Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Ca va bien!
Day 3, part 2 - International Competition Day 3
As I mentioned last night, IC3 was great, best of the week so far, and that includes the two I saw today. Yes, as of this moment, I'm now 16 shorts behind! Have no idea how I'm going to catch up with more to come, but I really want to do the shorts from IC3 justice. I'll do them here, and worry about IC2 and IC7 (today's programs) later. Incidentally, the "day" and "part" parts of theses posts refers to the days and parts when I saw them, not when I write about them. Got that?
IC3 was the first evening session and it made a big difference in the audience turnout. Instead of just me and some other solitary types scattered in the enormous Vendome theater in Ixelles, all the cool young people from the city were in attendance. Maybe Philadelphia had film festivals when I was that age, but I was not nearly cool enough to go to them (Sean is probably laughing; he probably moderated a Lynch/Soderberg/Maddin/Hartly round-table discussion in a friend's living room when he was 17). There was even a buzz in the crowd, which I have to admit, may have helped this crop of films. I still think they were all excellent, but I can't deny the importance of context.
I'll start with the 40% of the evening that did not involve kids or the loss of kids (I'm thinking the wrap-up will be about all the sad sad childhoods for these directors - I should have saved yesterday's title). Benjamin De Lajarte's Son Nom (France) got the night off to a great start with a tale of two lives falling apart. Businessman Sydney (John MacClean, not only looking and sounding like Bill Murray, but playing a similar character to Bob from Lost in Translation) finds himself alone in his hotel room, smoking cigarette after cigarette and listening to the couple next door argue. After one particularly brutal fight, Sydney inquires next door but after a halting greeting (Comment...ca...va?) realizes that the woman speaks only Chinese. In order to talk, Sydney employs the very cool (but expensive) translation telephone service Tradutel, and with the help of his paid bilingual (and bone-dry funny) assistant Benoit, tries to learn more about the woman's situation. This is simply a great set-up for a short, as it leads to humorous and poignant mistranslations as the two try to connect, eventually standing in the same room and staring into each others eyes but still talking over the telephone. De Lajarte ends up where you think he will (we can't understand other people) but it's an enjoyable trip nonetheless.
Not, however, as crazy a trip as ReOrder (which sadly, I can't find a good link to even though it played at the Toronto Film Festival) by the Candian director Sean Garrity. Garrity said literally a few words before the screening, but his shyness belies a great imagination. In what may have been the lowest budgeted film I've seen so far (at any rate, it seemed to have the fewest number of "cultural" sponsors), Garrity takes an Anderson-like obsession for small details and works them in to a plot about a man (Kyle played great by Brian Roach) trying (and failing) to forgive his fiancé for disclosing an affair during their relationship. Kyle's way of "dealing" with the situation is to at first calmly rearrange his shoes and CD collection. The fiancé (Jen Pudavick) initially is worried but begins to play along with Kyle's obsessions, including his decisions to paint every item of the house purple and rearrange it in a spiral on the snow-covered back lawn. When it finally seems that Kyle has everything to his liking, and the marriage can be saved, Kyle goes on an freak-out and trashes the place. I was a little disappointed in the final berserker scene actually, in which Kyle tears down only a small percentage of the immaculately contrived room. I would have liked to see a scarier and more thorough trashing, but maybe Garrity has a little Kyle in him and could bear to destroy what took him so long to create.
Blandine Lenoir (France) can probably relate. In Pour de Vrai, Lenoir has pulled off a single-shot masterpiece that must have taken months of planning. Reminiscent of Alexander Sukurov's Russian Ark (though a suburban house stands in for the Hermitage), we follow a woman (Nanou Garcia, pictured above) wandering around speaking broken phrases about a lost child ("I would want to be pregnant, but only so I could have you again"). Sometimes the words are in the form of a monologue but other times Garcia speaks directly. All the while, we hear a (very good!) garage band playing in the background, and odd things like giant yellow ducks and girls in fairy costumes float by in the background. Garcia seems at first to a bit troubled, and you are sure something is up when she finally runs into the band and demands they play their two-hour song "Death" again. But all this confusion does get resolved in a way so that you don't feel cheated by a director just being, in Moe's immortal words on post-modernism, "weird for the sake of being weird." It's just a beautiful 22 minute piece of art; the most accomplished directorial effort of the festival so far.
While Garcia may or may not have lost a child, the family in Milan (Germany/Serbia), Michalea Kezele's saddening tale of a Serbian family during the NATO bombing campaign to oust Slobodan Milosevic, certainly do. The fun-loving and rebellious Ognjen wears a bullseye shirt to show his contempt for the Yankee aggression, but is ultimately killed by a combination of an inept bus driver and an allied-caused power failure in his hospital. It's hard to pull of this kind of Loachean thing in under a half hour (especially when you have a side plot about an American soldier being hunted by local yocals, one of whom is actually carrying a pitchfork!!!) but Kezele is able to weave together the macro and micro issues of world and family politics pretty effectively. That is, however, until the end when the director herself sings a dreadfully bad song that sounds exactly what you think it might sound like if a bad Enya impersonator led a Serbian Pink Floyd cover band. Geez, hasn't she seen what happens when you try to do everything.?
And, last but not least...happy kids!!! Well, sort of. The kids in Liz Lobato's La Quela (Spain) are happy for at least the short time when they have their paper-maché dolls, but are still miserable before getting them and after losing them. There really is no plot aside from the tragic end of the dolls, but the direction, timing, and music are fantastic. Set somewhere-in-Spain-that-I-would-like-to-see-where-everyone-lives-underground, Lobato captures the harsh desert sun with a black and white film stock that is almost blinding at times. Even better, when the family goes underground, she captures shadows like Welles in several shots that look like 40s and 50s era classics. This technique isn't really suited to the material, but I could see Lobato making some haunting films. I couldn't find a good picture, but the "Day 3" link at the top has a good one.
So that was it: the first session where every film rated either a 4 or 5 on the Prix du Public ballot. Today's two sessions were a bit of a letdown, but still good. And I got interviewed for some television commercial/show. I almost agreed to do it in a French, but I quickly caught myself from that Sydney-level disaster. Comment...ca....va?