On the fifth day of the LFF: Takashi Miike returned with his 100th feature; a love contradictory love story inSão Paulo; and a bullet-ridden Mediterranean skirmish.
Half-way through the festival and I spent every film in the company of another country’s output, each outlandish in their own way and each with varying degrees of success. It was definitely the most curious of programming choices so far, something that, while completely bonkers at times, was not to be complained about.
Prior to this 11am Monday morning screening, Takashi Miike came onstage to introduce his 100th (!!) film with a caveat: his latest hyper-violent samurai saga Blade of the Immortal (B+) – based on 19 years of manga source material – is not suitable for morning-time viewing. For those who’ve seen just one of Miike’s other 99 feature films, you’ll already understand his proclivity toward cartoonish, outrageous violence, but having the director spell it out in person is a different matter. Though it wasn’t as brutal as I was led to believe (I’m glad, I don’t know how I would have handled Ichi The Killer levels of gore), it’s singular style is very much within Miike’s territory. A story spanning decades (with centuries of prior history), the film is introduced with a monochrome fury: a village massacre of 1-vs-100 that is so expertly choreographed you’d be forgiven for believing the cast of faceless mercenaries were really dispatched. The opening is indicative of Miike’s saga: sword-fights happen at breakneck speed, with only brief intervals to allow for neatly delivered exposition before the next merciless bloodbath. It’s repetitive in that it follows a video-game formula (wave-after-wave of expendables leading to ostensible boss battles), but the real glee here is the extravagant, over-the-top weapons that make each fight a little bit more unique than the last: from dual-blade swords, serrated sabers, shurikens, axes, chains, and yeah, even a hairy sword, hidden up Manji’s (Takuya Kimura) Mary Poppins sleeves. It’s preposterous and logic-defying how he keeps them, but this is also an imperishable man whose ‘bloodworms’ keep his severed limbs growing back, so logic was never Miike’s intent. It makes sense in the bizarro universe, and that’s all that counts. Though it’s pretty long at 150 minutes, it moves like a razor-sharp bullet-train, any moments of wordy boredom are soon interrupted by another contender with a mysterious past and a devilish weapon. Miike’s rapidly growing filmography means it’s hard to keep up with everything he releases, but Blade of the Immortal is a terrific, gore-fuelled samurai epic that transcends convention with its fantasy elements, and a good smattering of gallows humour to go with it.
Had you told me what Good Manners (C+) was about before I saw it, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. A romantic horror that’s both purposefully amusing and unintentionally ridiculous, it’s a film of two very different, very contradicting halves. I’m hesitant to say what it’s about, but it’s one of those that wouldn’t make sense if I tried. At the half-way point of this needlessly long two-hours-plus film, it switches gears entirely, becoming something so utterly audacious that it’s, at the very least, hard to argue with. The first half works better than the second – primarily because it’s the half that’s intentionally comedic and has a slow-burn intrigue to it – so once the baffling second half comes around, most laughs are out of complete confusion and derision. There are flashes of greatness here; Marjorie Estiano is fantastic as the moneyed, shallow Ana, playing her love for square-dancing fitness videos with complete straight-faced naivety, then flipping to a sleepwalking drone with a taste for the carne/carnal. She’s a great actress, and a large part of the last hour’s problem is the void left by her when she’s not around, no one else is up to the job of matching her. Good Manners is totally ludicrous, bloated, and risible in some instances, but Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas are just so fearless in their concept that it dares to be talked about. It’s just not something I really want to watch ever again.
The day’s pattern was to be watching films earlier than intended. Where Blade of the Immortal would work well in the late evening, Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan (B+) was the essence of a hallucinogenic midnight movie. Featuring a cast of silhouettes, this kaleidoscopic tribute to a bygone era perfectly recaptures this aura without becoming a dull reproduction: it’s a better contemporary grindhouse flick than the grindhouse revival; a better contemporary Giallo than most present-day Giallo (including Cattet and Forzani’s own The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears), and a better neo-western than most neo-westerns. A Corsican hamlet atop a gorgeous mountain is the stage for an all-night shootout between the artists who reside there, the thieves who hide away there, a mother and her children who run away there, and the police who follow them all.
Let the Corpses Tan is one of those films that you simply must see as big and loud as possible, as the lighting, sound, and editing are so comprehensively impeccable that every colour palette, leather scrunch, and lens swipe demand the best quality screening you can get. The plot is threadbare, and the characters are as ghostly as their credited silhouette statuses suggest, but it’s an unstoppable 90 minutes of experimental ingenuity. It does get totally blurred in the last 5 minutes when a threatened showdown gets resolved with a sharp edit, then an unintelligible closeup brushes the rest of the strands away in an anticlimactic outcome, so this home stretch could’ve used a little reigning in, but this is slick, sweaty, sun-soaked shoot-‘em-up that ended up being – to my surprise – one of the best features of LFF 2017 so far. It’s the Jodorowsky homage I didn’t know I was waiting for.
Day Five was a much better day than I had anticipated and a far weirder one than I could have guessed. The mid-point of the 61st BFI LFF was full of bracingly bold cinema that, whether good or not, just beg to be talked about.