Disappointments and surprises are expected at any film festival and DIFF has had its fair share of both this year. Before the festival started, I made a list of what to see based on how interesting the synopsis in the festival guide sounded and my own prior knowledge of films that had been well received at other festivals throughout the year.
One of the films that I had high expectations for was the only Russian film playing at the festival - Ostrov or The Island. It is an intriguing concept, about a old soldier who lives in cold desolation with a group of monks at a monastary. He is consumed by the guilt of something he did many years ago, and lives his days in a shack where he manages the coal furnace. The movie has a secret, and we wait the two hour running time for this secret to be revealed (don't worry, its not a big one, nothing you can't see coming mid way). What happens in the in between? He plays pranks on the monks and recites lines from the bible in great earnest, sometimes to humourous effect. There is nothing worse than a comedy that masks itself as an art house film, which Ostrov does to a large extent. It has gorgeous visuals, directed with a discerning eye for natural beauty and the performances are decent, but the humour is strange and unbalanced and from this the film never really recovers.
Another film, high on the 'to view' list of many festival attendees, was Richard Linklater's Fast food nation. Usually a reliable director, his latest attempt left me with the impression that the script bit off more than it could chew. What exactly was the focus of the film? Illegal immigrants? Disgruntled teenage workers? Corporate mismanagement? The hazards of meat eating? Never has a film tried to lobby its point with such laziness as 'Fast food nation' does. To me, it seemed as if Linklater was aiming at making this his 'Traffic' but ambition is nothing without purpose, and the film clearly lacked the kind of scathing, sinister tone it was looking for. Add to that the fact that any film that features Avril Lavigne loses my respect without much effort put to it.
Not all hope was lost though. There were surprises, and good ones at that. The Spanish language 'El Custodio' came out of nowhere and left me speechless by the time the credits rolled. The story of a bodyguard for a minister in Argentina, the film was one of the best character studies I have seen in awhile. Its style of direction, while nothing new, used a point of view approach, so we only saw, heard and felt as much as the character of Ruben did at any point of time. I could see myself sympathizing with the man, but also knowing, almost expecting, something brimming underneath to reveal itself. At the core of the film was an examination of the dynamics of a master slave relationship, where one is dependent on the other, to the extent that compromises of personal integrity must be made.
With another few days to go, there are bound to be more surprises (and some disappointments as well). Stay tuned to find out about them.