Ebertfest 2013: Day 3


Oslo, August 31st (2011) 
  • Joachiam Trier (Director) 
The Ballad Of Narayama (1958) 
  • David Bordwell (Film Historian) 
Julia (2008) 
  • Tilda Swinton (Actor)

Due to the flash floods from the night before invading the countryside where Andy and I dwell, we were unable to attend the first screening of the day, Oslo, August 31st. Due to this unfortunate circumstance, I am unable to describe how those early moments of the day unfolded. Once Andy and I finally arrived we thought we'd change things up a bit and sit in the balcony of the Virginia Theatre this time around. While there's a little less leg room than the seats of the main floor, every seat in the balcony allows a perfect view. This is due to the heavy declined angle in the stadium style seating which allows your gaze to cast over the entire theater. We thought this might be a perfect way to experience the vast mountain village sets in The Ballad Of Narayama.

Chaz Ebert, Tilda Swinton, and Festival Director Nate Kohn
We were right! The balcony was just the place to take in the intricate beautiful spaces where the story takes place. The film focuses on the Japanese tradition of carrying the elderly from the village up to the mountain and leaving them to die when food is low in the village. basically wiping out an inconvenience or speeding up the inevitable, so that the village may survive on the low amounts of food available. After the screening, film historian David Bordwell was brought in to discuss the film. There was a discussion on the ambiguity on how one may read the abandonment traditions taking place. You can read it as critical, accepting, or just as the subject matter. While the subject matter was interesting, what I took away most from the film was the visual texture, theater like sets, and ethereal colors. Even with a jarring score overlaying the film, it was the poetic ambiance of the visuals that really stuck with me.

For the final film of the day, we watched Julia, starring Tilda Swinton. Swinton stars as the titular character, Julia - wild, dripping in alcohol, excess, and substance abuse, telling lie after lie in an attempt to attain her own selfish agendas. Julia gets wrapped up in a kidnapping in the hopes of earning a large financial reward. She finds and creates many obstacles in this venture.

Tilda Swinton, who spoke after the film, described the role not as brave but as "kamikaze". You aren't merely watching an alcoholic on screen getting into all sorts of serious shenanigans, there is also a visceral self destructive feel affecting the viewer throughout the movie itself. Swinton went on to say "We wanted to make more than a film about alcoholics. We wanted to make an alcoholic film." Not only are you watching a train wreck personified, the movie imprints that lousy self-destruction feel on the viewer. As I was watching, I was constantly twisting in pain from what was being presented to me on the screen. The film runs 140 minutes, and is still completely engaging from beginning to end. Swinton said, "There's a 4-hour cut, this was just the trailer." Personally, I can't imagine what other downward spiral actions the character Julia could have possibly presented herself with, but I know I'd be down for checking out that cut.

Me doing "The Maybe" with Tilda Swinton
I stuck around after the Q&A hoping to catch Swinton so that I could ask her some questions about her recent MoMA performance piece, "The Maybe", where she sleeps in a glass box allowing the public to view her resting. I could tell her time was short so I wasn't able to get an in depth conversation going. She started "The Maybe" performance back in 1995, and returns to it periodically but never fully knows WHEN or IF she will ever return to the project. I had asked her, since the piece started in London, does she consider herself a part of the Young British Artists (YBAs) or if she is buddies with any of those artists. She said that she new a few of them and that Damian Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" may have had a subconscious influence on her glass box piece. 

In meeting Tilda Swinton I found her to be a very kind woman. She is a favorite here at Ebertfest and it's obvious that the crowd here, including myself, would like to see her return for a third time.