By Will Ashton | email@example.com| @thewillofash
It’s that time of year again: the Athens International Film and Video Festival (AIFAV) is back and in full swing, and, on its opening day, I got to see three of its select few. All of which are pretty much nothing like the other. So, without further ado, here is my first day of coverage—and come back for continued coverage throughout the week.
The Missing Picture | Directed by Rithy Panh | Not Rated
In his sober, yet deeply poetic, Academy Award-nominated documentary, Rithy Panh explores familiar territory in an fascinating, and often thoughtful, perspective.
Through the use of clay figurines, Panh explores his troubled past in a way of examining the preservation of self and the ongoing sense of longing than anyone can relate to. It’s a somber movie, filled completely with sullen pathos and quiet moments of reflection, but it is also, at times, quite repetitive.
It’s not the type of movie that is going to appeal to every audience, but those who enjoy this kind of stoned-face, watered eye reflection on the meaning of life through survival are going to take away a lot of beauty from this movie.
Much like Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, screened at last year’s festival, Panh uses an unique means of examining his past through the animation and poetic monologues. Whereas Nance’s film was more polished than Panh and examined a 30s mid-life crisis instead of 50, Panh’s film is just as bittersweet and unusually alluring.
There is an undeniable charm to the amateur animation that makes the movie all its own. At times an autobiography, a cleansing, or a thesis—and, sometimes, all three—Panh’s film is an evocative, if at times meandering, look at life that is alluring and stand-offish at the same time.
OJ: The Musical | Directed by Jeff Rosenberg | Not Rated
Shot in a mockumentary style that is more in line with Edward Burns filmography than the films of Christopher Guest—which is to say, using its style whenever it is convenient for the film at large—OU alum Jeff Rosenberg’s OJ: The Musical has a lot to live up to with a title as promising as its own. As expected, it doesn’t quite live up to the great promise that its ludicrous title suggest, but there are more than a few laughs inside to gain an audience’s admiration.
Centered on a failed playwright’s attempt to merge William Shakespeare’s Othello with the events of the OJ Simpson murder in musical harmony, Rosenberg’s movie is one that would probably have been best served in the shorter form than the longer. With about 30-40 minutes of good material, if that, there is potential here for a pretty great short film. But, as a feature, it equals out to just an average film at best—one that is enjoyable at the time to watch, but nothing quite worth remembering once you leave the cinema.
For all its hit-and-miss comedy, the best thing about this movie is its cast, who, through thick and thin (material) stay on board. In particular, another OU alum Jordan Kenneth Kamp, as the lead said playwright Eugene, is always putting in 120 percent into this comedy. But, thankfully, he either has enough restraint to never go fully overboard, or Rosenberg is wise enough to keep him in balance.
The biggest detriment to OJ: The Musical is that a majority of the characters never really progress in this story in realistic depictions. Their character arcs only progress when and how it is convenient for them to do so in the script, and, as a result, it is hard to truly get invested in this story as wholeheartedly as the filmmakers would like. Also a chink in the movie’s army is its cliched and fairly predictable storyline, which is only livened, and saved, by the movie’s ongoing dark comedy sensibility.
Much like Hamlet 2, the movie is undoubtedly at its height during its extravagantly envisioned musical numbers. Which makes me all the more inclined to believe that this would have been best conceived as a short film or a Funny or Die sketch. As a film, though, it’s an enjoyable, if never spectacular, film that would be an entertaining night home when this movie hits On Demand or DVD.
Wetlands | Directed by David Wnendt | Not Rated
In David Wndent’s perverse, yet oddly fixating, coming of age (literally) movie Wetlands, he proves, once and for all, that the United States don’t even hold a candle on the raunchy comedy department’s line of good manners.
Filled with endlessly imaginative camera work and an ongoing desire to push the audience’s line of decency, there is an over-lining sense of obnoxious mentality that pratically demands its audience to be as grossed out as possible. To its benefit, though, it’s a movie that is not for the squish, but it always kept me guessing. Which, for the record, is not something I can say about many movies these days.
What truly makes this movie work in the end is the brave performance of its lead Carla Juri as Helen. She throws herself wholeheartedly into this performance, and it is a pretty great one at that. On that same note, Wnendt’s seemingly fearless desire to push everything to the edge is commendable, if not always well earned. But, thanks to its lead actress, it all works out in the end.
What I think is most disappointing about Wetlands is that, for a movie so willing to take risks, it plays itself very safe in its final moments. Its end is about as predictable as you can expect from the events leading up to it. Which is a shame, especially considering how many surprises this movie had in store for its hour and a half running time.
It’s gross. It’s over the top. It’s perverse and its gleeful in its sophomoric mentality. It has things that will never, ever be unseen, and that will either scare people away or draw them in even more. But, much like the first American Pie movie, it also has a fine balance between sweet character moments and its raunchy humor to balance itself out at the end of the day. It delights in its gross details, but it is still a well-made, competent film that should entertain the select few audience members that get a kick out of this type of thing.