By BRUNO COSTELINI
Now that binge watching has become a national obsession and everybody seems ok with the idea of cramming dozens of hours of entertainment in a few days, the experience of attending a film festival shouldn’t sound all too unfamiliar. And yet, spending the last five days pretty much living at Cinemapolis, which was hosting the 4th Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival, which hosted more than 30 films from around the world, was a different monster altogether. What follows is a brief account of what went on during those days along with selected critical appraisals of the movies I saw.
Wednesday, 7:25 pm. I arrive just in time to collect my press pass. I get into the crowded theater while a skinny bald guy with a thick French accent makes a speech. He turns out to be the event founder and director Hugues Barbier. I look around and don’t see any familiar faces except for this cute girl with glasses who I think may have sold me a dumpling at the apple harvest fair. Or maybe it was a wrap at the farmer’s market…
The lights fade and a we’re shown Movies in Space, a funnyish short about filmmaking and interplanetary travel that provides the butt of a joke that would run throughout the week. Liza the Fox Fairy, the opening feature, a dark comedy from Hungary follows. With a distinctive visual style and dark humor reminiscent of J.P. Jeunet’s Amelie or Delicatessen in the sense that it’s about a woman with glasses who’s hunted by the ghost of a Japanese crony and seems cursed to see every man who approaches her get killed. I decide not to approach the girl I recognized earlier in attendance.
Thursday, 2:05 pm. I cut class to go to my very first press exclusive screening, for Love & Peace. The movie doesn’t disappoint. Set in Tokyo, this is by far one of the silliest, most insane flicks I’ve ever seen. and one whose plot begs to be retold. Ryo is a failed pop singer who works as an office clerk and is bullied by his colleagues. He then buys a pet turtle, which proves to be a turning point in his life even after he flushes it down the toilet. The loving bond between the two is powered as the turtle finds its way into a sewage cave where discarded toys and abandoned animals live and talk to each other. When the turtle is granted a wish, it wishes for Ryo to become a successful musician. But as his fame and ego grows so does the turtle, in size.
After all the Japanese insanity I can’t pull myself to watch Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory and take a break until Men & Chicken was up. Possibly the less “fantastic” movie in competition, this Danish comedy bends more toward the philosophical and makes me question why exactly it was selected anyway. Still, its tight script and brilliant performances headed by Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre! Hannibal!) make it well worth the time and makes me pay very little attention to Night Fare, the last film of the night, a failed French thriller not worth anyone’s time.
Friday, 3:20 pm. For once I’m early and since I haven’t had lunch yet I try to find somewhere that might be open to eat. I end up at a Korean restaurant at North Aurora St. and get lucky. I wonder why I don’t eat at the Commons more often. Anyways, back to Cinemapolis and stuffed with bokum, I can’t stomach Der Bunker so well. It deals with a student renting a room from a creepy family with a man-child who he eventually tutors. Aside from some hilarious spanking scenes this one doesn’t go anywhere but if anything I got some new curse words for my German vocab.
The night’s main event though is a packed screening of Jean Epstein’s 1928 silent French adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher with a haunting live score by local artists Anna Coogan and Tzar. The film is transfixing and the music matches perfectly to the gothic atmosphere so much so that the audience doesn’t even mind the untranslated title cards and awards them with a standing ovation. After that Darling, a black and white horror homage (whose very young director Mickey Keating was present) pales in every single way and the night finishes with a bitter taste when we start to hear the news of the Paris attacks.
Saturday, 1:10 pm. Brief interlude. All the films scheduled are repeats so I have the whole afternoon off. What should I do? Why, go to the movies, of course! I get in line at Cornell Cinema for some last-minute tickets to their The Sound of Music sing-a-long. And then suddenly the mothers and daughters start to arrive. They’re dressed in costumes. And they don’t stop coming. I’ve never seen Cornell Cinema so full (and still I don’t fulfill my dream of sitting in the balcony…). The session has its rules, like booing the Nazis, cheering for Fraulein Maria and hissing at the Baroness every time they hit the screen. I thought this was going to get old after a while. The children disagreed. But the film is lots of fun and it’s hard to stay grumpy for too long. Also, booing Nazis is great! The big surprise comes when Maria and the Captain get engaged (sorry, spoiler alert!) and she sings something like “and then he’ll own me”. The 95% female audience unanimously boo Maria. It’s quite a shock but I guess times do change.
6 pm. Back at Cinemapolis I strike up a conversation with a woman who asks me if I’ve seen any other movies from the festival. It’s my cue to show off my extensive knowledge and so I pull the Critic card. She then asks if I’m majoring in Film at Cornell and when I say I’m in Oceanography she suggests I should be reviewing submarine movies.
Emelie, the other American film in competition fares much better than Darling. Scherzo Diabolico, the Mexican entry, fails miserably. Both are run-of-the-mill horror movies though and again I see myself contemplating what exactly was the criteria to label these films fantastic. So I decide to skip The Survivalist, the only one in competition I wouldn’t get to see. Of course, it went on to win the Jury Award for Best Film.
Andrezej Zulawski’s 1981 Possession, which I see instead, turns out to be my personal favorite of the week. It centers on a couple (Isabelle Adjani and Sam—who knew he once was a good actor? — Neill) who’s in the middle of a divorce and start acting in the most bizarre ways. Things just go haywire right from the start and then it definitely delves into the realms of the fantastic when the woman moves in with a creature (credited as “Creature”) who eats men alive, which ought to be a symbol for something and dammit if I was a Film major I would certainly be able to grasp that meaning. But real art-house stuff and one that’s readily available for streaming (on Shudder, a new horror movie streaming service that was one of the festival’s sponsors).
12:15 am. The midnight session starts a bit late but it is worth the wait as we get to watch Lake Nowhere, a low-budget slasher spoof and VHS-era homage (apparently VHS copies were actually being sold at the lobby) that brings lots of laughs. It is paired with a French oddity, A La Recherche de l’Ultra-Sex, which somehow successfully manages to mix 70’s pornographic films with science fiction b-movies and also the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. A riot.
Sunday, 2:30 pm. I’m half an hour late for Zoom, the last film in competition but I go in anyway. A Brazilian-Canadian production that cleverly intertwines three storylines while going meta but drifts for much of the runtime, it never gets as deep as it promises. Still, it seemed to please the viewers, as it won the Audience Award. After this the feeling of “mission accomplished” takes over and I skip the shorts session to grab a tea at the café next door while I go over my notes and start writing this piece (see? I too can try and go meta).
7:50 pm. A sold-out preview of Moonwalkers (a brilliant stoner take on the “Kubrick fakes the moon landing” legend) closes the festival as every person I saw throughout the week seemed to turn up again for this, even the girl from the first session – this time accompanied with a date. Winners are announced, prizes are given out, but I’m still scratching my head and trying to figure out what exactly the creators mean by “fantastic.” Whatever it is though it made for a very entertaining selection of movies, full of great findings and many surprises, one that I would never have come up with had I spent my week browsing the Netflix catalogue.
Bruno Costelini is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .