This is the very first edition of the International Film Festival and Awards Macao, and it shows to some extent. It shows a bit in the lineup, which seems to favor safer, more conventional choices. And it shows a lot in the staff, who are still feeling out their duties, often unsure of what to tell the guests. But there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm behind the festival, and a general eagerness to please that helps smooth over some of the wrinkles.
There really isn’t much that happens on the first day of a film festival. There are usually only going to be one or two films screened for the people in attendance. The first day is always about ceremony, which the festival handled with a proper offering to the gods and no less than four lion dancers chasing away the evil spirits inside the Macao Cultural Center. And it’s always about the red carpet, which was wrapped up nicely in protective plastic to keep it clean until the rights shoes can dirty it up later that night.
I am not cut out for red carpet duties. I am not an entertainment reporter, and I’m not a photographer, either. Being put into a pen with the rest of the press trying to find an angle on the celebrities walking past is not my idea of a good time. I tried it out, though, to see if I could get a picture of Erik Matti walking the carpet. The director is premiering Seklusyon at the festival, and being the only Filipino press here, I figured it was my duty to catch the director arriving in style in Macao.
Unfortunately, the director didn’t stop to have his picture taken. The best that I could do was a picture of him walking past everything, and one of him talking with a representative of the festival. Oh well.
The opening film of the festival was Polina, directed by Angelin Preljocaj and Valérie Müller. We first meet the title character (Anastasia Shevtsova) as an eight-year-old, undergoing a pretty dehumanizing examination as she auditions for a prestigious ballet academy. It then quickly cuts ahead to her teenage years, where she is to audition to become a member of the Bolshoi Theater. It is everything that she has been working for her whole life, but her taste of romance leads her down another path. The film follows Polina as she explores the world and discovers others ways to dance.
The movie is adapted from a well-regarded graphic novel, and while the film is completely watchable, the transition from page to screen doesn’t seem to be entirely successful. It often feels like the story just needs the added space provided by the abstraction of the drawn page. The film follows Poiina over a pretty long span of time, and the film just seems to be forced to gloss over much of the nuance of what she’s going through. One never really feels the emotional weight of the relationships that she makes over the course of the movie, and the climactic choices just don’t have the impact that they’re supposed to.
Also shown on opening day: Adam Smith’s Trespass Against Us, which stars Michael Fassbender as Chad, a man basically raised in criminality by his crook father Colby (Brendan Gleeson). Chad is a terrific getaway driver, but he’s getting tired of the life and is trying to get out for the sake of his wife and two children. He’s made plans, but he finds himself unable to tell his father. And on his part, Colby seems intent on keeping his family together.
This is a pretty entertaining glimpse into a very specific British subculture. Think Winter’s Bone but set in the English countryside, and with more of a sense of humor. It’s a story of people living on the fringes, with so few choices that criminality might be the only sensible option in the end. It’s a low-key family drama livened up with the occasional car chase scene. The only thing is, this story doesn’t have many places to go. That’s part of the point of the film, I guess, with the cycle of criminality so resilient that even the best of men among these crooks can’t really do anything to change it. But the final moments of this film almost seem to celebrate that point of view, and that doesn’t really sit right with me.