The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Can you give every movie a fair review if you watch twelve in three days?

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medium_8437985599How many movies can you watch in a day before it all starts to mix up until it’s a blurry mess in your memory? Two? Three? And for how many days can you be doing this without losing your mind?

I think the answer will vary depending on who you ask. I imagine that professional film critics have developed a high amount of stamina and won’t break down in the first place. If you’ve been a regular to Cannes, Berlin and Venice for years, you must have some tricks in your sleeve, similar to how a wine expert can try out fifteen wines in one afternoon, giving each one a proper and fair evaluation. For a hobby critic like me, who hasn’t got a long track record of film festival experiences, it’s more of a challenge.

I had reason to think about those things as I attended Malmö filmdagar earlier this week. This is a three day event that is held every year, where the upcoming movies of the autumn are presented to people in the film business and to media representatives. Thanks to the Swedish Film Institute a whole lot of movie bloggers had received press accreditation this year.

Judging from the looks on the faces of the people I met, we were among the most enthusiastic participants those days, as we tried to squeeze as many movies as we possibly could into our watching schedule.

Hunger, exhaustion and dizziness couldn’t keep us from knocking off film after film, even when the breaks between them sometimes were down to five minutes, making it impossible to head for the queue to the ladies restrooms. Once a movie finished, you had to wipe it from your mind as quickly as you possibly could as you were moving to the room where the next screening would take place.

Coping strategies
I couldn’t help wondering about what strategies the professional film critics had to cope with it. Most of the movies were utterly depressing, like movies tend to be these days, and they left me with a lingering taste of death, heartache and despair. What was their trick to remove it?

Wine tasters spit out the wine, using white bread and water to cleanse their palates. But what’s the equivalence for a film buff? How can you rid yourself of pain and grief, approaching every movie the same way, with an empty, reset mind? Was there an empty room with white walls and a soft carpet where speed meditation sessions were offered to reviewers in distress? Did they listen to one of those apps that claim they can make your brain relax with the help of alpha waves? Or perhaps they had a quick watch of something completely different? Could a looney tunes short film cleanse your film taste buds the same way as a piece of white bread makes your tongue ready for more wine?

Being unfair
I don’t know how you folks make it. But after my twelve movies-in-three-days experience you have my respect. I don’t think I’ll be able to give each one of the twelve movies the same chance, sadly. Some of them were screened late in the evening after we had had a glass of wine if not two. Or actually three, if I’m thinking closely about it. And to be completely honest, if you’re not trusted to drive a car, can you truthfully claim that you’re fit to review a movie?


Some films were unlucky to get a bad slot, right after one of the best movies. How could I possibly be touched by Lovelace when I just had cried my heart out to Broken Circle Breakdown? How could Diana be anything but superficial and bland compared to Before Midnight?

I’m now in the process of sorting out my memories from those days the best I can, attributing the bursts of tears to the correct movies and working out if the reason why a certain film made me sleepy was that it didn’t engage me or if there were other factors at play, like the time of the day or what I had had for dinner before watching it.

I’m not a professional critic, just a film fan, not used to this kind of intense film watching. So bear with me if my judgement seems to be somewhat clouded in the reviews to come. I haven’t learned the tricks yet. I don’t know how I’ll manage to write all those posts.

There’s only one thing I know: I won’t be fair.

photo credit: gak via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

September 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm

18 Responses

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  1. Great article. I share your feelings towards this, as I too am unable to understand how so many bloggers/critics can watch so many films within such a short space of time. In planning my schedule for the upcoming New York Film Festival, I made a conscious decision to only watch 3 films a day, even if there may have been other films I would be interested. I certainly don’t have the stamina for more than that.


    September 1, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    • Yeah, after three it really got tough. The day I watched most, I watched five in a day!


      September 1, 2013 at 11:15 pm

  2. My festival strategy is to jot notes between films.

    If drinking invalidates reviewing, I should retire.


    September 2, 2013 at 1:18 am

    • For some reason I couldn’t make myself take notes between the films. I figure I just needed those few minutes desperately for a mental break, just breathing and resetting my mind. But facing the review writing I wish I had been able to write meanwhile.


      September 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm

  3. When I used to go to the cinema semi-regularly I used to walk out and back again. About 4½ miles. The walk back home – sometimes late enough at night it was actually very early in the morning – was actually incredibly useful.

    The only thing I have done at all similar to what you have done was a few years back when I saw two Shakespeare plays in The Globe on the same day. In the afternoon it was Merry Wives of Windsor, and in the evening King Lear. They were really excellent performances – but I do wonder if part of the reason the entire experiment “worked” was because the comedy was first. This meant there was time to digest King Lear.

    For a little historical perspective, in the ancient foundations of film and theatre, back during the Dionysia festival of ancient Athens they used to be three days of tragedies. On each day there was a three-part tragedy performed, followed by a lighter play (called a satyr), presumably to stop folks being too depressed on what was, after all, a festival. After the three days of tragedy came a day or two of comedies. So the idea of a festival of drama (taking medium out of it) is as ancient as the acting profession itself. A comforting thought perhaps 🙂


    September 2, 2013 at 1:46 am

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experiences as well as a giving a history lesson. That’s very interesting. Sadly there wasn’t too much of comedies at the event I attended. Of all the movies I watched I there was only one that was funny I think. All the other movies had dark themes, even though not everyone ended in a tragic way. And even the one comedy had a pretty dark humor, dealing with mental illness. I guess many movies these days are dark, or maybe it’s me that is attracted to them. But I could have done with a bit of the Dionysia festival approach.


      September 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm

  4. Maybe there should have been sensory deprivation chambers instead of restrooms? Come to think of it though, those chambers usually are filled with tepid water. Maybe it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone…


    September 2, 2013 at 6:20 am

    • There you have it! Let’s suggest it in our feedback to the people who arranged it. I’m sure they can come up with something along those lines. 😉


      September 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm

  5. It doesn’t depend just on who you ask, but depends on movies too. ‘superhero movies’ can easily watch 2 during same day and still be fresh (it is bad idea to think about them anyway). ‘Tarkovsky’ movie – need minimum a week off after that kind of movie. Though I’m not critic at all and have no idea how to behave on a festival or write a review.


    September 2, 2013 at 10:47 am

    • There were several movies there that I would have needed a lot more time to think about. Maybe not a week, but I would have needed to take the rest of the day off. That’s the case with Before Midnight. It feels like heresy to watch it this way, squeezed between other movies. On the other hand I guess it gives me a reason to watch it again at some point, in a situation where there’s room to digest it appropriately.


      September 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm

  6. I had my first experience with what you are talking about last autumn, went I went ‘on assignment’ at the local festival watching 3-5 films a day for two weeks straight. It is incredibly fun but also overwhelming physically, mentally, and emotionally. The way I look at it, you don’t owe anything to the films except for having an open mind. The onus is on the films to pull you away from whatever you’ve just seen and capture your attention. The one’s that manage to do that are the ones that deserve a full review.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    September 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    • Three to five movies a day for two weeks straight! Wow, just wow. I imagine it must have been exhausting in so many ways – but at the same time wonderful and magic and fun. You know ow it is; it’s as if you enter a bubble, a magic world where you just want to stay.

      I guess you’re right that I don’t need to write about all of them – just about those that stick. My strategy for writing is to write about what comes to my mind, what’s at the tip of my tongue at this very moment. If a movie never comes to my mind, perhaps it didn’t deserve a review.


      September 2, 2013 at 6:53 pm

      • What I ended up doing was a daily recap with brief capsules on each film, and then full reviews for the standouts after the festival. The downside is that later on the films will no longer be as fresh in your mind, but then again some films need that time for you to mentally process.

        Bonjour Tristesse

        September 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm

  7. Festivals sure are incredible, aren’t they? Incredibly fun and incredibly tiring and incredibly mind-numbing at times. My strategy is usually to write down anything I for sure don’t want to forget (during the movie, even – I usually have a notepad and pen at the ready for anything I might review, festival or not), and write up short reviews in between films if I can. As far as scheduling goes, sounds like you did a number on yourself choosing all heavy films! I usually try to get a few comedies in at judicious times to make sure I don’t burn out. If you’re seeing five films in a day, it’s a must to have a few light ones in there.

    The past few festivals, I’ve done what Bonjour Tristesse recommends – writing capsule recaps of each day (trying to capture some “festival flavor” and not just the films themselves) and then writing full reviews later of the films that continue to stick in my head. But you’re right, it’s incredibly hard to feel like you’re doing justice to every festival film.


    September 4, 2013 at 2:02 am

  8. […] a task, but I imagine it won’t be as demanding as my friend Jessica’s experience with Malmö filmdagar; she’s watching 12 movies in only 3 days, and intends on writing a bunch as well. Inspired by […]

  9. […] Can You Give Every Movie a Fair Review If You Watch Twelve in Three Days? by Jessica at The Velvet Cafe […]

  10. It was a wonderful film bubble to be in for a couple of days, wasn’t it! 🙂

    Going in I was afraid and quite sure that I, and others with me, wouldn’t cope, especially on Tuesday with five movies and the first starting at 8.30 AM. But suprisingly I was ok. In fact I was better than ok, at least on Tuesday. The problem for me was actually the first day when I only attended one seminar (the notorious film critisism one) and two movies. During the last one (Rush) that finished after midnight I was totally mushy in my head.

    But then after a good night sleep I didn’t have so much problems the next day. Sure it wasn’t easy peasy but much smoother than I thought. Maybe because the movies were really good. Also, I think an early start is helpful instead of watching movies around midnight.

    By now I’ve managed to write reviews of all the 11 movies I saw except for one but I hope to get to that today. 🙂


    September 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

    • Lucky you! I’m slowly working my way through all the reviews, but I’m having a hard time finding time for it. If I could I would have taken the rest of the week off just to write. But now I had to work and then we had guests coming over the rest of the weekend. Oh well. One by one, I’ll make my way through all of them.


      September 9, 2013 at 7:57 am

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