Oslo International Film Festival: The Sword Of The Stranger & Wild Combination

The apparently annual ten-day Oslo International Film Festival started last week, in which they basically import and show a lot of different films from different countries at a couple of cinemas in Oslo. Often independent, non-mainstream films you wouldn’t otherwise get to see up on the big screen here in Norway. Two films I wanted to see were showing back to back last Sunday, so I went to see them. I went by myself, as I hadn’t found any friends who could be interested in either of the films and who were available. I haven’t gone alone to the cinema since I managed to hunt down and see a screening of the original English language dub of Disney’s Brother Bear some years back. So a bit of a novel experience for me. Was also the first time I’d seen two films in a row at the cinema, further increasing the novelty factor of the whole affair.

When I got there I found out that I actually had to pay for a festival pass as well, and not just the tickets. The pass was needed to be allowed to buy the tickets, and it could also give me one free cup of coffee a day at select locations. I don’t drink coffee though, nor had I planned on seeing any other films that were showing, so I was almost tempted to go home. Each ticket cost 60 NOK, and the pass also cost 60 NOK. That’s a total of 180 NOK to see two films. It had gone from being affordable to slightly above average cinema price (which is about 80 NOK). Had I known about this in advance, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see the two films. 180 NOK is a lot of money. But I’d already used resources on actually getting there, so I paid and stayed to watch the two films.

The first film I saw was The Sword Of The Stranger, a samurai action-drama anime film. Definitely one of the better cinematic experiences I’ve had; I could really feel the adrenaline surging through me and my muscles tightening during the action scenes, so I genuinely felt as if I was on the edge of my seat. This was in large part due to the great music used during the action scenes. The animation ranged from excellent to not so excellent; some of the character animation in non-action scenes seemed choppy and some of the actual characters appeared a bit too simplisticly designed which didn’t always mesh that well with everything else on screen, but the action scenes and the backgrounds more than made up for these occasional shortcomings. It also had some likable characters, the odd touching moment and a decent (if somewhat convoluted) plot. It even had some great canine action, which I greatly appreciated. So it was very satisfying, even if it ultimately felt a bit plain as it didn’t really bring anything all that new to the table, just excelling in its execution as a quality anime samurai action romp. It should be applauded for its dynamic camera use though (if you can speak of camera use in normal animation these days), moving along with the action rather than just capturing it, which I can’t recall having seen in animation in quite this way before. Almost made me nauseous, but it only added to the feeling of excitement and suspense, if perhaps making me closer to actually falling off my seat. Highly recommended for anyone interested in animation or action.

Then I saw Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell, a documentary about gay musician Arthur Russell who unfortunately died of AIDS sometime in 1992. One of his songs was featured in Fidelity Wars #7. The actual director was actually there to actually present the film and to do some actual Q&A afterwards. That was a nice if a somewhat embarrassing surprise; I hadn’t seen it announced anywhere, and I think only three questions were asked. I tried to think of a good question, but was unable. Of course when I got home I finally thought of one: “Why did you call your documentary Wild Combination?” I’m genuinely curious as to why he did that. It’s the title of one of Arthur Russell’s perhaps best songs, but I’m sure that wasn’t the whole reasoning behind the name pick. Probably something to do with Arthur Russell being a combination of something and something.

The actual documentary was kind of… odd. Apparently the director was an experimental film maker and had initially wanted to use Arthur Russell’s music for some visual project, but then it turned into a more proper documentary. It was good though, just not what I had been expecting, and some of the sounds and images got stuck in the back of my brain afterwards. So perhaps the kind of work that will haunt you for a while afterwards. Recommended if you like his music.

The documentary is already out on DVD, so I should perhaps have saved my cinema money and bought that instead. I’m not sure if I’d want to re-watch it much, but it has some excellent looking extras, including two live performances by the man – hopefully his performance of “Love Comes Back” of which there was an excerpt from in the film, which was one of the scenes which haunted me afterwards – and a tribute performance by Joel Gibb – presumably of the film’s namesake song, “Wild Combination”, his version of which was featured on the tribute EP Four Songs By Arthur Russell. Perhaps I should add it to my wishlist this year. I should definitely add his folk-country CD Love Is Overtaking Me, which has some great songs on it.

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