Freely adapted from the "stranger than fiction" true tale of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez (aka the "Honeymoon Killers" of the late 1940s), the movie Alleluia is a dark and twisted love story comprising four chapters titled for its female characters and centering around a specific crime. This is the second film in Fabrice du Welz’s trilogy about the Belgian Ardennes -- the first being the 2004 horror film Calvaire.
Gloria (Lola Dueñas) lives a fairly solitary life with her young daughter, with her primary companions ibeing the corpses that she prepares as a nurse in the morgue at a local hospital. Her friend Madeline (Stéphane Bissot) convinces her to go out with the handsome and charismatic Michel (Laurent Lucas), who she has found through an online dating site. It is quickly revealed that Michel is even worse than the men your friends warned you about on the Internet -- not only is he a gigolo taking money from women, but he is also psychotic.
The tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest was a memorable and thrilling rollercoaster ride full of familiar faces including diehard genre film fans, filmmakers, and stars including Keanu Reeves and Adrianne Palicki -- pictured above at the John Wick Q&A. Perhaps the mark of a decade of this film festival that continues to please its attendees fueled everyone's excitement, but I can confirm that the film slate and scheduled events were better than ever. My one complaint to Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League? "It's difficult to decided between so much in one time slot!" Between MondoCon, signature events, and films from all over the world and across several genres I was hard pressed to decide what to do. Not a bad problem to have.
The layout of the new Alamo Drafthouse along with sporadic rainstorms made moving around and taking breaks between screenings somewhat daunting in the first few days, but Fantastic Festival director Kristen Bell and her staff were quick on their feet to adjust the crowd-control process. Quite a bit more social interaction took place between attendees this year than ever before, with a designated smoking zone reminiscent of my high school's non-official smoking zone behind our football field bleachers.
Here are a couple of capsule reviews from my time at Fantastic Fest this year: When Animals Dream and In Order of Disappearance. Both movies are set in winter in Nordic regions, so an overly air-conditioned movie theater is the ideal viewing experience (at least if you're in Austin).
When Animals Dream (Når dyrene drømmer)
I went into When Animals Dream almost completely blind, and it's hard not to encourage you to do the same. The Danish film premiered at Cannes and is the feature directorial debut for Jonas Alexander Arnby.
Sonia Suhl stars as Marie, a teen girl just starting her first job in a fish-processing facility. She's drawn to a cute boy, and getting pranked by a total jerk. Her mom is nearly comatose, for reasons that slowly become evident. Marie has found a rash on her body and as the movie progresses, hair grows on the rash and in other incongruous places, and she has spells of snarling short temper. No one ever uses a word like "werewolf" ... because no one has to.
This movie unwinds very carefully, giving the audience pieces of information one at a time, presenting the tale in a spare way. Everything feels stripped down: Marie's unmade-up face, her economy with dialogue, the barren atmosphere of the small port town. And yet the movie is almost mesmerizing.
I've heard people comparing the movie to Let the Right One In, possibly because both are deliberately paced Scandinavian films about the undead's effect on everyday life -- a minimum of fantasy in what is often harsh reality. And yes, it's a fair comparison, although When Animals Dream does not feel derivative.
My favorite Fantastic Fest 2014 selection easily won the audience award for best film. Studio Ghibli's latest, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is also my pick for the best feature from the Japanese animation studio. Directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, it is at the surface a straightforward retelling of the 10th-century folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, perhaps the oldest Japanese story. That simple description, however belies a work of enormous artistic depth evoking powerful emotions.
A bamboo cutter working in the forest finds a glowing stalk of bamboo with a blossom that opens to reveal a tiny princess. He takes her home to raise her with his wife, and she grows with amazing swiftness from an infant into a girl of exceptional beauty and limitless talents. Believing her sent by the gods along with the gold he finds in the bamboo, the old man's vision of Kaguya's future involves a life at court and marriage to a wealthy high-ranking official. She would be happier, however, back home in the hut she first knew, playing in the forest and fields.
Kaguya is enchanted with the simple beauty of nature, finding as much joy in plants and frogs as in the beautiful colors of her fine silks, but there is a mournful sadness in her song. When she plays the koto, the emotion conveyed is overpowering. The success of this film is in no small part due to composer Joe Hisaishi's work. Hisaishi's numerous credits include all of Ghibli's biggest films: The Wind Rises, Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
The very few complaints about The Tale of Princess Kayuga regard its length and pace. At 137 minutes, it exceeds the length of Princess Mononoke by three minutes, but little could be trimmed from this emotionally dense film. Takahata packs a lifetime's worth of experience raising a child into that running time, celebrating and reaffirming the meaning of human experience and lamenting how swiftly it passes. Along with Kaguya's parents, we experience the joy of new life, hope for a bright future, disappointment as she makes her own, contrary choices ... and finally acceptance.
Fantastic Fest 2014 came to a close last week, and the tenth iteration of the festival was as packed with great films and events in the second half as in the first.
A highlight of the festival was I Am A Knife With Legs, the micro-budget comedy written, directed, edited by, and starring Los Angeles comedian Bennett Jones who answered audience questions in character as the existential Europop star Bené. The heavily musical film brings to mind creations such as Borat, though considerably cleaner, stranger and more inventive.
Tuesday night's Secret Screening was introduced by Alamo Drafthouse owner and festival co-founder Tim League, who toyed with the audience, providing nebulous background on the film but dimming the house lights without telling attendees what to expect. The German title Ich Seh, Ich Seh was of little help as well, and it was revealed only after playing that the English title of the film is Goodnight Mommy. This is one film best seen knowing as little as possible about it. Audience opinion was divided but generally positive.
I took a break from Fantastic Fest on Sunday to visit MondoCon at the Marchesa Theater. The crowds had thinned out a bit from Saturday's opening day, but the impact of the overwhelming response to the first-ever MondoCon was evident from the sold-out Mondo Beer and food-truck menu items.
I was quite impressed with the use of space for the event: two rooms full of artists and dealers, a pleasantly diverse assortment of food trucks, a special tent with Mondo posters and vinyl available for purchase, and a Shaun of the Dead record-tossing game booth, as seen above. I gave it a try and won a beer-colored variant of the Shaun of the Dead score.
The theater auditorium itself held panels and screenings throughout the weekend. I was sorry to miss local film composer Brian Satterwhite's Saturday panel "2001: A Lost Score", which featured a live presentation of several scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the original abandoned score by late composer Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus) reintegrated back to the film. However I was able to purchase an album (vinyl!) of "Music for 2001: A Space Odyssey" complete with liner notes by Jon Burlingame, who writes about television and film music.
It's been a couple of years since I've attended the Fantastic Debates, but since I began "casually" training in boxing earlier this year I wanted to see how well this year's debate participants would fare in the ring. This unique showcase of battle of wit, intellect and combat techniques features both rounds of debate and boxing.
Chilean martial artist and actor Marko Zaror (The Redeemer) was onhand (pictured above) to coach Alamo Drafthouse/Drafthouse Films staffer Jenny Jacobi and founder Tim League. The tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest featured four matches at professional kickboxer and former world champion Randy Palmer's South Austin Gym, with the following participants and topics:
The tenth Fantastic Fest is halfway done, and that means many of the filmmaker guests and industry folks will be departing, but it also means an influx of new faces as second-half badgeholders join in the fray as most of the films' second screenings come around. Now begins your chance to see all the first-choices that the system didn't give you or the second-choices that took a backseat to something you couldn't wait to see.
For incoming second-halfers, you have probably been keeping track on Facebook and Twitter, but some of the hottest tickets for repeats will be Babadook, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, I Am a Knife With Legs, Cub, Force Majeure, Electric Boogaloo, John Wick and Tokyo Tribe.
I'm a couple days into my tenth Fantastic Fest, and it's easy to see why I keep coming back. Before the fest even officially starts, there are parties at Pinballz and Peter Pan Putt-Putt and barbecue with friends arriving from around the world.
Day One began with Kevin Smith rapping with Tim League backed by dozens of people in eyeball costumes. It ended with a food fight free-for-all of which I saw only the aftermath: League in a cheeky Carmen Miranda outfit and dozens of people soaked and slathered in every sort of slop.
Day Two was a full slate with Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, the Marko Zaror action flick Redeemer, James Gunn-produced horror The Hive, and surreal comic Free Fall. In between these movies, I visited Devin Steuerwald's Dia de las Paletas cart (pictured at right) to keep cool with frozen treats.
So far, the programming at Fantastic Fest 2014 has been heavy on realism, with characters and situations that could actually happen, and short on supernatural or escapist themes. My slate this year has been full of confusing films; Realiti and Free Fall were both difficult to follow in spite of some really amazing scenes and great performances. That said, I did skip the Studio Ghibli premiere of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which has received rave reviews [note from Jette: I really liked it myself], to see Jacky in the Kingdom of Women.
Two days into Fantastic Fest and it already feels like Day Five -- daily downpours, full parking and an overflowing lobby can't deter the spirit of the 1,650 attendees at this year's jam-packed film festival. The theme song that comes to mind is Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." My mantra of "it's a marathon, not a sprint" has already been replaced with the festival motto "Chaos reigns," as I've managed to fit in five films, three red carpets, two parties and two late nights in just the first two days. Let's not even discuss how much I've already spent on alcohol at The Highball.
ABCs of Death 2 was one of the opening-night films, bringing together 26 directors from around the world. The filmmakers were sworn to secrecy about which letters they were assigned until the premiere of this ambititous anthology produced by Tim League and Ant Timpson. You can see Timpson in the above photo with writer/actor David Ashby, director Dario Russo of Danger 5, and ABCs of Death 2 segment producers Todd Brown and Marc Walkow.