Celluloid Rush

in 28th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Diego Faraone

Mar del Plata is crowded. Mobs of hungry, unhinged cinephiles take to the streets and the cinemas, attracted by the 28th International Film Festival, discussing films from different points of view, deciding on which next four movies are they going to spend the remaining hours of the day with. The range of options is as wide as it is inexhaustible, and you can feel in the air the fever for watching as many movies as the body and the mind can bare. The salty wind from the coast brings to the environment the freshness needed to survive this reckless marathon.

Among dozens of notable films, perhaps the most amazing is Jia Zhang-ke’s A Touch of Sin (Tiang shu ding), a movie that no one would ever imagine could have been conceived by the author of The World (Shijie) and Still life (Sanxia haoren). The credit that warns of the participation of Office Kitano at the film’s start foreshadows in some way what will come next: an incredible outburst of violence, worthy of Takeshi Kitano´s most merciless work: men beating up others, even women; several stabbings, shots of busting heads; blood gushing in spurts. But you can still recognize Jia’s hand in A Touch of Sin, since it exposes in the film’s four stories the saddest and most terrifying face of growth and “progress” in today’s industrialized China. Precarious jobs, crumbling places, corruption, moral decay and the odd and invasive feeling that the social “order” is nothing more than a facade that hides immense amounts of grief.

The winner of the Best Argentinian Feature Film award went to the arresting The Use of a Magazine Rack (La utilidad de un revistero), by Adriano Salgado. The film, conceived as a unique still frame (although there’s actually a fade-to-black which demonstrates the existence of a cut) shows the interaction between two girls within a department. One of them is proposed as a candidate for a job, and the other tries to check her relevance to the work and its possible abilities. The two brillant actresses display a long dialogue in which they imbue the characters a certain complexity, hidden dimensions, and human density. A great, different, experimental and entertaining debut from a director that is worth keeping up with.

Canada’s enfant terrible Bruce LaBruce strikes again with Gerontophilia, the story of an eighteen-year-old boy who feels a great fetishistic attraction towards old men, so his new job at a geriatric nursing home feels like paradise. LaBruce uses a very elegant style with beautiful photographic compositions and a classic narrative to build an absolutely atypical and accessible love story between this boy and an octogenarian guest at the nursing home. The warm, intimate and human approach can overthrow prejudices and unfair categorizations, and brings a new and undisputable new meaning to the word “angel”.

Rabbit Woman (Mujer conejo) focuses on the issue of Chinese immigration in Argentina, the often shameful working conditions that immigrants suffer, the underworld of illegal business, and the mafia ties that keep pushing to keep the operations clandestine. The movie acquires a really bizarre tone when a herd of flesh-eating rabbits with killer instincts are introduced, and animation is used for certain sections of the story.

Famous directors’ retrospectives are traditionally the greatest attractions of this festival. Miklos Jancsó, John Landis and Roberto Rossellini are only some of the names that lighted up the screen this year. Among the others was the great Korean director Bong Joon-ho; all his features since Barking Dogs Never Bite (Flandersui gae) were shown at the festival, but his last movie, Snowpiercer, could not be exhibited.These films are undeniable proof of the director’s ability to create humorous and tragic situations, but also outstanding visual spectacles, while including effective and accurate criticism on the idiosyncrasy in his country.

Edited by José Teodoro