Boyer Out, 108 and Decline In

By Robert Koehler

The Society of French Directors (SRF), which governs the Quinzaine des Realisiteurs, or Directors Fortnight, has dismissed Quinzaine director Frederic Boyer after his second and stormy year. The 2011 edition was roundly criticized and even lambasted (see Jacques Telemacque’s widely discussed Le Monde attack that ran during the festival), and suffered particularly in comparison to the past editions directed and programmed by Olivier Pere, who left after the 2009 edition to take over Locarno in 2010. It further didn’t help Boyer’s position that Locarno 2010, with its overall superb program, only tended to remind people of what the Quinzaine had been, and was apparently no more. For those of us who had witnessed the disastrous Mexican vampire family movie, Somos lo que Hay, at its premiere in Guadalajara, the shock that it was slotted into the 2010 Quinzaine program felt like a shot across the bow, and signaled a crisis. At this point, we were far from Serra’s Honor de Cavalleria or Alonso’s Los Muertos. Now, who will take over? The international festival community will be watching…. (Read more at the Telerama site.)

Speaking of Locarno, the juries announced today further underline Pere’s solidity at the Swiss event and his taste for highly distinctive independence in the cinema. Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, who produced Ruiz’ Mysteries of Lisbon (screening in the Los Angeles Film Festival this Saturday), is president, and certain to steer his jury toward strong, ambitious films. He’s joined by actor-director Louis Garrel, the brilliant German actor Sandra Huller, Swiss filmmaker Bettina Oberli, and Best of Youth co-star Jasmine Trinca. The jury for the typically adventurous Cinema of the Present section is headed by German filmmaker (and co-director of the great Dreileben, Christoph Hochhausler, with three distinctive fellow directors (Raya Martin, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Michelangelo Frammartino) and Karamay producer Zhu Rikun. In full disclosure, I’m on the jury for best debut film, with fellow critics Kong Rithdee and Anthony Bobeau….

Speaking of the Los Angeles Film Festival, it’s urgent to alert readers to two absolutely essential films to catch tonight Monday. Make this your Monday viewing, no excuses: First, at 7:40, Theo Court’s astonishingly beautiful semi-documentary, Decline aka Okaso. (The original Spanish title is so vastly preferable that I’ll refer to the film under that title, and not the glum Decline.) In my Variety review of Ocaso also ID’d as Decline due to Variety‘s style policy of listing the English-language title), I noted the film as “an excellent example of the crossbreeding of fiction and nonfiction,” its fusing of reality and poetry. Court observes an aging caretaker, attending to a crumbling Chilean rural estate, and maintaining not only a house and its grounds but a certain way of life and rituals–from cooking to clearing brush. But the film frames and preserves this activity in a kind of suspended animation, cast in a colored haze of both atmosphere and memory. It is where the cinemas of Ermanno Olmi and Victor Erice intersect. That’s probably sufficient praise. Then, at 10:30, and there really is no excuse for missing this one, since it’s THE LAST TIME YOU’RE EVER LIKELY TO SEE THIS FILM IN LOS ANGELES, EVER: That would the incredible doc by Renate Costa, 108 (its international title, as opposed to its more eccentric Spanish title, Cuchillo de Palo). Why this small masterpiece has taken so long to get here–18 months since Berlinale 2010–is anyone’s guess, but good on LAFF for selecting it for the International Showcase section, the section with the vast majority of the festival’s best films. In it, Costa considers the life of her gay uncle living in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay under the oppressive military dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. But her consideration is wrapped in the optics of incomplete memories, uncertain accounts of the past and the disturbing cloak of ghosts. There is no better recent case of first-person, autobiographical documentary filmmaking achieving a state of poetry, and a prime case of the new generation of Latin American filmmakers transcending the polemics, and anger, of their parents for a more honest and reflective perspective. Did we say it was essential?

7 thoughts on “Boyer Out, 108 and Decline In

  1. Locarno sounds fantastic this year. I’m excited to hear your reports from the festival. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the LAFF this year, simply not enough hours in the day, but I appreciate the heads up on the screenings. Have you already or were you planning on seeing Paper Soldier, a prize winner from a couple years back at the Berlinale that still hasn’t found any sort of distribution? Such a neglected family, that one. I’m very interested in it.

  2. On a sidenote, the Quinzaine programme will be shown in the Arenberg cinema in Brussels between June 23 and 28. Whatever about the films, it’s a nice idea to set out on a roadshow like this. Not sure if other towns are involved.

  3. Jean, I can speak for Robert–he actually prograammed Paper Soldier via the LA Film Critics Association’s The Films That Got Away. It’s an amazing film, I wrote this about it in the LA Weekly:

    “One of the most thought-provoking and visually sumptuous films to yet emerge from post-Soviet Russia, Alexey German Jr.’s meditation on the life of individuals caught up in the early-’60s cosmonaut program is at once a tribute to the past and a commentary on the present. Idealistic doctor Danya (played by the brooding Merab Ninidze) must choose the first person to undergo a space launch, a utopian project that increasingly threatens human cost. The film powerfully extrapolates Danya’s internal bifurcation by emphasizing his romantic indecision, his dislocation in the barren Kazakh prairies of the launch site (where a Stalinist gulag is in the process of being dismantled), and the Chekhovian, farcical conversations that continually dance around the dread. It’s a tribute to a generation of intellectuals and a country in transition, etched with astonishing long takes that echo the work of Tarkovsky and other Soviet and Eastern European filmmakers of the era. ”

  4. The ‘disastrous Mexican vampire family movie, Somos lo que Hay’ was in fact a Mexican cannibal movie: try to at least get your basic facts straight.

    And its inclusion, far from being ‘a shot across the bows’ as you claim, was read by a number of us – less narrowly concerned with one type of cinema to the exclusion of every other – as a breath of fresh air, opening up Quinzaine to the possibilities of different kinds of filmmaking, different narrative and stylistic strategies, engagements with genre, and a concession that there might, just possibly, exist another kind of ‘festival cinema’ besides the Hubert Bals paradigm, which too often – and from this critic in particular – is venerated merely for existing.

    For the record, I think Boyer’s 2010 lineup was superb, though was dismayed by his selection this year. (And yes, I also admired ‘Decline’, which I caught at LAFF the other night, a great deal.) His first selection, at least – which also featured ‘Leap Year’ and ‘Le quattro volte’ and ‘The Light Thief’, ‘Two Gates Of Sleep’ and ‘Un poison violent’ and Civeyrac’s flawed but interesting ‘Des filles en noir’ – deserves better than this lazy and, worse, reflexively lazy dismissal.

  5. Olivier Pere regularly and creatively mined genres all through his guidance of the Quinzaine, so programming “Somos” was hardly innovative on Boyer’s part.
    Second, I do not like all Hubert Bals films, by any stretch. I dare say, were he still with us, Hubert Bals himself wouldn’t like all Hubert Bals films. (I didn’t mention the Hubert Bals Fund in my piece.) However, a “paradigm” under which the films are considered for funding is no great problem, but is something to weigh and consider. At its best, it both supports creative filmmakers from areas of the world that struggle for funding and fosters careers for longevity. At its worst, like the mixed legacy of Francophone African cinema, it can begin to create a cliched cinema full of tropes that the filmmaker assumes the funders expect. This is the danger of all of the European-based funding sources, and filmmakers need to beware such traps.
    Finally, the 2010 Quinzaine was not good. I saw everything in that section, and my list of good films is much shorter than Shane’s, and Shane’s isn’t very long, actually. That list is: “The Light Thief” and “Le quattro volte,” with some honorable mention for the Civeyrac, though that film has already begun to fade. Pere’s final year, by comparison, included these: “Ajami,” “Carcasses,” “Eastern Plays,” “La Famille Wolberg,” “Go Get Some Rosemary,” “I Love You Phillip Morris,” “Like You Know It All,” “Karaoke,” “Navidad,” “Ne change rien,” “Oxhide II,” “La Pivellina,” “Polytechnique,” “Le Roi de l’evasion,” “La Terre de la folie,” “Yuki & Nina.” ‘Nuff said.

  6. To me, that list – with the exception of ‘Ajami’ and ‘Polytechnique’ – pretty much makes my case.

    But this is of course merely my opinion – just as yours is yours. Your ‘good’ and my ‘good’ are clearly very different; we are, after all, different people. And if you can manage to find something magical and compelling in, say, ‘Go Get Some Rosemary’, or ‘Oxhide II’, I can but shake my head in wonder and, yes, a little awe.

    I do, however, think your close relationship with Olivier Père (aren’t you advising Locarno these days? and didn’t he put you on a jury there last year?) renders any pretense of impartiality on the Père/Boyer question, on your part, somewhat suspect.

  7. I appreciate the response, Doug. It seems there is quite a bit of potentially interesting Russian cinema that gets completely ignored for one reason or another these days. I guess it’s true of cinema anywhere, though, even France – Civeyrac’s films have abysmal distribution, but the few I have seen are quite intriguing. I guess Robert’s latest post about the importance of advocacy is all-too relevant. I missed the one showing of Angela Schanelec’s latest film last year and by this point it may as well never have existed. Too bad, she’s the best.

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