For celebrating 20 years the Philadelphia Film Festival came up with some pretty big-name films in 2011’s lineup. The Artist, Melancholia, A Dangerous Method, and Like Crazy, representing an assortment of fare from Cannes, Toronto and Sundance, all played to large crowds at one of the many venues around the greater Philadelphia area.
The best film at the festival was the underrated and ambiguous offering from Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Featuring a bold attempt at a new structure, strong performances, and a style that is both accessibly comic, frustratingly distant, and freshly apolitical, Ceylan’s follow-up to Three Monkeys isn’t a crowd pleaser, but it’s almost impossible to get out of the mind. The film covers so much territory, burrows into different genres and subplots, and features a surprising focal shift and morality twist at the end. Its view is less obviously towards a unique cinema than say, Melancholia, but perhaps more so than Lars Von Trier’s exceptional film, Ceylan’s boldness comes in his ability to appear to be what it’s not.
The highlights following Once Upon a Time in Anatolia:
2- Melancholia – Lars Von Trier’s operatic film redefines epic cinema. Funny and despairing, Von Trier’s formula, which is to stay away from formula, succeeds again in his examination of sisterly interaction and the end of the world.
3 – The Turin Horse – Supposedly Bela Tarr’s last film, this isn’t his strongest, but the payoff in the final 20 minutes is immense. As depressing as Sartre, Tarr’s film comes to a literal stop at the end – a far cry from the rapid motion that opens it.
4- Beats Being Dead – The underrated Christian Petzold’s offering in the German Dreileben trilogy, Beats Being Dead is curious in how it skips between genres and ends as far from a genre film as possible. There’s a dry humor here, but the laughter sticks in your throat.
Unfortunately, there are always low-lights at a festival.
Buzz from Tribeca followed Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow. The film was not only a huge letdown, it’s also one of the more excruciating theatrical experiences in recent memory. Bloated, pretentious, unfunny, and stylistically shallow, Beyond the Black Rainbow is best suited for a midnight film screening where greater attention is paid to beer specials and throwaway one-liners than actual plot. It’s a shame too, because when Cosmatos and cinematographer Norm Li frame a shot that seems separate from its surroundings, that moment is usually visually interesting. The problem is inherent though: the shot is separate from its surroundings. There’s no cohesiveness here, and humor, horror and genre homage’s all blend together into one over-saturated bowl of rambling.
It’d be nice to garner a few more premieres at Philadelphia, but the programming continues to be very solid in its mix of homegrown films (The Destiny of Lesser Animals), modern arthouse (the Dreileben trilogy), and very accessible, star-studded pictures (The Descendents).
– Neal Dhand