Day 4 – French Frights 

Another note to Markus Nispel: Go see “Haute Tension,” and think about what you did wrong and French director Alexandre Aja did right. Maybe not the surprise ending, which I am still undecided about, although it does make much more sense in retrospect than it did when it occurred. Except for this questionable twist, “Haute Tension” is an aptly titled tense shocker that makes great use of sounds and music without simply going for noise. There is also great acting, and then there is the blood. Lots and lots of it. The story revolves around the brutal and explicitly depicted slaying of a family by a mad killer in rural France and the kidnapping of the grown-up daughter. Aja’s film successfully mixes nail-biting suspense with truly gruesome imagery, and the slick direction, clever framing and editing don’t hurt either. Love or hate the ending, love or hate the entire nasty film – either way you will certainly never forget “Haute Tension.”

What a nice idea it was to double-bill the press screening of “Haute Tension” with “Looney Tunes Back in Action.” So far the best American film in the festival, and a highly appreciated return for director Joe Dante who infuses the life action/animation blend with his satirical humor and gift for pacing. Brendan Fraser und Timothy Dalton prove to be good sports for poking fun at themselves, there are cameos by Dante buddies Dick Miller and Roger Corman, and the film does not only feature the beloved Looney Tunes characters, but also animated characters from other franchises and a plethora of creatures and characters from classic b-movies. Recommended viewing for geeks of all ages.

Boys will be boys: Filmmaking partners Ryuhei Kitamura and Yukihiko Tsutsumi of Versus fame challenged each other to a friendly battle of directing skills: Each would direct a film about two characters fighting each other till death, may the better film win. Having not seen Tsutsumi’s 2LDK, I still wouldn’t bet my money on Kitamura’s “Aragami.” It tells the tale of a samurai fighting a flesh-eating demon in a strange temple. Unfortunately they mostly fight with words, getting drunk over wine and vodka. That is amusing and clever for a while, but becomes repetitive after half an hour or so. There are some good ideas and a semi-cool ending, but at 80 minutes this is clearly too long. The material might have made a decent short-film, but this is not the stuff feature films are made of. 

Day 5 – Another day, another remake. 

How is that for a change: “The Singing Detective” by Keith Gordon is not a remake of a silly American cop show or a classic horror film, but the feature film version of an acclaimed British TV mini series from 1986. Still the question remains: Why? The new “Singing Detective” is not a big dumb summer movie, but it is not clear what it’s supposed to be instead either. This version of the story about a bitter writer suffering from a gross skin disease and imagining a conspiracy plot around him in song and dance numbers has no dramatic or emotional focus. The lip-synced musical numbers are mildly entertaining, but they are few and far between. Robert Downey Jr. is always an excellent choice for cynical yet oddly likable characters, much like a handsome Bill Murray (although Downey is not all that handsome here in his skin disease make-up). He succeeds in making the main character his own, which is quite a task for a part originally played by Albert Finney. Still he and the rest of the great cast can’t save this film that has some winning scenes, but many more that make you glance at your watch.

It is not easy to describe the premise of “Ce jour-là” without giving a wrong impression of the film. The patriarch of a wealthy Swiss family sets a notorious serial killer free to murder his slightly lunatic daughter to prevent her from inheriting the family empire. When the killer fails in killing her, and she fails in killing him in self-defense, they bond. Other people arrive at the lush family mansion and meet their maker. Yet “Ce jour-là” is not another gory, loud killers-in-lust flick, but a rather sweet dark comedy with endearing performances by Elsa Zylberstein and Bernard Giraudeau as the coo-coo couple. Hilarious running gags meet wonderful quiet character moments, whimsical humor stands side by side with angry commentaries on Swiss politics. Elegantly directed by French veteran Raoul Ruiz, “Ce jour-là” is one of those films festivals are made for: You have never heard of it, you enter the theater with little expectations, and you leave feeling happy, happy, happy. 
Festival coverage continues in part five of 10 DAYS IN SITGES>>>

Posted on January 7, 2004 in Festivals by

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