The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, United States)
One of the many events happening at the fringes of MIFF this year is a series of “illustrated film talks” by noted British academic Adrian Wootton, canvassing subjects such as Frank Sinatra, Graham Greene, and Elvis Presley, among others. After the film talk “Howard Hawks: An Introduction” guests were treated to a viewing of one of Hawks’ most famous films: the 1946 Bogart-Bacall classic The Big Sleep, which was adapted from a novel by another of Wootton’s subjects, Raymond Chandler. I missed the talk, but managed to catch the film for my first viewing.
The Big Sleep is famously full of flaws – such as its immaculately incomprehensible plot and Lauren Bacall’s wooden acting – but it completely transcends these flaws to sit as one of the greatest films of the 1940s, and one of the all-time greatest private detective films.
Humphrey Bogart is the silver-tongued private eye Philip Marlowe, commissioned by a mysterious millionaire to “resolve” some gambling debts accrued by the millionaire’s youngest daughter (Martha Vickers, cranking the coyness up to 11). What follows is a series of plot twists so regular in occurrence and so arbitrary in content that, honestly, I lost my grasp on what was happening within about 40 minutes.
The millionaire’s other daughter (Bacall) gets involved, a chauffeur either commits suicide or is murdered (I’m still not sure which), people start shooting others left right and centre, and some other stuff happens, and an ending of sorts is achieved.
Who cares, though, really, because the dialogue is so crisp, Humphrey Bogart so magnificent and the cinematography so breathtaking that the film need not bother with something so unimportant as a plot.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Oki’s Movie (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
Told in four sketches and with a non-linear plot, Oki’s Movie is an inventive, somewhat lightweight presentation of a love triangle between Oki, a film student at a Korean university, and two men: Jungi, a classmate; and Song, their professor.
The first sketch follows a future Jungi, now a working short subject filmmaker and himself a professor at his former school, as he navigates the political topography of his workplace and a rocky relationship with his wife. At an uncomfortable Q&A session for one of his films, it is revealed by an audience member that Jungi had an affair with one of his former students, and as she describes the devastating effect it had on her friend’s life Jungi can do nothing but half-heartedly deny the accusations and watch as his self-assuredness slowly withers.
In the second sketch we are then thrown back in time to when Jungi is a student, trying in a pathetically dogged way to gain the attention of his pretty and talented classmate Oki. She relents, they have sex and begin dating, but Oki is torn between Jungi and her existing close relationship with professor Song, who is the focus of the third sketch as he thanklessly performs his duties as a teacher even while his class is totally apathetic to his efforts.
The final sketch is the titular “Oki’s Movie”, and is presented as a short film made by Oki in which she remembers a snowy mountain excursion with each of her lovers (first with Song, and then two years later with Jungi), and upon recalling these experiences waxes lyrical about the convoluted entanglement of location, memory and emotion in the human mind during a relationship.
This fourth section is a beautiful little stand-alone vignette which methodically maps out each walk and their similarities and differences, and while it doesn’t offer any particular conclusion to be made, it does allow the viewer to extract their own meaning. But in the first three sections there seems to be no overall theme or idea that Hong is trying to express, and the result is ultimately scatter-shot and unfulfilling.
Rating: 2 stars
Cold Fish (Sion Sono, Japan)
Misogynistic. Sick. Depraved. Hilarious. Brilliant.
If you’re looking for something to flex your intellectual muscles, Cold Fish is not the film you’re looking for.
But if you’re looking for an ultra-violent, sexually exploitative gore-fest with a humour so dark it could only have come from the light-deprived depths of the Pacific Ocean, Cold Fish is the film for you.
Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), a small-time tropical fish merchant, his wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) and daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) are sucked into the orbit of sadistic serial killer Murata (Denden) when Mitsuko is drafted to work in Murata’s fish emporium against her father’s better judgement.
Murata and his wife kill, dismember and meticulously dispose of a business associate while Shamoto is forced to look on, thus Shamoto is inextricably and unwillingly roped into their freakishly joyous kill sessions until he is transformed into a monster evil enough to force his way out.
While that may not sound like a barrel of laughs, a surprising amount of humour can be found amongst the depravity. Cinema has a strange ability to make us laugh at things that we would find abhorrent in real life, as The King of Comedy demonstrated to me just the other day when I found myself laughing at a character with a violent emotional disorder.
And so we can be excused for finding humour in situations such as two people struggling to stab each other because they can’t keep their footing on a blood-drenched floor. Or a man who, while raping his wife next to his unconscious daughter, has to punch his daughter in the face and knock her out so he can continue with the task at hand.
Yes, it’s offensive, misogynistic and shocking, but once you accept it for what it is you may find, like I did, that it’s one of the most entertaining movies you’ll see all year.
Rating: 4 stars
After walking out of Cold Fish and noticing that the men’s room was packed, I had the genius idea to go to the bathroom upstairs which was completely empty. Brilliant, I thought. Brilliant, that is, until the upstairs lights were turned off while I was on the toilet and I had to try to complete my business in pitch dark.
Well, as difficult and time-consuming as it was I did manage it to complete the job, maybe even with a slight feeling of invincibility to boot. Then, just as I began to fasten my fly…
… the button popped off my jeans and rolled onto the floor, out into the darkness.
And so when I had to find a Greater Union employee to let me out of the locked doors, I did so with no button on my jeans and having just taken a shit in the dark.