a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Monday, April 18, 2005

PFF: Days 8 - 12

Managed to fall off in the last couple days, partially because of work, partially because I made the decision that, as I was on "vacation," I should do a bit of lazy stuff with friends. Besides, my grand total, including stuff I reviewed, is somewhere around 50 -- more than par for coure for any fest attendee. Of course, there went my chances of testing out more films, most of which won't ever see the light of day. (I hit all the heavy-hitters, though.) My Insatiable Cineaste card is in the mail.

This, I believe, unless I snap during tomorrow night's "Festival Favorites," is it, and sad it is. The days compressed, without all that silly "ambiance" and "themes" nonsense:

Day 8

Palindromes (Todd Solondz, USA)
Shame Solondz isn’t above escaping that tidy metaphor either. More of the same from the most bitter misanthrope out there, whose prickly worldview is unleavened by genuine wit -- only an insatiable need to poke and prod. As usual, Solondz has little insight into human nature and next to no empathy past a thick layer of pathos that slips too uneasily into condescension. That’s Ed, his equal-opportunity-offender style does occasionally hit: once mutating-girlie hits the road with Stephen Adly-Guirgus’ hesitant pedophile, the film finds a screwball-in-hell scenario that peaks now and then. That Solondz -- who is decidedly no philosopher -- is now stuck playing to the rafters (“Freedom Toast!”) is more sad than anything in this ostensibly sad film. Grade: C

Day 9

Clean (Olivier Assayas, France/UK/Canada)
Was tempted afterwards to text my fest volunteer friend a hyperbolic missive along the lines of “Olivier Assayas ees Cinema.” (That’s in Louis Garrell dialect.) The embarrassing thing is, it’s true. It’s not that he subverts the clichés of the inarguable Lifetime plot; the clichés are, by and large, there. It’s that he breathes life into them, just as he breathes life into every single frame.

Thanks to Ryan for providing the link to Kent Jones’ article on Assayas (specifically this here film), far and away the most full-bodied defense of this acquried taste that’s yet come down the pike. (And I too hate Maggie Cheung’s frizzled hair.) What’s so exciting about Assayas is the way he captures life on the fly, particularly the way he stands outside his characters and gets us trying to pin-point what’s on their mind. The Brian Eno scenes are far and away the highlights of the film: Cheung barrelling down the stairs to get a joint and then smoke it outside, with “Spider and I” abruptly creeping onto the soundtrack; both of the son-centric scenes featuring “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy”; Cheung anxiously waiting for Tricky, her nervousness made still more crazed by “Third Uncle”; etc.

But what really sold the deal for me was the finale, so far categorically misinterpreted as a mushy epilogue. (Spoiler alert, natch.) When Cheung starts her crying jag, it could be about any number of things. She’s getting her kid back, so it could be happy tears that she’s on the road to recovery. My pick, though, goes back to a scene in the beginning of the film, where her soon-to-be-boyfriend is whining on and on about how difficult it is to maintain artistic talent over the long haul. No doubt Cheung feels this way (and honestly, her songs rather stink up the place, David Roback production or not) -- she has to be told by two people that the song is good, and she still doesn’t look convinced. As she heads outside, to view that San Francisco landscape (neatly, perhaps too neatly, contrasting with the Canadian industrial landscape with which the film began), her body movement suggests she’s temporarily brightening up. Assayas’ movies are all about these kinds of moments: the way emotions are impulsive, set off by surroundings, stations in life, and whatever the hell else. Call it an “Assayas TV movie” if you want to, and mean well by that if you can. But classifications only serve to distract from what Assayas's films, at their best, do for an audience.

Couldn’t fit this in: Nick Nolte is, no joke, career high here. Grade: B+

Day 10

Woman is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
I’ve only seen two Hongs to date (including, um, this one), but there’s already a case of diminishing returns setting in. The Rohmer for shallow Korean men, Hong’s capabilities with the medium are still in full effect: his long static takes are like no one else’s -- deceptively plain, replacing the majesty of a Tarkovsky or Ceyland with idle chatter that every now and then rewards mightily. Not much to say after a first watch: it’s a mite too minor for me, the only thing worth getting excited about is Hong’s usual bag of tricks, as well as a future of more of his slices to dig into. Doesn’t Turning Gate just rule? Grade: B

Lipstick & Dynamite (Ruth Leitman, USA)
Merely solid work, if a bit too much of an auto-doc for my tastes: all Leitman had to do was find a bonkers topic, earn the subjects’ friendship, and find some solid clips, all of which she does. (Actually, there’s an unhealthy shortage of the last one, but those in front of the lens are comfy and ribald enough to partially make up for that one.) Leitman hits it enough that there’s a passable post-feminist vibe to it, but you can’t help feeling that Leitman let some insights fall by the wayside; she prefers to make friends instead of comb the depths. Grade: B

Genesis (Mari Nuridsany & Marie Pérennou, France/Italy)
Let’s try to keep these astonishingly beautiful nature docs a little simple, shall we? Needless to say, 80 minutes is far too short to scrape the surface of evolution, which it treats with the kind of mysticism that gradually grates on my nerves. Thing is, it’s really just so gorgeous, maybe the most exquisitely shot film that’s not a Wong Kar-Wai. You can get lost in those long takes without really caring if it adds up to much. Almost. Fun story of the day: an hour in, the next reel comes up upside down and backwards, a phenom I haven’ t encountered since the infamous advance screening of Hollow Man at the Riverview circa 2000. At least the projectionist turned it off right away this time. Grade: B-

Evilenko (David Grieco, Italy/Russia)
“The stuff about Communism may fly over your head,” Grieco announced at the screening before, 45 minutes later, a pyschiatrist-cum-junior-profiler erupted into a pat dissection of Communism’s erosion throughout the ‘80s. If only it were a case of the obviously translated dialogue (“You will get him, my love,” sez the poorly ADR-d wife to husband Marton Czokas, aka The Other Russell Crowe), or yet another is-it-inspired-or-the-pits turn from Malcolm McDowell as a party member who, just like that, decides to kill and eat children for years and years. But it’s also a perfect specimen of why it’s a bad idea to interpret anything strictly from a socio-economic position. Grieco’s too clumsy a writer/director to make it sing, or make it the least bit recognizeably human, though McDowells enough of a ham to sink in and bite. “The ‘eating the lion’ line -- I had no idea what he was talking about,” McDowell said during the Q&A...but it turns out Czokas kind of sort of liked it so back in it was, ready to furrow the brows of packed festival theaters the globe wide. Embarrassing. Grade: C

Day 11

There was no Day 11.

Day 12

Lonesome Jim (Steve Buscemi, USA)
Hmm. Didn’t know you could make indies like this anymore. While Shane Carruth proves the financially feeble can use celluloid and budding auteurs continually discover new ways to make this DV technology its own thing, Buscemi hasn’t gotten memo 1: it’s all video-for-film shot, sad sack guys moping about Hemingway, and takes that barely cut together. Largely amiable -- and “sweet!” -- it’s essentially Garden State rewritten so it makes sense, though Liv Tyler’s presence pushes it into nauseous Jersey Girl territory. Buscemi nails the Midwestern pace and mindset without ever condescending to it -- no small feat -- though only the occasional appearances from Mark Boone Junior and Kevin Corrigan breathe any unique life into the strangely audience friendly proceedings. Please, indie makers, stop throwing around Cassavetes’ name. Grade: C+

End of the fest -- awards, closing night party, et al. -- still on the way. The PFF ain't over yet, motherfuckers.


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