170 – LA Film Fest Day Nine

shhh. it's going to be okay

shhh. it’s going to be okay

Well, here we are at the end of the road. Yesterday I talked about how important it can be for unhealthy relationships to experience a little separation. While my relationship with the LA Film Fest has certainly been unhealthy, that’s not the only thing I’ve had to let go of recently. I found out this evening that two of my best friends are leaving Los Angeles in the next couple of months. It is rough news to receive, especially for a shut-in like myself. If I hadn’t already committed to the Film Fest thing for today’s review, you would probably be reading “170 – Abandonment” right now. But my self-imposed assignment has forced me to achieve a modicum of closure. I can’t rant too much about losing good soldiers to domesticity, because the key to letting go is finding that little piece of acceptance.

People have been searching for years for closure regarding the mysterious disappearance of French author Michel Houellebecq in 2011. Houellebecq himself has never really explained what happened to him for several days as he dropped off of the face of the planet, but Guillaume Nicloux’s new film, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, posits that the writer was taken captive by three hapless criminals for what ends up being an extended vacation for Houellebecq.

the kidnapping of michel houellebecq

Houellebecq plays himself in Nicloux’s film, and he does a great job. I was totally unfamiliar with the man prior to entering the theater, but the film’s first 15 minutes works wonders in introducing this abrasive, annoying, pompous, pretentious semi-celebrity, who may not be worth the trouble he causes his captors (Mathieu Nicourt, Maxime Lefrançois, and Luc Schwarz). The very concept of the film is reminiscent of Being John Malkovich, from director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman, but the similarities don’t extend too far beyond a famous person portraying himself in a less-than-favorable light.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is very slowly paced, consisting mostly of meandering conversations that will elicit huge laughs from audiences that are willing to give the film a chance. The kidnapping scene is as exciting as the picture gets; this is really a relationship movie. Stockholm Syndrome certainly rears its ugly head in a sense, but the movie quickly gets to a point where it is hard to tell if Houellebecq is the captive or the captor.

Let’s face it, it is not very likely that The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is an accurate representation of the events that occurred in 2011. Curious citizens will still wonder what happened to the author, but maybe we’re better off accepting the reality that Nicloux and Houellebecq provide for us.

The LA Film Festival provided some closure of its own this evening, in the form of its awards. While all of the fancy people went to the closing night screening of Jersey Boys, I was busy catching up on who won what. The winners are as follows:

Narrative Feature Award – Man From Reno, Dave Boyle
Documentary Feature Award – Stray Dog, Debra Granik
(Honorable Mention – Walking Under Water, Eliza Kubarska)
LA Muse Award – Los Ángeles, Damian John Harper
Best Performance – The ensemble vast of Recommended by Enrique
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature – The Young Kieslowski, Karem Sanga
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature – Meet the Patels, Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel
Audience Award for Best International Feature – Someone You Love, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Narrative Short Award – “The Runaway,” Jean-Bernard Marlin
Documentary Short Award – “The Queen,” Manuel Abramovich
Animated/Experimental Short Award – “Butter Lamp,” Hu Wei
Audience Award for Best Short – “The Gunfighter,” Eric Kissack
Audience Award for Best Music Video – “Turn Down For What: Lil Jon and DJ Snake,” Daniels

In the end, I saw 2 of the 7 award-winning features (Man From Reno and Recommended by Enrique) and 2 of the 4 award-winning shorts (“The Runaway” and “The Gunfighter”). I didn’t see any music videos, but I’ve heard interesting things about “Turn Down For What” outside of the festival, so I’m not necessarily surprised.

As I mentioned yesterday, I didn’t love Man From Reno as much as I had hoped I would, but it definitely deserved the award over Recommended By Enrique, which was the only other entrant in the narrative competition that I saw. I didn’t see either of the documentaries that garnered accolades (though I had a chance to see Stray Dog instead of Recommended by Enrique last Friday), so cannot speak to their quality, but I do look forward to seeing them in the future. I didn’t see anything from the LA Muse competition because I see enough of the city as it is, but the immigrant/gang storyline in Los Ángeles sounds like exactly the kind of thing a jury would go for. As far as the best performance in the narrative competition goes, I would probably give it to the cast of Man From Reno over the cast of Recommended By Enrique, but they don’t let me make these decisions.

Now let’s talk about the audience awards, which I did have a bit of say in. Winners could come from any category of film that screened during the festival, aside from retro screenings. With that in mind, I guess I would have picked Man From Reno for the narrative award. I just didn’t see that many domestic narrative features this year – maybe I can correct that in 2015. My vote for best documentary feature would have gone to Giuseppe Makes a Movie, which was fascinating, funny, and emotionally resonant, with The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest and The Overnighters trailing closely behind. My vote for best international feature goes to The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, without hesitation. It was one of my favorite films of the fest, and I’m glad I managed to squeeze it in before the whole thing wrapped up.

I’m not at all surprised that “The Runaway” won best narrative short. Much like Los Ángeles, it had the type of subject matter that a pretentious group of film lovers can’t help but enjoy. I actually agree much more with the audience award – “The Gunfighter” is fun and funny, even if it doesn’t have a ton of depth. I didn’t see either of the award winners for doc or animated short, but see my breakdown from Day Six for my thoughts on more of the shorts.

As my first ever film festival experience ends, I feel very accomplished. I saw some movies that loved (The Kidnapping… [Day Nine], Giuseppe… [Day Four]), some movies that I really liked (The Life and Mind… [Day Three], Club Sandwich [Day Eight]), and only one that really just stank (The Well [Day Two]). I gained weight, fell off the energy-drink-sobriety wagon, and lost a lot of sleep, but I think it was worth it. I look forward to the 21st LA Film Festival in 2015. Maybe I’ll get a more comprehensive pass – better start saving up money now. I’ll need something to look forward to now that my friends are leaving me all alone in this giant city.

Oh wait, I’m supposed to be looking for closure. Right. Riiiiight. Ah well, I can always distract myself with more movies.

That wraps up Steven’s coverage of the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival. His observations are collected here. Thanks for following along. Next year in Jersualem! Or back at LA Live, whichever one Film Independent chooses. 

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