Fantastic Fest is the kind of film festival that is unafraid of pushing the boundaries of style and taste. It’s the sort of place where you can expect sensibilities to be tested for the love of film. Fast approaching the festival’s halfway point, Sunday brought with it a bit of this mindset with the screening of some vintage exploitation alongside a Belgian dark comedy and a thriller out of the Middle East that seems poised to start a cultural revolution. Here’s a look at how the films of Fantastic Fest’s fourth day stacked up.
Farewell Uncle Tom
Film critic Roger Ebert said it was the most racist movie ever made. Klan member and Donald Trump supporter David Duke said it was a Jewish conspiracy to start a race war. It was the kind of film that managed to offend absolutely everyone. Though it transcended the usual shock value in knowing that very little that it was showing didn’t take place in history.
As part of Nicolas Winding Refn’s book celebrating the art of exploitation film posters, he’d personally selected three of these grindhouse-era films to show throughout the festival. To call this 1972 Italian faux-documentary on slavery in the antebellum south rough to watch would be an understatement. Once it was announced that we’d be seeing a cut of the film that included a 13 minute sequence not shown in the U.S., Refn responded simply “Oh, fuck.”
Schneider Vs. Bax
A dark comedy from writer/director Alex Von Warmerdam about two hitmen pit against one another by their mutual boss, a series of events continue to make a seemingly simple task increasingly difficult.
It’s not a terrible premise, but it suffers from the lack of any interesting, likeable characters, many of whom are shoehorned into the circumstance so ridiculously it becomes impossible to suspend one’s disbelief. As the film carries on, what’s supposed to be tension-mounting deflates into simple boredom, becoming impossible to invest in the story, as there is no character to root for.
Zinzana (Rattle The Cage)
Zinzana is the kind of movie that’s easy to talk about how great it is. The villain (superbly played by Ali Suliman) is a fantastic, over-the-top, sociopath who’s alternately cartoonish and terrifying. The straight man (Saleh Bakri) crafts his character with a kind of delicate understatement. There’s no backstory given, and details reveal themselves through a handful of character interactions that pass through the single room where the story takes place. It’s tense and uncomfortably funny, and plays out like ear-cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs, just spread out over 90 minutes.
However, to learn that co-writer/director Majid Al Ansari had crafted the first every genre film to ever come out of the Middle East, and to do so with such refined confidence, makes it an astounding achievement. A self-described child of the 80s, Al Ansari writes a simple rule book, then follows it very closely, and allows its two main characters to build a dynamic rapport while on screen. Zinzana has all the makings of a film that can (and hopefully does) start an entire new era of film for the Middle East.