March is the time when we say goodbye to Oscar nominees and allow specialty cinema to reclaim its place on the big screen. The end of February saw some impressive releases reaching the cinematic populace, especially in the documentary department: Inside Job directed by Charles Ferguson and Waste Land directed by Lucy Walker being the finest examples (it’s worth mentioning that both films are also Oscar nominees, *but* of a non-Hollywood origin). Both films were the talk of last year's Toronto Film Festival, and for a reason! Ferguson in his Inside Job walks us through the financial crisis of 2008. Step by step we learn small details of the banks' wrongdoings and become familiar with the political background which created the, as the director calls it, “perfect storm.” Ferguson presents the complex issues of financial discrepancies in a simple, at times even didactic way, but puts just enough Moore-sque comedy bits into his film to compensate for the otherwise serious tone. Waste Land on the other hand relies much less on comedy and allows its subject to simply speak for itself and set the tone for the film. The story of a landfill in Buenos Aires turns into an intellectual debate over class divides, social indifference and ignorance. Even though very stern, the outcome of the film is more hopeful than depressing.
But that was February. What about March? This same time last year we have seen similar great releases, both documentaries and feature films: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Father of My Children, Lourdes and No One Knows About Persian Cats to name a few. Yet as it turns out this year’s line-up is nothing like that. If March was any indication of what is awaiting us in cinemas in 2011, the view is rather grim.
Patagonia directed by Marc Evans is a must-see for every Welsh who wants to reminisce about the good old pre-Thatcher days of industrial glory. The film tells two parallel stories: an old woman travels to Wales from Patagonia region in Argentina in search of her roots and a couple of young lovers takes a similar journey in the opposite direction, when travelling across Argentina documenting Welsh influence signified by side road chapels. Yes, the film is extremely simplistic in its narrative - love stories are just too conveniently plotted and all characters are quite one-dimensional. But at the same time the film shows its honesty through the clichéd plot devices. It enchants the audience with its unique charm and while it romanticises the effects of Imperial British influence abroad, it makes very adequate observations about the cultural gap between today’s Argentina and Wales. Cymru is spoken through the majority of the film and Duffy makes a guest appearance as a mysterious Welsh beauty who seduces a young traveller from Patagonia with her looks and her voice. Patagonia could turn out to be something of a cultural treasure for the modern Welsh, as their language and cultural legacy is celebrated on the big screen in a truly grand style.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams directed by Werner Herzog is another interesting pick. The film premiered just a few weeks ago at the Berlin Film Festival, gaining lots of positive attention from the critics and regular attendees. This year’s big Berlinale marketing campaign focused heavily on integrating 3D with art house cinema as the majority of the festival’s competition picks were presented in 3D format. Herzog's documentary certainly showcases undeniable tendencies and opportunities of the 3rd dimension. The new format adds previously unknown texture and expressive capabilities to documentary filmmaking and Herzog, even though very new to this way of film-making, very skilfully explores the possibilities with which 3D presents him. As we enter the Chauvet caves, which contain the oldest and most numerous pictorial creations made by early humans, Herzog wants nothing less than to transfer the experience of being inside the actual cave to his audience via 3D. The story of the search for the origin of image runs parallel to Herzog’s contemplation on the evolution of cinema and humanity. In Herzog’s perspective cinema just like any other human device is undergoing a constant transition and the 3D format is only the latest manifestation of that change. The film is an interesting experience, and it is definitely one of the first art house films addressing the matter of communion between 3D and the specialty cinema as an unavoidable step.
Unfortunately the list of interesting March premieres ends here. Yes, British cinema certainly makes its case this month, with Submarine and Archipelago, both of which might not showcase the best writing and execution, but prove to be much more complex and interesting than the late British big Oscar winner The King's Speech. Hollywood also shows its ugly face with LA: Battle, The Eagle, Unknown and Country Strong. But all of these films demonstrate mediocre storytelling and underwhelming cinematic qualities. Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger turns out to be a perfect synergy of the shape in which cinema in the UK will be in the month of March. It follows familiar patterns and under delivers to the point of exhaustion but at the same time has enough stamina to make us come back and ask for more. And just like with every bad Woody Allen film, next month can’t come quickly enough - and hopefully it’ll be better than the previous one.