By Mark Saldana
Photos by Mark Saldana
As Monday comes to an end and Tuesday begins, some Fantastic Festers might be feeling the lack of sleep right about now. I know I am feeling slightly fatigued, but with so much to do and so little time to do it, it is rather difficult not to do as much as possible. In addition to the five movie screenings available each day, there are parties, special shows at the Highball, karaoke, arcade games, virtual reality games by a company called Dark Corner, and more! So much fun is available that it is enough to make one dizzy.
As usual my main focus is film, but one cannot live on film alone and that’s what really sets this festival apart from all others. It is all about having an awesome time with friends, family, and strangers who soon become friends/family. Fantastic Fest is definitely the most fun film festival that Austin has to offer. Tim League and his team of programmers, employees, volunteers, and other staff work their hearts offs so that a good time is had by all.
The theme for this year’s festival is Bollywood, particularly Bollywood genre films where “Dishoom Reigns.” The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar has been beautifully decorated in all of the bright and vibrant colors one would expect to see in India and the Drafthouse menu has some special Indian flavors to offer to go with the theme. The film lineup features some new Bollywood titles like Kammatipaadam and Psycho Raman and reportoire screenings of Khal Nayak and Magadheera.
Make no mistake, though, the Fantastic Fest lineup is not completely Bolly. The festival still has its wide variety of genre titles from all other the world including films from our very own U.S. of A. The opening night began with acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature film Arrival, followed by the latest from acclaimed Korean director Chan-Wook Park–The Handmaiden. The festival continued presenting the newest work by such directors as Paul Schrader, Tim Burton, and Morgan Spurlock. In addition to the work of already established filmmakers, the Fest continues its tradition of presenting the films of new, up and coming filmmakers hoping to get established in the business.
I could go on and on about the joys and wonders of Fantastic Fest, but I must get to sleep, as there is more to do and see. For now, I will list my top five movies of the films I have seen at the festival so far.
(Synopses Courtesy of Fantastic Fest)
- The Handmaiden: (In the 1930s, country girl Sook-Hee is hired as a handmaiden to Japanese heiress Lady Hideko, who lives a secluded life with her uncle. However Sook-Hee is not what she seems… and neither is Lady Hideko, Count Fujiwara or Uncle Kouziki.) The newest film by Chan-Wook Park is mesmerizing, erotic, perverse, beautiful and full of wonderful surprises.
- Elle: (Paul Verhoeven’s debut in French cinema highlights an incredible Isabelle Huppert in a dramedy that first subverts then transgresses the rape-revenge narrative.) Dutch filmmaker Verhoeven brings his subversive sensibilities to a shocking and disturbing film that might be the best he has ever made. Less in tune with Robocop and Total Recall, and closer to Basic Instinct, Elle is Verhoeven’s feminist opus that features an extraordinary, award-worthy performance by Isabelle Huppert.
- Zoology: (Natasha is a lonely, middle-aged woman who still lives with her mother and feels insecure about her tedious life… until she grows a tail.) This Russian film by director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy tells a sweet, poignant and powerful tale about shy and lonely woman with a rare condition who tries to get her groove for the first time in her life. Exceptionally written and directed with an excellent performance by Natalya Pavlenkova as Natasha, Zoology is a heartfelt portrait with just the right amount of strangeness to fit right in at Fantastic Fest.
- S Is For Stanley: (Alex Infascelli’s documentary about Emilio D’Alessandro, Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant for more than thirty years, which provides never-before-seen insight into the private auteur.) This is less a documentary about Kubrick and more a portrait of his assistant/ best friend and the fascinating relationship he shared with one of the world’s more enigmatic filmmakers. It is a must see for all Kubrick fans.
- Original Copy: (In the heart of Mumbai, behind the screen of one of the last Hindi Film cinemas, lives Sheik Rahman, the city’s last painter of film posters. This is his story.) Cinephiles will appreciate this compelling and heavy-hearted story about a talented artist facing the end of his career as his theater struggles to stay in business.
That is all for now. I will be reporting back with more detailed reviews, an interview piece and my end report in the coming days. Until then, Dishoom will continue to reign.