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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2016

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    San Francisco International Film Festival 2016


    General Film Forum for the SFIFF 2016

    Links to reviews:
    And When I Die, I Won't Stay Dead (Billy Woodberry 2015)
    The Apostate (Federico Veiroj 2015)
    As I Open My Eyes/À peine j'ouvre mes yeux (Leyla Bouzid 2015)
    Cameraperson (Kristen Johnson 2016)
    Cast a Dark Shadow (Lewis Gilbert 1955)
    Counting (Jem Cohen 2015)
    Cowboys (Thomas Bidegain 2015)
    The Demons/Les Démons (Philippe Lesage 2015)
    The Event/Sobytie (Sergei Loznitsa 2015)
    The Fits (Anne Rose Holmer 2015)
    Five Nights in Maine (Maris Curran 2015)
    Frank & Lola (Matthew Ross 2016)
    From Afar/Desde allá (Lorenzo Vigas 3025)
    Happy Hour (Ryûnsuke Hamaguchi 2015)
    High Rise (Ben Wheatley 2015)
    The Innocents/Les innocentes (Anne Fontaine 2016)
    Journey to the Shore (Kiyoshi Kurosawa 2015)
    Leaf Blower (Alejandro Iglesias Mendizábal 2015)
    Maggie's Plan (Rebecca Miller 2015)
    Microbe and Gasoline (Michel Gondry 2015)
    Mountain (Yael Kayam 2015)
    Neither Heaven Nor Earth (Clément Cogitore 2015)
    Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro 2015)
    No Home Movie (Chantal Ackerman 2015)
    Operator (Logan Kibens 2016)
    Peter and the Farm (Tony Stone 2015)
    Phantom Boy (Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol 2015)
    Right Now,Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo 2015)
    Suite Armoricaine (Pascale Breton 2015)
    Thirst/Jajda (Svetlana Tsotsorkova 2015)
    Thithi (Raami Redy 2015)
    Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari 2015)
    Under the Sun (Vitaly Mansky 2015)
    Very Big Shiot/فيلم كتير كبير (Film Kteer Kbeer) (2015)
    Weiner (Josh Kreingman, Elyse Steinberg 2015)
    The White Knights/Les chevaliers blancs (Joachim Lafosse 2015)
    Winter Song (Otar Iosseliani 2015)
    A Young Patriot/ Shao nian, Xiao Zhao (Du Haibin 2015)

    (Will be seeing:)
    Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce 2015) - hopefully

    (Wish list:)
    Blood of My Blood (Marco Bellocchio 2015)
    Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous (Christopher Doyle 2015)
    Little Men (Ira Sachs 2015)
    Love and Friendship (Whit Stillman 2016) Opening Night
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2016 at 10:37 AM.

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    COUNTING (Jem Cohen 2015)

    JEM COHEN: COUNTING(2015)



    A man with a camera roaming the world

    kids just out of school.

    Someone behind a sign
    on a cell phone.

    Men gathering cardboard from the street.

    Shopkeepers.
    These captions appear together an hour and a half through Jem Cohen's new documentary, which is divided into 15 segments of different lengths. This time after the more linear Chain and Museum Hours, which had discernible characters, relationships, and linking locations, this returns to his more abstract and purely observational roots. The lines above might seem random, though, but obviously chronicle the palpitating street life of a city. He ranges from his home base New York to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Istanbul, and places in between. As an anonymous urban voyeur with a camera myself, a still camera in my case, I can see early on in a series of shots and sounds Cohen captured in the New York subway (a recent subject of mine) how experienced, steady, bold and brave he is, what a good eye and what a good camera he's got.

    The focus is generally urban. Some may think, like the excellent Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, that Counting is about "mortality, globalism, jet lag, personal loss and the dialectical tug of war between the built and natural environment." If you travel so far across the world and focus on cities, these topics will appear, most like. This being sound and movement as well as image, Cohen chooses to introduce "protest" as an aspect of city life, and Manohla Dargis of the NY Times, in her review, calls that a "leitmotif" of this film and goes so far as to say "it’s easy to see the entire movie — with its insistence on ordinary beauty and its undertow of leftist politics — as an act of resistance." Indeed sometimes the voices on the soundtrack literally are in protest: chants of "I can't breathe" against a notorious recent New York police murder of an African American; there are references to "Occupy," and objections (in English) to shutting down a last open space for political demonstrations in Istanbul. At other moments we hear in the background sounds of a Congressional hearing about NSA spying, and see Cohen's own shots of spy cameras placed high above a city street, though often he is being a voyeur himself.

    But there are just beautiful photographs, cool digital yellows, a dog standing stock still, cats, possible riffs off Chris Marker, the kind of thing that arouses the ire of the Slant's irascible Clayton Dillard, who thinks Marker's way better (he probably is) and protests that what he calls Cohen's "poetic pretenses" are "compounded by a sledgehammer insistence on elusive and irreducible moments as inherently beautiful." Oh dear. Well, he may have a point: not every bit of detritus in the film is beautiful, but I'm not sure Cohen is insisting that it is. Clearly this kind of filmmaking, while it lacks the lulling, repetitious kind of beauty (and crowd-pleasing kitsch) of visual poems like Koyaanisqatsi, isn't slick and dazzling like that, and is more intimate and personal, can annoy people in a different way, or just bore them.

    Cohen is now 53 and this may be a summation of the kind of film he's been honing for years, the best way he can express all he sees and knows. So it's a balance of didactic and neutral, "observational" in two senses. Or as Hornaday puts it, the film "unspools as a sort of manifesto" but Cohen is "far too subtle and committed to open readings" to say so. So each of us must decide what it's a manifesto about (which again may irritate some viewers) or maybe we can decide it's not about anything that can be named.

    Counting is a mirror for viewers or critics. Oddly, though reviewers find so much in this film, they don't seem to think much about what kind of person would make it. Despite his references to busy urban life and to organized protests, he seems to me the classic "silent traveler" type, anonymous, reserved, sly, unobtrusive. He's the very opposite of Michael Moore; the opposite of Chris Marker too, despite his possible debt to Marker, because Marker's lengthy commentary is absent. He gives us an insight into his secret self. This is not a diary, but it is. It ends with a line from Chris Marker, "In this layman's double for prayer that we call memory." Before that, he begins shifting among images more rapidly, from a neon-drenched Middle Eastern city with calls to prayer and signage in Arabic (Sharjah), to New York cabs, a ravaged pay phone, back to minarets and fluttering videotape, so we might be flickering about in his mind. At one point we hear Cohen receive a phone call informing him of his mother's stroke. But mostly he is delighting in the wonder and energy of urban life -- and decay. Maybe next time he'll return to particular people and relationships, but this is probably, for him, the most expansive and personal medium of expression open to him, and it is open to him as to few others.

    Counting, 111 mins., debuted at Berlin 9 Feb. 2015; seven other festival showings, latest San Francisco, where it was screened for this review. US theatrical release 31 July 2015. Also shown in the National Gallery in DC in Dec. 2015, hence Ann Hornaday's review. This has a rich sound design as well as precise imagers and has live music. Patti Smit is one of the producers. TRAILER. London had a Jem Cohen season from March to May 2015 at the Barbican, Whitechapel Gallery, and Hackney Picturehouse: see this Guardian article.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-02-2016 at 06:38 PM.

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    FROM AFAR/DESDE ALLÁ (Lorenzo Vigas 2015)

    LORENZO VIGAS: FROM AFAR/DESDE ALLÁ (2015)

    Preview - full review will appear later.


    LUIS SILVA AND ALFREDO CASTRO IN FROM AFAR

    Power trips

    Lorenzo Vigas' subtle and powerful first film reminded me of what Graham Greene said of Patricia Highsmith's writng: she "has created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger." Alfredo Castro, who starred in Pablo Larraín's Tony Manero and Post Mortem, is the ideal guide into a world of morally suspect creepiness -- and danger. It turns out young Luis Silva is an ideal companion for the trip. LIke Robin Campillo's Eastern Boys, about a middle class gay Frenchman who enters into a relationship with a young Checnean refugee he picks up in Paris' Gare du Nord, Armando walks, willingly, into personal danger when he lures a hostile and poor youth in Caracas to his respectable home.

    Everything comes together here, directorial control and tense pacing, ideal casting and cinematography, a seamless use of locations, above all the story. Though this is by Iñárritu's former writer Guillermo Arriaga and has hints of Amores Perros-levels of danger and violence, thre's no unnecessary symbolism here: it's just straight, compulsively-watchable action -- an amazing debut.

    (The director's full name is Lorenzo Vigas Castes.)

    From Afar/Desde allá, 93 mins, debuted at Venice 10 Sept. 2015;, winning the Golden Lion for best picture; 10 other awards and nominations and 18 other festivals including Toronto, London, Miami and Hong Kong. French theatrical release 4 May 2016, US (NYC, Strand) 8 June. Full review will appear here then.

    TRAILER.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2016 at 11:54 PM.

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    THE INNOCENTS (Anne Fontaine 2016)

    ANNE FONTAINE: THE INNOCENTS/LES INNOCENTES (2016)

    Preview - full review will appear later.


    LOU DE LAÂGE AND AGATA BUZEK IN THE INNOCENTS

    A story of pregnant nuns after World War II

    There isn't much violence till forty minutes into Anne Fontaine's film, when the French Red Cross doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge of Breathe) is stopped by Russian soldiers, thrown down, and is on the point of being raped when she's rescued by a Russian officer. But rape by Russian soldiers has happened to dozens of the Polish nuns Mathilde is trying to help, and seven of them have now become pregnant in this film dramatizing actual events in Poland in December 1945 after the end of the War when real-life doctor Madeleine Pauliac braved personal danger and religious objections to save just such a situation. The Benedictine nuns, who are not supposed to show their bodies or be touched, face scandal that might destroy their order if events are disclosed. Mathilde is joined in the effort by Samuel (a less wispy than usual Vincent Macaigne), a French doctor. The context is complicated by the fact that Samuel is Jewish, the new Polish communist government isn't friendly to religious orders, and Mathilde herself is a strongly free-thinking daughter of leftists.

    The Innocents/Les innocentes, 115 mins., debuted at Sundance where it was reviewed in Variety by Justin Chang, who called it "her best film in years." (It was then entitled Agnes Dei.) Released in France 10 Feb. 2016, with enthusiastic critical reception (AlloCiné press rating 3.9/24 reviews; viewers' rating 4.1). It has been acquired by Picturehouse. Adèle Haenel was originally attached to play Mathilde. Shown in the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. US theatrical release begins 1 July 2016; San Francisco Bay Area 8 July.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-22-2016 at 05:46 PM.

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    THE EVENT/SOBYTIE (Sergei Loznitsa 2015)

    THE EVENT/SOBYTIE (Sergei Loznitsa 2015)



    Waiting for democracy that never comes

    Sergei Loznitsa is a Russian documentary filmmaker who reached greatest festival currency through two recent fiction features: his violently arresting but ultimately incoherent road picture My Joy (NYFF 2010) and his moody content-light 1942 occupation drama In the Fog (SFIFF 2012). Here, in The Event, he returns to documentary with a collection, at once momentous and opaque (there is no narration) of archival found-footage from the August 1991 coup d'état attempt or putsch that ended the Soviet regime assembled from materials supplied by the Saint Petersburg Documentary Film Studio.

    From the start we hear the strains of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" because that was what played on the interrupted state-owned TV and radio channels instead of news broadcasts at this time. It heightens our sense of the mystification or obliviousness of the Russian public whose faces we see gathered around in Leningrad, shot by eight different roving cameras that move among them and look down on them. This is material that is immensely suggestive and atmospheric, but what it means depends on what you bring to it. Loznitsa provides no background knowledge, such as that the tipping point was a planned August 20th treaty signing away a lot of Moscow's centralized power to the individual states. A group including the VP, premier, KGB head and Defense Minister calling itself the General Committee on the State Emergency had taken over to prevent this, and put Gorbachev under state arrest.

    The footage that unreels was shot in the aftermath that left things is a state of flux for three days. Protestors gathered around Moscow's White House to defend the stronghold of democratic opposition led by Boris Yeltsin, the president of Russia. Gorbachev, president of the USSR is in his dacha in the Crimea and being reported too sick to rule. The people are seen in very consistent looking, rather attractive grayish black and white photographic images, lightly dressed for the summer weather, all ages, occasionally young and tanned, standing, perch high, milling about or occasionally marching, some of them setting up barricades to block a possible military takeover or raising signs or banners -- "Down with the putsch! We are all on strike!" and listening to de facto broadcasts on portable radios, scrambling for printed declarations. They are listening to speeches from steps, entrances, or balconies about what is happening, especially during the last of the Emergency Committee's three-day reign, when Leningrad mayor Anatoly Sobchak is heard from. Some wait outside government buildings for news. Thousands gather outside in the big central Palace Square of Leningrad where most of what is on this film takes place.

    The events we're watching in these films are at once tumultuous -- there is a sense that 73 years of Soviet rule are coming to an end, and there are chants of "Down with communism!" -- and quiet -- and curiously ambiguous. What is, or will be, the outcome of all this? There is no violence or shouting. The crowds are remarkably well behaved, exhibiting a mixture of apprehension and optimism. There is no repression; hardly a policeman or military officer is in sight. One may think of the Arab Spring of recent years, and the events in Tahrir Square in Cairo. But here there is not the tumult and excitement of Cairo, the shouting and open debate, nor the violence and danger, more the air of watching and listening, waiting to see what is happening. And what is happening, they hardly know. They cheer both for the downfall of the Soviet government and the removal of the lawless stagers of the would-be coup. It's announced that there has been a vote, and the Soviet flag is taken down and the tricolor banner of Russia put in its place. There is talk of "democracy." There are memories of 1917, and of 1964, cited as two momentous, perhaps infamous, times. And Vladimir Putin, now the dictator in charge of post-Soviet Russia, is briefly seen, this time a new member of the Saint Petersburg administration after years working with the KGB. x

    Consultation of Russian and Soviet history might help viewers to add more meaning to what they are watching. I have made use of a Wikipedia article on the Brezhnev era and the reviews of the film by Jay Weissberg in Variety and Peter Debruge in Hollywood Reporter, both of whom elucidate this film through their own knowledge and researches. The fact remains that without external knowledge not provided by the film, the film means little. With its blackouts between segments filled by "Swan Lake," the film flows smoothly. Perhaps its most artful editing is a passage near the end where alternating clips make it look like Putin, who's just gotten into a car, may be pursued by police with wailing sirens (or part of a power motorcade?).

    The constant flowing movement of the cameras might make one think in passing of a famous Russian film from eleven years later, Sokurov's 2002 single-shotRussian Ark, and there is something haunting and mysterious about these endless, eternally milling crowds.

    Loznitsa's 2014 documentary Maidan examined the recent conflict in Ukraine.


    The Event/событие (Sobytie), 73 mins., debuted at Venice 2 Sept. 2015, Toronto 15 Sept., theatrical releae in the Netherlands 10 Mar. 2016; SFIFF showing 24 Apr. 2016; screened for this review as part of SFIFF.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-04-2016 at 06:32 PM.

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    THE DEMONS/LES DÉMONS (Philippe Lesage 2015)

    PHILIPPE LESAGE: THE DEMONS/LES DÉMONS (2015)


    ÉDOUARD TRREMBLAY-GRENIER (CENTER) IN THE DEMONS

    Haneke lite

    French Canada has produced a notable new cinematic talent in the person of documentary-trained director Philippe Lesage, whose second feature (but the first to be shown) is a stunning, original display of the horrors and beauties of everyday life as experienced by ten-year-old Félix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), youngest of three in a comfortable Montreal family. Lesage makes skillful use of the era when he was growing up, when AIDS was a new terror, kids didn't have cell phones for easy contact with parents, and you couldn't check up on things on the Internet. He also makes use of an unusual circular structure, where things turn from pleasant to to awful and back to pleasant again, which is hard to take, but still works. He also works well with the sunny, candy-colored images and dramatic depth of field produced by his cinematographer, Nicolas Canniccioni; and with iconic music ranging from Bach to Robert Johnson blues to Sibelius to Miriam Makeba.

    Félix's soft face and well-cut mop of hair suggest a comfortable background, and he's much loved by his two older siblings, François (Vassali Schneider) and sister Emmanuelle (Sarah Mottet). But there are plenty of complications. He's in love with his young gym teacher Rébecca (Victoria Diamond). He's afraid his parents may be breaking up. Sex play with a boy and a story heard in class make him fear he's got AIDS. There are horrible fake tales told by an older boy of things happening to neighbor children and there really are kidnappings and disappearances of kids. Félix is sensitive and gets afraid at night sometimes, and he seems to get chosen last for teams.

    The way Lesage shows Félix sliding down a stairwell to eavesdrop on adults at night, and then climbing upside down around on the sofa later investigating what they were doing, speaks volumes in child-awareness. Canniccioni's long shots and shallow focus subtly combine a sense of intimacy and a sense of powerlessness. The film's excellence at depicting group action is key to our sense of this combination. As Guy Lodge observes in his Variety review, Lesage shrewdly avoids first-person point of view, "however intimate the film’s sense of a character’s inner workings."

    This makes possible a leap midway in the film's two hours, when Lesage takes a big chance by not only delivering real horror awfully late, but switching to another, older character. This is a passage that is not only beyond repugnant and disturbing, but may seem off-topic. But it works, because the character has already been integrated so thoroughly into events -- with cruel irony, though a predator, his job puts him close to the kids -- and in the way things return neatly to the everyday and to Félix thereafter. And it's all rounded by bobbing figures, early and late, accompanied by Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" -- a visual and musical rhythm that's genius and that I won't forget. Nor will I forget Félix and his siblings struggling from room to room in the house trying to stop their parents (Laurent Lucas, Pascale Bussières) from having a terrible row; or a pretty, abstract, nightmare carnival; nor a forest treasure hunt. Lesage melds some memorable narrative turns with a distinctive style, look, sound, and pace.

    Lesage's slow buildup of dread suggests Michael Haneke. Jonathan Holland in Hollywood Reporter points out the Canadian creates "a sense of uneasy disturbance much as Michael Haneke does, simply by watching implacably and waiting for carefully chosen details to flicker out and betray the truth." He suggests "this might indeed be a companion piece to Haneke’s study of the seeds of fascist evil, The White Ribbon" (though Lesage is working in a brighter, more pastel palette; indeed Guy Lodge says Lesage's balance of "good-humored humanism with a formal sangfroid" is "suggestive of a summer-brightened Haneke"). Well, if serious comparisons with Haneke are in order, we may have a formidable new talent on our hands.

    The Demons/Les Démons, 118 mins., debuted at San Sebastian Sept. 2015. Theatrical release in Canada in Oct. 2015; coming in France 14 Sept. 2016. Five other festivals, including San Francisco (28 Apr. 2016), where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-22-2016 at 01:15 AM.

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    THE WHITE KNIGHTS /LES CHEVALIERS BLANCS (Joachim Lafosse 2015)

    JOACHIM LAFOSSE: THE WHITE KNIGHTS/LES CHEVALIERS BLANCS (2015)


    VINCENT LINDON (CENTER) IN THE WHITE KNIGHTS


    The muddled case of a dubious do-gooder

    Belgian director Joachim Lafosse has a penchant for unhealthy relationships that victimize children -- a woman more into having affairs than managing her family in Private Property (2006), adults giving dubious sexual instruction to a minor in Private Lessons (2008), a wealthy benefactor destructively invading a young family's private lives in Our Children (NYFF 2012). This time, in a more ambitious production, he takes on a more wholesale takeover of children's lives: a charitable NGO that would seize Chadian civil war orphans and provide them for adoption by French people. The agent is the head of an organization called Sud Secours, one Jacques Arnault, played by Vincent Lindon. This is based on the 2007 Zoe’s Ark case. Télérama calls Lindon "perfect in his first ambiguous, equivocal role." The great Lindon is the best reason to watch anything he's in, anyway, even if his ambiguity this time robs us of our usual pleasure of identifying with him. Indeed the ambiguity, or sheer muddle, of the action sometimes makes it too undramatic. This story of a creeping meltdown that starts going bad from day one tends to be a little too obvious from the start and too slow at the end.

    Actor-director Valérie Donzelli plays Françoise Dubois, a journalist who accompanies the party to chronicle it. The crew is augmented by a convincing cast representing the locals, plus, besides Donzelli, Louise Bourgoin as Arnault's girl Friday Laura and a typically strong Rida Kateb as his Arab-French travel man Xavier, with whom he's constantly at odds. Hostility among team members is as big as any of the other problems Arnault faces, and he does a lot of shouting himself.

    There are two main aspects to the general débâcle that the film depicts. First, the group meets from the start with a host of practical complications. A plane engine won't start, and there is no spare part. Village chiefs visited by plane across a wide desert don't come up with children when expected and time and money to keep coming back are going to run out. Then there is the matter of morale. The French crew members are far from home and become tired and out of sorts. Or they develop moral compunctions. Perhaps the moral compunctions are sometimes an outgrowth of the fatigue. The boss and his French crew don't seem to know much about the culture, and they don't know any language but French, not even a word, it seems.

    Second, there is the problem of finding suitable children. It's impossible to verify their identities, to know their exact ages or even if they are orphans as they're said to be. Much seems to hinge on the latter question, probably so Arnault can please the adopting couples back in France, and typically in such cases they must be five years old or under. The child's parent may be nearby, simply wishing for it to get care and schooling she can't provide. Since children are adopted all the time who have living parents, it's not clear why this is such a key issue, if the parent signs off on the adoption. Long and tedious are the squabbles and worries about this. As complications multiply, a whole group of team members break away and leave. They have begun to find the aims and practices of the project too dubious.

    "Exfiltrate" is used for orphans only in connection with this film. It means evidently getting them out of the country without being detected by authorities, because the whole process is illegal. How much is it okay to bend the rules where there aren't many rules anyway and when you're working in a good cause? But how much of a good cause is what's going on here? How much is this saving kids and how much is it buying and selling them? Arnault is constantly insisting he is not paying for kids, while doling out money on the way to getting hold of them. His motives are always good but his means often aren't. (How much illegality and moral ambiguity are involved in all the First World's adoptions of Third World children?)

    It also develops that Arnault already has legal problems, which angers journalist Dubois, who came along in the belief she was covering an uplifting story. Her coverage may become less eulogy and more exposé. In her anger, she refuses to let Arnault use her footage on the children to verify their identities. Nobody seems to want to cooperate. It's a tense, un-fun group we watch. Tristes tropiques.

    Vincent Lindon is nearly always on screen and the true-blue quality he customarily projects makes us want to root for the project and cling to the hope that it will come off. But while Lafosse's film is rich in a sense of being there, in this big compound or flying across the desert in the middle of nowhere, much of the film is repetitious and, in a tense sort of way, surprisingly boring. Perhaps that is its discreet charm: it presents the tedium of real problems, not dramatically heightened ones. But the problem is that the depiction of boredom should not be boring.

    The screenplay is loosely based on Geoffroy d'Ursel and Francois-Xavier Pinte's Zoe’s Ark case book Sarkozy dans l’avion? Les Zozos de la Francafrique-- by too many cooks, it looks like, with Jacques Audiard scribe Thomas Bidegain listed along with Thomas Van Zuylen, Bulle Decarpentries, Zélia Abadie, and Jérôme Beaujour, as well as the director. The work of dp Jean-Francois Hensgens is rigorous in its austere neutrality. Though there are closeups and middle shots, the cinematography makes much of the unusually large quarters hired for the group to occupy, shooting the big rooms and courtyards from a distance and thus heightening not only the overblown, First World-funded enterprise but the distances between the participants. It's a project that's never quite going to come together. One is dragged (repeatedly) through events, without becoming enlightened.

    The White Knights/Les cavaliers blancs, 112 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2015; nine other festivals, including San Francisco (SFIFF) April 2016, where it was screened for this review. Released in France 20 Jan. 2016, with fair to mixed reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.1/24). Many praise Lindon's power and nuance, but some like me note how the film becomes boring and flat, bogged down by its own neutrality.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-06-2016 at 10:20 AM.

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    VERY BIG SHOT/FILM KTEER KBEER (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya 2015)

    MIR-JEAN BOU CHAAYA: VERY BIG SHOT/FILM KTEER KBEER (2015)


    WISSAM FARES AND ALEXANDRA KAHWAGI IN VERY BIG SHOT

    Drugs, pizza, movies and politics go together in Beirut

    Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya's debut feature takes its protagonist wittily from drug dealing and petty gangsterism in Beirut into politics by way of film production. The wordplay and touch of silliness in the title tip us off that this is a comedy, which might not be so obvious in some in-your-face violent early scenes wherein the older of three brothers, Ziad Haddad (co-writer Alain Saadeh), who is feisty, to put it mildly, does kill some people, five years apart. For the first violence, which explodes onto the screen without the bother of titles, brother Jad (Wissam Fares) takes the five-year fall.

    Respectability really is their aim. At least Ziad wants to sell their father's house to set Jad up in a small restaurant, while long-haired, soulful-faced Joe (Tarek Yaacoub), a dutiful striver who never wants to leave that house, runs the little family pizza delivery hut in a working class neighborhood of Beirut that's a cover for a drug dealership: the "cheese" packets in the "special" pizzas contain cocaine. But Ziad's "ex" druglord boss insists he take a last run to Syria and this goes awry, leaving Ziad with a very large stash of the amphetamine Captagon. Jad insists on being counted in on this boon. It could make them rich if they can just get it out of the country.

    A solution comes through one of their "special" pizza customers who is in arrears, the chubby, bespectacled Charbel (Fouad Yammine), who makes documentary films. When Ziad's at Charbel's to strong-arm him into paying up, he glimpses a documentary Charbel's making about a Lebanese filmmaking oldtimer who's telling a story about how some Italians smuggled drugs in film canisters, using an exemption from X-raying undeveloped film. But to get the permit from authorities, it's got to be a real movie, and Ziad commandeers Charbel to make it. Charbel chooses a long-cherished project, a feature about a Christian girl married to a Muslim guy.

    The movie now becomes a larky tale with elements of Argo and Bullets Over Broadway. Hilariously, first Joe, then Jad is called in to play the guy. What's really funny is how easily the petty gangster Ziyad morphs into ruthless movie producer, with Charbel spinelessly agreeing to any and all script changes because the money is good. Charbel seems like a fidgety bundle of nerves yelling at the talentless actors at first, but turns out to have the energy and knowledge to make a feature, after all -- more or less. Some dramatic mishaps and neighborhood fracases get the production in the news, and Ziyad begins to glimpse the fame and power movies can lead to. Early on Charbel has protested Lebanon's film industry has "many talents, but only few opportunities to explore" but Ziyad has scoffed that not "one actor here" can be "compared to Sylvester Stallone." But Ziyad is getting opportunities to appear on the nightly news and boast that there is a political plot against the making of "his" film.

    That might, of course, be true: a mixed Muslim-Christian marriage could be a hot topic for a Lebanese movie. But the trouble is actually coming from the drug bosses, who may not know what Ziad is up to with the movie-making, but suspect he's kept the amphetamines and are using extreme measures to get them back. How that all turns out we never learn, but the next time Ziad appears on TV he is a nice suit looking presidential: he's on the way to the top. The filmmakers are very good at turning the excitement and chaos of the film-within-a-film into hilarity with satirical overtones. I was reminded of some of the great Fifties Italian caper comedies. The tiny pizza shop and back alleys and macho arguments are very Beirut, though. Alain Saadeh is so intense and real as a petty gangster you may not see this as a comedy at all at first, but Ziad's passion convincingly, and amusingly, carries over into filmmaking, then fame and public respectability. I can imagine their loving this film at the big film festival in London, with its substantial Lebanese population. Very Big Shot may have some structural and tonal rough spots, but there's no doubt how well it could work for local audiences.

    Very Big Shot/فيلم كتير كبير (Film Kteer Kbeer), 107 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2015, then London Oct.; also Thessaloniki, Göteborg; theatrical releases in Gulf countries. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Apr. 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2016 at 10:37 AM.

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    LEAF BLOWER/SOPLANDORA DE HOJAS (Alejandro Iglesias Mendizabal 2015)

    ALEJANDRO IGLESIAS MENDIZABAL: LEAF BLOWER/SOPLANDORA DE HOJAS (2015)


    FABRIZIO SANTINI, PACO RUEDA, ALEJANDRO GUERERO IN LEAF BLOWER

    A movie about nothing, exploring the world of middle class Mexican youths

    In this Mexican film three young friends on the same soccer team acquire a special mission: find some keys lost in a pile of dead leaves by one of them, Lucas (curly-haired Fabrizio Santini), when he flops down on them in his loose gym shorts and they fall out without his knowing. It's a key ring with his girlfriend's car keys too. The basic premise is nothing more than that.

    The 90-minute runtime, passing through a few consecutive hours, has 9 chapters, each with a little drawing, each designating a little incident that occurred in that section. They are " I. "Grandecitos" ("Big Boys"), II. "Piedra, Papel, o Tijedra" ("Paper, rock, scissors"), III. "Calentamienta Global" ("Global Warming"), IV. "Señor Justicia" ("Captain Justice"), V. "Cara de Niño" "Potato Bug"), VI ."Playa Paraiso"("Paradise Beach"), VII. "Caballeros del Bosque" ("Knights of the Wood"), VIII. "René Higuita" (famous Colombian soccer goalie), and the climactic, naturally, IX. "Sopladora de Hojas" ("Leaf Blower"). There is never a leaf blower.

    About nothing special, this is one of those movies young Latin American directors have been good at lately, like Einbecke's Duck Season and Lake Tahoe, Sandoval's You Think You're the Prettiest. One might include Ruizpalacios' Güeros, though that's more stylish and historical, or even Cuarón's Y tu Mamá también, but that's got a sex triangle and a road trip. Leaf Blowers is very, very modest in its narrative aims, but that allows it to explore its young characters freely, luxuriating in their fantasies and wordplay, the silly, endless, flavorful dialogue that is still on with much spirit after the last shot as the credits roll.

    The action plays on each of the trio's prevailing "humors" - Lucas' subservience to his girlfriend Pasita (Little Raisin) on the telephone, Mili's constant eating, and Ruben's constant smoking. The nagging of Pasita is a theme. Mili and Ruben don't have girlfriends, but at least they''re not pussy-whipped. Even the cop who passes by to harass and fleece them (for burning a few leaves) picks up on it. The "what-if" fantasy moments are a bit overdone, perhaps.

    This is not so much a comedy as a character study and image of the slow passage of time. They even go to a funeral, that of a young friend, and their solemn faces at this event, which is not at all comic, are one of the best moments of the film. At day's end, when each boy goes home, he has an important little scene by himself. And through that, despite the feeling of stasis much of the way, there is a subtle but clear sense of each boy's changing and growing fast.

    Leave Blower gets very silly and trivial at time and it as uneventful as a Beckett play without the profundity. But it has a lot of charm and it is, among other things, a tribute to youthful friendship. That is clearly intact when the next day begins. These three actors are very good, they move around a lot, notably during a prologued period of fencing with broomsticks between Ruben and Lucas protected by Mili, and cowriter Luis Montalvo's camera is marvelously fluid in following them.

    Leaf Blower/Soplandora je hojas (Épica cotidiana en 9 capítolos), 90 mins., has had three festival showings, Morelia Oct. 2015, Torino Nov. 2015, and San Francisco (where it was screened for this review) Apr. 2016. It was reviewed at Morelia in Hollywood Reporter ("Breezy and enjoyable") by Boyd van Hoeij.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2016 at 08:15 PM.

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    UNDER THE SUN (Vitaly Mansky 2015)

    VITALY MANSKY: UNDER THE SUN (2015)

    preview



    Film made-to-order in North Korea intentionally gives itself away

    "An officially approved documentary about life inside North Korea finds some revealing cracks in the propaganda image of shiny happy people living in paradise." This topic makes one think of Mads Brügger's Red Chapel (ND/NF 2010). That was not an "officially approved documentary," but Mads Brügger got away with it, by pretending to be filming himself and his crew on an educational-theatrical tour of the country. Mads's film, which you can watch here, is way more fun, but this new film is, in a way, more of a coup, and grimly realistic. It begins with the opening titles that read: "The script of this film was assigned to us by the North Korean side. They also kindly provided us with an around-the-clock escort service, chose our filming locations, and looked over all the footage we shot to make sure we didn't make any mistakes in showing the life of a perfectly ordinary family in the best country in the world, with a daughter preparing to join the Children's Union -- her first step on the way to becoming a part of the system created by the great Kim Il-sung."

    Of course this project broke down midway, but Mansky got out with footage revealing the charade in the making by leaving his camera running while government façade-managers (who Mansky has said he realized were being directed from "the very highest level") were setting up shots or insisting they be redone to be more patriotic or cheerful.Mansky evaded censorship by using cameras with two memory cards, one of which he kept each day to himself.

    Under The Sun/В лучах солнца (V lutsah solntsa, actually "The Rays of the Sun"), 106 mins., debuted at Leipzig and Jihlava and has shown in many fests including Tallinn, Trieste and Amsterdam in 2015, and in 2016 Helsinki, Zagreb, Luxembourg, Prague, SXSF, Thessaloniki, Bucharest, Hong Kong, Kiev, Vilnius, São Pula & Rio, and Istanbul, and San Francisco, where it was screened for this preview. US theatrical release July 8, 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-08-2016 at 11:38 PM.

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    THIRST/JAJDA (Svetla Tsotsorkova 2015)

    SVETLA TSOTSORKOVA: THIRST/JAJDA (2015)


    ALEXANDER BENEV AND MONIKA NAYDENOVA IN THIRST

    Forces of nature

    This compelling little Bulgarian first feature takes place in an elevated rural part of the southwest, and it's so elemental people don't have names. They're just The Mother, the Father, the Son . It's a drought, but you could as much call it "Boredom" as "Thirst," but then an old codger (Vassil Mihajlov) acomes with his teenage daughter (Monika Naydenova) and they camp by the house while they dig a much needed well. This project runs the length of the action, one summer, while the boy and the girl do what boys and girls do. They argue and fight, and finally kiss. But that's not all, because this is a tale much in tune with forces of nature larger than young attractions.

    The rather stern, hardworking Mother (Svetlana Yancheva) a and the Son (Alexander Benev) wash hotel sheets for a living. The intelligent, bookish Father (Ivaylo Hristov) has had two heart attacks and though he's a great fixer-upper, doesn't at present work. There are other characters, such as the Driver who brings and collects the sheets and the Shopkeeper in town. Dialogue is minimal, but Tsotsorkova brings out personalities with considerable skill and the action has a natural flow. The Son is a longhaired redhead with handsome, regular features and a certain sweetness. We see him first as a runner with a pedometer. He runs thousands of steps to please his father and insure that he will have no heart attacks. The serenity of this relationship is gone with the Girl (Naydenova), who uses divining rods to find water, then helps her father, then occupies her spare time in provoking the Son. And it works. He is troubled and fascinated by her now. The Girl though smaller than the Son is not only provocative but dauntingly tough, Naydenova's feisty personality, the strongest in the cast, contrasting nicely with the placid, calm Benev's.

    Tsotsorkova may be a first timer, but she seems quite in control of this world and we sense that the forces at work will be subtle but powerful and inevitable and our job as viewers is to watch patiently as they reveal themselves. The Mother is annoyed with the diggers, their use of electricity, the drought, the mud. Various small but, in this context, important incidents fill up the seemingly quiet, uneventful time so that it seems eventful, and there is water, and then a big storm, and finally a surprise disaster that may change everything. As Jay Weissberg says in his Variety review, this finale may seem to some "a bit forced" but also provides "a necessary release from the hothouse atmosphere." Something has to pop the bubble. With these wonderfully well chosen cast members and dp Vesselin Hristov's handsome widescreen images, so well lit it almost seems black and white (with excellent use of flapping sheets, flashlights, animals, and hairpins), Thirst leaves a distinct (and pleasant) memory, and it's not surprising it's won festival prizes and nominations.

    Thirst/Jajda, 90 mins., debuted 22 Sept. 2015 at San Sebastián, showing also at at least ten other international festivals, with five awards and seven nominations, including (Apr. 2016) at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-08-2016 at 11:28 PM.

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    AS I OPEN MY EYES/À PEINE J'OUVRE LES YEUX (Leyla Bouzid 2015)

    LEYLA BOUZID: AS I OPEN MY EYES/À PEINE J'OUVRE LES YEUX (2015)


    MONTASSAR AYARI AND BAYA MEDHAFFER IN AS I OPEN MY EYES

    Arab Spring seen through young musicians

    A delicate and evanescent film that hints as the hope and despair that accompany any thoughts today of the Arab Spring, this focuses on a young girl who's a gifted singer with a Tunisian garage band. Some of their songs could be from a Fifties Egyptian musical. Others are audacious, poetic, and contemporary. It's funny by the way that the "original" title is in French, because dialogue is all in Tunisian Arabic dialect, with only the occasional French word or phrase, as is maghrebin custom. The two languages of the film are Arabic and French, no English. Farah (Baya Medhaffer) is constantly nagged by her mother Hayet -- played by singer Ghalia Benali and arguably more beautiful than Medhaffer, who's partly disapproving of her free ways and partly just worried and afraid. (It's part of the story that Hayet was once a free spirit herself - so knows the dangers, and is now more conservative.) A complication is that Farah's father (Lassaad Jamoussi) lives in the center-west city of Gafsa and can't get a transfer to Tunis and be near them because he won't swear loyalty to the ruling party.

    The danger is the dictatorship of President Ben Ali. Farah and her band are in themselves a provocation, and some of the songs she sings allude to repression. There is every kind of surveillance going on; they're in the public and so under scrutiny. Farah is young, defiant, unaware of the consequences. By the film's end she will be sadder and wiser. She has just graduated from high school with honors, and her family wants her to study medicine, but she prefers the idea of musicology (which, to the old-fashioned, isn't even a word). We Americans may have no idea of this world, but the heartrending aspect is that Farah is blissfully ignorant of the dangers herself. Her headstrong defiance is beautiful but dangerous.

    Essential to the coolness of the film is Farah's lute player and semi-boyfriend Borhene (Montassar Ayari), who plays the traditional lute but makes it sound thoroughly modern (as do many young musicians throughout the Middle East). Borhene, with his long, pulled-back hair in a top knot and his lean frame has a swoony quality that's of the moment - though after Farah behaves freely at a party Borhene reveals himself to have an old-fashioned macho, conservative side still. Farah's and Borhene's ups and downs and squabbles seem trivial but contribute to the youthfulness of the film. On their level the group is both politically bold and the essence of hip, blending the traditional and thoroughly modern in a way that's a little like the great Eighties Moroccan group Naas al-Ghraywan (if not quite on that level of musical intensity). The group is about to make a breakthrough and when they preview a new song it's already a big hit. It's called "My Country" and has the line, "My country, land of dust/Your gates are closed and bring misfortune." People know what it means. One of their friends is videoing them all the time. Probably it could go on YouTube.

    Hayet is visited by Moncef (Youness Ferhi), an Interior Ministry employee who warns that Farah is drinking and staying out late among men. Hayet repeatedly freaks out and Farah repeatedly breaks away in service of her music. We have to realize through the subtle nuances of the scenes that this isn't about a generation gap but about the dangers of a repressive regime whose population is on the verge of revolt. Some parts of the film seem schematic, and the latter part is more blunt and more subtle. But the lowering of the boom is the film's most intense experience it offers, one that puts everything else into relief. As I Open My Eyes seems evanescent, even flimsy. But the feeling it leaves you with is intense and particular - an unusually vivid and personal sense of what it's like to be young, gifted, and not black, but living under a dictatorship. The good news is that Tunisia is one of the Arab Spring countries where the revolution has relatively held firm, though there are conflicts between secular and Islamist elements, and there have been several severe terrorist attacks that have induced fear and frightened off a lot of the usual tourists. Galia Benali gives the stongest performance, but Baya Medhaffer holds her own. The songs by Iraqi composer Kham Allami are fascinating, and Medhaffer and the musicians are fine.

    As I Open My Eyes/À peine j'ouvre les yeux, 102 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2015; won the Europa Cinemas Label prize as best European film in Venice Days section Also Toronto, 15 other festivals, including Tribeca (US debut). Released in France 22 Dec. 2015 it was very well received (AlloCiné 3.8--but only ten reviews). Acquired by Kino Lorber for US release. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival May 2016.


    BAYA MEDHAFFER (RIGHT) IN AS I OPEN MY EYES
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2016 at 12:03 AM.

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    HIGH-RISE (Ben Wheatley 2015)

    BEN WHEATLEY: HIGH-RISE (2015)



    Choreographing chaos

    We are living in a world that's growing less democratic, so the long-delayed filming of J.G. Ballard's Seventies novel with its class-conflict theme is not inappropriate. Whether Ballard's typically chilly and high-concept treatment is totally relevant to any time or place is uncertain; anyway, Wheatley and his usual collaborator Amy Jump have transformed it in their own way, although it might have been nice if they'd let more of their old wince-inducing brutality seep in to add edge. It's set in a cluster of tall new buildings where the rich live at the top and income declines as one goes down and it's turning to chaos, not a revolution so much as madness induced by the strange disorder of the building itself.

    Wheatley really changes with every film, but may necessarily seem less himself in an adaptation from a famous writer that's glitzier than ever before, much more elaborate, and with name actors. For me it takes some getting used to because while it is a more expensive production with rich and beautiful mise-en-scène, it lacks the bite of Wheatley's more raw previous fims, which had more in common with David Michôd's Animal Kingdom, whereas this reminded me of Gilliam's Brazil. What unfolds is an elaborate spectacle containing many dry ironies.

    The film opens on a scene of apocalyptic squalor, with the hero in a space that looks like a party disrupted by a mass of hooligans, roasting the haunch of a dog on his balcony. We flip back to three months earlier when everything is relatively pristine. At the center there's Tom Hiddleston. He is a suave, immaculate mannikin as Laing, a rich single neurolotist, a new arrival at the high-rise first seen very fit in the buff; Jeremy Irons always in white as Royal, the indifferent, off-hand and lordly architect and boss of it all who resides in the penthouse, Sienna Miller and Eizabeth Moss assured in important feminine roles, both drawn to Laing.

    Right above Laing's 25th-floor flat is Charlotte (Miller), a randy boho single mother (when she sees naked Laing she calls him "an excellent specimen") with a brilliant young son, Toby (Louis Suc). Several floors below is angry, ambitious, heavily sideburned documentary filmmaker Wilder (Luke Evans) with his heavily pregnant wife (Elizabeth Moss of "Mad Men," looking beautiful and flashing an English accent). As the social order in he building degenerates, seemingly touched off by malfunctions of everything, Wilder becomes a crazed revolutionary leader, half-man, half-beast; eventually the whole scene will be of bestial violence,.

    A revolutionary order is established with the imperious detachment of Royal whose wife (Keeley Hewes) rides a white horse on the elaborate roooftop garden garbed as a shepherdess, à la Marie Antoinette.

    When things start getting crazy about halfway its two hours, the film is up to it. But are we? That is the question. The film delivers the novel's growing chaos so elaborately that it's cloying and pretty confusing to watch. Ballard's usual cold, lucid spareness has been lost in the interest of a grand and glorious squalor that is intermittently enjoyable but confusing. Wheatley & Co. have moved to a higher level, for sure. Their earlier features, Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England, only the last, a strange period film, shifting gear, were lean, mean, highly focused depictions of English mayhem and nastiness. One misses that in High-Rise. Chaos is hard to choreograph. But there's a world of talent here. The film is beautifully shot by Wheatley regular Laurie Rose, bringing to life Mark Tildesley's handsome and original production design. Clint Mansell's score is effective at giving a sense of he places and things coming to menacing life. And everyone is good, the constant wrangliny of crowds working as in the aforementioned Brazil.

    Reviews have been very mixed. Will Self, who was a friend of Ballard, has a very favorable piece about the film in The New Statesman. The Guardian has three pieces: Henry Barnes is not unkind, but rates it only 2/5 star, while both Peter Bradshaw and Mark Kermode are admiring and both give it 4/5 and made it their film of the week. Upon its 6 April Paris release French critics haven't been so favorable (AlloCiné press rating only 2.7 based on 21 reviews); Metacritic has come up with a fair but not brilliant 62. They cite Stephen Dalton's rather nice compromise from Hollywood Reporter that sums things up pretty well for me too: "an ambitious, brilliant failure." Which means it must be seen even if in part it may frustrate; and it may be much savored later in bits.

    High-Rise, 119 mins.,"shunned" by Cannes (Dalton), debuted at Toronto, with other fests, including at the end of the cycle San Francisco and Tribeca 20 Apr. and San Francisco (30 Apr., Castro). Distributed by Magnolia, US Internet release 28 April 2016., theaters 13 May.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-12-2016 at 05:21 AM.

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    CAST A DARK SHADOW (Lewis Gilbert 1955)

    LEWIS GILBERT: CAST A DARK SHADOW (1955)


    DIRK BOGARDE AND MONA WASHBORNE IN CAST A DARK SHADOW

    Campy Dirk Bogarde crime melodrama gets digital treatment

    In the Fifties even routine British films were delightful entertainment, and Lewis Gilbert's Cast a Dark Shadow, shown by the San Francisco film festival in a restored print, is an example. Dirk Bogarde plays Edward Bare, a despicable criminal who's also stupid, since he murders his rich older wife to stop her from making a new will that turns out would have been in his favor. Now he's left unable to get his hands on her money. The wife (Mona Washbourne) was no genius either, since she married him. Her faithful houseservent Emmie (Kathleen Harrison) is a very simple soul. Luckily there is someone smart on hand: the lawyer Philip, played by the deliciously dour Robert Flemyng, who played Edward Chamberlayne in the original 1949 West End production of T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party. Watch out, Teddy Bare!

    Bogarde's repressed homosexuality (and possible mommy issues) feeds into the plot at once. His wife's nickname is "Monie," which rhymes with mommy, and we suspect the way he coddles her masks hatred. After she's dead we see him in a tearoom browsing through a male muscle magazine while about to pounce on Margaret Lockwood (of The Lady Vanishes), a new female victim, or perhaps a collaborator, since she turns out to be a worldly wise and tough-talking widow. With her Edward Bare may have met his match, though he manages to marry her, he thinks, for her money. Even more so when a classier lady comes along looking for a property in town (Kay Walsh).

    This campy noir, sort of Patricia Highsmith meets Douglas Sirk, ends in a hasty melodramatic finale with swirling orchestral accompaniment. This is no underrated masterpiece, just a workmanlike job. One trouble is that unlike the best British crime tales of the period it lacks either a sense of humor or interesting development of minor characters. Screenplay by John Creswell from the play Murder Mistaken by Janet Green. We know Dirk Bogarde as a suave, sometimes villainous or neurotic, character; this is far from one of his great roles, but the creepiness certainly is all there. Despite the somewhat makeshift plot, he's in full smarmy form, making his doomed villain come to life. But we could have done without the hysteria. A bagatelle, this might have been cut down to an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

    Cast a Dark Shadow, 82 mins. debuted 20 Sept. 1955 in London and hit the screen Nov. 1957 in New York. Its sparkling Cohen Film Collection 2K DCP digitally restored version will be presented 23 Apr.2016 at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

    TRAILER (BFI).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2016 at 10:34 PM.

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    FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE (Maris Curran 2015)

    MARIS CURRAN: FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE (2015)


    DAVID OYELOWO, DIANE WIEST IN FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE

    A young African American man, reeling from the tragic loss of his wife, travels to rural Maine to seek answers from his estranged mother-in-law, who is herself confronting guilt and grief over her daughter's death.

    This decidedly lackluster effort is mainly a chance for the two principles, David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest to act up a storm. Oyelowo, whose enormous talents have been seen in many films over the past five years, plays Sherwin, the bereaved and insomniac husband who drives up from New York after his wife's death in a car accident. Dianne Wiest plays Lucinda, the cranky mother of his wife, dying of cancer, whom he visits, to act up a storm. Not so much of a storm, really, because the writer-director Curran provides them with such thin material. One could use the familiar metaphor "like watching paint dry" if the paint periodically cracked or blistered up. Because there are events, however unsatisfying. The widower, a black man, goes jogging in the Main woods nearby. Apparently being shot at, or so he assesses the gunshots later, he rushes into bramble and emerges in pain and limping. Later he breaks into stifled tears at the dinner table. Lucinda, who according to nurse Ann (bad name for Rosie Perez) "is in a lot of painn" but "tough," collapses at one point and has to be rescued from the floor. Getting out of a car, she gives evidence of being in physical agony. Finally she cries out that she should have been the one to go, a remark as much practical as selfless, given her present state.

    The dying mother prompts comparison, decidedly unfavorable, with Josh Mond's [IJames White[/I] 2015, in which Cynthia Nixon gives such a remarkably lifelike performance as a dying mother. But this is unfair because the films are opposites. http://="http://www.chrisknipp.com/w...ames White</i> unreels over five months not five nights and James White is the son, present to be with his mother while she dyes. Mond provides a surfeit of solid, meaty material; Curran seems determined to deliver a skimpy meal, as if the dry restraint of traditional New England were to be a model for how dealing with death may have to be. And of course sometimes is.

    However this film seems confused about tone and style as it is about pacing and structure, because the shaky handheld closeups are as expressionistic and overwrought as the dialogue is constipated. And though they have little to say to each other Sherwin and Lucinda nonetheless chew up the scenery.

    The setup is efficient, if typically skimpy. No scenes for the death of Fiona (Hani Furstenberg of The Loneliest Planet and Yossi and Jagger, wasted here); just an enigmatic police phone call, followed up (Hamlet would be impressed) by almost immediate delivery of the ashes in a large cardboard box containing a handsome small white urn. Thought Sherwin is shown doing lot of drinking and smoking, he's in his car approaching Lucinda's house within fifteen minutes of the movie's start. But what's the rush? So little happens.

    Fiona and Lucinda were "estranged," Fiona was up for a visit shortly before her death. What does this mean? We don't learn. Sherwin, a masochist at heart, comes to find out why his wife disliked her mother so much. He seems satisfied on that score. But for the audience there is no explanation, no exposition.

    I felt kind of sad for the hundreds of Kinkstarter patrons listed at the end who contributed so "generously."

    Five Nights in Maine, 82 mins., debuted at Toronto (Discovery section) Sept. 2015 (reviewed there by Andrew Barker for Variety - "tasteful yet inscrutable," he called it); ten other festivals currently listed through Apr. 2016, including San Francisco (SFIFF), where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2016 at 08:13 PM.

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