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

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Philadelphia Film Festival: All growns up?

I have no wish of repeating what I always say about the PFF, which is this: it's all I got. That is by no means a knock. The Philly Fest has, in the eight or so years I've been in whatever capacity going to it, has grown leaps and bounds, starting as a spunky little civic pride fest, lunging for the scraps from other fests, to what it is today, namely a second- or third-tier deluge of Actual Cinema. (Coming a month before Cannes, i.e., the beginning of the film festival calendar, doesn't bode well for a promotion.) I still remember the jump in quality from 2003, when it started to really gain some girth, to 2004, when suddenly the catelogue was festooned with exclamation point-worthy names: Breilliat! Greenaway! de Oliveira! von Trier and Leth! Monteiro! Demme! McElwee! Maddin!, etc. "This must be what it's like to hang out in Rotterdam in January," I probably mused at the time.

Jump two years forward and I'm a hair less enthused. No, no, no (*laughs, bitterly*), it's not that the PFF -- which its nearly fortnightly run at the end of the month -- has kept this level of quality so high that we're now bored of the stuff, pining for mediocrity. (Something tells me you weren't thinking that.) It's that, while the number of drool-worthy auteur product hasn't fallen terribly, almost at all, low, it's gotten a little less...brave. Now, I know that the esoteric stuff doesn't exactly translate into either high ticket sales and especially not high audience ratings; the bottom rungs of the audience ballots list, made public at the end of every fest, is lousy with titles like Come and Go and A Talking Picture. However, did anyone in charge expect otherwise? These are specialty items and, really, film festivals are all they have -- and, consequently, what we who still adore projected celluloid can't get many other places. (I'm as tickled as anyone over the DVD revolution -- just picked up '80s Seijun Suzuki from TLA, tee hee -- but, as per Jake Gyllenhaal, it just doesn't compare.) Maybe in an audience of 100 slogging through the latest Hong Sang-soo, 95 may choose to rhapsody on the state of their ass than the temporal shifts, but the 5 who don't will likely forever cherish the experience above most.

I could be wrong. Though I've yet to fully imbibe the brochure (which one can do on their site), the more-than-passing glance I've given it shows it's noticably lacking in the esoterica. I'm not sure if there just weren't that many Level IV, three-hour long-take-a-thons on the circuit this year -- I seem to recall Cannes '05 being a bit light on the Level IV director fare -- but the round-up does seem subtly yet only slightly more middlebrow than usual. What is very unsubtle is how even more powerhouse certain screenings are. There are a number of Sundance debuts making their second appearance, among them the long-awaited Nicole Holofcener/Jen Aniston joint Friends With Money, the md'a-approved Ryan Gosling Is Michelle Pfeiffer Sans Coolio outing Half Nelson, Hard Candy and an on-the-cusp-of-release showing of the...interestingly titled Lucky Number Slevin. (Pointless yet requisite bitch: no Science of Sleep? Old Joy? Bobcat Goldthwait's Stay?) Kudos are in order. I hope y'all make bucketloads of money off of these higher-profile-than-usual screenings. Maybe you can use that cash next year to bring back the alienating fare? For instance, if Béla Tarr's The Man From London hasn't secured a domestic release date -- and is, heh, actually completed -- could you kindly nab it?

Anyway. There's still plenty to not carp over, most notably the Danger After Dark section, which takes a more U.K. bent this year. (The Descent, Evil Aliens, Isolation, and Wild Country all bear the markings of heavily-accented...er, non-American English, as does the Aussie porcine woman gut-churner Feed.) As ever, Travis Crawford, the PFF's Associate Program Director and DAD brainchild, is the man, keeping the cinephiles always sated. (Who brought PFF '05 Kings and Queen?) The sole Crawford-related downside? Not one Takashi Miike. What is the world coming to when Mr. Seven-Movies-a-Year-In-an-Off-Year couldn't crank out more than a Krull-esque kiddie movie, but Suicide Club's Sion Sono can get twice represented? Can the film festival circuit make it more than a year without him?

Again, I need to do still more brochure probing, but here's what's what, as far as I can tell. The titles in the first category are bound to leave you wondering what it is I'm getting so peeved about. And yet I won't relent.

Stoked (or as much as one can be given however much of a thrashing they've respectively received) A Bittersweet Life (Kim Ji-Woon, of Tale of Two Sisters and Foul King fame); Brothers of the Head; Death of Mister Lazarescu; L'enfer; Heading South; It's Only Talk; [Sympathy for] Lady Vengeance; The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; The Proposition; The Sun (pictured, above); Wassup Rockers; This Film is Not Yet Rated; and Wordplay.
Finally The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Already in Gotham, But Whatev Our Brand is Crisis

Could Maybe Be Interesting, Perhaps
* Cold Showers (Larry Clarkisms from France, which is kinda redundant)
* Danielson: A Family Movie (Or, Make a Joyful Noise Here) (doc on God-lovin' band from NJ that counts Sufjan Stevens as a member)
* Dear Pyongyang (South Korean progeny disapproves of North Korea-worshipping dad)
* Evil (Greece's first zombie movie)
* Fuck (history of the word)
* Hamlet of Women (insurgency messes with Algeria)
* Hell (Thai vision of same)
* La Petit Jersualem (straight outta the Banlieue)
* Reincarnation (The Shining by way of Takashi Shimizu)
* Shame of the City (doc on 2003 Philadelphia mayoral race -- ouch!)
* The Shutka Book of Records (Czech gypsies)
* Stoned (an honest-to-dog Brian Jones biopic; Paddy Considine is Frank Thorogood)
* The Uncertain Guest (Spanish mindfuck)
* Waiting (chain restaurant workers bitch...er, make that Palestinian refugee camp-dwellers bitch)

Where's... The Bow; Gabrielle; Lemming; Mary; Regular Lovers; A Tale of Cinema; Three Times; Tideland; many more probably not worth bringing up.


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