BIFF 2010: Tarda Estate

It’s that time of the year again. The Bergen International Film Festival offers a week long program of some 150 films. Due to work and the fact that I haven’t managed to finagle a free pass for this year, I won’t see as many films as have been my custom, so I won’t attempt any thorough report in these posts.

My first film of the festival was the Italian Tarda Estate, directed by Marco De Angelis and Antonio Di Trapani. It gives me no joy to say that this is a film that should never have been invited to the festival. It is ridiculously amateurish and incompetently made on just about every level. The writing is atrocious and the actors are given no service or, it seems, instruction by the directors. The film lasts 89 minutes, but every minute is so cringe worthy that it felt like a true ordeal. Seeing as the directors were present at the showing, I felt it would be rude to just get up and leave, so instead I tried to roll into a ball of embarrassment, shielding my eyes with my hands, trying to focus on the shape of the loudspeakers above me, anything to escape from a work that confirms and indeed strengthens any prejudice one might harbour against Independent European film making.

The film reportedly cost only a few thousand Euro. Still, I am sure the money could have been put to better use. I don’t blame the film makers, who I am sure have done the best they could. Rather, the director of the Film Festival, Tor Fosse, seems wholly to blame. He evidently saw the film at the Venice Film Festival, where it performed – naturally – out of competition, and deemed it the best film of the festival. While doing so, he gave the backhanded compliment of describing the film as “just as if he should have done it himself”. This is such a lapse of judgment that one must question the man’s ability to continue leading the festival.

As far as I can tell, the only professional actor of the film, is Hal Yamanouchi, who portrays the protagonist. He has himself spent his last 35 years in Italy, playing in various B-films and TV series before he was given a role in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as a pirate. The rest of the actors are unknown. Now, of course it is possible to create wonderful films with unprofessional actors, but I think there must be a plan behind their inclusion; why and how to use them. With such an artificial sounding script as this, neither a Toshiro Mifune nor a Laurence Olivier would have been able to give a credible performance.

Before attending the showing, I had certain fears upon reading what the film was about: An elderly Japanese journalist, having lived most his life in Italy, is diagnosed with a serious illness and coincidentally is asked by his editor to go back to Japan in order to write an article about how the country has changed in the last decades. With a story like this, told by Italian director-writers, I feared that the film would fall prey to exotism: Pretty pictures of the Japanese countryside, shrines, clothes, nature, etc. While all my fears were confirmed, I was not prepared for the added clichés and contrived language, to put a nice word to it. Neither did I expect the film to look as bad – or ugly – as it did, filmed digitally, with no more cinematographic qualities than what any amateur can manage on even a poor video camera. You know that soap opera look that you get on bad LCD televisions? Imagine that, just often out of focus.

It is not automatically art to film a scene behind a veil or putting the camera down on the floor to film peoples’ feet. In fact, it almost pains me to write this, as the film clearly doesn’t deserve any serious or long review. Again, I wouldn’t bother if not for the fact that the film is pronounced a favourite film of the festival director.

“It wasn’t the wind I was scared of, it was our love”. This and numerous other platitudes and embarrassing utterings litter the film. The film is a proper turkey, only there is nothing funny about it. I’m just sorry that it is almost impossible to give a real sense of just how bad the film is, as I didn’t bring anything to write upon, so most of the comments are forgotten. “I seem lately to feel at one with all of nature and see the world in a new way”, the dying journalist says at a point towards the end of the film. He says it because the film has been unable to show us. Everything is explained by the characters in gusts of talk so unnatural and artificial that they would never have been included had the directors been Japanese or, at least, possessed an ear for dialogue.

Possibly the directors wanted to make Lost in Translation with a Japanese protagonist. I’m sure they had ideas they wanted to put into the film. Unfortunately, any such ideas fell apart in the execution. Perhaps they will do better in the future.

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