View Full Version : San Francisco International Film Festival 2006
04-15-2006, 02:18 AM
49th San Francisco International Film Festival 2006
Opening night's Perhaps Love featured Takeshi Kaneshiro
SFIFF 2006: LINKED INDEX TO REVIEWS
All About Love (Daniel Yu 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14967#post14967)
Betrayal, The (Philippe Faucon 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=15061#post15061)
Beyond the Call (Adrian Belic 2006) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14990#post14990)
Brothers of the Head (Keith Fulton, Lous Pepe 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14919#post14919)
Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw (Koji Wakamatsu 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14967#post14967)
Dignitiy of the Nobodies (Fernando E. Solanas 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14930#post14930)
Factotum (Bent Hamer 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14921#post14921)
Favela Rising (Jeff Zimbalist, Matt Mochary 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14920#post14920)
Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/articles/features/nyff05/gabrielle.htm)
Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck 2006) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14921#post14921)
Iberia (Carlos Saura 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14926#post14926)
Illumination (Pascale Breton 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1742-Sfiff-Reviews-By-Travis-Kirby)
Iraq in Fragments (John Longley 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14948#post14948)
Life I Want, The (Giuseppe Piccioni 2004) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14918#post14918)
News from Afar (Ricardo Benet 2004) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14958#post14958)
Northeast (Juan Diego Solanas 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14996#post14996)
One Long Winter Without Fire (Greg Zglinski 2004) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14923#post14923)
Perfect Couple, A (Nobuhiro Suwa 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14929#post14929)
Petit Lieutenant, Le (Xavier Beauvois 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1693-Rendez-vous-With-French-Cinema-06)
Play (Alicia Scherson 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14917#post14917)
Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/articles/features/nyff05/regularlovers.htm)
Romance and Cigarettes (John Turturro 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14924#post14924)
Sa-Kwa (Kang Yi-Kwan 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14967#post14967)
See You in Space (Ég veled! József Pacskovszky 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=15109#post15109)
Shooting Under Fire (Sacha Mirzoeff, Bettina Borgfeld 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14990#post14990)
Sun, The (Alexandr Sokurov 2004) (http://www.filmleaf.net/articles/features/nyff05/thesun.htm)
Taking Father Home (Ming Liang 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1742-Sfiff-Reviews-By-Travis-Kirby)
Underground Game (Roberto Gervitz 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=15050#post15050)
Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang 2005) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1711-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2006&p=14927#post14927)
by Chris Knipp
PICKING AND CHOOSING
In reporting on the 49th annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) I’m responding to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s frequently repeated warning that what we get in US movie theaters doesn't show the full range and quality of world filmmaking. But my comments will be colored by the fact that my personal goal remains that of seeing the best of new films regardless of where they come from or where I get to see them.
The SFIFF's ubiquitous flyer claims to offer “227 unique films.” Guess what: uniqueness is by definition a very rare quality, and you're not going to find that many new films anywhere that are either great or unique — though "unique" (if used very loosely) is a safer word because if a movie isn't great, maybe it's different. Quality is an issue to me. And that means choosing well. But the trouble is that with two weeks of public screenings and 227 films there's pressure and little time. How does one choose?
To give some picture of the festival's all-over quality, I began by not choosing. The SFIFF pre-festival press screenings appeared to be basically a random list of offerings and I've been attending as many of them as I could, plus viewing some available VHS tapes of festival selections before the public screenings began.
This initial sampling leads me to conclude that at best maybe only ten percent of the total offerings are really exciting—“unique” in a positive sense. But the NYFF, which focused on nothing but what the committee of the Film Society deemed to be the very best of the world's films for 2005, chose only twenty-five. So that ten percent can be very important.
Last year I realized there are festival lemons, truly disastrous movies that are passed from festival to festival with the same continually augmented hype until they either get shot down by outspoken and visible big city critics (if anyone is even paying attention) — or festival organizers move on to a new crop of the next year's lemons. Making my selections of what else to see during the intense two-week period of the festival public screenings my humblest hope is to avoid lemons — or failing that, to call attention to them. Such is the nature of a film festival with many offerings.
At the other extreme of course one hopes for real finds — the one out of ten that really mattered. Others are worthwhile or fun, but haven't caused a major rise in blood pressure — and too many have been disappointments or even fiascos. That's a kind of uniqueness I can do without. But of course those who put together a big film festival aren't looking for uniqueness. They're looking for a wide range, and trying to provide opportunities for new artists and new directions -- all of which is commendable.
With this large a selection there is also a diminishing chance that the most outstanding offerings will be new to festival-goers. Clearly some of the best selections have been seen elsewhere; and without having attended Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, or Tribeca, I already know that Le Petit Lieutenant is terrific from being at the Rendez-Vous and I know that Gabrielle, The Sun, and Regular Lovers are very fine films from seeing the NYFF's official selections last year. So far, prior to the public screenings, I can only observe that one way or another I've seen 18 of the selections and that I can heartily recommend one that was new to me. That was Alicia Scherson's Play, which represents the work of a brilliant new director, and discoveries like her are why one goes to festivals. Or that's why I go, anyway.
04-15-2006, 02:22 AM
[To be shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival April 23, 26, and 28 and May 3, 2006.]
ALICIA SCHERSON: PLAY
Thirty-two-year-old Chilean filmmaker Alicia Scherson has made an extraordinarily accomplished and delightful first feature. Let's not try to start out by declaring what it's "about": it's too rich and delicate for that to be anything but a travesty. Let's just mention that Play won the Best New Narrative Filmmaker award at the Tribeca festival a year ago but still has no US distribution -- and hence, its appearance at the upcoming 49th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF). Fresh, rich in invention, sure in its unique tone, Play is a significant addition to world cinema and marks Alicia Scherson out as one of Latin America's exciting new filmmakers. It deserves to be widely seen. Like all great filmmakers, Scherson knows well how important time is -- how a movie is all about time -- and can play the game of time. In Play we're always in the present, always absorbed; the game is always in play.
If Play seems to be about "nothing," look again. Antonioni's L'Avventura and Fellini's La dolce vita were about "nothing" too. Scherson has modulated Antonioni's boredom into bemused loneliness and Fellini's wealthy idleness into a twenty-first century urban anomie of easy meetings and easy separations. But again, the generalizations feel wrong and should be held till much later. Clearly Scherson sees life with a precision and wit even the greatest directors might envy.
In a way the real protagonist of Play is the city of Santiago, Chile. Scherson conceived her film, in which several people wander around the city, when on a Fulbright in Chicago, thinking about Santiago. Her male protagonist, Tristán (Andres Ulloa), wakes up in the arms of his wife Irene (Aline Kupperhein) feeling terribly sad. He goes to work -- he's an architect on a construction site but a strike is called and later he gets knocked down by a drunk, and loses consciousness after running into a post. Awakening in the street the next day with a scar on his head, he goes into what the French call a fugue -- wandering around the city, getting drunk, no longer quite caring who he is -- and seeming to lose his identity, since he isn't working, he isn't with his wife or at home, and around a dive bar he has begun to frequent people keep mistaking him for somebody named "Walter." He spends the night in his old room at the house of his blind, charming mother, (the very accomplished Coca Guazzini) who now has a hunky magician living with her (Jorge Allis).
Meanwhile Cristina (Viviana Herrera), a young Indian woman from the southern hinterland whose "story" the movie follows from the start in parallel with Tristán's, is paid to care for Milos (Francisco Copello) an old, ill Hungarian man. Out for a walk, she comes across the abandoned briefcase of Tristán in a dumpster and at once lays out its contents and begins smoking his cigarettes and lighting them with his lighter and listening to his MP3 with his big headphones. Cristiana is sweet but a loner, walking a lot, playing the "flippy" Japanese video games in the center of town. An observer, she wants to return the briefcase, but she can't resist taking time to analyze its contents first and winds up stalking Tristán and secretly, invisibly, partially inhabiting his now disoriented life. In the meantime she cares for her sick man, reading to him from the National Geographic about an Amazonian tribe wiped out by invading white people. She goes on listening to music on Tristan's headphones and starts a running conversation with a sexy gardener, Manuel (J. Pablo Quezada), near Milos' building. (All Scherson's men are attractive, her women too.) A mercurial, honest fellow, as full of passion and life as Tristán is full of passionate ennui, the gardener likes Cristina, but declares her to be strange. At one point they start kissing, and then she immediately says goodbye and walks away.
Scherson mocks her own device of having Cristina follow Tristán and Irene at one point by having the three following each other, Indian file. She majored in biology in college, and she's above all a careful observer, neither making fun nor drawing heavy conclusions. Significant changes happen for both Tristán and Cristina before the movie ends. There are no conventional "resolutions." And yet things feel wonderfully resolved. It's a mark of Scherson's brilliance in design that even in the very last few minutes we're still curious to learn -- and learning -- important things about both the main characters -- yet can't really say for sure where they're going to go from here. The great thing is that through all the playful randomness of the narrative, we never lose our focus on the two contrasting moods of Tristán's lost melancholy and Cristina's busy but disoriented contentment with urban life.
04-15-2006, 02:46 AM
GIUSEPPE PICCIONI: THE LIFE I WANT/LA VITA CHE VORREI (2004)
This throught-provoking, informative movie about romance, acting, and filmmaking seems not to have traveled well, but it's really full of interest. It got some award nominations in Italy and a significant one in Berlin and the two actors, Luigi Lo Cascio and Sandra Ceccarelli, who’ve appeared together frequently before, have their fans—but also their enemies. “Lento noioso e pesante” a viewer posted on the Italian movie site FilmUp—slow, boring, and heavy. It is that, at times, and at times gave me the feeling that I was either on drugs or having a very bad dream. It’s so incestuously self-referential and claustrophobic it’s chilling—and numbing; but it’s also a master class on what a scary convoluted experience it would be to have an affair with another actor while making a movie in which the two of you are having an affair—in costume, in another century. What is real? Before the two shoot the last scene of the story based on La Traviata in which the girlfriend is dying and the rejected lover weeps over her deathbed, the actress has just told the actor that she is through with him and never wants to see him again. The writers and director take a very Italian and sentimental way out of this sad finale with a cute, upbeat coda, but the actor, Lo Cascio’s character, who has told the actress earlier that he scorns actors who”really” cry in crying scenes, obviously is weeping “real” tears in the deathbed scene. The character, the modern day actor, that is, is constantly getting phone calls from an “admirer” who tells him his acting is worthless. And on FilmUp, sure enough, Lo Cascio himself gets comments about how talentless he is. In fact, Lo Cascio and Ceccarelli perform acting gymnastics in this movie that will knock your eyes out and the beautiful and expressive Ceccarelli was nominated for the 2005 European Film Academy Best Actress Award for this performance. And yet, the movie is so obsessive that it can bore you to tears at times too, and what may doom it aside from its meta-linguistic focus on an art form is that basically it’s a chick flick, a Cosmo tale about a sensitive and naïve woman at the whim of a worldly, self-centered man. I can see why Jennifer and Brad broke up, after this. Not somehow a movie that makes your heart sing, but need-to-know informaiton for any film buff.
Showing at the SFIFF four times at two venues, this would be a worthwhile choice for anyone who likes fairly serious mainstream European films that may not ever be showing in US theaters. And it should appeal to anyone who wants a look at the glamour and stress of filmmaking from an Italian perspective.
Sat, Apr 22 / 9:15 / Kabuki / LIFE22K
Mon, Apr 24 / 8:30 / Kabuki / LIFE24K
Thu, Apr 27 / 6:00 / Kabuki / LIFE27K
Sun, Apr 30 / 7:00 / Aquarius / LIFE30A
04-15-2006, 02:50 AM
Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe: Brothers of the Head (2005)
A band that's really together
Experts can outline for you the elaborate history of rock docs and mock rock docs. Suffice it to say that Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Brothers of the Head goes them all one better with the kinkiness of the fantasy world it creates. It's about Seventies Siamese-twin boys from a remote area in England joined at the lower chest who're taken up by an impresario looking for something special: a musical freak show. Isn't that redundant, in the era of Lou and the Velvet and Ziggy and the New York Dolls? Well, no, because we've never seen a movie about Siamese twins before and we'll never see one about Siamese twin rock stars again. Real twins Harry and Luke Treadaway play Tom and Barry Howe, respectively, with incredible enthusiasm and scary charm. Joining them is a large band of prosthetic conjoining flesh, hidden at first but successively more boldly revealed in public performances when the initial audiences thought them a fake. Probably none of this would work if the two actors didn't look like the healthiest, happiest, prettiest English boys you could imagine. When they do the intimacy and the conflict involved in such a scene, the Treadaways know whereof they speak. The heart of the movie is watching them together in action.
The opening scene shows a lawyer tiptoeing into a damp corner of the northeast English coastline to get the dad of the two boys to sign a contract. This turns out to be a clip from "Two-Way Romeo," an unfinished fictional film about the boys' lives by Ken Russell, who talks about the "project" onscreen. A down-on-his-luck manager, Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield), we learn, found the actual twins and had them trained musically to develop a novelty rock band.
Later we alternate between successively creepier cuts from Russell's opus interruptus (in his version one of the boys gets a fetus growing out of his stomach) to the "real," also unfinished, documentary done in the early to mid-Seventies by American filmmaker Eddie Pasqua (Tom Bower) about the boys' shaky beginnings -- they're lodged in a big empty mansion where their rough working class musical manager Spitz (Stephen Eagles) beats Barry, the more obstreperous twin, to keep him in line -- and ultimate rise and hectic meltdown of hysteria, emotional conflict, sex, drugs, and inevitable, obligatory breathless self-destruction.
Later after their talent-less-ness is patiently trained out of them and Tom masters guitar and Barry does lead vocals, they sing together and get so much into the whole performance thing (Roeg's Performance may come to mind--something of the same hothouse surreal sensuality is evoked) along with the high of public appearance-cum-substance abuse, the twins are having a mad, wild good time.. But the more they enjoy themselves -- and this is what undercuts the creepiness: the sense of pure joy of self realization -- the more being forever conjoined becomes both raison-d'être and curse for the pair.
The film's ultimate guilty pleasure is absorbing a sense of the many complex levels of physical and psychic interaction Siamese twins (especially in such an intense lifestyle) would have, which the real twin actors are able to play convincingly: Tom and Barry go from finishing each other's sentences to erotic acts we can only imagine. They eventually become a manic pre-punk pair in a band known as Bang Bang, which plays in successively larger clubs, as the boys graduate from chain smoking to drinking to lines of coke and pills, feverish sex and psychosexual warfare.
An attractive woman, Laura Ashworth (Diana Kent, Tania Emery) comes along to do an academic treatise on the pair as a study of "the exploitation of the handicapped." To quiet her the manager hires her on with the crew and she falls in love with Tom. Once they're part of the music scene all kinds of pleasure come the boys' way along with mood swings, especially from the always unstable Barry, that challenge the power of their togetherness. A surgeon speaks about the unfeasibility of separating the two, especially now they're grown, since they share a single liver and Barry has a congenital heart defect; but later investigation reveals that Laura indeed was looking into the possibility of surgery and contacting this very surgeon, no doubt with a view to having Tom all to herself. She was banished for her pains. A sequence perhaps suggestive of Frank's Cocksucker Blues about the early Stones on tour hints at the obvious point that if one boy of the pair had sex, they both would, and the natural pattern was a polymorphous foursome. There's freaky sex for you. All of which brings back the Seventies as vividly as any almost-real fantasy could.
Kink in this case would especially include that sub-genre of twin fantasies, and this one constantly tickles out thoughts of the queerness of glam rock, (the whole Iggy/Ziggy thing) -- or, as Pepe said at a festival Q&A, "When you strap two good-looking 20-year-olds to each other, a certain subtext starts to emerge." Tom and Barry are perpetually hugging and touching each other because they're conjoined. They're adept at moving together and you even see them running and cavorting on an English lawn.
You can laugh at the genre but with the sleazy-beautiful mock-Seventies images and the twin actors' natural verbal and physical volatility, Fulton and Pepe really pull you into this story, which was drawn from a novel by Brian Aldiss (who is a character played here by James Greene as the author of Kurt Russell's movie) and adapted for the screen by Tony Grisoni.
The images are ably handled by Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot 28 Days Later, Dogville, and Manderlay but gets to play with styles more here, producing footage that combines current talking heads with beautifully faked Seventies-style footage from the presumably unfinished documentary.
This one isn't likely to draw as mainstream a crowd as Fulton and Pepe's previous success, Lost in La Mancha, but it's guaranteed instant cult status. If you like kink, you like the Seventies, and you like proto-punk, Brothers of the Head is the cult mock rock doc for you.
Sat, Apr 29 / 9:15 / Kabuki / BROT29K
Tue, May 02 / 6:30 / Kabuki / BROT02K
04-15-2006, 03:02 AM
Zeff Zimbalist, Matt Mochary: Favela Rising
Not just a sense of rhythm
Favela Rising is a documentary about the slums of Rio, the favelas, specifically the most violent one, Vigário Geral. According to this film, a lot more kids have died violently in Rio's favelas over the last decade or so than in Israel/Palestine during the same period -- a fact astonishing if true, which shows how under-recognized this social problem is in the rest of the world. This is an important topic, especially for those who see hope in grassroots efforts to marshal the neediest and most at risk through a vibrant cultural program. This is a compelling documentary, if occasionally marred by a somewhat too personality-based version of events and by grainy digital video and film that sometimes may make you think you need (new) glasses.
Drug lords rule in the favelas and gun-toting teenage boys are the main drug dealers, like in parts of Colombia. Fernando Meirelles' City of God/Cidade de Deus has been accused of celebrating violence Cidade de Deus is another of Rio's many favelas). But the early section of Favela Rising shows that in fact favela boys do celebrate violence and want to deal drugs where the money and the action are. It's cool to carry a gun there, cool to work as a drug trafficker: it's fifty times more profitable than the earnings available by other means.
Mochary first discovered the AfroReggae movement and its leaders Anderson Sá and José Junior while visiting Rio for a conference and quickly persuaded his friend and mentor Zimbalist to quit his job and come down to help make a film with his own promise to fund it. Sá's eloquence and charisma and a startling twist in his life make him the center of the film and its chief narrator, but like the favelas themselves the film teems with other people. No doubt about the fact that Sá is a remarkable leader, organizer, and artist.
Vigário Geral is compared to Bosnia: shooting there was very dangerous. Anderson Sá's friendship and protection and caution and diplomacy in the shooting enabled the filmmakers to gain access and shoot detailed footage of their subject matters while (mostly: there were close calls) avoiding any serious confrontations with drug lords or drug-dealing cops. They also trained boys to use cameras and left them there on trips home. That resulted in 10% of the footage, including rare shots of violent incidents including police beatings. It's hard for an outsider to keep track of police massacres in Rio. There was one in the early 1990's that looms over the story and inspired Sá, who ended his own early involvement in drug trafficking to lead his cultural movement. The cops are all over the drug trade and if anybody doesn't like that the ill trained police paramilitaries come in (often wearing black ski masks) and shoot up a neighborhood, killing a lot of innocents.
This is pretty much the picture we get in Meirelles' City of God, except that this time Sá, Junior, and the other guys come in, starting in Vigário Geral but spreading out eventually to a number of other favelas to give percussion classes that attract dozens of youth -- girls as well as boys. Their AfroReggae (Grupo Cultural AfroReggae or GCAR) program, formed in 1993, is a new alternative way of life for young black men in the Rio ghettos. It leads them, the film says, to leave behind smoking, alcohol, and drugs to explode into rap, song, percussion, and gymnastics in expressive, galvanic performances. Eventually the best of the performers led by Sá wind up appearing before big local audiences with local producers, and their Banda AfroReggae has an international recording contract.
Other centers and groups have been created by or through the GCAR over the years in Vigário Geral and other favelas to seek the betterment of youth by providing training and staging performances of music, capoeira, theater, hiphop and dance at GCAR centers.
The performance arts aren't everything, just the focal point. GCAR is also a movement for broader social change Gathering public awareness through such performances, the centers also provide training in information (newspaper, radio, Internet, e-mail links), hygiene and sex education, to seek to bridge gaps between rich and poor, black and white, and to offer workshops in audio-visual work, including production of documentaries. The program is currently active in four other favelas.
There are many scenes of favela street and home life in Favela Rising and they look very much like the images in City of God with the important difference that the focus and outcome are very, very much more positive. Not that it isn't an uphill battle. And the corruption of the police, the inequities of the social system, and the indifference of the general population of Brazil are not directly addressed by any of this. But there's a scene where Sá talks to some young kids in another favela, cynical boys not enthusiastic about AfroReggae and determined to work in the drug trade as Sá himself did as a boy. Sá doesn't seem to be convincing any of them despite pointing out that traffickers don't make it to the age of fifty. But we learn that the most negative boy in this group, Richard Morales, joined the movement five months later. There's also the account of a freak accident that disabled Sá, but with a positive outcome.
The documentary isn't clinical, so we don't get a lot of facts and analysis or talking heads (besides the GCAR leaders'). But it bursts with spirit when we see the big percussion sessions and far bigger live concerts and its impact is of something bright, light-hearted and positive in the face of decades of poverty and spiraling violence. It would be great if the images were sharper and clearer and if the story were edited down a little, but this is vibrant, inspiring material and represents committed, risk-taking documentary filmmaking and it's nice that Favela Rising has been included in seven film festivals and won a number of awards, including Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the Tribeca Film Festival. It's currently being shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. However, a wide art house audience in the US seems somewhat unlikely.
Sat, Apr 29 / 8:00 / Baycat / -1
Mon, May 01 / 6:30 / Kabuki / FAVE01K
04-15-2006, 03:09 AM
Bent Hamer: Factotum (2005)
Jack of all trades and master of the bottle
If you remember that Bent Hamer made the little film about a Forties Scandinavian household efficiency program called Kitchen Stories, you'll be partially prepared for the dry, sardonic style of this follow-up feature, the Charles Bukowski-based epic of seedy living Factotum, in which Matt Dillon gives a stylized, restrained performance as the authorial stand-in, Hank Chinaski, and Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei seamlessly slide into the roles of Hank's alcoholic girlfriends Jan and Laura. Bulked up with a zombie stare, stifled voice and shambling walk, Dillon is very good, if, due partly to script limitations, not as compelling as Mickey Rourke in Barbet Schroeder's Barfly. Even overweight and horribly dressed Dillon is still far too handsome to resemble the pockmarked and ugly real-life Bokowski, but you can't fault good looks in a leading man, and the film is dominated by Dillon's character, who's in every scene, his narrative voice brought in to move the episodic plot along and provide Bukowski's insistent commentary on life as he sees it.
Those episodes are all we get, and apart from brief writing and longer romantic interludes, they mainly concern a long round of short-lived jobs -- sorting pickles in a pickle factory, boxing brake shoes, dusting statues, driving a cab (a hard-on's no danger to the driver, the instructor says, but sneezing is), assembling bike parts, and so on, from which Hank is unfailingly soon fired for drunkenness or lateness, insubordination or other misdemeanors -- whereupon he goes back to writing, drinking, and sex -- which latter, Jan tells him, is no good when he gets successful as he does for a while playing the horses. (There's none of the post office sorting job Bukowski did for a long time.) For Bukowski and his alter ego being a seedy loser is a thing carried off with such chutzpah that it's sexy -- and drinking and sex are equally close ways to feed the libido. There are plenty of the ten-cent aphorisms the tireless writer worked at, and there's a plug for the Black Sparrow Press that eventually started to keep and publish his endlessly mailed out submissions and today still survives off maintaining the slob genius' oœvre in public hands.
Bokowski appeals to the young, the easily impressed, the hard drinking, and those who like the pithy sayings and ignore the arrested development. For those of bourgeois mentality and upbringing there's a certain imperishably tonic thrill in watching a man who's been down so long it looks like up; who can tell the employer who's just fired him to give him his severance check immediately so he can hurry up and get drunk; for whom no flophouse or flat is too seedy, no bibulous girlfriend a worse drunk than he. How liberating it might be not to care about losing everything, knowing that since paper and pen are nearly free you'll never stop writing: or if you lose heart for a minute or two, a dip into the works of some other writer will encourage you in the belief that you can do better. Bokowski was a tough one.
Matt Dillon is Irish enough to have seen something of the hard drinking life himself. One senses that he knows whereof he speaks and can convey the alcoholic lifestyle without irony or melodrama. There's nothing quite like Lili Taylor coming out in her underwear to fix Hank a meal. His request is for another round of pancakes. "There's still no butter," she says. "Well, they'll be extra crisp," he replies.
In a smaller but still choice role Marisa Tomei is well disguised as another drunken lady Hank goes home with, finding that she lives with a flaky French millionaire called Pierre (Didier Flamand) with a little yacht and dreams of composing an opera.
Hank's been taken off so many two bit jobs being fired has no sting left for him. Bukowski's persona is impenetrable and he's a simple survivor: he's almost utterly resistant to the forces of change his wayward lifestyle would activate in lesser beings and hence, unlike the downward spiraling drunk so movingly played by Nick Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, for instance, Bukowski's Hank in Dillon's performance cannot build toward pathos or true depth. As suggested, this film doesn't develop its sequences and relationships as thoroughly as Barfly, for which Bukowski himself wrote the screenplay, giving it a continuity and focus Factotum's more cobbled-together script doesn't quite muster.
There's something condescending and cultish in the European cultivation of the Bukowski myth in which this is another short chapter. Factotum is an occasionally amusing, at moments laugh-out-loud kind of movie that's well served by all the principals and by director Hamer's dry wit and restraint, but after the desultory and boring stretches have eventually started to pile up you may begin to say: So what? and wish the fresh novel feel of the early scenes could've been better sustained throughout. Not to fault the editing, but mightn't a native's keener ear for the rhythms of the dialogue have kept the flow going better? This is one to see if you like Matt Dillon or Bukowski; otherwise, save your time.
Sat, Apr 22 / 9:00 / Kabuki / FACT22K
Sun, Apr 30 / 3:00 / Kabuki / FACT30K
04-15-2006, 03:16 AM
Ryan Fleck: Half Nelson (2005)
Ryan Gosling, the twenty-five-year-old Canadian-born actor remembered for the Mickey Mouse Club, Murder by Numbers, and The Notebook, gave such a memorable performance as the Jewish Nazi skinhead in Henry Bean's The Believer that it was a pity a technicality kept him from getting an Oscar nomination for it. By reputation Gosling is one of America's young actors most willing to delve deeply into a role and thoroughly commit to it, and The Believer amply proves that. But some of his performances and choices since have aroused doubt about his depth, his range, and his wisdom in choosing roles. Perhaps one of his drawbacks is his unprepossessing appearance. As a junior high teacher in a ghetto school in his new film, Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson, Gosling looks like a reedy student himself and his bland expression and his small, too-close-together eyes hardly hint at the torment that might result from living a double life as upright politically committed history teacher and off-duty full-time cokehead. What are the demons that drove him to such an addiction? All we can see are the weakness and laziness that keep him in it. When not addressing the class he can barely stay awake, so you wonder how he landed the additional job of girls' basketball coach. Gosling may have gotten into the theme of dialectic that he emphasizes in his classes enough to be able to improvise his teaching sessions, but they're mostly so simple they're embarrassing. The role is problematic. As an addict, Dan Dunne, his character, is shut down emotionally. Under those circumstances how do you convey the presence of masked feelings? There is more to Gosling and to Dunne than meets the eye here, but the movie is a disappointment.
The other actors can't support Gosling or his character either. None of the ghetto people or scenes presented in this movie -- regardless of how authentic the sets or actors -- comes across as real. Frank (Antony Mackie) is a handsome drug dealer who looks after Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of Dunne's students and a member of his basketball team whom he makes friends with after she discovers him doing crack in the girls' restroom. Mackie's Frank is too charismatic for a dealer in the hood. Drey (Shareeka Epps), a non-actress, has fresh moments, but her relationship with her teacher (Gosling) never takes off as it should because their scenes are as underwritten as the classroom sequences are pretentious. The competition between Frank and Dan to be Drey's mentor seems fatuous. Drey's brother is in jail because of working for Frank, so Frank is responsible for Drey? Dan is Drey's cokehead teacher, so he can be a role model for her? How does all that work?
Late in the movie inter-cutting between a gathering at Frank's house and an alcoholic evening for Dan at his parents', though obvious, introduces some complexity. But for the most part one can only wonder where the film is going, and the conclusion has to be it's setting up a situation, but has no where to go with it. Dan's dull bleary expression every time he enters the classroom looks real enough, but you wonder how he can convince the class that he's a good teacher. He is painfully sincere, but he hardly convinces us. The dinner with the parents show they are old lefties who were antiwar activists in the Sixties. But they don't know anything about Dan, and they're in a wine haze themselves. These scenes need to be carried further to carry emotional weight.
There are imbedded political messages in the movie. First come the important little history lessons (Attica, the CIA overthrow of Allende, Brown vs. Board of Education) delivered periodically by Dan's students that concern race and class and America's transnational political machinery. Then there's Dan's exchange with a Latina teacher he likes (Monique Curnen) about Marx and Hitler. And there's Drey's discovery of Frank's collection of humiliating blackface figurines. All these are moments that provide commentary on the relationship Dan and Drey are trying to establish, which may somehow be about to save Dan at the film's end. But director Fleck is too timid to push these points into a real shape, and what Half Nelson gives us remains only a situation, not a statement. Jittery camera-work and improvisation don't help much. Gosling may have gotten an interesting role again this time; this is not only a well-meaning movie but a pretty smart one, with its political awareness and its avoidance of classroom drama clichés. But outside the environs of Sundance mere savvy and unconventionality will only get you so far, and however well he prepared, Gosling doesn't inhabit the role of Dan and bring us to the edge of our seats the way he did with the role of Danny Balint in The Believer.
Sun, Apr 30 / 6:15 / Kabuki / HALF30K
Tue, May 02 / 9:00 / Kabuki / HALF02K
04-15-2006, 03:23 AM
Greg Zglinski: One Long Winter without Fire
One long movie without a ray of hope
The title of this film isn't very catchy, even in the original French, but it gives fair warning of what's to come: a motion picture in which much is to be endured and little is to be enjoyed. Tout un hiver is a glimpse at cross-cultural encounters that might put a Swiss mountain farm couple's hardship into perspective when the husband gets to know some refugees from Kosovo who've suffered much greater horrors. Jean (Aurélian Recoing) and his wife Laure (Marie Matheron) have lost most of their livestock in a fire that killed their five-year-old daughter. Laure has lost her mind as a result and Jean puts her into a psychiatric clinic, a step that Laure's possessive sister Valérie (Nathalie Boulin) seems to ill approve of.
Jean must get work at a steel mill to pay debts and that is where he meets the Kosovar refugees working there, including Kastriot (Blerim Gjoci) and his sister Labinota (Gabriela Muskala). Jean is drawn to Labinota, perhaps because she seems as grief-ridden and bereft as he does. Her husband disappeared six years ago when soldiers murdered a whole community. He may have been killed, or he may have escaped, but she is still waiting. Kastriot is friendly to Jean and invites him to Kosovar social gatherings; he hides his own traumas but at times has a short fuse. The Kosovars have seen their families raped, their throats cut, their houses burned to the ground.
The harsh but spectacular Jura mountain landscapes are a big player in this film. Cinematographer Witold Pióciennik's cinematography is impeccable and sometimes uniquely lovely. His close-ups of the principals spare us nothing; there's no escape from the fact that Recoing's and Gjoci's faces are deeply and subtly expressive but the two ladies are overplaying their melodramatic roles, Matheron far too exaggeratedly nutty, and Muskala too pathetic and sweet.
Jean considers selling everything and moving somewhere else: a new start. Laure, who is perhaps beginning to become coherent again, is not enthusiastic. But like the rest of the story, this issue is something we keep going back and forth on without any resolution.
There's heavy-handed symbolism about crows against the snow, fire forbidden in the farm and big fire at the steel mill. Where is the Polish-born and trained Swiss-adopted director Zglinski going with all this? The editing is relentlessly arc-less: when we think Laure may be better we glimpse her engaging a a long mad scream of pain. Though Laure comes out of the clinic, and Jean has some warm times with the quietly accepting and ultimately cheerful Labinota, there's no sense of resolution; no sense indeed that we've gotten anywhere. Zglinski is obviously interested in the contrast between the warm Kosovars (parallel to the warmer and wilder Poles he knows from his own experience) and the more stoical and shut-down Swiss. But that's just a given, not a source of any revelations. As if the parents' terrible grief weren't enough, everything else seems exaggerated. The Kosovars are a little too celebratory and unpredictable. The insurance assessor is a dry, mincing creep out of Dickens. The possessive sister almost seems to have a lesbian attachment to Laure. The steel mill camaraderie has a consistently menacing and nasty air about it. One leaves with a sodden feel of unmitigated grimness. Tout un hiver sans feu was seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, 2005. It was shown on French TV in 2007; theatrical opening in Poland 2005.
[No US distributor]
Sat, Apr 22 / 9:15 / PFA / ONE22P
Fri, Apr 28 / 9:45 / Kabuki / ONE28K
Mon, May 01 / 6:15 / Kabuki / ONE01K
04-15-2006, 03:36 AM
John Turturro: Romance and Cigarettes (2005)
Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes leaves almost no impression -- unless you're bowled over by James Gandolfini singing (he hasn't much of a voice). Nick Murder (pointless surname) works as a garbage man in Queens (an occupation fleetingly referenced) and fixes bridges with Steve Buscemi, who gives him advice in dialogue that's not very well written or delivered. Nick's married to Kitty (Susan Sarandon) and has three daughters -- Mary Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, and Aida Turturro (deceased from The Sopranos, John's cousin; Turturro works himself and his little boy into the movie too at some point). What's this lively cast doing in such a fiasco? Well, Turturro has been in some good movies -- notably Do the Right Thing, Barton Fink, and The Big Lebowski -- and he has lots of friends. The Coen brothers, whom he's worked with so notably, produced.
The action begins when Kitty finds a pornographic note and realizes Nick is cheating on him. She calls in Christopher Walken for moral support. And Walken's an old song and dance man, so he adds something.
You might call this a partial, second-hand, working-class musical. It's second-hand in the sense that none of the music is original. And it's partial because not all the principal characters sing or appear in musical numbers. Buscemi, Eddie Izzard (as a minister), Mary Louise Parker don't get them. Numbers are dubs or voice-overs of songs from James Brown, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, Westside Story, Saturday Night Fever, and many other sources, which evoke John Waters (especially now that he's gone musical with Hairspray) when they're performed in the down-and-dirty settings of a shabby Queens suburb. Sometimes this achieves poetry; other times, more often, it just seems odd, and Turturro hasn't Water's gift for sleaze, which might have transformed this story into high camp. It runs more to crudity, to a degree admittedly unusual for a (partial) musical, chiefly through the mistress, Tula (Kate Winslet), a gutter-mouthed shop girl from Lancashire who thinks -- and talks, in vivid detail -- of little but sex. Tula's lively, zoftig, and in her crude way a hot number. But she's awfully shallow.
There's audacity in the conception. Gandalfini singing would startle even Dr. Melfi. Certainly this is a good cast. But it's not necessarily the right cast. Gandalfini fits -- were it not for his overwhelming current association with that mansion in Jersey and with Edie Falco, who seems a more likely match for him than Sarandon. She has done working class roles (White Palace, Thelma and Louise); but she's fifteen years older than Gandalfini, and seems too classy for this setting. Izzard's out of place in leading a mixed-race Queens gospel choir. Kate Winslet's sublimely into her role, but her character is a little too tacky for the conventional musical love interest she is, by default, made to become.
There's not much of a story (one longs for John Water's ornate plot structures) and Turturro's editing is patchy -- he has a bad habit of snipping in two or three other scenes during a song to no purpose. In fact none of this would make it within two hundred miles of Broadway, though as The Mother (who appears when Nick's in hospital from OD'ing on licorice) Elaine Stritch gives her five-minute cameo a Broadway intensity and snap. Along with the vagueness in the action, the period is also undetermined, a "general retro feel," as Variety puts it -- very general, not very retro -and so not surprisingly, as is probably already obvious, the tone is also uneven.
Eventually Nick decides to give up Tula, and Kitty (Sarandon), somewhat reluctantly, takes him back. Sarandon injects some genuine feeling -- no doubt from another, more serious, movie -- into those final scenes. Winslet is a buoyant scene-stealer throughout in her (unfortunately) smaller role, and when Nick pushes her in the river in his goodbye scene with her she has an underwater singing sequence that is the movie's best moment visually -- it's gloriously improbable and quite beautiful. There's more. Bobby Carnavale is an absurd peacock as Mandy Moore's neighbor fiancé: his looks and strutting are eye-catching, but he'd need either to be less obtrusive or have more lines for the character to work in the whole thing. But -- What "whole thing" are we talking about? This effort just doesn't hold together. You keep wondering how individual scenes might have worked well somewhere else, in some other movie, where the style and tone were consistent.
Romance and Cigarettes is a privileged US indie movie, the kind that it took pull to get made and that, because of the pull, and the stars brought in as a result, gets good festival mileage and Sundance buzz, but fizzles out in the real world.
P.s.: This is Turturro's third feature as a director. Does anybody besides his mother and the respective casts and crews remember the first two?
Sat, Apr 29 / 8:00 / Kabuki / ROMA29K
04-16-2006, 12:51 AM
Carlos Saura: Iberia (2005)
Worthy, but not Saura's best musical film
If Saura hadn't done anything like this before, Iberia would be a milestone. Now it still deserves inclusion to honor a great director and a great cinematic conservator of Spanish culture, but he has done a lot like this before, and though we can applaud the riches he has given us, we have to pick and choose favorites and high points among similar films which include Blood Wedding (1981)--a turning point in the director's work from social commentary to music, theater, and dance, Carmen (1983), El Amor Brujo (1986), Sevillanas (1992), Salomé (2002) and Tango (1998). I would choose Saura's 1995 Flamenco (1995) as his most unique and potent cultural document, next to which Iberia, however similar on the surface, ultimately pales.
Iberia is conceived as a series of interpretations of the music of Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz (1860-1909) and in particular his "Iberia" suite for piano. Isaac Albéniz was a great contributor to the externalization of Spanish musical culture -- its re-formatting for a non-Spanish audience. He moved to France in his early thirties and was influenced by French composers. HIs "Iberia" suite is an imaginative synthesis of Spanish folk music with the styles of Liszt, Dukas and d'Indy. He traveled around performing his compositions, which are a kind of beautiful standardization of Spanish rhythms and melodies, not as homogenized as Ravel's Bolero but moving in that direction. Naturally, the Spanish have repossessed Albéniz, and in Iberia, the performers reinterpret his compositions in terms of various more ethnic and regional dances and styles. But the source is a tamed and diluted form of Spanish musical and dance culture compared to the echt Spanishness of pure flamenco. Flamenco, coming out of the region of Andalusia, is a deeply felt amalgam of gitane, Hispano-Arabic, and Jewish cultures. Iberia simply is the peninsula comprising Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar; the very concept is more diluted.
Saura's Flamenco is an unstoppably intense ethnic mix of music, singing, dancing and that peacock manner of noble preening that is the essence of Spanish style, the way a man and a woman carries himself or herself with pride verging on arrogance and elegance and panache -- even bullfights and the moves of the torero are full of it -- in a series of electric sequences without introduction or conclusion; they just are. Saura always emphasized the staginess of his collaborations with choreographer Antonio Gades and other artists. In his 1995 Flamenco he dropped any pretense of a story and simply has singers, musicians, and dancers move on and off a big sound stage with nice lighting and screens, flats, and mirrors arranged by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, another of the Spanish filmmaker's important collaborators. The beginnings and endings of sequences in Flamenco are often rough, but atmospheric, marked only by the rumble and rustle of shuffling feet and a mixture of voices. Sometimes the film keeps feeding when a performance is over and you see the dancer bend over, sigh, or laugh; or somebody just unexpectedly says something. In Flamenco more than any of Saura's other musical films it's the rapt, intense interaction of singers and dancers and rhythmically clapping participant observers shouting impulsive olé's that is the "story" and creates the magic. Because Saura has truly made magic, and perhaps best so when he dropped any sort of conventional story.
Iberia is in a similar style to some of Saura's purest musical films: no narration, no dialogue, only brief titles to indicate the type of song or the region, beginning with a pianist playing Albeniz's music and gradually moving to a series of dance sequences and a little singing. In flamenco music, the fundamental element is the unaccompanied voice, and that voice is the most unmistakable and unique contribution to world music. It relates to other songs in other ethnicities, but nothing quite equals its raw raucous unique ugly-beautiful cry that defies you to do anything but listen to it with the closest attention. Then comes the clapping and the foot stomping, and then the dancing, combined with the other elements. There is only one flamenco song in Iberia. If you love Saura's Flamenco, you'll want to see Iberia, but you'll be a bit disappointed. The style is there; some of the great voices and dancing and music are there. But Iberia's source and conception doom it to a lesser degree of power and make it a less rich and intense cultural experience.
Fri, Apr 21 / 4:45 / PFA / IBER21P
Sun, Apr 23 / 3:45 / Castro / IBER23C
Tue, Apr 25 / 9:45 / Kabuki / IBER25K
Thu, Apr 27 / 2:45 / Kabuki / IBER27K
04-16-2006, 03:18 AM
Tsai Ming-liang: Wayward Cloud (2005)
Love in a time of watermelons
Tsai is back with his alter ego, the pretty-boy punk, Lee Kang-sheng, who this time has stopped selling watches and become a small time porn actor (I guess). The girl who wanted him, Chen Shiang-chyi, is back too and this time, they get together in the end (sort of).
Avantgardist filmblogger Adam Balz writes," The Wayward Cloud, a film by Tsai Ming-liang, is a profound glimpse into the sheltered world of pornography." Actually, Tsai can't really be trying to represent pornography accurately. His "pornography" shooting scenes are monotonous rabbit-style hump jobs by Lee Kang-sheng with real Japanese porn actress Sumomo Yazakura. The whole film is very impressionistic and surreal. The "world of pornography" is "represented" by nothing but lengthy shots of the boy, the girl, a cameraman and a light man, none of whom talk.
Balz admiringly continues with a question that without him we might not have thought of asking: "Who else would open a movie with a lengthy shot of an empty parking ramp, only to shift to a woman clad in a nurse's uniform lying on a bed with a half-watermelon placed over her genitalia? That style of unabashed risk-taking is something we'll never find in mainstream Hollywood, not for a long time." Mainstream Hollywood will not be jealous of the accomplishment of a lengthy shot of an empty parking ramp. The lady with the watermelon is hardly a breakthrough either. Unabashed risk-taking? Tsai is simply setting a mood, or more accurately declaring that this is a Tsai film. But this beginning really might be the work of any pretentious film school student.
What is arresting and way beyond film school are the lip-synced musical sequences of a chorus of women brandishing pink umbrellas and Lee Kang-sheng gyrating jauntily and gamely (the actor is nothing if not game) in a yellow raincoat, and he in a public men's room costumed as a giant penis with the women's chorus this time wearing orange cones jutting from their breasts and singing a song which can be interpreted as referring to lost erections. These sequences are a mixture of the comical and the purely bizarre that is truly jaw-dropping and might be very effective if incorporated into a satirical story, but Tsai was never made to work this way. His method is to hint and suggest. These sequences are simply interludes that liven up a depressing set of other scenes about lost people in a big apartment building in a city that's so low on water in summertime that people are requested to switch to watermelon juice. Yes, the girl is the one who met the boy when he was selling watches. In fact very early on she actually asks him, after a long mute sequence where they just stare at each other wordlessly, "Do you still sell watches?" He gives her a look as if to say, "You must be kidding!" What he's doing of course is acting in porno movies. Or he's supposed to be. As I said, his rabbit-style hump jobs are unlikely to be usable in even the most rudimentary kind of real porno movie; it's just a sketched-in way of saying, "This guy is a porn actor now."
But what else is there? A final scene in which the porn actress is found by the girl in the elevator naked and seemingly passed out. Shiang-chyi drags her back to her apartment. It's a slow process, I can tell you. Eventually the porn filmmakers find her again, and decide that despite her apparently being unconscious or dead, she'll do to shoot another scene. So they drag Ms.Yazakura down to the other end of the hallway. That's a long process too. It was more fun sitting in the kitchen staring at nothing in What Time Is It There? or watching people watch a movie in Goodbye, Dragon Inn. If this film is so "audacious," why is it so often boring? The following sequence, which caused observers to walk out of the festival theater in sophisticated Berlin, and wherein the boy humps the corpse, or unconscious woman, while shot by the maniacal but wholly unsubtle filmmakers, watched by the girl through a large keyhole window right over the bed, till the boy has a big orgasm and gives it to the girl on the face, ends the movie.
Balz begins, "In the first chapter of his 1979 book Seduction, French semiologist Jean Baudrillard discerned the spheres of sex in relation to pornography: "Pornography is the quadraphonics of sex. It adds a third and fourth track to the sexual act. It is the hallucination of detail that rules. Science has already habituated us to this microscopics, this excess of the real in its microscopic detail, this voyeurism of exactitude." I guess that makes this a cool movie, for him. I'm afraid I found it a tremendous disappointment. The River was pretty and haunting in its desolate urban melancholy, and What Time Is It There? is a delicate depiction of loneliness and separation that playfully alludes to Truffaut. Tsai is playing around in Wayward Cloud in another sort of way, but it's one that this time comes dangerously close to complete solipsism. Rent a real musical or a real porno film, you'll be better off. Note: the French title of this film is "The Taste of Watermelon." But that's another story…
Sun, Apr 23 / 9:30 / Castro / WAYW23C
Tue, Apr 25 / 10:15 / Kabuki / WAYW25K
Wed, Apr 26 / 3:30 / Kabuki / WAYW26K
Fri, Apr 28 / 9:15 / PFA / WAYW28P
04-16-2006, 06:56 PM
Nobuhiro Suwa: A Perfect Couple (2005)
A couple on the verge of divorce (they announce it to friends at dinner), Marie (Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Nicolas (Bruno Todeschini) have returned to Paris after some years of living in Lisbon to attend an old friend's wedding. Although they bicker a lot, at the film's end there's a chance they aren't going to get divorced after all. The shift in locale has caused a change in feelings. Or is it just that the movie has no development?
The Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa had French contacts several years ago when he worked with Béatrice Dalle and Caroline Champetier, his cinematographer again here (who in turn has worked with some of today's most illustrious French directors) on M/Other, an "experimental" remake of Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour, a film selected to be shown in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes 2002. And Un Couple parfait owes something to improvisational directors like Cassavetes.
But if Cassavetes is the model, there is a difference, and an important one. Cassavetes worked with New York actors and settings that he knew well; Suwa, who speaks no French, just set things up and let things and the actors play out on their own -- in what he says was the shortest shoot he's ever done. Well, the crew got their jobs out of the way quickly, but it's a slow business to watch the results. There are moments of truth here generated by the leads, but overall, not enough to relieve the longueurs of this oppressive, stifling, and tedious study of a marriage. For the most part it doesn't look very good either. Astonishingly, considering her having worked with Garrel, Beauvois, Fontaine, Jacquot, Téchiné, and Desplechin on some very good films, Champetier's images are so murky in this unfortunate effort you can't even see Tedeschini most of the time.
Improvisation is a worthwhile, perhaps sometimes essential, way for actors to hone their skills, and can be a useful way to add emotional authenticity and realism to screen performances. There's no doubt that a whole film that's improvised is a challenge for the principals here that they were brave to have taken on, and Bruno-Tedeschi in particular achieves some truthful moments. But the technique is risky. Improvisational filmmaking quite often seems more fake than movies that are carefully choreographed. Under pressure and with no specific plan actors leave out necessary expository details. When they tell Esther (Nathalie Boutefeu) and Vincent (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) they're getting divorced, Marie and Nicolas forget to mention why and we never learn. They go on about other people's children so there's a hint that they're dissatisfied not to have produced any. Marie accuses Nicolas of being a fake. Well, acting is faking. The trick is to make it real. When actors are improvising, using fragments of their own experience and personalities with no intervention from a written text, the result may appear raw and authentic but it may as easily seem vague and unfocused. The content can't be completely autobiographical on the part of the actors, but without a text something is therefore missing. The actors in A Perfect Couple don't work up enough steam or have the chops and chutzpah to make this succeed as Cassavetes' actors such as Peter Falk, Gina Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel, and Cassavetes himself could do because of their rapport with the director and their history together and because of interest-generating conflicts they and Cassavetes introduced into the film plots.
Nicolas has a flirty drink with another wedding guest, Natacha (Joanna Preiss), and Marie runs into a school friend named Patrick (Alex Descas) and his son (Emett Descas) at a museum. Both scenes hint at the possibility that the couple may want to explore other possibilities, but being improvised without supervision, they fail to interact effectively with the whole. All we know is that at the end there is still some warmth in the marriage. But it's hard to care, since we're learned so little about the couple. Not much can be said for the performances of Bruno-Tedeschi and Tedeschini, who seem to have little in common other than their rhyming names.
The dullness (or shall we say neutrality) of the proceedings is increased by long static shots, sometimes with no actors in view, and occasional inexplicable blackouts suggesting the digital camera ran out of juice. If these effects create a sense of something new or convince you you're not watching unsupervised actors wildly flailing about for ideas and are actually eavesdropping on "reality," then rush to see Un Couple parfait. Otherwise you may want to take my advice and stay away from this clinker and hope it doesn't get to run the festival rounds; it isn't going to be at a theater near you and that's a good thing.
Fri, Apr 21 / 9:15 / PFA / PERF21P
Sun, Apr 23 / 12:30 / Kabuki / PERF23K
Tue, Apr 25 / 9:30 / Kabuki / PERF25K
04-16-2006, 09:28 PM
Fernando E. Solanas: The Dignity of the Nobodies (2005)
Chaotic and grainy, but for some of us, essential viewing
This tumultuous and boldly-titled documentary, La Dignidad de los nadies, focuses on the poor and dispossessed of Argentina and their recent increasingly successful battles against neo-liberalism and globalization, as well as the continuing severe problems with repossessed farms, enormous poverty, widespread joblessness, and a socialized health care system in chaos. Fernando Solanas, a man of the revolutionary Sixties, sprang to fame in his early thirties with his 1968 documentary trilogy La Hora de los Hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces, and other bright spots in his career include Los Hijos de Fierro/The sons of Fierro (1975), Tangos: El Exilio de Gardel/Tangos: Gardel's Exile (1985), Sur/South (1988), El Viaje/The Voyage (1992), and Memoria del Saqueo/A Social Genocide (2004), recipient of the Golden Bear at Berlin.
Solanas says he began shooting The Dignity of the Nobodies with a large digital Beta camera but people thought he was from TV and behaved unnaturally, so he switched to smaller cameras, "replacing the possibilities of a better image by greater truth." That is the tradeoff. This documentary is full of life and poverty and mud. There's no place it doesn't go. It is truly a film of the people. But the look of the small digital cameras is rough and grainy. Unfortunately, we suffer from a new technology in transition.
The Dignity of the Nobodies is part of a larger picture, beginning with the forced resignation of President de la Rúa followed by a succession of several other failed presidents, the default on the international debut, the detaching of the Argentine peso from the dollar, and the subsequent "sacking" or robbery of the nation that took place in 2002 when banks shut down, local debts were absorbed into the national dept in what might be called an outright explosion of corruption in democracy after the country got rid of its military dictatorship. This is the sequence of events described in Solanas' Memoria del Saqueo (Social Genocide is the English title but obviously the title more accurately rendered is "Memoir of a Sacking"). The Dignity of the Nobodies is hence described as "the second chapter in a series of four documentaries exposing the corporate sacking of Argentina" and said to be focused "on the victims and their struggle to fight back." The projected two sequels are to be called Argentina Latente/Latent Argentina and La Tierra Sublevada/The Roused Land.
The Dignity of the Nobodies, which ranges all over Argentina as far as Patagonia to tell its story, is presented as a series of specific portraits, or sketches of situations as seen through the experiences of individuals. Toba, for example is a teacher who runs a free food kitchen, and saved the life of Martin, a delivery man who was shot by police at a 2001 police riot against the mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Antonia and Chipi are two others who feed two hundred people at a soup kitchen. Margarita and Colinche are a homeless and jobless couple with nine children who do odd jobs from a horse drawn cart; Colinche's dream is for her children to go to school; and in the sequels presented at the film's end, they are going to school. The "picket camp" is a huge gathering of jobless who live in solidarity and block roads to make their plight known: these scenes resemble the US in the Depression era. Lucy is a farm widow who has led a fight of other farm wives to prevent auctioning off of farms in an ongoing series of group disruption actions during which they sing the national anthem at auctions and shut them down.
Darío is a charismatic young martyr of the poor people's struggle -- he looked rather like Che Guevara in his prime -- who died in another police riot when trying to save a friend. Darío's death and the protests of his girlfriend, Claudia, and a host of supporters led to the unmasking of the killers and their imprisonment. The penultimate story is of Gustavo, a young priest of Greater Buenos Aires who's so outspoken against police "maffias" (their spelling) and their collusion with local mayors with ties to the previous dictatorship that he is driven out of his church and subsequently gives up the priesthood to be a full-time activist. Again the people were able to find justice in a case of police murders. The last segment is about the Patagonian Zanon ceramics factory. Several thousand factories were shut down as a result of the economic collapse of the country. Workers have seized and reopened about 160 and the Zanon factory is one that has been restored to productivity and sells to the local market. Keeping such factories open is an ongoing struggle against authorities, as is the struggle to prevent farms from being repossessed, despite the success of Lucy's group. The film ends with a freeze-frame on the young pretty face of a girl student, because students now donate time to help out at the hospitals.
Solanas is a profound chronicler and polemicist, but the chaotic nature of his material perhaps robs him of the possibility of being an artist. One longs at times for some Olympian voice, some kind of explanation by a provocative muckraker like Michael Moore or lucid diagrams like those in The Corporation, or the detailed personal intimacy of a story like Benjamin Kahn's in his documentary of searching out the identity of his father, the great architect Louis Kahn, in My Architect, or the almost clinical and yet sweet and human poetry too of a microscopic study like the one of schoolchildren in the French To Be and To Have, or the searching analysis and commitment of a biographical study like Herzog's Grizzly Man. Solanas can't provide any of these qualities. What he can provide in abundance is essential raw information and a rich human document. His movie may lead some of us to go and find out more about what has been happening in Argentina over the past decade. Despite the chaotic and unwieldy material, the editor Juan Carlos Macias bravely molds things into a coherent flow -- even if one inevitably knows this is only part of a larger picture requiring the kind of analysis provided in the preceding Solanas film, Social Genocide. Highly recommended for anyone interested in political documentary and essential viewing for students of contemporary Latin America. For all its graininess, great stuff; and about as humanistic and social-consciousness-raising as documentary filmmaking can get.
Wed, Apr 26 / 6:00 / Kabuki / DIGN26K
Thu, Apr 27 / 8:30 / Kabuki / DIGN27K
Sat, Apr 29 / 1:00 / PFA / DIGN29P
Mon, May 01 / 7:00 / Aquarius / DIGN01A
Column on The Dignity of the Nobodies by local online writer Michael Guillen on his blogspot The EveningClass (http://theeveningclass.blogspot.com/2006/04/2006-sfiffthe-dignity-of-nobodies.html)
04-18-2006, 08:59 PM
John Longley: Iraq in Fragments (2005)
Sad images that don't quite add up
Longley's visually beautiful and emotionally saddening film in three parts, shot during two years spent in Iraq between the immediate aftermath of the invasion in 2003 and 2005, arouses tremendous hopes but ends by quite dashing them. Longley is great with a camera and patient with children and his documentary is full of lovely, yellow-filtered images. But his project to describe post-invasion Iraq is both over-ambitious and reductive. Longley wants to cover what he thinks are the three main divisions of the country -- Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. But he tries to do this by reducing his focus to children and old people, speeches, and a few scenes of public violence, and the result feels empty.
Most memorable, because most integrated and most eloquently narrated (by the wispy, childish voice of the boy himself), is the first segment about eleven-year-old fatherless Mohammad (his father disappeared after speaking up about Saddam at some time in the past), who lives and works in the Sheikh Omar district of Baghdad. The camera is close up on Mohammad's sweet, expressive young face; or his voiceover declares, "Baghdad used to be beautiful" over shots of the city before the invasion (Longley made a short visit in 2002) and then, "the world is so scary now" as we watch big brown helicopters sputter threateningly overhead.
Mohammad lives with -- his grandmother, is it? We never see her or see him at home; but Longley hung out at the little auto repair shop where Mohammad was working long enough to fade into the tool racks and, astonishingly, to film uninterrupted Mohammad's encounters with his sometimes affectionate but more often abusive boss -- who smacks him and calls him a son of a whore for playing marbles with other boys; for not knowing how to spell his father's name; and finally for even spending time at school, which he is forced to give up to keep the job.
The boss also speechifies a bit about the occupation, which he considers far inferior to the days of Saddam: we can't help seeing this fat bully as a little Saddam lingering on in the Sheikh Omar district. Other voices are cut in throughout the segment with Baghdadis, presumably Sunnis (since that's meant to be the focus of this section), declaring the same things: the Americans just came to set up a military base, they're here for the oil (Mohammad says that too), they have not brought democracy, it's even worse now than under Saddam, everything they say is a lie.
Desperate for a father, Mohammad murmurs repeatedly that his boss loves him but in the end admits he has to escape the abuse. The rationalizing over, he leaves to work at his uncle's larger shop. He may still have his dreams of becoming a pilot and flying to more beautiful countries. Earlier, we watched him at school looking bright and eager as the teacher drilled the children on "dar" (house) and "dur" (houses) and quizzed them on how to use these words.
Did Mohammad get to go back to school and learn how to write "Haithem" (his father's name)? That we don't learn. Nor do we see his new workplace, or hear from relatives. Why did Longley focus so much time and attention on this boy? There's something heartrending about his little story, but he can't be seen as the future of the country. Alas, he has little future. This picture of Baghdad is vivid, but too limited.
Parts Two and Three focus, respectively, on Moqtada Sadr, Najf, and the movement to empower the Shiite majority and bring religious rule to the country; and on a sheep-herding and brick-making family in Kurdistan. Longley and his interpreter Nadeem gained remarkable access to the Moqtada camp through one of his men, thirty-two-year-old Sheikh Aws al-Kafaji, who let them film his activities, strategy meetings, rallies, marches, speeches, religious ceremonies, and an alcohol raid on the local market. There's even footage of a hospital, with a wounded man on a stretcher yelling, "Is this democracy?" "Amrika 'adu Allah," someone declares -- America is the enemy of God. Most noteworthy is footage of Sadr's men (or Kafaji's?) roughing up random people in the market suspected of selling booze and of encounters of Sadr's men with Spanish troops around the Imam Ali Shrine. The rest is a chaos of images, vivid and intense enough, but -- despite clear translations in subtitles of all the speechifying and excerpts from committee meetings -- without any sense of what it all may mean. No doubt about the fact that a lot of this material was dangerous to shoot, and again, Longley's camerawork is superior; this section will serve as excellent stock footage for future historical documentaries of the period.
Things became so dangerous that by September 2004, Longley decided to go north -- Koretan, south of Erbil, a small community of farms and brick ovens. From here on, no more Arabic is spoken, only the Kurdish language. After all the tumult of the Shiite uprising, Longley reverts to a smaller canvas, again focusing on boys, two close friends this time, so intimate they walk hand in hand to school, and their fathers. Mostly we see one of the boys, "Sulei" (Suleiman), an unsmiling youth with a chiseled face who wants to be a doctor, and his aging, bespectacled, chain-smoking father, a shepherd. Sulei talks about struggling to study his hardest to go into medicine, but again, the demands of supporting his aging dad and working both at baking bricks and tending sheep force Sulei to drop out of school -- even sadder than the case of Mohammad in Baghdad, because Sulei had a real desire to be somebody. The picture is the opposite here. Someone mentions Saddam's massacre of Kurds in the Eighties and moving in of Arabs, and the old man says, "God brought America to the Kurds." Quite a contrast to "America is the enemy of God." But again, a lonely boy without a future is no picture of the Kurds or of this complex land.
Wed, Apr 26 / 6:15 / Kabuki / IRAQ26K
Fri, Apr 28 / 9:00 / Kabuki / IRAQ28K
Thu, May 04 / 8:45 / PFA / IRAQ04P
04-20-2006, 01:38 AM
Samir Nasr: Seeds of Doubt (Folgeschäden, 2004)
A measured story of erupting prejudice
Director Samir Nasr is German on his mother's side and Egyptian on his father's side. This protagonists in this feature (though scripted by German Florian Hanig) could be his parents. Tarik Slimani (Mehdi Nebbou) is an Algerian-born biologist researching the Ebola virus who lives in Hamburg with his blonde German wife Maya (Silke Bedenbender) and their little son, Karim (Mahmoud Alame). Not devout himself, Tarik is nonetheless raising Karim as a Moslem, and Karim's the only one in school not attending bible class.
Events get rough for Tarik and his little family due to post-9/11 anxieties. Nasr's story, which he reshaped to fit his own ideas working with a plot proposed to him by Arte television, isn't so much a political thriller (as originally planned) as it is a study of how stereotyping and cultural ignorance almost wreck a marriage when legitimate suspicions mix with hysteria because of the way Arabs and terrorism have become identified in the West. The fact that Hamburg is where the main European al-Qaeda cell was located turns up the volume on things.
At a dinner given by Maya's boss (she's the art director of an ad firm), their host says something about the Moslems still being in the Middle Ages. Tarik says he's glad there are so many experts on Islam now. The boss answers that he's no expert, but after 9/11 he read the Koran -- very carefully. Well, Tarik ironically responds, then 9/11 had some positive effects.
A report of this conversation may be why the German feds' terrorism branch starts talking to Maya shortly thereafter; we don't know the exact reason. But we do learn Tarik went to a big Moslem wedding in town attended by one of the 9/11 bombers, and without telling Maya.
In this conventionally well-made and well-acted film what emerges as important isn't isn't so much that the feds are on Tarik's tail, but that if you've got an Arab working with Ebola plus 9/11 that equals suspicious cops. The result is inevitable.
Maya is angry at being approached and takes Tarik's side, insisting the suspicions are preposterous. But little by little her faith in her husband is gradually eroded when other things happen: a pious Moslem Iranian friend comes and stays with them, without her having been told ahead of time, to attend another big Moslem wedding; without warning there's a large withdrawal from their bank account sent out of the country; as she discovers only later some of the Ebola in Tarik's lab mysteriously disappears and Tarik is banned from the lab; finally Tarik goes to Paris for the day on the very day when a terrorist attack occurs there, and he doesn't tell her about this trip either. She only learns of it by discovering the ticket among some papers in the flat. The Iranian friend may be the most suspicious element, unless you suspect Tarik of stealing Ebola out of his own lab. Or perhaps it's all equally suspicious. The friend is a devout Moslem and very dedicated: he runs a rural health clinic where he's pretty much on his own. (Could he really be training terrorists?) Meanwhile Karim gets into trouble at school by fighting with his best friend over religion; Tarik backs him up a bit on this, and Maya is annoyed by the way he does that -- but by then her trust is eroded.
There is a multiplication of detail, but nothing is proved to incriminate Tarik. This excess of vaguely, possibly incriminating detail is needed to justify Maya's loss of faith in her husband which climaxes when she runs to the federal police terrorism office chief who's seen her and asks about the attack in Paris. She rushes home from that and wrecks the living room, throwing papers in every direction and finally coming across the plane ticket.
Interpreters of the movie feel we're successfully duped into thinking like Maya and hence are surprised at the end when we learn Tarik was innocent -- that the Ebola disappearance has turned out not to be his fault, that he's back at the lab, and that his trip to Paris was for legitimate professional reasons. Not being a latent profiler of Arabs, however, I wasn't successfully duped by any of this. I was in Tarik's corner; observed how the excellent Mehdi Nebbou consistently projects reason and decency; and never for a minute believed Maya's suspicions justified. I can only say that Nasr and writer Hanig are a little bit guilty of profiling Maya as a "typical" non-Arab, innately suspicious, just waiting for her prejudice to be drawn out.
Since this slick, glossy movie was made for Arte TV, I thought of the British Traffik miniseries and the English wife who, when her German husband's revealed to be a drug shipper, far from turning against him as Maya does, jumps in and takes over the business.
But what's good about Seeds of Doubt is that in its conventional, smooth style it makes the escalating stress of Tarik and suspicion of Maya and the trouble Karim has at school unfold with a sense of cumulative inevitability that is psychologically convincing even though the plot is a little contrived. This is the portrait of a marriage in which communication has been, and under stress continues to be, awfully poor. But there are such marriages, if they're not always healed as easily as this one is.
One wishes the US were anywhere near such a level of sophistication about this hot topic, but can you imagine a US film this measured about an Arab with an American wife, post-9/11? And can you imagine an Arab movie director given the kind of opportunities and recognition in the US that Samir Nasr has been granted in Germany?
Thu, Apr 27 / 6:15 / Kabuki / SEED27K
Wed, May 03 / 4:30 / Kabuki / SEED03K
04-20-2006, 09:52 AM
Ricardo Benet: News from Afar (2004)
A spectral landscape and a splendid slow trip into time
Mexican Benet's awesome first feature News from Afar (Noticias lejanas) about people in a tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere and the young man who tries to escape marginality by leaving it, is a raw, real, disturbing journey in time as Argentinean Lisandro Alonso's Los Muertos is a journey through space, and both movies take us somewhere fraught with danger where we've never been before. Early on in News from Afar, we see Martín both as a little boy and as a tall, thin young man; we also see the little community celebrating with roasted geese they've bashed to death in a lagoon (and we've seen that too) and we see what we later learn is Martín's little brother Beto as a middle-aged man (José Juan de la O). Not Juanito -- the lost son: he died, and their mother (Mayahuel del Monte) was always sad after that.
The movie skips back and forth between past and present, so sure of itself, its locales so hot with rural Mexican reality (Benet has a wonderful eye and a way with actors) that everything flows naturally, if you sit back and let it, and thus the movie establishes a sense of the hostilities and pain that control the little family.
The women call each other "comadre" and the hamlet has no name. They just call it "17" from a milestone on the nearest road. It has a spectral emptiness, it is just a few cinder block houses and an auto parts graveyard and a brick factory, and it seems perpetually on the verge of drying up and vanishing, which eventually it does.
As it sporadically sketches in moments of time, the movie also sporadically lays out its beliefs, or its characters', at the beginning: we're born poor and we die poor; there is such a thing as luck but you must get up very early to find it.
A man and his family are visiting this place in a little car. And then he remembers and his voiceover takes us back and forth, till we leave him and enter into the world of his brother for a long time, and then the brother disappears into California ("the other side") and in time is lost.
That brother's story dominates the screen for a long while, but is only part of the story. The misery of the place, which is drying up, and the oppression of his step-father, the sadness of his mother and the guilt he feels, who knows why, for the death of Juanito cause Martín as a very young man to leave for "the city," that is, Mexico City, to find his father, make his fortune, and bring the others there. Before he goes his mother reaches into the tin box in her treasured wardrobe, her most valued possessions within her most valued object, and hands him a little scrap of paper with all she knows of his father, a phone number.
Martín's journey is difficult, as with all such journeys. A bridge is out and the bus can't go on and he walks with the half-dozen other passengers to a place called Pisarro where there's another bus that comes early in the morning. Or so they're told by a young man playing checkers with himself who's in charge of the place. He has a soft face and looks like Pasolini's actor Franco Citti, who always played degenerate, sensuous roles, and this guy acts like that, later on. They wait all night, the passengers, for the bus but when Martín awakes they're gone and they've stolen his possessions and he's alone. He must stay and work with the young man harvesting corn and hay in a ruined hacienda to make enough money to go on, but after the harvesting when they play like boys the young man, who is rumored to have killed his own parents to gain the hacienda for himself, is too friendly and Martín leaves very suddenly with the little money he's earned and some clothes the man gives him.
The actor David Aaron Estrada, who plays Martín, has a beautiful, long face with full lips and sad, limpid eyes. We see a lot of that face from now on and it takes on a hypnotic quality. Martín's time in Mexico City is not easy. He's homeless and penniless and spends times in the public flophouse where he's befriended by a bearded man, Don Erasmo (Francisco Beverido) and later he is helped by a waitress named Laura (Lucia Muñoz) who befriends him, but turns out to be stranger and needier than he can deal with. This segment of the film is very long, but it's only the beginning. Martín believes "you cannot change the future but you can the past" and an epigraph of the movie goes, "the hardest part of leaving….is coming back." The going back is shocking, but in the end it's a new beginning, and is where the family finally begins to escape from nowhere and wind up somewhere, even if some of them are lost.
Ricardo Benet's spare landscape marked by death, fire, madness and the wanderings of a young man is even more like the masterpieces of Cormac McCarthy (of the Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian) than The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and it has some of the same harsh rural realism as Carlos Reygadas' Japón. News from Afar isn't for the impatient and may never reach audiences beyond the art house, but Benet is clearly another brilliant new Latin American director whose work will be sought out by connoisseurs of cinema: what he provides is simply a wonderful amalgam of intense emotion and unforgettable imagery. Like Alicia Scherson's Play, this is one of the SFIFF's narrative films that is clearly not to be missed.
Tue, Apr 25 / 7:00 / PFA / NEWS25P
Sat, Apr 29 / 6:00 / Kabuki / NEWS29K
Tue, May 02 / 3:00 / Kabuki / NEWS02K
04-24-2006, 03:36 PM
SOME OTHER FESTIVAL FILMS, BRIEFLY NOTED
Daniel Yu: All About Love (2005).
Andy Lau as two characters with a doppelgänger with a goatee and pretty ladies Charlie Young and Charlene Choi and Amber. A man falls in love with a woman who turns out to have his dead wife's heart. Her estranged husband looks just like him, and that's because he's Andy Lau too. This contains lots of cute Hong Kong romantic gimmicks from movies and novels, including ones that Wong Kar-wai has often used in his rapturously stylized reworkings. Here the style is conventional and the thinking trite. The only interest is to see the technical displays, split-up editing, superabundance of flashbacks and computer manipulations, which are extremely slick, without making the material convincing -- though at times it's good for a laugh. This should not be in a film festival, but China film students/fans might want to watch it for its mastery of current clichés and tricks.
Sun, Apr 23 / 4:30 / Kabuki / ALL23K
Wed, Apr 26 / 5:15 / Kabuki / ALL26K
Koji Wakamatsu: Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw (2005).
This by the pink film (pinku eiga) political radical softcore porn director of the past is a travelogue interspersed with dialogue and lovely images somewhat reminiscent of the "qatsi" trilogy of Godfrey Reggio. Chronicles follows a teenage boy on a bicycle through northern Japan in the wintertime. Wakamatsu gives away early on that the boy may have killed his mother and be running away (this is based on a true story of a boy who in fact did bludgeon his mother to death and then rode a bike in the north for sixteen days before he was apprehended).The young cyclist/actor Tasuku Emoto(who must have been chosen for his impressive level of endurance conditioning as well as for his striking, slightly savage face) is given no lines. He has one or two interesting encounters with people who deliver monologues pertaining to Japan in World War II. This feels like a narrative that wasn't developed enough or a short that was carried too far. It hovers between possibilities, leaving one with a haunted but empty feeling. Its inclusion in the SFIFF seems a somewhat dubious decision. It is an oddity. Even the most tirelsss cycling and landscape fans may not see the point of it.
Thu, Apr 27 / 8:45 / Kabuki / CYCL27K
Tue, May 02 / 6:00 / Kabuki / CYCL02K
Kang Yi-Kwan: Sa-Kwa (2005)
A Korean relationship movie by a young director who lacks the sophisticated style of Hong Sang-soo. Fashion business lady Hyun-jung (Moon So-ri) is dumped by her seven-year boyfriend (Lee Seon-gyun) and quickly dates and marries office mate Sangkoon (Kim Tae-woo). He seems to bore her and goes south to work when she's pregnant; she periodically encounters the old boyfriend and toys with a reunion and divorce. Convincing acting by the lovely and soulful Moon So-ri and specific details about families don't quite save this picture from seeming bland and overlong; Kang's writing confuses subtlety with aimlessness. Marginally worth inclusion in a festival; there are livelier, more able Korean films out there, but Kang may still be one to watch.
Fri, Apr 21 / 4:45 / Kabuki / SAKW21K
Mon, May 01 / 8:45 / Kabuki / SAKW01K
Thu, May 04 / 4:30 / Kabuki / SAKW04K
04-26-2006, 05:48 PM
WATCHING AND HELPING: TWO DOCUMENTARIES
Sacha Mirzoeff, Bettina Borgfeld: Shooting Under Fire (2005)
Shooting Under Fire follows experienced German photo-journalist Reinhard Kraus working as chief Reuters photographer in Israel in close coordination with his Palestinian and Israeli fellow Reuters photographers based respectively in Gaza and Jerusalem. Kraus came in to head the Jerusalem office with the second Intifada and left it for China after the death of Arafat, a little burnt out and stressed out but with a history of fine accomplishment behind him. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a story without any foreseeable conclusion, but Kraus saw the end of a chapter, he feels. He also established an efficient working system for the Reuters photographers so that those who follow him can continue providing the same rapidly coordinated photo coverage of events and lives in this perpetually dangerous and unstable place.
Shooting Under Fire shows us some of the many striking images captured by the Reuters office during Kraus's watch, including award-winning photographs by Nir Elias of Israel and Palestinian Ahmed Jedullah, and we get a look at both men's lives and hear what they have to say about their countries and their work. Interestingly, Elias doesn't seem too happy with the new fences either, but he doesn't have to spend hours or days at Israeli checkpoints or stuck in Gaza because the gates are closed, as both Jedullah and Kraus did. The film is rich in coverage of coverage: it shows how a digital shoot of a suicide bombing is instantly edited and "moved" to the editors in Europe and it observes the photographers at first hand on location, reviewing a moment when Jedullah took a bullet in the leg shooting dead people on the road in Rafah and might have died, and taking time to show Elias shooting orthodox Jews at prayer. The documentary is narrated by the voices of Kraus, Jedullah, and Elias. There's not much new here for anyone who follows Middle Eastern news, but the film is visually fine and politically balanced -- to a fault when it cuts back and forth relentlessly between Jedullah worshiping with his son on Friday and Jews chanting at the Wailing Wall, as if more than five seconds of either would show bias.
This version made for National Geographic International.
Sun, Apr 30 / 9:30 / Kabuki / SHOO30K
Thu, May 04 / 3:45 / Kabuki / SHOO04K
Adrian Belic: Beyond the Call (2006)
Adrian Belic's Beyond the Call's press material calls its subject a "Mother Teresa meets Indiana Jones adventure" involving "three senior citizens." Ed Artis, Walt Ratterman, and Jim Laws are in their fifties. They have no office, no overhead, and they take their aid, whether cash money or clothes, food, medicine, even a solar oven, direct to the "poorest of the poor" on the edge of war in Afghanistan, Albania, Chechnya, Cambodia, Rwanda and the southern Philippines -- parts of these countries other aids organizations, even the US army, can't reach or are afraid to go to. Two of them, Artis and Laws, are former paratroopers.
Artis' personality is feisty and his language salty. He has no use for politics or religion and he was a bad boy who joined the army to escape a longer time in juvie. His occasional illegal appropriation of things for humanitarian purposes makes him like a Robin Hood -- or a selfless Milo Minderbinder. His cohort Laws is a successful cardiologist and Ratterman is an oddball Pennsylvania construction company owner whose business used to gross $10 million. Now it's down to $2 million, he says, and that may drop to zero. The cardiologist is well off, the construction company owner borderline rich, but Artis, a retired mortgage banker, lives in a little house and has debts he puts off paying. All three men are hooked on doing good: it's a high, and you can feel that watching this film. The three men get in, find out what's most needed, then bring it, or come back later. They get an 80-90% discount on medicines. When they learned a little Afghan school had no money to pay the teachers, they paid out $2000 on the spot, enough for the staff for one year. Another time they handed over $31,000 out of wads of $100 bills for truckloads of food. Beyond the Call inspires admiration for this kind of selflessness and the hardscrabble efficiency of how the men, who call their group Knightsbridge because they're Knights of Malta forming a bridge to the world's most needy, get their aid out to people, despite risks of dysentery, death, kidnapping, and unpaid bills back home. By design, the three men's wives are unseen and undescribed. Clearly Knightsbridge does its own fundraising, but where all the money comes from is a detail the film leaves out, concentrating on breathlessly following the men to various countries and listening to their feisty, expletive-laced monologues.
Also at the Tribeca Film Festival. Adrian and his brother Roko grew up in Chicago with their Czechoslovakian and Yugoslavian parents. Their 1999 documentary Ghengis Blues, about a blind Cape Verdian bluesman from San Francisco who became a champion Tuval singer, won the Sundance Audience Award and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Feature Documentary.
Sun, Apr 30 / 6:00 / Kabuki / BEYO30K
Thu, May 04 / 3:00 / Kabuki / BEYO04K
04-28-2006, 01:58 AM
Juan Diego Solanas: Northeast (Nordeste, 2005)
A terrible tale, left unresolved
Juan Diego Solanas begins his disturbing and frustrating film Northeast (Nordeste), which mixes cool aestheticism and harshly schematic realism, with the starkly filmed slaughter of a calf. When the carcass is hanging up a man cuts off a hunk of meat and gives it to a boy who takes it to his mother. The boy and his mother are 13-year-old Martín (Ignacio Ramon Jiméniz) and Juana (Aymará Rovera), who are handsome-looking but penniless and live in a hovel in the country somewhere -- we learn later -- in the far northeastern Formosa region of Argentina.
Meanwhile unmarried forty-something French pharmaceuticals executive Hélène (Carole Bouquet) travels to Buenas Aires to adopt a child -- an orphan, she hopes -- but quickly learns the arrangement she thought she'd made is nonexistent. Furious and needy, Hélène, who in Bouquet's troubling performance has a tragically naïve determination, flies north to Formosa where she hears opportunities for adoption are many.
Juana has a lover -- rather handsome too, but cold and harsh, a married ranch hand; it was he who gave Martín the meat. Hélène contacts young lawyer Gustavo (Juan Pablo Domench) who is inexperienced but knows enough to warn her what she wants to do means dealing with illegal child traffickers. Meanwhile the hitherto sweet and clean-cut young Martín, aware of the desperation at home, begins to cut school -- he lacks even the money for the bus ride there -- and falls in with ghetto boys who begin by stealing the buns he sells and then befriend him and show him how to sniff glue and shoot bottles with a pistol.
Hélène is lodged at a nearby ranch and drives back and forth in a truck. She gives Martín a ride and tries out her elementary Spanish on him and then on Juana. Juana is pregnant by her lover and uses dangerous anti-pregnancy drugs that cause hemorrhaging. She seeks help from Hélène, who she thinks is a doctor. Juana is served with an eviction notice and the rancher's agent is a crude squat bastard. ("Son of a whore" is a phrase frequently used in the film and seems to apply too well to many of the secondary characters.)
Gustavo takes Hélène to a midwife who gives them prices and tells them a blond baby costs more than an Indian. Hélène expresses indifference to color or price and is ready to go ahead. With the grim tone Solanas has set it's hardly unexpected that the process goes badly. When Hélène pays half the price as an advance, about $15,000, and is given an ominously quiet baby, one shrinks inwardly with the sure foreknowledge that the night she spends with it before its medical exam will only create a tragic attachment. Inevitably the doctor informs her that the baby has an incurable neurological disease and will not live. She freaks out and bolts screaming from the hospital leaving Gustavo and the baby behind.
A talk with a nun convinces Hélène buying an illegal baby is a selfish choice: the price would support many families, or sustain a child through college if he were allowed to stay at home. Hélène contritely returns to the midwife to take back the baby she was going to buy and care for it in France while it lives, but it is "gone," perhaps killed for the sale of its organs, who knows?
Juana's and Martín's conditions rapidly decline as Hélène reaches her own peak of desperation. A social worker, probably also involved in the omnipresent child trafficking in this desperate region, tells Juana social services do not exist to help her, that she should allow her son to be adopted so he can grow up in comfort and be educated abroad, and that she is selfish not to want to do so. The implication is obvious -- but not followed through in Solanas' film, which ends with Juana's cottage torched and her in the hospital. The camera slowly withdraws from Hélène and Martín sitting in the hospital corridor -- as if the filmmaker is turning away from the task of completing his somewhat crudely roughed in story.
Solanas is the son of Fernando Solanas, the renowned documentarian-activist of The Hour of the Furnaces and the current SFIFF's The Dignity of the Nobodies. But he has lived largely in France since he was young and this film has a style half European and half documentary. The use of non-actors for most of the cast -- except for the extremely experienced Bouquet, who's taken down a peg, however, by having to speak a great deal in clumsy Spanish -- is not entirely successful, and most of the characters, the lawyer, the child traffickers, the rancher's brutish agents, even Juana, her son, and her lover -- have little depth or originality in the depiction. Even Hélène is little but a cry of confused need. Juan Diego Solanas would seem to have inherited the social consciousness of his father without his warmth and faith in humanity. The resulting film is a succession of increasingly leaden scenes. The information Northeast conveys is important and tragic, but ultimately the film seems to acquire little life beyond its bald message of injustice and despair.
Solanas won the Cannes Best Short Film Jury Prize in 2003 for his previous work, The Man Without a Head. This first feature may be less successful but he has talent and ambition and is not going away.
Sun, Apr 30 / 3:15 / Kabuki / NORT30K
Mon, May 01 / 9:00 / Kabuki / NORT01K
Wed, May 03 / 9:15 / Aquarius / NORT03A
05-03-2006, 04:23 PM
Roberto Gervitz: Underground Game (2005)
Spritz and fizzle
São Paulo, 21st century: a beautiful modern subway system haunted by Martín (Felipe Camargo), a sturdy man in a tweed jacket with a beard and bushy hair and a soft inquiring face. There's something both desolate and eager about him, mellow yet needy. We see him sometimes through a transparent subway map in a station as if this diagram is his future, his brain; he has a big paper version tacked on the wall of his cheap apartment. It's also his bible and his horoscope, the world of his dashed hopes. In his pocket is a little journal book with a marbleized cover where he jots down his random game plans. He follows women he sees in the subway cars. He gives them a name, and he bets on which stop they'll get off at and where they'll go from there. If their path corresponds to his pre-jotted pattern, maybe they're his Laura, his Beatrice. At night, he's a pianist who plays in a club wearing a satin-breasted jacket.
Director Gervitz based Jogo Subterrâneo on a Julio Cortázar story whose meandering lonely-guy plot he may have somewhat over-expanded; the premise is intriguing if ambiguous, but there is a loss of momentum in its development. To begin with, this Underground Game doesn't seem like one anyone can win. Gervitz was assisted by the likes of Jorge Duran though, the wordsmith who penned Pixote and Kiss of the Spider Woman, so you can't say the dialogue doesn't move. Pacing is very brisk and energetic at first, and we hold on for a good while before we start to lose some of our interest. The first half hour or so is an indeterminate but compulsively watchable chase seen through the nervous but unflagging camera of Lauro Escorel. Music intriguingly enters the mix, worked in through the pianist hero and a happy collaboration with Gervitz's best buddy composer Luiz Enrique Xavier. There's much to enjoy here, till Martín's pursuit leads to too many irrelevant details.
Others come and go, but three women emerge and linger through underground encounters. There's the sympathetic tattoo artist, Tania (Daniela Escobar) with her autistic daughter Victória (Thavyne Ferrari). There's a blind writer named Laura (Julia Lemmertz) whom Martín meets periodically -- in the subway, of course. She has her own game, eavesdropping on conversations and picking up ideas for her fiction. Martín confides in her -- elliptically. He violates his game to pursue a pale, heavily made up woman in red whom he follows outside the subway, even when she doesn't follow the outline he's sketched in his notebook. She's the confused and secretive Ana (Maria Luisa Mendonca) who Martín seems to sense is bad news, but keeps coming back to.
The trouble is it's hard to tell a minor character from a major one. Tania is nice and likes Martín, Laura is bright and stable. Why does our hero insist on pursuing the neurotic, affectless Ana? Some of the details of her life that finally emerge seem obtrusive, and in the way they're presented, they violate the previously exclusive focus on the hero's point of view. The feel-good ending may resolve some of our questions, but it looks awfully familiar. Too bad, because the film has an appealing look, pace, and sound and its hot/cold urban setting is a pleasant surprise coming from the land of boy gangsters and spider women.
Underground Game has shown at a number of film festivals (Bruges, San Sebastian, Palm Springs, Havana, DC) and now is at San Francisco's.
Sun, Apr 30 / 9:15 / Kabuki / UNDE30K
Wed, May 03 / 6:00 / Kabuki / UNDE03K
05-04-2006, 03:37 AM
Philippe Faucon: The Betrayal (2005)
Betrayed by suspicion
This film about the Algerian war shown at the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival was also currently on view in theaters in France. Director Faucon is a pied noir, born in Morocco in 1958 near the Algerian border. It may attract a US distributor but negative aspects would be the lack of a major star and the understatedness of the action. Based on Claude Sales' autobiographical account, The Betrayal/La trahison is rich in atmosphere with lots of authentic-looking Algerian faces, the omnipresent sound of Algerian Arabic. The film is the stark but convincing chronicle of a French army unit's day to day maneuvers as it crosses a patch of half deserted Algerian countryside in the summer of 1958 ferreting out fellaghas (FLN members). The unit leader is an idealistic, fair but psychically exhausted young lieutenant named Roque (Vincent Martinez)--who represents the author of the source book.
Four of the unit members are harkis, Algerian Arabs serving in the French Army, and it is their dilemma that is the real subject of the film. Roque considers them 100% French citizens, but he cannot guarantee their future or save them from the resentment of the locals who see them as traitors, from their fellow soldiers of white French origin who see them as wogs or from Roque's superiors who see them as saboteurs waiting for their moment to strike. Everyone, including Roque, is fed up with this conflict which has dragged on for so long. Meanwhile the unit is brutalizing locals, burning huts and resettling inhabitants in an increasingly rough manner; the harkis are stoned by Arab boys; and Algerian fellagha suspects are getting tortured and killed by other units or at headquarters.
It is a complex, no-win situation. The locals, afraid of French soldiers, are not talking. If their men are gone, they say they're off seeking work; the unit must assume they've joined the rebels. Some members of the unit are white pieds noirs, Frenchmen with colonial outlook born in the country with inbred prejudices against the Arabs. The four Arab members of the unit, led by Taieb (Ahmed Berrhama), are forced to act as the uneasy liaison between the army and the people. Pressure is on them to defect, as the war wears on they are losing their faith in the justice of the French side, and they necessarily keep to themselves, thus increasing the white French soldiers' suspicion or dislike.
Roque is called in to command and read to from a little notebook that clearly implies the four Arabs in the unit are double agents planning to kill the officers. We've seen no sign of that and neither has Roque, whose relationship with them has been good. The notebook could be a FLN plot to disrupt the unit. But in this volatile situation suspicion is almost as good as guilt. Perhaps the "betrayal" of the French is the hostile atmosphere they themselves have created. Or it is the failure of the harkis to become fully French. In any case, once this notebook emerges, Roque and his non-Arab cohorts can no longer be sure of the four Arab soldiers. Dialogue between the harkis themselves shows their growing discontent but is ambiguous as to their active disloyalty. Roque is curiously non-committal at the end, which seems abrupt and unsatisfying.
The film's strength -- its subtlety and its refusal to become a conventional thriller -- is also its weakness as drama, particularly for an American audience, which might find the meandering plot hard to follow or the concrete history, the realistic depiction of warfare at the village level, impossible to identify with.
This might best be seen together with another SFIFF (as well earlier Toronto Festival) film directly chronicling French history of the period, Alain Tasma's October 17, 1961, which concerns a later whitewashed Paris police massacre of 50 to 200 Algerians demonstrating against a curfew, denied medical care, thrown into the river, 10,000 arrested -- an event referred to in Michael Haneke's Caché.
Fri, Apr 28 / 5:30 / Kabuki / BETR28K
Sun, Apr 30 / 6:30 / Kabuki / BETR30K
Wed, May 03 / 9:15 / PFA / BETR03P
05-11-2006, 02:18 PM
József Pacskovszky: See You in Space (Ég veled! 2005)
Though unknown in the US, Hungarian director József Pacskovszky, whose new movie See You in Space (Ég veled!) was shown in the latter part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, 2006 version, has several previous features to his credit and an ample state-supported production behind this multi-romance movie (and multi-national production) with sci-fi and whimsical overtones. Moscow, Rome, Budapest and a space station orbiting the earth; Russian, Italian, Hungarian dialogue. Multinational cast, references to terrorism? Globalization, perhaps? You would think the forty-five-year-old Hungarian director is throwing too much into the multi-plotted soup, but he has a handsome visual style, nice music, and a pretty light touch to help compensate. This is no dark, brooding goulash. The only trouble is there doesn't seem to be much thought or wisdom invested in the stories, though the individual scenes are bright and colorful and well acted. If this is Kieslowski, as it seems at some moments, it's Kieslowski lite with a Fifties Tuscan accent. Here's what we're dealing with:
A Cosmonaut way out in space whose wife leaves him for an Italian illusionist, a handsome, charming philanderer (they speak Italian-- and there's some Italian production money in the film too, I think). The Cosmonaut and his handlers speak Russian, of course.
A wide-eyed male Budapest scientist who woos an African woman co-worker, a runner. Recovering from her sadness when she discovers by answering his cell phone that her boyfriend is married, the African lady tells her girlfriend a "funny" story about how she was sexually "touched" as a seven-year-old in Africa by a white man. They punished him. How? "We ate him." Perhaps strangely, this gets a laugh, and it's one of the movies' most memorable moments.
A dear, chubby old man with a lovely huge apartment and a nest egg who's befriended by a pretty young hairdresser after she accidentally cuts his ear. He might leave his money to her, but that event is short-circuited by events. This relationship is slight and sweet; the others are a bit more extended -- except for one between a woman lawyer who's increasingly gone on her imprisoned client, a story not very easy to follow or see the point of, though the lawyer happens to sit on a park bench next to the Cosmonaut's wife at one point, thus casually linking two of the stories.
Andrei, the formerly perky Cosmonaut, becomes despondent and refuses to come back to earth. In the festival Q & A the director said in fact the Russians left a Cosmonaut in space because they didn't have the money to retrieve him. By this he may have been conflating two factoids, that of Sergei Avdeyev, who spent a record time in space, and of the abandonment of the Mir Space station, where Avdeyev had been stationed. Anyway Andrei's wife gets wise to the Italian illusionist's unfaithful ways and decides to jump off one of the tallest old buildings in Budapest.
But when she jumps, she floats out in space and goes to the spaceship where Andrei is and knocks on the window. It's not likely he can let her in. . .
The scientist with the almost childlike eagerness and big eyes is the most striking figure in the piece. The others leave only a generic impression: the pert, independent African woman; the oily but sexy Italian; the loveable, corpulent old man.
The fanciful ending departs from Kieslowski and drifts back to Zavattini and Fellini and the Fifties. If the lady had just fallen off the building and died on the pavement the movie would have had an ending at once more acid and more tidy, but Pacskovszky would rather dabble than delve.
05-11-2006, 02:20 PM
COMING: Reviews of Ying Liang's Taking Father Home, Pascale Breton's Illumination, the SFIFF coming-of-age shorts series, Live 'n' Learn. and the Werner Herzog special event with his new movie, The Wild Blue Yonder.
These will posted separately on the Festivals site by TRAVIS KIRBY, a 15-year-old aspiring filmmaker and writer from the Bay Area who is my co-reviewer of the SFIFF for Filmleaf this year.
05-26-2006, 03:33 AM
SFIFF 2006: CONCLUDING WORDS
Isabelle Huppert in Gabrielle
THIS IS JUST A PARTIAL OVERVIEW; There's no way one person can see over two hundred films or "film events" in five weeks, the total time the press is allowed access to the SFIFF selections, and in real terms rating a big film festival is therefore strictly speaking impossible, but based on my random samplings I have some comments.
THE SFIFF'S NEW DIRECTOR is Graham Leggett, who's Scottish-born but a previous Bay Area resident and Stanford graduate. He was Director of Communications of the Film Society at Lincoln Center, where I met him at the NYFF press screenings. I like Graham's clarity and enthusiasm, and even his dour Scot side suggests he'll brook no nonsense, though he is great at hyping films and that's an important part of his job. He seems thoroughly energized and stoked about what he's doing here and well poised to liven things up over the next couple of years. His arrival is a hopeful note for the festival.
POLITICS AND PECKING ORDERS OF FESTIVALS is a topic still new to me; but it seems San Francisco might be at a disadvantage coming when it does. It ends just a couple weeks before Cannes begins. Big films are held for a first appearance at Cannes, which looks like being the beginning of the annual international festival cycle. Movie promoters may not want to dilute the big Cannes buzz by debuting their products at San Francisco -- or anywhere else that isn't a major festival venue.
THE SFIFF IS VIABLE AND WORTHWHILE because it plays to a large, sophisticated, and eager local audience. And there are a lot of filmmakers including some big guys who've escaped Hollywood to live up here, which increases the pool of celebs and talents at hand to participate.
THE SFIFF'S MOST DIRECT COMPETITION might be the new and smaller (by about a hundred films) Tribeca Film Festival, which comes in almost the same calendar spot and being in New York City has a powerhouse of talent to promote and run it. My guess is Tribeca may have had more new or offbeat stuff. Unlike the SFIFF, it naturally avoided any movies that had been screened previously in New York. Some of the best movies at SFIFF in my opinion that were not new to festivals, had been shown last year or this spring in New York.
LATIN AMERICA was confirmed for me as a great source of new filmmaking talent. Out of the 40 or so films/events of the SFIFF that I saw the most exciting new names were Alicia Scherson, whose Play is a witty, highly observant story of people wandering around in Santiago de Chile; and Ricardo Benet, a Mexican, whose News from Afar/Noticias lejanas is a haunting coming of age story that's also about marginalization. (And maybe globalization; but that word is being so overused in film talk it's becoming increasingly meaningless.) Each of these two Spanish-language movies provided the exhilaration of witnessing a brilliant, fully achieved first feature, and was a sign Latin America may be a hotbed of film creativity in years to come.
GREAT STUFF AT THE SFIFF I'D SEEN BEFORE: Sokurov's The Sun achieves greatness, Hou's Three Times is partly great, Chéreau's Gabrielle and Garrel's Regular Lovers are unforgettable: I had seen these four films at the NYFF. Two French selections were also repeats from New York, from the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema put on by the Film Society at Lincoln Center this March. Of these, I Saw Ben Barka Killed is somewhat dispensable (though worthy of attention if you're into modern French colonial history), but the second -- another story entirely -- Beauvois' Le Petit Lieutenant -- is an absolutely terrific cop flick, like many other cop flicks in every way except that it's more touching, more real, more felt and personal, and, for a French one, unusually sympathetic to cops. Tribeca didn't show any of these, because New Yorkers had already had a chance to see them.
DOCUMENTARIES I saw all seemed of value -- the politics-related Brazilian one Favela Rising and the more sweepingly political Venezuelan Dignity of the Nobodies. Shooting Under Fire and Beyond the Call are well-told stories about people doing good work in some of the world's major hot spots. Iraq in Fragments has wonderful images in its three separate segments -- though the director might have used editing and narration to make better use of them; it wasn't clear if it was Iraq that's in fragments, or the film. Other reportedly good documentaries at the festival: The Giant Buddhas, Workingman's Death, The Bridge. Funny and personal: Alan Berliner's Wide Awake.
COMPLETE GAPS IN THE PROGRAM? According to at least one source there were "grumblings that the festival's new regime neglects women directors and isn't looking hard enough for African and Middle Eastern films," but "few complaints about the continued strong selection of Asian entries." Indeed there weren't many African or Middle Eastern films, but maybe the programmers looked hard but couldn't find.
ASIAN SELECTIONS WERE DISAPPOINTING, though perhaps numerous enough. Tsai's Wayward Cloud is not the work of genius some think; in fact it may be the worst thing he's done and oscillates between being boring, shocking, and bizarre. Hou's aforementioned Three Times is brilliant and touching -- or one third of it is. Tsubokawa's sadly grainy and hard to follow Clouds of Yesterday is steeped in cinematic sense and may be a rough hint of fine work to come. Wakamatsu's Cycling Chronicles is little more than a troubling trifle. Kang's Sa-Kwa didn't quite make it. All About Love by Daniel Yu is slick schlock. Perhaps Love (which I didn't see) sounds like a hit or miss musical with great production values and big stars, if that's what you look for at a festival. Probably it isn't. Taking Father Home was amateurish and lame: not every rough hewn new generation mainland Chinese director is a Jia Zhang-ke. What were the judges thinking of in giving this their Skyye Prize? I guess they were rewarding financial need, more than talent. I also wonder why the festival awarded its Fipresci Prize to Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling, which didn't live up to expectations in either the acting or the screenwriting categories.
ANOTHER SHORT AREA WAS IRANIAN FILMS. While Tribeca boasted eight of them, all we got was the microcosm on an abandoned tanker, Iron Island, which was in the New Directors series at Lincoln Center a couple months before and was shown at an art house in lower Manhattan afterwards.
UNNECESSARY PREVIEWS SEEM A FEATURE OF FESTIVALS. Why do movies show up which are about to open in theaters? Oddly, audiences flock to see them, eager to be a few weeks ahead of the mob. Besides Half Nelson, Factotum, A Prairie Home Companion, and Art School Confidential all fell into this category. Tribeca, Cannes, etc. have things like this too. I guess it's part of the festival game, which isn't all about enriching our experience but also about promotion and reveling in novelty. At least San Francisco got a lavish Chinese musical as their opener and not what Cannes is starting with -- The Da Vinci Code.
LESSONS LEARNED? The obvious one: a sense that the world of cinema is rich today -- far richer than our cineplexes or art houses let us know; but an equally strong sense that the world isn't producing dozens of great new films every six months. No, that's just not about to happen. While not a festival junkie -- the type who's plotting the next one, and the next, and the next, to maintain the high of wall-to-wall new movies -- and the exhaustion of watching them -- I sure liked having the opportunity to see all this new stuff -- and to re-watch The Sun and Le Petit Lieutenant and Gabrielle. The latter gets limted release July 14. The other two, plus Hou's Three Times, have distributors but their release dates are unannounced. No distributor for Play or News from Afar. And that's too bad…but that's why there are festivals, and why we have to attend them.
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