I’m attending the Boston Independent Film Festival this weekend for the first time, and it’s been a blast so far—I’ve seen some good stuff, and I’m looking forward to seeing much more as the weekend continues, including films by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Andrea Arnold, Guy Maddin, and Lynn Shelton. I missed the opening night film, Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk with Me, but I caught the French cop drama Polisse on Thursday night at the Somerville Theater and the found-footage horror anthology V/H/S Friday at the Brattle in Cambridge.
Polisse (directed by the French filmmaker known as Maïwenn) comes highly recommended: it won the Jury Prize at Cannes last year, and advance press has been comparing it favorably to The Wire. (It opens stateside in limited release next month.) It follows a team of French Child Protective Service officials both on- and off-duty as they interrogate pedophiles, counsel abused children, and try to keep their own personal lives together, moving (often deftly) between moments of searing intensity and big, warm-hearted humor. You can see why it’s been wowing audiences—it introduces an ensemble of richly drawn characters, immerses you in their world, and, by the end of a mere two hours, has convinced you that you know them. The details of the movie’s construction don’t stand up to close inspection, though, and it often feels that Maïwenn, much like the shy, somewhat awkward photographer character she plays in the movie, doesn’t completely know what she’s pointing her camera at, let alone how to handle the finer points of structure and narrative (she lays on scenes in big, broad strokes). It’s a hugely entertaining movie that’s certain to please crowds; whether it’s great cinema is another question.
As far as pleasing crowds goes, V/H/S (dir. Ti West, Joe Swanberg, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Adam Wingard, and Radio Silence) played well to a packed house at the Brattle late Friday night; it’s scary and funny in equal parts, and you can see how it’s the kind of movie that The Cabin in the Woods wanted to be but in comparison to which it pales significantly. It’s the latest in a series of films and novels (Ringu/The Ring, Paranormal Activity, House of Leaves, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, etc.) in which VHS tapes—those seemingly banal but always slightly mysterious remnants of yesteryear—become vectors for destruction. Here, a group of miscreants is hired to break into a home to steal a particular videotape (“you’ll know it when you see it”) and ends up stumbling upon five pieces of horrifying found footage (each directed in full-on shaky-cam style by a different filmmaker). While the quality of the segments varies (one is noticeably weaker than the others), they’re generally effective and feel uncomfortably, terrifyingly real; the first, an update on the familiar cautionary tale about horny teenage boys who pick the wrong, um, “girl” on whom to prey, is one of the scariest (and funniest) things I’ve seen in recent memory.