The AFI Film Festival decided a couple of years ago that they would make all the screening free to anyone who wanted to go. I have no idea what attendance was like before they did this, but, it’s certainly packed with people. I frantically went to see as many films as I could over the three days of the festival I had spare time—spending all of it in the theater, from noon until midnight each day. The Day He Arrives by Sang-soo Hong was a real highlight of the festival for me. Beautifully shot on black & white, the film has a lot of delightful moments of people interacting over food and drink, the characters repeating the same activities in the same places over and over. Attenberg, by Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari, was also a real highlight of the festival. Shot on 35 mm with little budget, the film is a gorgeously photographed look at one girl and her interactions with her father, a lover, and a friend. It was very amusing, and also very grotesque. The title is a mispronunciation of the name Attenborough, as in David, who the main character is obsessed with. There are many scenes of her watching David Attenborough television programs, and even more of her and other characters photographed as they engage in bizarre, ritualized physical activities, which manage to make every day actions like walking, kissing, and flexing one’s shoulder blades feel totally alien, as if we are being presented with a nature documentary about people.
One thing I missed in the festival, since it was a gala premiere and that would have been too much to deal with, was Lars von Trier’s newest film Melancholia. I have no real opinion of von Trier, having seen only a couple of his films and neither particularly liking or disliking them. This film, however, is something entirely different. It is beautifully photographed, totally compelling, and highly amusing. It’s really a great film—I’ve seen it twice and would like to see it again before it leaves theaters—with a real highlight being a moment near the end of the first part when, after spending about an hour looking at people photographed under artificial lights with no filter, giving them all a ghastly orange cast, Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgård are talking to one another, and behind them, the sun appears to be rising, as the sky has a deep, vivid blue color to it, the first time you’ve seen the color since the beginning of the film. It’s a really stunning and memorable moment.