March 29th, 2017

MIFF day two: Three, The King of Comedy

Melbourne pulled out some unseasonably pleasant weather for the second day of the Melbourne International Film Festival. It must have known the interstaters were watching. Don’t be fooled.I started my own personal MIFF journey slowly, with a mere two films: Three, Tom Twyker’s first non-Hollywood film since 2000’s The Princess and the Warrior; and Martin Scorsese’s brutal satire The King of Comedy, screening as part of MIFF’s 60th anniversary retrospective.

Three (Tom Twyker, 2011)

Three (Tom Twyker, Germany)

Unfortunately for MIFF’s technical team the day started off with an almost unforgivable technical error. For some reason the film had not yet arrived or was not ready for screening, so the almost full ACMI cinema was instead forced to sit through a poor-quality, watermarked DVD which intermittently covered the screen with the words “FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY”, often in the more intimate scenes. Patrons were offered refunds, but it certainly wasn’t the start the MIFFsters would have been hoping for after a massive opening night.

These issues certainly didn’t help my appreciation of the film, but perfect presentation could not have breathed any life into the cold, lifeless love story of Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper), who independently meet and begin affairs with the same man, Adam (Devid Streisow). Simon and the stony-faced Hanna have been a couple for two decades but are slowly disconnecting from each other, and their distance grows as life-changing events such as personal illness and the death of a loved one arise. Adam offers a lustfully secret escape for each, meeting Hanna in the course of their work and Simon as a willing stranger at a swimming pool. But even in the many “love” scenes there is very little in the way of warmth or chemistry between the actors, which seems partly by design of director Tom Twyker who attempts a kind of hands-off approach to this unconventional love story. Characters move and speak as if in their own movie, floating in space completely disconnected from each other. Twyker’s distinctive fast-paced visual style isn’t suited to story like Three’s, so we are instead treated to some beautiful minimalist urban photography which places much of the film’s weight on the performances. But if you don’t connect with the characters you don’t care what happens to them, and as the film moved from the uninteresting to the absurd I began to lose patience.

Rating: 2 stars

The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)

The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, United States)

Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedyscreened at MIFF 1983, and makes its return to Melbourne’s cinemas as part of MIFF’s 60th anniversary retrospective. I had actually never seen it, as embarrassing as that is for me, but I’m lucky enough to say that my first experience with the film was in a theatre. And what an experience it was.

Obviously nothing can be said about it which hasn’t already been said by those far more eloquent than I, but I absolutely adored the film. It is so biting, so brutal in its unsympathetic portrayal of the delusional wannabe comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) that I found myself taken aback when people started laughing in the cinema. Yeah, it’s funny, but the poor guy just wanted his chance. Can’t we all identify with that? I didn’t know whether to laugh or let out a cry.De Niro plays the dangerously pathetic Pupkin with the perfect blend of humility and psychosis, and Sandra Bernhard gives a terrifying performance as Pupkin’s fellow deranged obsessive Masha. It’s pointless to offer a rating for a classic like The King of Comedy, but as far as Scorsese/De Niro collaborations go, it’s up there with Taxi Driverfor me.

Rating: 5 stars

Now I’m off to catch one of Melbourne’s other cultural offerings: the album launch of the brilliant Sydney post-rock band sleepmakeswaves. Could a Friday get any better?

About Bradley J. Dixon

Bradley J. Dixon is a freelance writer and blogger from Melbourne.

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