Group pick up woman. Woman invites group back to house. Group meets strange mother. Mother insists group stay for dinner. Group hesitates. Group obliges. Chaos ensues.
Dubbed the ‘goriest film of the festival’ in its introduction, Macabre finds itself delivering on this promise for the last 45 mins, with each frame almost literally swimming in blood. If someone isn’t covered in it, chances are they’re trying their best not to slip up on it. Chainsaws, rifles, swords… every weapon you wouldn’t expect to find in a household is used to its fullest extent, with the bloodiest results possible. This relentless bloodletting is mildly enjoyable when it finally hits, but up to that point nothing in this film entirely convinces.
No atmosphere of fear or dread is sufficiently created to justify what happens next, so when the violence does finally hit it comes as more of a wake up call than anything. With the first half of the film proving to be an interminably dull experience, it’s up to the latter half to turn up the volume and really deliver on the goods. Indeed, volume is everything in this film, and the sheer volume of blood is one that audience members will be telling their friends about immediately following the screening. Whether they’ll remember the film in a few month’s time is another thing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Human Centipede once more.