Friday, July 26, 2019

Fantasia 2019.12: Ode to Nothing, Fly Me to the Saitama, and L'Intervention

You know what's in no way awesome? When your phone doesn't charge overnight or while you're working despite being plugged in, so it's not ready for duty when you head out for the festival. Luckily, there were no guests, or you'd be seeing how good the camera is on my five-year-old tablet, and I would look like a tool holding it up to get pictures. On the other hand, having that in hand rather than a device that could hook into a cell network reminded me how much I liked writing on it in distraction-free manner before getting the Chromebook. Maybe it's time to shake my routine up a bit.

Anyway, repeating from the last post, I'll be hitting Night God, Human Lost, and Koko-di Koko-da for sure, which seems light for a festival Friday, but maybe I'll reconfigure. Tone-Deaf is recommended.

Oda sa wala (Ode to Nothing)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

It is kind of hard to grasp the level of loneliness on display in Ode to Nothing at first. It's right out front, and is kind of clear that this is what the film will be about from the start, but people have to sink deep into a genuinely frightening desperation before the full extent of how it's eating at Sonya becomes completely clear, and that's when the filmmakers know that they can push the film somewhere else. They often course not to, but the audience still knows that a line has been crossed.

It's hard work at times, because this has to be a quiet film, spending enough time on isolation and scenes where little actually happens to show how you can be isolated even with someone else in the room, or how something else can skew your perception. The filmmakers build eccentricity into delusion in expected ways and then veer into other directions. It's surprising but not. Lead actress Pokwang pulls everything inside without seeming blank, and even her eruptions seem precise, as far as she can go without driving someone away.

Interestingly, the film never seems particularly interested in why Sonya is lonely; it doesn't necessarily matter, and giving a reason might just frustrate the audience for how the isn't being solved. Is just about being in that situation and seeing how it can drag a person down.

Tonde Saitama (Fly Me to the Saitama)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This may not be the most shojo movie possible (assuming I'm not being my manga categories mixed up), but it's right up there, probably only held back because it is so darn self-parodying that it has to get even more absurd lest it become mean.

Or maybe it is mean already and my Japanophilia is just not quite strong enough to recognize just how hard the movie is coming for what seems like any city or region anywhere near Tokyo. It's a non-stop barrage of jokes that seem like they should by and large be too specific to translate, but the filmmakers are good at doing the thing where such extreme specificity can get twisted into absurdity. I may not recognize the source of a particular gag, but I can certainly see how broad it is and how well executed.

And since these gags come roughly every fifteen seconds, there's a good chance that enough will land and make sense that most will laugh out loud a lot. The cast and crew are great at putting a kernel of humanity into their live-action cartoon characters (especially Fumi Nikaido as Momomi, whose decency surprises herself as much as anyone), and at the climax, such an all-out assault is mounted that is hard not to laugh at something, so long as the brain doesn't just shut down from overload.

Overload can be a problem, and I suspect that there's a certain amount you need to know even with how many jokes work regardless ("the name is written in hiragana!" not only doesn't translate at all, it's probably actively off-putting if you don't get it). But if you've swallowed enough Japanese pop culture, this is a real kick.

L'Intervention (15 Minutes of War)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

From the subtitles, the English title for this film is "15 Minutes of War", which naturally leads to the question of what's going to happen for the other 80. The answer is a lot of simple competence, making for a very French take on the sort of military action film that, in American hands, often seems to be more likely to overflow with testosterone even when trying to be modest and self-deprecating.

On the one hand, that's pretty pleasant, at least as military action movies go. This film is procedural, spending a fair amount of time on working out tactics, arguing with other groups on the scene and command back home in Paris, just in a somewhat less shouty manner. Another thread plants an American schoolteacher in the middle of the hostage situation, giving the filmmakers plenty of chances to check in and make sure that the audience knows what the stakes are. It doesn't do much to illuminate what is going on with the hostage-takers, for better or worse; there's no need to make them sympathetic, but it wouldn't be unusual to dig a little deeper into what the issues around the situation are in what is ultimately going to be a bunch of European soldiers aiming to kill black people in Africa, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of moral ambiguity here.

The action is plenty strong, though, even with laying out what the plan is early on. It's concentrated in the last act (those fifteen minutes) and delivers a very satisfying combination of special-forces excellence and frightening chaos. The filmmakers know how to keep the adrenaline drip flowing, getting the audience caught up enough in what's going on that it's easy enough to dismiss that, yeah, the French seem to be scoring a bunch of head shots while the Somalis hit the ground near people's feet a lot.

It is this sort of movie, even after all, if it seems less gung-ho than usual. It's what it says on the box without a lot else, but a pretty good version of it.

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