The 20th edition of South Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival (Jeonju IFFF) took place from May 2–11, and set new records for audience attendance and sold-out films. Among the 275 films from around the world screened at the festival were some nifty genre, surreal, and arthouse films. That’s Not Current contributors Chris Weatherspoon and Joseph Perry attended in person, and here are our thoughts on some of the festival’s entries.
Chris Weatherspoon: You can tell a lot about a person’s character based on how they deal with grief. In director/actor/writer Jim Cummings’ feature debut, drama comedy Thunder Road, it is small-town Texas police officer Jim Arnaud’s (played by Cummings himself) inability to deal with grief that powers the film’s pathos. The film opens with Officer Arnaud giving an emotional eulogy at his mother’s funeral. Arnaud’s saint of a mother, who helped him learn to live with his dyslexia, was apparently also a woman of great taste and loved the Bruce Springsteen masterpiece “Thunder Road,” so over the course of an 11-minute, cringe-inducing, masterfully shot long take, which includes singing, dancing, bad jokes and awkward dialogue, we watch Arnaud do his best to give his mother the respect he wishes he had given her when she was alive. This incredibly discomforting scene, which still manages to feel genuine and authentic, perfectly sets the tone for a film about a well-meaning man who is ill-equipped to cope with life and doesn’t know when to quit.
After the funeral things don’t improve for Officer Arnaud. His lack of interpersonal skills and common sense make him a very unpopular man around town, especially with his young daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr) and his separated wife Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer). Only, Nate (Nican Robinson), his best friend, patrol partner, and all-around model human being, seems to care.
As the story progresses, Arnaud manages to lose everything, including custody of his daughter. And this is where the director’s skill as a storyteller shines. Cummings plays Officer Arnaud as a nice but awkward guy that is far from being easy to like, but never quite easy to hate. As Arnaud’s life continues to fall apart, the audience doesn’t lose sympathy, which would be easy to do with a character like this in other films. Instead, viewers wait to see when this nice guy will finally confront his problems and “go off”.
It might be helpful for some viewers to know that Thunder Road is an expanded version of Cummings’ short film of the same name which premiered at the 2016 edition of the Sundance Film Festival and went on to earn critical acclaim. That fact is noticeable as sometimes it feels like situations are added to lengthen the screen time and keep things going until the next plot point arrives. Nevertheless, Cummings’ flawless performance in what is essentially his one-man show, coupled with moments of genuine, self-reflective emotional power, make Thunder Road an indie drama worth checking out.
Joseph Perry: Coincoin and the Extra-Humans is a 2018 French television comedy miniseries from writer/director Bruno Dumont. A sequel to Dumont’s 2014 series Li’l Quinquin, the series was shown in one straight 200-plus-minutes screening at Jeonju IFF. Quinquin, nicknamed Coincoin (Alane Delhaye) is a teenaged boy living in the rural Côte d’Opale region of France, content with hanging out with childhood friend Fatso (Julien Bodard) and giving his crush Eve (Lucy Caron) a hard time. When mysterious black gunk falls from the sky and lands in the fields, the locals start giving birth to doubles of themselves in a humorously lo-fi manner. Police Captain Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and detective partner Carpentier (Philippe Jore) investigate, armed with almost nonstop facial tics played for laughs and a recurring gag about Carpentier driving their police car on two wheels. Some oft repeated gags wear thin, upon which Dumont even has Van der Weyden comment. Much of the comedy is old fashioned and slapstick, with some gags recalling Jacques Tati and a direct reference to Buster Keaton. The social commentary is very much current, however, film doesn’t shy away from embracing absurdity. Having not seen Li’l Quinquin before viewing Coincoin and the Extra-Humans, I can’t comment on whether it is recommended or necessary to get the full impact of this second installment, but adventurous viewers and fans of French absurdist comedy should enjoy a watch.
JP: Paul Sanchez is Back! takes an arthouse approach to grindhouse fare, with writer/director Patricia Mazu delivering an exciting crime suspenser that touches on contemporary French societal commentary. Set in and around the hills and mountains of Le Var, located in the Côte d’Azur, the film sees a man (Laurent Lafitte) identified by locals as the titular character, a man who disappeared and has evaded capture for a decade after killing his wife and children. When this news spreads, determined police officer Marion (Zita Hanrot) becomes hyper-focused on capturing the criminal and bringing him to justice. Meanwhile, the mysterious aforementioned man — called Mr. Gerard by a character early on — goes on an enigmatic odyssey that includes trying to buy a car after walking into the lot on foot from a highway, absconding with a pool builder’s van, and taking refuge in rocky, hilly terrain. As Marion becomes ever more determined in her quest to arrest Sanchez, to the point of disobeying direct orders from her superiors, the film builds up in suspense and thrills. The score by the legendary John Cale is outstanding. With a smattering of well-timed humor and occasional elements of American western movies, Paul Sanchez is Back! is a captivating film with taut direction and absolutely riveting performances by its two lead actors.
CW: Not all heroes wear capes. Some lace up in cleats to take on dragon-sized fluffy dogs in arenas filled with cotton candy pink clouds. Such is the case for the eponymous hero of Portuguese film Diamantino (2018), which is the feature debut film for co-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt and a satirical send up of right-wing politics and celebrity culture that the world desperately needs in this current climate.
When soccer sensation Diamantino (expertly played by Carlotto Cotto, and who may or may not be a lampoon of Portuguese footballer and idol Cristiano Ronaldo) misses a penalty kick and costs Portugal the World Cup, his life falls into a tailspin. Having lost his mojo, the extremely handsome (the film offers lots of fanservice), extremely wealthy athlete spends his days sulking in his castle, being bullied and exploited by his evil but enjoyably campy twin sisters Sonia and Natasha (Anabela and Margarida Moreira).
Having become a pariah to the Portuguese public, Diamantino decides to take in a young migrant boy from Mozambique for some positive social PR. However, what he doesn’t realize is that this young boy is actually adult female, barely-undercover government agent Aisha (Cleo Tavares), who is investigating his finances with her fake-nun, lesbian lover.
But Diamantino’s problems don’t end there. His sisters have also struck a deal with a clandestine, neo-fascist section of the Portuguese government that needs the star athlete’s on field genius for their plans to “Make Portugal great again”. The kind but dim-witted Diamantino is now the center of a vast, right-wing conspiracy, but fortunately, his tender, growing “relationship” with his refugee “son” may jeopardize everyone’s plans.
And that silliness is also the genius of Diamantino, which on the surface looks and sounds like a campy, low-grade B-movie (the directors intentionally use low-quality computer graphics for the special effects) but deep down is a story about how unconditional love could be the solution for the current state of the world.
JP: Austrian effort Children of the Dead is an ambitious head-scratcher effort shot on super 8mm film(!) from directors Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska of New York’s Nature Theater of Oklahoma theater ensemble. The story rambles but generally concerns a woman named Karin (Andrea Maier) who is on a trip to idyllic areas with her henpecking mother (Greta Kostka). After a dinner of traditional Styrain dishes and songs, Karin and many other travelers perish in a bus accident. Karin comes back to life as a zombie, and wanders around a world of the living and undead where men who committed suicide years before seek out their woodsman father, and where an abandoned factory is transformed into Cinema 666, where theatergoers watch movies of lost loved ones and mourn openly. The intent here is crafting a more arthouse and eccentric effort — while also providing commentary on Austria’s history regarding World War II and the Holocaust — than it is on delivering a horror movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As a fan of surreal and arthouse cinema, I can get behind such a notion. Where Children of the Dead didn’t work for me is in its deliberate intent on being eccentric, and especially its heavily leaning on Canadian auteur Guy Maddin’s approach to filmmaking. Many of the Maddin trademarks are here, including silent film intertitles rather than dialogue, a retro/vintage aesthetic, and melodramatic acting styles. I often found myself wishing that I was watching an actual Maddin film instead of Children of the Dead, which means that this film failed overall in what should be one of the main goals in narrative cinema: to entertain. It is a divisive film, though, and has won coveted prizes during its film festival run, so it warrants a watch from curious potential viewers. On a side note, I saw this film at a screening that began at 2:30 a.m., so a second watch at a more normal viewing time may cause some reevaluation on my part.
JP: Cassandro the Exotico! is an engaging, enlightening, and heartwarming documentary from director Marie Losier about the Mexican professional wrestler Cassandro, an openly gay performer often referred to as the Liberace of lucha libre. Cassandro, née Saul Armendariz, overcame many hardships in his long and storied career and in his life, battling not only wrestling opponents but also different prejudices, substance abuse, memories of child abuse, the death of his beloved mother, and more. The decorated former champion frankly discusses these and other lows and highs with Losier as he winds down his storied 25-year career in the squared circle. This French film with English dialogue, shot on 16mm, is a touching one that does not require previous knowledge of, nor an affinity for, lucha libre, but fans of this exciting spectacle will find themselves rewarded with marvelous displays of in-ring action. Those who love a good story of overcoming great odds to live your dream should find Cassandro the Exotico! a delight.
CW: Andrea Bussmann’s Fausto (2018) will either be a pleasant discovery or an absolute chore based on your cinema tastes. The experimental documentary, which screened in the Wavelengths section of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, is the director’s follow-up to her co-directed debut feature Tales of Two Who Dreamt (2016).
Set off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, Fausto interweaves ethnographic storytelling with dreamy seaside scenery to create a loose, theoretical adaptation of the famous German tale of human corruption. In the film, a mysterious, unseen narrator provides voiceover while various inhabitants of Oaxaca, both indigenous and foreign, share local legends. Though these supernatural tales of dealmaking are often compelling, they have little connection to each other in the overall narrative of the film other than to convey the idea of an uneven, transactional exchange of humanity for worldly possessions.
The world of Fausto is dark, literally, and this is a film that is best experienced in a cinema. Bussman’s skillful eye captures Oaxaca as a rustic locale seemingly trapped in an era that predates colonialism. The footage was originally shot on a Sony a7s mirrorless camera and later transferred to 16mm. The results are beautiful blue skies and warm, earth tone hues with textured, analogue resolution, but dark scenes that can be hard to discern. This darkness adds to the movie’s Faustian theme, however it may also add to the frustration of viewing the film on a smaller screen as the cinematography frequently makes use of night scenes and shadows.
Though the film clocks in at only 70 minutes, Fausto’s slow, narrative progression and lack of action, coupled with the storytellers’ sometimes less than enthralling delivery of local tales, will have some viewers feeling like the film is moving at a glacial pace. However for filmgoers with interests in ethnography, contemporary adaptations and experimental documentaries, Fausto offers a thought-provoking convergence.