Third Report | Fantasia 2015

terror 75You’ve probably heard that undercover work is mostly tedium, and that’s the main experience of watching (T)error as well.

 

 

 

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Today’s viewing consisted of a documentary and two animated films. Starting with the serious business, the documentary (T)error offers a look inside an FBI counterterrorism operation. The wonder of this film is that it was made at all, and it makes you wonder about the competence of the FBI to conduct such operations.

Directors Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe enjoyed remarkable access to an FBI informant who uses the name “Shariff” (his true name, Saeed Torres, is also given in the film). Hardly an action hero, Shariff is 63 years old, an ex-con who continues to break drug laws on camera, and whose motivation in serving as an informant seems to be entirely financial (he needs the money to support a young son). Given that fact, you have to wonder why he compromised his position by allowing the filmmakers inside access to an operation without the permission of his superiors (who would have been unlikely to grant it). It’s no surprise that Shariff hasn’t worked for the FBI since, even though the work documented in this film resulted in an arrest and conviction. Besides what the FBI might rightly see as a betrayal, Shariff’s ability to work undercover has been permanently destroyed.

(T)error won a special jury prize at Sundance, but I suspect that was more for the technical achievement of making the film (and for its political message) than for the viewing experience it offers. In truth, it’s pretty boring to watch. You’ve probably heard that undercover work is mostly tedium, and that’s the main experience of watching this film as well. Shariff is not a particularly interesting character (in fact, he’s pretty much the definition of a mediocre failure) and the person he is targeting appears to be an ordinary American Muslim with a wife and small child, not some wild-eyed terrorist. Certainly this film makes the point that such sting operations can constitute harassment and result in innocent people serving long jail sentences, but that message could have been delivered in a far less tedious manner.

posessed 75Moving on, Possessed is the first feature film from Spanish director Samuel Orti, also known as Sam, who also has several shorts to his credit. The plot is a mashup of several classic horror films, including The Exorcist and The Omen, and involves the possession of Damien, son of the famous flamenco dancer Trini and her husband Gregorio, a bullfighter (this is a Spanish film, after all). It’s done in Aardman-like clay animation, with sensibility closer to the “Itchy and Scratchy” shorts included in some Simpsons episodes than anything else I can think of. Which is to say, it gets really bloody but in a ridiculously comic way that often involves the clever use of appliances and other props. There’s also a lot of nudity, at least by American standards, and some really funny dialogue poking fun at the pretensions of the Catholic Church. Possessed is not the most memorable film, but it is fun to watch, and packed full of movie references sure to charm an audience of film fanatics.

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hanna-and-alice 75The Case of Hana & Alice, directed by Shunji Iwai, is an anime prequel to the 2004 live-action film Hana and Alice, which chronicled the life of two Japanese high school girls whose friendship is threatened by their simultaneous attraction to a boy. There’s no romance in the prequel, which explains how the two girls met and became friends in junior high school. Alice, whose parents are divorced and whose mother is a bit of a ditz, has to find her way in a new school where she is the target of bullying. In ballet class, she hears about a boy her age who was (apparently) murdered, and decides to investigate; a process that leads her to meet Hana. Together they set out to find the truth of what happened to the boy, all while sharing adventures and become fast friends.

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The story is entertaining and psychologically astute, with Hana and Alice behaving similarly to how real girls of their age might act. The animation is disappointing, however—it’s an odd mix of painted backgrounds (some of which are quite beautiful) and rotoscoped action, which produces a jarring effect that takes you right out of the story. The rather surreal quality of the rotoscoping is put to good use in some abstract ballet sequences, but otherwise it just looks cheap, as if the filmmakers decided this film wasn’t worth their best efforts. | Sarah Boslaugh

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