The cross section of a film festival in Hollywood always integrates with the aspect of the real versus the aspect of the weird. Life is always about how change reflects exactly what is going on in present day, whether it be political, economical or social, especially in texture of horror but sometimes in fantasy. That is true of AFI FEST 2015.
Southbound The progression of an anthology film is about maintaining a steady through-line as a narrative progression. The beginning of this tale with wraiths stalking two men running from a sin they committed but ultimately finds them stuck in a time loop is the best because it shows complete lack of control without overwhelmingly resorting to gore or cheap thrills. The second one similarly with an all female rock group really gets the blood boiling at times but peters out in the final moments. However it is the middle story with a simple guy stuck in the middle with one of the girls from the previous story where the rhythm really clicks. The problem is that once that pinnacles there is really no place to go. The requisite two stories afterwards simply feel like epilogues. This speaks to the impact of the earlier stories but the importance of any anthology is finding where that balance is.
The Mysterious Death Of Perola This film is much more of an art piece compared to the previous film but what this has to its advantage is that it is literally a two hander with a husband and wife filming a couples movie about isolation where the two people never really exist. It starts as minimalist with beautiful framing but slowly but surely disintegrates into something much darker. The film itself is at many points self indulgent committing itself to many cinematic tropes but at the same time there are moments of sheer delight and cinematic texture that really connect. Made in Brazil, there is kind of a new wave texture that very much sings when taking into account certain superstitions of the old world. Ultimately the woman’s story is more affecting than the man’s story although his motivations are unclear. This exercise is not really about story but a sense of ambiance which it achieves while still trying a bit too hard.
Tale Of Tales This is one of the films I wanted to see that at Cannes but arrived one day too late. Director Matteo Garrone does have a certain voice but the essentials of what he is doing is always a slight bit off (by design of course). His second film: “Reality” I saw at a previous Cannes and his opening shot there reflected why “Gomorrah” overall was a such an affecting picture. However “Reality” was even more affecting once you knew the actual story of its leading man. “Tale Of Tales” is about Garrone’s descent into fantasy and metaphor with three interweaving stories. All dwell in notions of selfishness. One story is about a woman who wants a child so bad she will do anything to get it. The second is about one of two sisters who becomes an analogy of the true consequence in wanting to be young. The last one is about a princess wanting something so bad having to realize that you had the power all along. To try to describe the twists which takes these characters to where they end up is too complicated to begin to explain. However there is a wistfulness and a world created here with giant bugs, ogres, twins born of a dragon and a queen transformed into a beast. Again all are overarching metaphors with a dark sense of comedy to them (much like “Holy Motors” but with a less perverted persistence). Garrone has a very steady sense of self with a neo realist view of subjugated motivations that eventually lead to enlightenment.
Baskin Sometimes a film’s reason for being lies in its ability to show an existential crisis in the most physical way. Here, it is embodied by a police chief and his protege with their team on a seemingly routine night. The discussions are fairly almost Tarantino-esque in their base nature especially examining each of these men and their inherent flaws through gallows humor. Reality tends to shift and, like the earlier film “Southbound”, turns into a textured loop after they are called for back up to a scene that turns into an accident. The crux of the movie becomes a bloody dissertation of a limbo where a talisman of sorts examines each man’s unwillingness to come to terms with their own shortcomings and, by extension, mortality. The protege begins floating backwards and forwards in his own perception as well as time which is not all together clear (this is Turkish horror by the way). By the final gotcha, the narrative tends to do nothing but inhibit more questions, specifically that the protege is simply bound to make the same mistakes as those before him.
By Tim Wassberg