Fantastic Fest 2011 Day Three

Day Two was solid, so can it get better for Day Three?  Yes it can!

El Narco (8/10) – (aka El Infierno) This movie is about Mexican drug gangs and the way of life they have become south of the border. Being a Texan, this is a topic of interest (the rest of the country appears to pretend there isn’t a war going on a couple hundred feet away from U.S. soil…). It features the alternately hapless and charming Benny coming back to Mexico from the U.S., which turned out to not be the land of milk and honey he’d hoped, to his small home town. The only decent jobs there are basically working for the drug gang, El Reyes del Norte (the Kings of the North). He resists briefly and then goes all in and Scarfaces it up for a while. It’s a great mix of dark comedy and a grim look at the reality of political corruption and dominance of the drug gangs in Mexico. This movie blends the wiseguy movie genre – it owes more than a little to Goodfellas – with the narco movie genre. Did you know there’s a whole genre of movies, the “narcopeliculas,”  paid for by the Mexican drug gangs to basically laud themselves?  And a whole genre of “narcocorrido” music that does the same? That’s how fucked up it is in Mexico right now. It’s gone beyond the “Boyz N The Hood” kind of gang as mini-society within a larger society, the narco gangs have become the larger society. The movie is political at times, but not hamhandedly so. You should see this movie.

Melancholia (8/10) – Kirsten Dunst plays a depressed rich white member of a very rich white family. This was like the whitest movie ever, it reminds me very much of some friends who are from a rich ex-British family in Maine. Anyway, the movie is appropriately named – it is like taking a little bottle of concentrated depression and drinking it. The Earth is destroyed in the first five minutes, and it’s all downhill from there. Director Lars von Trier of Antichrist fame brings the story of the Earth’s last days to us from the perspectives of two sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Dunst puts in an AWESOME performance. I’ve been with some depressed women before, and OMG she totally nails it. The family interaction is great too, with the frustration of people who have a loved one with depression.  “Can’t you be happy, or at least not self destructive, for like ten minutes? It’s your wedding!” Seriously, this movie is super depressing, don’t see it if you’re not emotionally OK with that. I recommended it to some friends from Louisiana at the fest and afterwards they staggered out, eyes red, uttering profanity-laced outbursts about how it was “SO SAD!!!!!”

You Said What? (6/10) – Ah, those wacky Norwegians.  They took the premise of Takashi Miike’s Audition (a fake audition for a nonexistent movie to find women) and then it goes all romantic comedy as Glenn, the lad in question, can’t come clean and so puts together a whole film production to woo his beloved. Funny and enjoyable, largely predictable.  Good but nothing to write home about. They use a lot of late 80s/early 90s “Say Anything” kind of songs, which was kinda fun.

Knuckle (9/10) – The only documentary of the fest, Knuckle is a gripping documentary about the Irish Travellers (the Irish equivalent of gypsies). Ian Palmer spent 10 years with them filming them to make this film. The crux of the film revolves around ongoing feuds between Traveller families – in this case the Quinn McDonaghs, the Joyces, and the Nevins – whose grievances are settled by bare knuckle fights between selected fighters from each side, with only KO or surrender deciding the matter. James Quinn McDonagh, the champion of his family and one of the main subjects of the documentary, was in attendance at the fest, and we got some great insights out of him (especially about the time he got shot, which is mentioned only parenthetically in the film). It was hard for Palmer because the Travellers are generally quite insular and distrustful of outsiders, but he got some great stuff. The whole thing was fascinating – the generations worth of grudge over nothing anyone can articulate, the insistence on fair play in the fights, the pooling of family money to bet on the outcome, the role of video (a lot of the bad feelings were stirred up by families sending taunting VHS tapes to each other back in the day), to the ubiquity of kids around participating in the violence. Some fights you see; others had no cameras allowed – you experience them by family members standing by on cell phones (members of the family aren’t allowed at the fights due to risk of riot; the matches are refereed by other third party families). They range from four minutes and one guy’s down to a more than two hour (!!) fight that James Quinn had. It started as a clever scheme to keep bloodshed between the groups to a minimum, to settle differences in a civilized way, but you see (and James remarks upon) how the culture of feud and “fair fighting” ended up feeding on itself and growing to be an obsession. Even the directory noted how he became addicted to the fights and had to pull himself away from it to finish the film. Everyone there was hungry for more on this fascinating topic when it ended. The Q&A with James and the director was packed and went till they kicked us all out.

I stayed for so long in the Knuckle Q&A that I ended up skipping my last show of the day, I had planned to see A Lonely Place To Die  but it was getting late and I wanted to ruminate more on Knuckle, frankly. If you have any opportunity to see it, do so! Looks like it should be available via various channels now/soon…

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