Festival Report: Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2012
Festival Report by Nia Edwards-Behi
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival. The genre giant, as ever, provides a packed schedule of great films, notable guests and plenty of atmosphere. A cornerstone of genre festivals, it’s testament to the festival team that a crowd of die-hard fans can mingle with Joe Public, that young and old have equal opportunity to be entertained, and that all the while a dedication to the genre of fantastic films is evident from those behind the scenes.
I saw a whole bunch of films while I attended the first few days of the festival, but I’d like to start by mentioning the Collectifff project: a collection of short films put together by Belgian directors to celebrate BIFFF’s birthday. They range from the funny (Bowling Killers by Sebastien Petit) to the action-packed (Collector by Sebastien Briedis) to the sexy (Belgian Psycho by Katia Olivier). My favourite of the lot was without a doubt the endearing Happy Birthday Mr. Zombie by David Leclercq, an imaginative little film well worth seeking out. Special mention has to go to Slutterball, by Jérôme Vandewattyne, which really should have thoroughly offended my sensibilities, and yet manages to be a film so demented that it’s an undeniably enjoyable mess. Demonstrated throughout all the Collectifff films was a love for the festival, evidenced indeed by many of films’ use of festival organisers in their casts, or the knowing references made to festival conventions and habits. The Collectifff project was truly and impressive and wonderful way to celebrate BIFFF’s big birthday.
There were two other short films I watched in my time in Brussels, both directed by notable genre favourites: Terry Gilliam’s The Wholly Family and Night Fishing by Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong. Gilliam’s film is adequate at best, demonstrating some painfully wooden acting while offering little new in its whimsy. One or two moments and entertainingly morbid, but ultimately the film is almost instantly forgettable. Night Fishing fares somewhat better, but mostly as an interesting snapshot of a particular culture’s mourning traditions than as a horror film. The most blatantly horrific sequence, which occurs at the start of the film, features Park Chan-wook’s particular brand of dark humour, but this is quickly lost as the rest of the film is taken up with a shamanistic funeral. The film is notable for being shot entirely on an iPhone 4, but, while this is impressive, in the hands of a filmmaker of such calibre it’s no wonder it turned out well.
The range of feature films on offer this year truly reflected BIFFF’s status as a ‘fantastic’ film festival – that is, its rubric is to showcase not only horror films, but fantasy, science-fiction, action and thrillers are all included.
My three favourite films from the festival are vastly different. A devastating, harrowing and utterly compelling film, Kotoko is the latest from Testuo director Shinya Tsukamoto. The legendarily vocal BIFFF audience appeared to detest the film, but it was by far the festival stand out for me. It’s an incredibly slow moving film, but it never felt boring to me. Japanese singer Cocco takes the lead role of a woman who suffers a mental breakdown when her perceptual disorders make raising her child alone unbearable. It’s hard to do it justice, and it’s a film that’s going to take a few more viewings to fully appreciate, but it feels like a perfect, quiet companion piece to Tetsuo, in many respects, and even though it feels overwhelmingly serious, it has its moments of dark humour, like its predecessor. As breath-takingly difficult the film was, I cannot wait to see it again.
Father’s Day is the latest offering from Troma, and boy, does it deliver. Impressively well-made and fantastically irreverent, the film is genuinely funny whilst being incredibly inappropriate. What starts off as a serial killer movie turns into something else entirely, without seeming out of place. The film boasts some strong performances and a wicked soundtrack, and benefits from a truly funny framing device of being a TV show, complete with mid-film ad-break. I absolutely cannot wait to see this film again with a crowd.
Alex de la Iglesia’s new film As Luck Would Have It isn’t remotely a genre piece, but nevertheless, is worth a mention for being absolutely lovely, and one of my favourites from the festival. There’s a sense of whimsy to the film that maybe lends it a degree of fantasy, in the same way that a film like After Hours can be considered as such. The central performance from Jose Mota as Roberto, an out-of-luck advertising executive who tries to make the most out of an unfortunate accident, is gloriously inane and touching, providing a vital heart at the centre of the film.
Two incredibly silly films of varying levels of depth are Iron Sky and Zombie Ass. Both were films I highly anticipated and while one only just met my expectations, the other thoroughly surpassed them. Zombie Ass is as it sounds. It’s the latest Japanese splatter fest and while I found it thoroughly entertaining and, yes, even funny, it’s hardly a good film. It’s clear that Iguchi & co. are truly scraping the barrel (so to speak), and it shows most clearly through the use of a single-location (methinks their budgets are rapidly decreasing) and the almost entirely CGI effects. While Machine Girl and the like were glorious examples of fantastic practical effects, the over-abundance of CGI blood and fluids in these films are now verging on the… well, sad. Iron Sky, on the other hand was significantly cleverer than I expected, and even quite sweet. It’s a film about moon Nazis, and is massively entertaining (and in thoroughly bad taste, at times), but yet, it feels like a film that has something to say. Some great performances really round off what is a truly enjoyable film.
Beast is a completely different, er, beast: all slow and ambiguous and pretentious…so, naturally, I liked it. Reminiscent of a film like Trouble Every Day, I wasn’t ever sure if I was bored, while at the same time captivated. It’s a beautiful film to look at, and it’s central theme of sexual obsession and consumption is fascinating. It’s lead performances are powerful, particularly that of Nicolas Bro, who is, at times, truly repulsive, and yet, never unsympathetic.
The Road is something of an uneven film, but it both managed to scare and move me. Director Yam Laranas constructs and intricate tale, told in three parts, which is part-ghost story, part-police procedural, part-psychological thriller. I particularly enjoyed an early sequence in which three young teenagers are scared silly, and while normally I’d find screaming teens irritating, their behaviour made me think that, actually, that’s probably how I’d react in their situation too. The film’s twist isn’t original, but it unfolds in an entertaining and compelling way.
Two films which probably shouldn’t have been as enjoyable as they were are British kill-a-bunch-of-teenagers film Truth or Dare and the German haunted-room film 205: Room of Fear. Both stick to well-worn formulas, but both have enough charm of their own to remain worth watching. Truth or Dare is full of unlikeable bastard characters, but it also has a nice twist on the ending you might expect which I particularly admired. 205: Room of Fear is refreshingly character driven, and although massively derivative, it has some decent set-pieces to go with compelling if not especially interesting characters.
Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is a film that indulges in being far too long, not least of all through its wholly unnecessary present-day framing device around a film set in the 70s. Otherwise, it’s entertaining enough, particularly as the story it tells is relatively unfamiliar. Roxane Mesquida is particularly fabulous, as ever, even if the film is a little heavy on the men-abusing-women thing.
The Butterfly Room is an entertainingly tongue-in-cheek melodrama, feeling like something of a throwback to those women’s pictures which had a hint of horror to them. The film is most interesting for its cast, though: legendary icon Barbara Steele in the mental lead role, and supporting turns and cameos from the likes of Heather Langenkamp, Erica Leerhsen, Camille Keaton, Adrienne King and P. J. Soles.
Elevator is a film that’s astonishingly static. Yes, things happen, but those things don’t take us anywhere, and give a clear sense of where they’re starting from. An inventive concept, in some ways (group of people stuck in an elevator and someone’s got a bomb!), but any attempts at topicality are rendered somewhat limp due to its damp squib of an ending. Conceptually similar to Panic Button – morally dubious characters learn a lesson in a confined space – the British film does a much better job at making a point.
Another film which reminded me of better work was Game of Werewolves. In fairness to the film, perhaps it’s my lack of a sense of humour that’s the problem here – everyone else I spoke to adored this film, but I can genuinely say it didn’t make me laugh once. It had other things going for it, that is, a strong cast and some good transformation effects, but overall the film bored me to pieces, and reminded me a lot of Faye Jackson’s Strigoi, a film I enjoyed a lot more.
Takashi Shimizu’s second foray into 3D, Tormented, is a good story hidden in a mess of images, unfortunately, and my over-riding impression of the film is that the giant bunny character was really cute – which I suspect was not the intention of the film.
Zombie 108 is the first zombie film to come from Taiwan…and it shows. The film rapidly undoes the good impression of its excellent opening-titles with seizure-inducing editing and over-whelming clichés. It’s those clichés that make Zombie 108 at least watchable, as it is entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-funny sort of way. Zombie 108 feels like a project that has had money thrown at it, with little consideration of nurturing any emergent talent first. The troublingly sexist and mildly racist undertones of the film would only be more worrisome were the film remotely powerful.
Invasion of Alien Bikini was perhaps the most misleading film I saw. Both its title and poster imply a fun, Sushi Typhoon-esque romp, but instead, the film is a 74-minute mess that feels like losing around 3 years of your life. The film spends about 20 minutes on a scene of two characters playing Jenga, before descending into a depiction of forced alien sex, the brutal beating of the alien-woman, and then some bizzaro political subplot…I think? I genuinely am not sure.
Finally, as for Julia X? The less said the better. Just…no. No. NO.
So, after a glut of films in an incredibly sort space of time, I thoroughly need a recovery period of lying very still in a very dark and quiet room. Same again next year? Most definitely. Merci, BIFFF.