MVFF37, Days 4 and 5 – “We’re a Happy Family”

Force Majeure

Monday saw me back in Sacramento, taking an off day from live screenings and spending some quality time with the wife and pets.  However, I did manage to polish off a couple of screeners for films that played at Mill Valley this year, and my plan is to recap about a half dozen of the MVFF37 films that I watched at home tomorrow.

Tuesday morning began with another screener, Alejandro Franco’s For Those About to Rock, a documentary about the Mexican “acoustic metal” duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.  They both have great personalities and a unique style and an interesting enough back story, one that takes them from Mexico City to the streets of Dublin and eventual stardom.  Unfortunately, For Those About to Rock is an apparent casualty of copyright issues, since the first hour-plus features barely any of the duo’s flamenco-meets-speed metal music.  It’s the ultimate tease, and most of the film is of negligible value, but then it closes with two full live songs (from separate performances and poorly shot, but still), and the propulsion and passion of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s musicianship washes away those sins for ten minutes or so.  But that’s a minor reward for a film that feels like a DVD extra padded out to 84 minutes.

I made the drive back up to Mill Valley on Tuesday afternoon, not in time to catch Soul of the Banquet, Wayne Wang’s documentary about the trailblazing chef Cecilia Chang, but in plenty of time for the second-ever screening of director/screenwriter/producer Payman Haghani’s 316, a non-autobiographical memoir of an Iranian women told through shoes.  The film tracks the protagonist, who also narrates, from her conception to her death, and while almost the entire film consists of closeups of feet, we get a complete portrait of this woman and her world.  It’s a pretty ingenious workaround for ultra-low-budget filmmaking, and at 72 minutes, Haghani’s movie has barely enough brevity and verve to pull it off.  316 is a minor film, and a little too quirky-cute for my tastes, but it left me eager to see what else Haghani has to offer.

Much more polished, and more attuned to my tastes for misanthropy and self-doubt, was Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s chilly Force Majeure. Although Force Majeure has been a breakthrough on the festival circuit, it is actually the fourth feature for Ostlund.  I have not seen any Ostlund films prior to Force Majeure, but if this film and a handful of IMDB synopses are any indication, he specializes in darkly comic studies of human frailty and cruelty, like a more puckish Michael Haneke. In Force Majeure, a banal, close-knit family on a luxurious ski vacation has a close brush with mortal disaster, and the seemingly selfish reaction of the husband forces the wife to question everything about him.  It’s a slow burner, never really rising above a simmer, more interested in picking at loose psychological seams than with momentum or payoff.  But Ostlund creates a sense of world-shattering disappointment and unspeakable dread that creeps into your pores like frostbite.  While most MVFF37 features screen once on two different days, Tuesday night was the only Force Majeure screening, but it should open in the SF Bay Area in late October/early November.

Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.