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AFI 2012: Final Recap

Fred Topel reviews Final Cut, Ginger & Rosa, Kon-Tiki, Reality, Simon Killer and Zaytoun.


The 2012 AFI Fest came to an end this week. They had several big films which we reviewed in full, and in between the galas, premieres and special screenings, I took the opportunities to give some world films, art films and festival favorites a chance too. Here is a recap of the rest of my AFI Fest viewing.
 

Final Cut

Talk about a found footage movie. Palfi Gyorgy literally edited footage from other movies into a narrative story. Now you hear that and probably think, “Oh, it’s just a clip reel.” That’s what I thought, but you instantly get a sense of the story as you see several famous movie stars wake up, shower, get dressed, meet a girl, etc. The continuity works because that’s what cinema does. Some shots are taken lovingly out of context, which only reasserts the power of cinematic manipulation. Gyorgy plays with soundtrack in funny ways. There’s nothing like seeing Woody Allen strut to the Bee Gees, and Patrick Swayze dirty dance to “Disco Inferno.” The diversity of clips is wonderful, especially seeing the same actor twice like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense and Sin City, or Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart and Sin City. The film loses narrative cohesion once or twice but it gets it back and it’s still fun to see all the clips juxtaposed. It’s not for kids though because it’s got the Basic Instinct bush shot in it and I don’t know what movie had full penetration. Then there are a few clips of “Mad Men” and “House” which is weird because they’re not anything that couldn’t be found in a theatrical movie. This is certainly a festival experience, because I don’t know where else you’ll ever get to see Final Cut, but take the opportunity if you can!


 

Ginger & Rosa

This was a movie I missed in Toronto and it was worth the wait. Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) are teenage besties growing up around pretentious artists and intellectual parents in 1960s London. The focus is really on Ginger perceiving the strife between her parents (Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks) and the politics around her. The drama is confrontational in the best possible way and really susses out the difficult issues. The performances are stunning. Elle Fanning overtakes her sister Dakota with her bravura emotion. The control she must have over her tear ducts in several scenes is impressive. Hendricks is gloriously conflicted and Nivola is committed to smug self-justification in the slimiest way. Englert is a fine discovery who I’ll look forward to seeing more, and we’ll get that chance quickly.


 

Kon-Tiki

Another movie I missed in Toronto and was really intrigued by the premise, but it was a letdown. It’s not even jokingly the second best raft movie of AFI Fest because it’s no comparison to Life of Pi. Kon-Tiki is the true story of Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) who sailed a raft from South America to Polynesia to prove that it was colonized this way hundreds of years ago. With his crew, six dudes on a raft is my kind of movie, but Kon-Tiki only scratches the surface of a historical experience. I feel like I know the story, and saw the dangers they encountered, but it wasn’t thrilling. The pace keeps moving but you never feel the intensity or desperation of the crew. They only talk about it. It’s not as harrowing as I’d like and there’s still too much shaky cam. When it’s revealed the real Heyerdahl made a documentary about his expedition, I want to see that movie. That’s probably the exciting firsthand account.


 

Reality

A little taste of Cannes came to Hollywood when this selection played AFI. It’s the story of an Italian fish market seller, Luciano (Aniello Arena), who becomes obsessed with appearing on Italian “Big Brother.” Director Matteo Garrone shoots the film in several really long master shots where a lot of character choreography happens and it’s really well made. Some of the developments happen too slowly and it can be rather obvious, but Luciano goes overboard in fascinating ways. Besides stalking the celebrity contestants, he starts believing the producers are still watching him for an audition and performs for them, making dangerously bad decisions for his real life. The point about celebrity obsession is made and it is performed well. Before the screening we were told about how Arena is really in jail, was freed on work furlough to make this movie, but is still in prison. That knowledge adds another sense of danger to his performance.


Simon Killer

I missed Simon Killer at Sundance, but at AFI Fest I still got to catch it long before its 2013 release. It’s not for me but I can appreciate it. Simon (Brady Corbet) stays at his friend’s place in France and gets into the city’s sex trade. First he steals a prostitute (Mati Diop) from her high-class brothel, then comes up with a scam to blackmail her other clients. That’s kind of depraved in an interesting way, but mainly it’s about Simon moping around, some graphic sex scenes, then more moping. And when I say graphic, I just mean you don’t often see actors rub their naked privates up against each other. Even though it’s not real (it’s not, is it?) that’s pretty intimate even for acting. So it’s raw, it’s confronting, it’s challenging and there’s probably a lot to read into it if you’re up for it. I just didn’t feel like it that night.


 

Zaytoun

AFI Fest hosted the American premiere of this Israeli film and I’m sorry I have to put it last on the alphabetical list because of its title. It’s quite good. Zaytoun shows life through children’s eyes in PLO era Beirut. Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) ends up helping downed Israeli pilot Yoni (Stephen Dorff) escape captivity, hoping to follow him to Israel. Since Yoni began this quest in Palestinian captivity, they are unlikely allies. They start out typically contentious and then bond through their adventure, and it is an exciting one with all the natural and manmade obstacles along the way, and the political climate is volatile with everyone they meet. A minefield scene is automatically suspenseful, and they’re able to celebrate some of the abandoned areas they encounter. It’s really well made, shot better than current Hollywood movies with a steady motion and deliberate shots. Dorff gives a soulful performance with an impeccable accent. The film is mostly in English but has prolific subtitles as the divided region comes with divided languages. It is a really solid movie though, first and foremost an adventure though its only chance at U.S. distribution is probably to play the political card.


Follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.