The Viennale ‘15 has well and truly come to a close. The first Viennale was way back in 1960, before many of us were born – about the time of black and white television.
As the festival director, Hans Hurch, dodging any questions of the festival engaging in any politics said, “the festival simply being a festival … (is) perhaps a little bit more. But that’s up to you…”
One of the joys of attending a festival like the Viennale is immersing yourself into unblinking, sleep deprivation, somewhat akin to being in Clockwork Orange without any of the aversion. Perhaps it is the effect of all the alpha and theta waves, but one does tend to form ones own patterns and genres and associations which is what this reviewer has done, revealing more of his Freudian slip than he cares to think any more over. That is the charm of losing yourself in the experience. Just as Hans Hurch said, “… that’s up to you.”
Our Odyssey via the Viennale, set its compass on directions emerging from the ‘splicing’ of analogue and digital celluloid, the pre & post Steve Jobs eras of cinema, if you like.
At the Metro Kino, we were confronted with Bill Morrison’s bleak reconstruction Beyond Zero. Bill Morrison hails from Chicago. Originally a student of painting and animation, he began restoring old film footage, which he claims is more his profession than directing. But he has made more than ten films over a twenty-year period.
Here Morrison has painstakingly incorporated partially destroyed World War I film archive images with all the accompanying decay, erosion and disrepair. The effect is eerie, driven home by his fusing the visuals into an overlay of atonal music, composed by Aleksander Vrebalov, strung out by the dazzling Kronos String Quartet.
The result: Morrison blots out hope. His projections into the 21st century are apocalyptic but without any of the revelations. This is not a digital remake. Morris locks himself in a darkroom and breathes life back into old film like Frankenstein does with his monster. It’s powerful, difficult and very worthwhile.
At the Stadtkino, Phillipe Faucon’s feature film, Fatima related the story of an Arabic mother’s (Soria Zeroual) bringing her two daughters up in France, in the shadow of an envious, disapproving circle of Muslim expats. While her youngest daughter (Kenza Noah Aiche) is rebellious, her elder daughter (Zita Hanrot) has made it to university to study medicine, far enough away to require her moving from the family nest. It is an insightful account, culminating in the self-effacing mother relating her own point of view, written in Arabic in her journal. Faucon leaves no tracks in his nuanced direction and the acting is both understated and convincing.Philippe Faucon’s genre is working with social themes, including previous films reflecting on homosexuality and migrants in France.
Also at the Metro, Sara Fattahi’s Coma (Syria/Lebanon 2015) spun an unadorned postmodern vision of the director’s mother and grandmother grieving over the death of the family patriarch. Sara Fattahi presented her film, obviously homesick for her mother and grandmother still remaining in their flat in Damascus.
The documentary – which happens to coincide with beginning of the bombing of Damascus – shows the war going on in the background, while primarily reflecting on the filmmaker’s own internal war, a war of memory and a personal unravelling, mirroring the demolition of a culture.
Charlie Kaufman, from New York, who previously wrote the screenplay for Being John Malcovich has teamed up with short filmmaker, Duke Johnson for the ‘surreal’ animation, Anomalisa at the Gartenbau.
The feature relates the story of writer Michael Stone’s miscreant night in a hotel. The author ironically of books on customer service, Stone is having a crisis in his inability to connect with people, all of whom look strangely like him with the same fixed masks. And what if his own mask should drop? They all seem to have the same ‘male’ voice, and wherever he goes, he sees people eying him, and whispering in hushed tones, “that’s Michael Stone!”
His narcissistic world is a closed system until he meets the mundane but ‘marked’ object of his desire, distinguished by a voice that is her own, the one voice that is different.
This is a seamless stop motion animation that took Johnson and Stone two years to assemble frame by frame into the uneasy dystopia it is today.
In Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, also at the Gartenbau, we found the affliction of “cool” that has spread its cultural meme like a virus through our brave world. In a glossy, aesthetic depiction of The Bottoms, a hard edge tough neighbourhood in L.A. dominated by black bully and drug subcultures, a trio of geeks dare to aspire to graduate to university.
Famuyiwa is from Las Angeles, where the film is set. He himself is the son of a Nigerian immigrant. A university graduate (USC) and maker of some four feature films, he has obviously made a success of himself.
Ironically, the three geeks in Dope – including a female gay – aspire to white hip-hop and all the white values that will liberate them from their survival of the fittest enclave. It is a world where everyone black, coloured, of Indian or Latino descent, aspires to be blacker and cooler than all the clichéd lyrics of the latest techno MTV rap.
The characters are colourful, but plastic. None are authentic. They mimic all that is the latest and most fad-ish. Even the protagonists pushing against their environment are glossy overlays. Aspirations to Harvard, paving their way out of the labyrinth with bitcoin, are in themselves merely expressions of the new cool.
Far more successful was Ramin Bahrani’s, 99 Homes (Gartenbau), a classic, modern tragedy, as cleanly crafted as a Henry Miller or an Edward Albee. If you were a single father, sharing the family home with your widowed mother; if you were a good honest, skilled worker, knocking door to door for work when there just isn’t any; if you were in a society without the safety net of unemployment benefits or healthcare; and then the bank turfs you, your mother and your son, out of your home in front of your neighbours…
How far would you go to survive? This is a very real situation when millions of Americans continue to lose out to foreclosure on mortgages. A hero with flaws finds redemption. But will he receive Shakespeare’s ‘creative mercy’, “that falleth like the rain?”
Bharani was born in Carolina, in the U.S., to Iranian parents, bringing quite some multicultural diversity into this blog’s emergent theme. He has made six feature films.
The course of filmmaking is not for the faint hearted. It is expensive and time consuming, requiring more collaboration than a despot’s command of the crew. There were many valiant efforts steering their successes starboard in this festival, experiments tugging along at the bow with those established at the stern. But as I cut myself adrift from the very last film at the Gartenbau, I stall, watching a young Austrian man unmooring his bicycle from a streetlamp, under the gathering mist. And just as he is untangling his chain, an Asian girl, arrives to unlock her bicycle wedded to the same pole. They talk. They laugh. They enthuse. They introduce each other. Then they head off together into the dark. And I bear away in the opposite direction, into one of those Third Man, Viennese mists, as misty as any in London, and I think surely this is what its all about: take of the festival what ye will and find a fellow traveller to mull it over with afterwards.
In the end, after covering 50 films of many different genres, this reviewer regrets the constraints of only one head, two eyes and a bicycle. The films were packaged under the usual genres: feature films, documentaries and short films, the feature films under Tributes (Tippi Hedren, Raul Perrone, Manoel De Oliveira), In Focus (Federico Velroj) and a Retrospective entitled Zoology (Filmmuseum). The final break down was itemised as Special Programs on Greece (once more with feeling!), Hard Fast and Beautiful (Ida Lupino), The Three R’s (Mark Rappaport, Anne Charlotte Roberson, Jean-Claude Rousseau) and Austrian Pulp (Aus Fleisch und Blut), assisting the film punter in placing bets on which flick might gallop home best.
Our thanks to Viennale ’15, to all the superb telephone booking operators and ushers and others who made it all run so smoothly. And to the City of Vienna that knows how to set the scene.