Name: Anders Furze
Twitter handle: @AndersFurze
City I call home: Melbourne
Area of cinema I am most passionate about: I am passionate about all sorts of cinema so isolating one aspect is hard. I will say I’m a sucker for formal experimentation though. I’m excited to see how the language of cinema will be shaken up at this year’s festival.
A film that changed me: David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., because when I watched it at age 14, my eyes were opened to just how ambitious cinema can be.
MIFF film I’m most looking forward to: Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley. What’s the deal with the United States of America right now? It’s a question that many MIFF films are exploring this year. I am particularly excited about spending four solid hours with Wiseman’s meditation on this question.
I’m looking forward to Critics Campus because: It’s an incredible opportunity to spend an intensive week immersing myself not only in cinema but in the thoughts, feelings and ideas it provokes. I am doubly excited about doing so with a group of similarly interested, and interesting, emerging critics.
Cinema excites me because: when you watch a film, you watch the world through the eyes of another human being. That’s pretty incredible.
A publication I’d one day like to write for: Sight & Sound. Film culture desperately needs this Empire magazine for the arthouse set. I'm a fan of its theoretically informed, accessible and entertaining-to-read criticism.
Favourite critic and why: Jonathan Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum’s extensive film knowledge, iconoclasm and forthrightness might easily be mistaken for abrasiveness were it not for the admirable clarity of his writing. He knows precisely where cinema is at, and the rest of us need to catch up.
Feature: Popcorn Notes from the Peanut Gallery
Anders Furze turns his chair around to review the Melbourne International Film Festival audience
Without the audience there is no cinema. Herewith, six popcorn notes from the peanut gallery.
French Director Anne Fontaine had just screened her film Two Mothers to Sundance. The artsy drama, later renamed Adore, follows Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two women who sleep with each other’s sons. It was met with audible derision by an audience that laughed its way through the film.
Fontaine was in the awkward position of having to do a Q and A straight afterwards. She put on a brave face: “Apparently in America my film is a comedy.”
On Abandoning a Film
It takes a certain amount of self-conviction to believe that the emotional investment you have already placed in a film would be far better spent elsewhere. But then if you’re thinking of quitting, chances are half of everybody else wants to give up on the film too.
Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Artistic Director Michelle Carey:
“If there’s a general feeling that a film’s not working, the audience can wait for the first person to walk out. It can then turn into a chain reaction.”
Sometimes the walkouts come when a film’s working a bit too well. Case in point: the first screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye To Language 3D at Hoyts’ Xtreme Screen cinema. Fifteen minutes in and the walkouts began. At first a solitary man, then a couple, then an entire row. One patron had to be carried out by four people. Nobody applauded at the end, but then, nobody booed either. They saved that reaction for twitter.
On Sticking With It
The reverse effect. That occasional moment when a film so completely engaged a group of strangers that they collectively decide to embrace it, each film demanding its own idiosyncratic connection.
Ninety minutes into Frederick Wiseman’s four-hour long documentary At Berkeley the walkouts began. Only these weren’t frustrated walkouts. They carried within them the implication of a speedy return. And return they did, bringing back sandwiches, coffees, snacks. There was a comfort with the film and its rhythm, a desire to stick it out but no real concern about missing anything important.
One hundred and fifty minutes in I sensed a growing solidarity with my fellow row members. By now we had endured hours of lectures, meetings and vignettes of grass being mown. We were laughing at the same points (an incomprehensible fifteen-minute astrophysics lecture) and expressing collegiate astonishment (at a meeting inside the financial aid office).
Then the moment which irrevocably brought us together. Somebody in the row in front decided to take out their phone. The man sitting next to me only semi-politely urged her to turn it off. My row turned as one and gave him a nod.
On MIFF Queues
MIFF’s infamous queues serve as a useful, occasionally absurd reminder that there’s a world beyond the festival. Or not.
In the Kino line they’re standing amongst nine-to-fivers going about their business during the day, but on nights and weekends the MIFF queue is the only thing moving in the faded city food-court.
In the Hoyts line it’s a chaotic intermingling of blockbuster and art-house crowds. One Saturday night I futilely attempted to flee the chaos by turning to Twitter. I tweeted at somebody I had never met. He tweeted back. We talked about the crowds; favourite films; how to pronounce my name. After a while I realised we were standing next to each other.
On Vocal Audiences
Michelle Carey: “There’s a lot more humour in art cinema than people give it credit for. Béla Tarr sees his films as comedies.”
Some people expect the cinema to be silent. They’re the kind of people who get offended by laughter during the camp bits of Deep Red (and Deep Red does have camp bits; indeed is terrifying precisely because of them).
There’s humour everywhere at MIFF. Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu looks at the slow takeover of a town by radical Islamists. Two people are stoned to death and a man is drowned. But it is also very funny, an effect felt most deeply because the audience was so vocal about this absurdity.
It can be dangerously easy to slip from laughing with a film, to laughing at it, and when we laugh at a film, we laugh at the people who find meaning inside it.
Years ago, like many who share my particular sensibilities, I thought Garden State to be the Most Profound Film Ever Made. Imagine my disappointment then, to screen The Most Profound Film Ever Made to a bunch of friends who laughed all the way through it, laughed at it, and by extension, laughed at me.
I avoided seeing Braff’s follow-up Wish I Was Here, partly out of fear it would be mocked, and partly out of fear that I would be the one doing the mocking.
Watching a film at a festival is never a solitary exercise. The individual response is engulfed by the communal one. We self-censor, we take our cues from others, and from the film itself. Sometimes we lose our self-consciousness. Sometimes we become ultra self-conscious. A lot of the time the audience just ends up being a bunch of strangers in a room looking in the same direction. Occasionally we turn and face each other.
Review: Trap Street
Of the many truths of cinema there is a central one, so banal that it is easily forgotten. Three scenes in Vivian Qu’s romantic thriller Trap Street speak this truth.
A motel suite. Protagonist Li Quiming, who works days as a surveyor and nights selling and sweeping for surveillance devices with a friend, stands in the middle of the room. He holds a small electronic device in his hand.
“I do the bedrooms,” his friend forcefully states.
So Li sweeps the living room.
From a stationary position we watch from semi-afar as Li uses the device to check for surveillance bugs. By now accustomed to the stability of Qu’s camera, we don’t think it odd for this shot to extend as long as it does. We watch Li take his time, methodically running the device over every surface, inching closer to us, still no cut to the shot, before he slows to a halt, right in front of the camera, looks directly into it, looks directly at us. His expression changes to concern. And then our realisation: we are watching him from a hidden security camera.
A roundabout. Li’s surveying co-worker, Zhang Sheng, appears as a blur, the camera wildly moving from side to side, failing to focus. Zhang looks visibly annoyed as the camera adjusts on him for a moment, before losing him once more.
The context preceding this shot is critical – the roundabout was the setting of Li’s first meeting with Guan Lifen, an enigmatic woman who he has immediately fallen for. The camera erratically dances around Zhang and we realise that it is located inside the surveying equipment that Li controls. Instead of aligning the camera with Zhang, the thought of his interaction with Guan distracts Li, and distracts the camera.
Emotion and form are unified. The camera’s movements reflect Li’s movements, the camera’s desires his desires. The film physically embodies Li’s turbulent emotional state.
A second motel suite. Li and Guan have booked the room in an attempt to escape the surveillance that has steadily infiltrated their lives over the course of the film. In a scene reminiscent of the ending to Frances Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), Li’s paranoia gets the better of him. Ever more frantically he searches each centimetre of their room, appearing to be a lunatic as he attempts to uncover evidence he is being watched.
We see him in a static shot from semi-afar. The camera lingers just a little too long…
It is a central truth of cinema that there is always somebody behind the camera. Trap Street explicates this truth, wrenches it into the open and forces us to reckon with its implications. In the above examples, Qu explicitly identifies the people behind the camera variously as us, the film’s protagonist, and unknown wielders of Chinese political power. In the 21st-century world of Trap Street we all operate on the same continuum, the camera connecting us all.