I’ve had a sharp uptick in my filmgoing lately. From having seen zero films in Zurich ever, I think I’ve managed four in the past few months. Two of those were in the last week and part of Zurich Film Festival.
Zurich Film Festival is in its twelfth year and seems to be a very decent mid-level contender, as international film festivals go. It doesn’t (yet) have the clout of Cannes, Venice or Sundance but it seems to attract some decent celebs, as well as a shedload of sponsorship from some big players. As you’d expect — Zurich is not short of cash.
Anyway, I thought I’d give a couple of mini reviews of the films I saw.
I went to the European premier of Dancer – a Steven Cantor documentary that follows Ballet “bad boy” Sergei Polunin for four years. I am embarrassed to say, Polunin was not much on my radar prior to this, although I do remember reading about the scandal of him running out on the Royal Ballet when I was in London.
I think the best bits of the movie are just watching Polunin dance. He’s incredible. A genius. The Picasso, the Prince and the Pythagoras of ballet. I’m grand-jeté kicking myself for never seeing him perform in the 7-odd years I lived in London. Damn!
It was also great to hear him talk about the creative process and his struggles with himself as an artist. Something along the lines of “Just because I’m good at dancing, why does that mean I have to do it?” And yet, “The moment when you float in the air at the top of a jump… it’s worth it.” In my own, very watered-down, non-genius way, I sometimes feel the same about writing.
The climax of the film centres on the Take Me To Church video starring Polunin and shot by David LaChapelle, that went viral when it was released in early 2015. Polunin has said he cried for the duration of the 8-hour film shoot and it was going to be his last dance ever, although he’s since changed his mind. It’s a breathtaking piece of work.
It was cool that the film was introduced by the director and Sergei himself, although the ZFF Q&A was a little weak – there’s a better Q&A here for anyone interested.
I’d give the film 3.5 stars (out of 5) and would recommend it to anyone fascinated by the creative process, who likes dance and ballet and/or who thinks 26-year-old male Ukranian ballet dancers are hot (ahem – I may or may not have a major celebrity crush on Sergei right now).
The second film I saw was German-language sci-fi Stille Reserven (Hidden Depths).
I’m currently researching sci-fi utopias and dystopias so it was very cool to catch the world premiere of this film. It’s an Austrian-made movie starring Lema Lauzemis and Clemens Schick (nah, me neither). Schick was chillingly, thrillingly Crispin Gloverish and Lauzemis had an appealing androgyny. Both great performances. The film was introduced by the director, Valentin Hitz, and had English subtitles (thankfully!).
I loved the premise. There were some really clever ideas for a near-future dystopia and the evils of the insurance business (one of my pet peeves – a horrible industry that relies on fear). In this case, people were being pressured to buy “death insurance” or else risk their bodies’ vital functions being kept alive indefinitely for organ harvesting, surrogate mothering and data storage — a nasty prospect that activists were campaigning against with a Right To Die slogan and attempts to shut down the evil human-factory plant.
Filmed mostly in Austria, I loved the bleak and deserted suburban streets and unused highways. As well as the industrial interiors and grubby, Soviet-looking apartment blocks. It all gave a desolate feel, a spooky emptiness that was nicely explained by the existence of the “Parallel world” that we never saw but that people could escape to if they chose (but possibly never return from?). There was good slumwork and some excellent ‘desperate-and-violent-urchins’ on the sidelines too.
Unfortunately, the plot did a bit of a Girl in the Freezer thing, which was a shame. And suffered from the boggy middle syndrome. Also I felt like the guy shouldn’t have had tattoos, he would have been more human and vulnerable if his skin was “clean”. However, these are minor quibbles in a mostly awesome genre film.
Last but not least, I really got a kick out of the cabaret club scenes. Making a sort-of Weimar Republic seedy jazz club the backdrop to the activists’ activities was a master stroke. And Lauzemis’ rendition of the song “Tiger” was the high point of the movie for me.