Filmwise, MIFF Ends on an Unpalatable Note

As tasty as scrambled eggs and beer might be, it sounds fairly unpalatable to me, and so was the Chilean film the title of which, SCRAMBLED BEER, took its name. It was our last film of the festival, and was also a last minute switch. Tuesday night also featured a film from the Philippines, which at the time drove me nuts (not in a good way) but with some distance has grown on my considerably.

SLINGSHOT (Philippines; 86 min.)
director: Brillante Mendoza

Mostly on Bruce’s recommendation, I decided to catch Brillante Mendoza’s film SLINGSHOT, after skipping it in Toronto. Being half Filipino, I do like to catch films from the Philippines when possible, but generally I haven’t had much success with enjoying them. SLINGSHOT is a fascinating film, one that drove me nuts while watching it… I believe I even told Scot that I thought it was the most annoying film I’d ever seen, but upon reflection, it’s really quite remarkable, and displays Mendonza’s talents quite well. The action of the film takes place during Holy Week, and touches upon themes of religion, politics and poverty. The opening scene is frantic and loud as the police raid a large building where dozens of poor families live. Everyone has their claim to innocence, but these pleas fall largely on deaf ears as the police route most of the buildings male inhabitants and haul them into prison for the night. The next day, most of the men are released and return home, but we soon discover that there isn’t a whole lot of innocence among the lot of them.

Of course, that’s the theme of the film, as campaigning for local elections is in full-swing, and we see various politicians dropping all semblance of propriety and buying votes… literally handing money out in public square to obtain votes. At street level, we see that most of these people will do whatever they have to do to make some money. One man must con another man to pay a third man who is collecting money to pay off his debts to a fourth, and so on. While the constant fighting, shrieking and mayhem that goes on throughout much of this film is incredibly grating, the film is so realistically shot that you sometimes forget you are watching a narrative. There is something so immediate and raw about this footage that you can’t help but be drawn in. Mendoza captures life on the poor streets of the Philippines in a remarkably vivid and realistic way. 3.5 cats

SCRAMBLED BEER (Chile; 88 min.)
director: Cristobal Valderrama

After reading the synopsis of this film (something about a cross between a buddy film and a time travel film) Scot decided he wanted to see SCRAMBLED BEER. So we exchanged tickets for BLUE EYELIDS, which we’d already purchased for this one. I was game; I’d never seen a film from Chile before. It’s such a skinny country! Well, for me, scrambled eggs and beer just don’t go well together.

Vladimir is basically an irredeemable lout. From the moment we meet him he is shown to be a boor, a cad, and a slob. Things get worse from there. After being evicted, he moves in with his friend Jorge and his girlfriend Monica, who clearly is repulsed by Vladimir. After their first day in the new apartment, Vladimir wakes up the next morning with Monica in bed next to him, suddenly filled with passion for him. Despite his shock, he welcomes this new attitude, until he finds out that somehow three weeks have passed since he went to sleep the night before. Things get even more confused when he wakes up the next morning two weeks earlier. He starts to suspect that Fedora, a creepy neighbor who also happens to be a witch, might be involved. So while things sounds a little wacky and confusing, hold on, because suddenly, just over half way through the film, a twist is introduced the radically changes the tone and expectations for the viewer.

Sadly, none of this is handled very well. The comedy is broad and obvious; something that actually might feel right at home in a multiplex. The characters, especially Vladimir, are so unappealing and obnoxious that it’s hard to really root for any of them. Finally, the sudden revelation comes out of nowhere and despite itself, almost makes the film a little interesting. It saved it from a 1 cat film for me. I can now give it 1.5 cats.

Overall, the Miami International Film Festival is a great vacation choice for a film buff. The weather in early March is beautiful, the film selection is great, and for us, the accomodations were perfect (thanks to Chlotrudis member Richard Alleman for the loan of his apartment!) You can't get much better than hitting the beach every day then watching movies every night. As far as drawbacks go, every film festival I attend just makes me admire the amazing organizational feat that the Toronto International Film Festival accomplishes every year. The queues were thoroughly disorganized in Miami, and I feel that is one of the single most important things to do right from the public's perspective. On a larger scale, Miami has a terrible service industry. I can't recall a single satisfying encounter with waitstaff in restaurants. Even if things started off well, by the end of the experience, things had devolved. Gratuities are included in the bill at most restaurants in Miami Beach, and I feel this just takes away any incentive for servers to care. Still, I would attend the Miami International Film Festival again in the future.