Sunday, October 24, 2010

LFF 2010: What I Love the Most

Craig reporting from the London Film Festival.

Argentinian film editor Delfina Castagnino makes her directorial feature debut with What I Love the Most / Lo que más quiero, a slight but thoughtfully quiet film full of long takes and extended pauses. The slim plot follows Pilar, who has recently lost her father, visiting her friend Maria, who is absconding from her boyfriend. The two spend their days by nearby lakes, at gigs or on the beach, idling away the time. Pilar ties up her father’s business loose ends and Maria meets a local guy (Esteban Lamothe) who takes her mind off her relationship and the friends begin to drift apart.   

What I Love is a cleanly directed, well-composed film. Each scene is clinically precise in its framing, though often deliberately askew – actors awkwardly shot from just below waist-height, tree-lined landscapes partially obscure parts of the film frame. Most shots outlast their naturally assumed endpoints to further mine seemingly pointless instances of idle banter or connection between leads Maria Villar and Pilar Gamboa.

It feels very much like a hazy-lazy variant of the recent-ish Slow Cinema trend – familiar from Castagnino’s sometime collaborator Lisandro Alonso, and Carlos Reygadas, Antonio Campas etc – but with a foregrounded central female friendship (Celine and Julie Go Floating, perhaps?) Or maybe it’s a film after Eric Rohmer’s heart? But imagine, if you will, Sofia Coppola on holiday and on tranquilisers while remaking Vera Chytilová's Daisies to come close to what Castagnino achieves here. She does draw a pair of natural, unaffected performances from the two leads, but at times the film bordered on the exceedingly wispy, as if all that extended emptiness might just blow away on a vapid, late summer wind. Castagnino’s previous employ seems to have been largely neglected for her debut – once she regains her editor’s touch, and finds a way to better substantiate her themes, a second feature might just be a minor gem. D+

 What I Love the Most is showing at the LFF on Sunday 24th and Wednesday 27th October



I have quite a bit more patience for "slow" cinema than your average moviegoer. i mean i would be so happy if we could significantly raise the "shot length" average again -- so sick of the cutting before I've even fully seen what they're showing me -- but i have noticed this problem with festival films. It's as if slow, drifting, hazy, contemplative, minimal dialogue are always considered cardinal virtues.

To me no style is inherently good or bad... so long as the film has something to say in using whatever approach it's taking.

but sometimes when you sit through so many back to back films at a festival (i haven't seen this film so i'm speaking generally) the slow and hazy starts to seem as lazy, uninspired and homogenous as Hollywood's paranoid mantra: "THE AUDIENCE WILL GET BORED. CUT AWAY CUT AWAY. MORE ENERGY. FASTER. DON'T WORRY ABOUT COHERENCY. JUST KEEP MOVING!"

unrelated: i feel like i need to see more Argentinian films.

Craig Bloomfield said...

Nat, I think you're essentially right here. I have plenty of time for slow-, fast- and all in between paced films, but it's in the wheedling out of the wheat from the chaff which is where the interest lies - and the good stuff resides. There's going to be good and bad in both camps, essentially. Is it easier for a filmmaker to trick folks into thinking their film is great and/or meaningful because every scene lasts for 15 mins? Or because they cut every 3 seconds, is ohh-ahh what-the-f**k meaningful? Both are debatable approaches.

I get fed up with the worst indulgences within BOTH slow and fast etc filmmaking, and continually impressed with the best practices of both. But - as with my thoughts on Boonmee - some films will get a free pass (b/c they're festival/award friendly) and some get earmarked for constant assault (Tony Scott? Tim Burton?... these are top-of-the-head examples, folks). Does a festival appearance guarantee a film a free pass? Sometimes it often feels as if it does.

What I Love the Most, for me, was nice to look at for a while and had some nice moments, but it wasn't really saying a great deal - or maybe whatever true depth it had was too firmly embedded behind all the obviously topical visual affectations familiar from several other festival faves of recent times.

And it's an 'ongoing trends in (world) cinema' thing, too. One or two films - or a batch of films - will be inordinately praised and get full releases thereafter - so therefore more of "those" type films will be selected for festivals on that policy. Arthouse films can certainly be just as supply and demand as Hollywood blockbusters. Luckily the LFF, so far for me, has been quite varied. But you are onto something interesting for sure! So I'm glad you raise this for consideration, Nat. It's something I've often thought goes largely unmined in film commentary circles.

In saying this, I'd like to see some directors employ a more relaxed or thoughtful editor, too. But someone who knows when to leave a scene running for impact, AND when to cut it down for arse-numb avoidance, is ideal.