Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen – György Pálfi and the film of 500 films. (Sydney FF Film Review)

Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen is showing at the Sydney Film Festival. 

There is a new film nerd heaven.   It is the product of three years in the editing room and the chopped up scenes of five hundred passionately loved films.  It is the film that crowns György Pálfi as the ultimate film nerd, but I have to say for those of us who love to watch cinema, there is a great joy in playing “what’s that film” as the images hurtled their way across the screen. It can be an intensely frustration process – think of one and a half hours teetering between “got it!” and “tip of the tongue” syndrome.  The first viewing is an exacerbating whirlwind of flights between the two states, leaving one with the feeling that they know both far less and far more about cinema than previously thought. The mind makes the most morose of calculations, “I know that finger – it’s so-and-so” or “I know that telephone – it’s blah blah’s fourth film” and given the speed and voracity of the images it’s almost impossible to stop. Combine this energy with  the overwhelming feeling of “god I haven’t seen that / heard that in years” going on, so that you leave the cinema with a jumbled feeling of wanting to re look at The battle of Potemkin as well as Jaws, even though neither may have  been in the montage. It is a wonderful experience for cinephiles.  I left with the biggest smile.

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The montage is a simple story of boy meets girl.  He sees her singing in a nightclub. He is Humphrey Bogart standing by a piano, she is Isabella Rossellini singing Blue Velvet, he is Clark Gable staring mesmerized from behind his drink, she is bowler-hatted  Liza Minnelli dancing with a chair… you get the idea.  As the couple move through first love, restaurant dates, jealous ex lovers, marriage, misunderstandings, war and babies, each moment is identified by mirrors of similar moments collected from films across genre, age and fame. For those of us who like our Euro more than our easy-watching there is plenty of New Wave spice to speed the pulse. Sword fights fly from Rashomon flick to Star Wars and back to Seven Samurai.  There are delightfully funny moments, like a series of famous scenes of women clasping their hands and celebrating at the news they are pregnant culminating with Mia Farrow as Rosemary!  I forget how happy she was to have the Devil!  The editing isn’t just painstakingly seamless, it is also witty and clever, poking fun all the way at cinema and us, the viewers ever hungry for what amounts to the same film over and over again.

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The story goes, Palfi, along with the other Hungarian great, Bela Tarr led a bit of a protest over Hollywood producer Andrew G Vanja taking the reigns of Hungarian film making – the fear being this would reduce variety (and therefore quality). Money was scarce there for a few years and Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen is Palfi’s idea of twiddling his thumbs for a while. However, this leads on to the films real (reel) problem.  With no money, Palfi didn’t purchase any rights to any of the films. Therefore, at this point, the film may only ever be able to do the festival circuit where it will only be seen by a few thousand and the illegal film distribution circuit where it will be seen by everyone.

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However, what is most remarkable about Final Cut Ladies and Gentleman, is not the clever editing (or maybe it is) nor the trivial pursuit quality (or maybe it is) but the ability of the film to cut deep into the story despite (or because of) the montage effect and despite the remnants (Palfi calls these snippets “recycled”) coming from almost five hundred films.  This is the true surprise. It turns out boy meets girl is a gripping story – even if it has been told over five hundred times.  It’s opening scene – blithely alluded to above – is meticulously crafted, as a song from Guilda is sung (lip sync perfect) by many different actresses singing on stages we instantly recognize. This sets the pace for a film that isn’t just magical whimsy but beautifully crafted to the point, we want to know what happens in the end!

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No matter how many times we’ve seen these films. This magic, usually only spoken about separate from the film viewing experience, is IN the film so that the film itself is showing you the magic of film. Surely this is the most perfectly executed meta narrative ever?

Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen is a cult film waiting for its cult status to be granted. Make sure you get a chance to see it.

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