The 33rd Telluride Film Festival
By Nancy Granese, DC Film Society Member
It seemed a different Telluride Film Festival this year. Not as many big bang boffo marketing films mixed in among the independents. No Walk the Line, no Annette Bening swooping in for a half-hour interview. For the last few years, Toronto (which follows Telluride) had been complaining that films that were “premiering” there had been shown the weekend before at Telluride. This year, someone’s big foot must have been planted on the studios’ collective neck, because there weren’t any “big” movies at Telluride. Or maybe there just aren’t a lot of hyped movies out there that were ready to be shown.
That being said, there were a lot of excellent movies, many of which will make their way into ordinary theaters, and many of which can be recommended without qualification. Naiveté about politics and its impact on ordinary lives was an common theme as was the power of individual determination to make a difference.
Here, in alphabetical order are those I saw.
One of those likely to be hyped for the Oscars, though probably to little avail, was Fur: An Imagined Biography of Diane Arbus, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. Kidman portrays Arbus, who produced an astonishing array of iconic off-kilter photographs in a career that spanned little more than 10 years in the mid 20th century. Diane is first seen as a formal, repressed, perfect 1950s wife who, thanks to a very furry neighbor (Downey), smashes her comfy shell to become the artist who took all those disturbing photographs. The film “doesn’t have much S-and-M”, according to its director, Steven Shainberg (Secretary), but it certainly has that tension.
Arbus, who first assisted her husband in his commercial photography business, is the stereotypical woman trapped by her mom-and-wife role who, when she breaks out, does so in a very big way. From its opening scene at a nudist colony, the viewer is enveloped in genuine weirdness akin to that felt waiting for a murder to take place in a movie you just know will keep you awake at night.
If you’re an Arbus fan, you’ll recognize many of the film’s images as slight corruptions of her work. If not, you’ll still be intrigued by Kidman’s progression from rigid helpmeet to Cheshire Cat seductress who persuades the most freakish among us to pose for her; and she manages to make all her subjects appear freakish.
The film’s primary failing is that it’s never completely clear why she finds the weird side of humanity so appealing. Unlike the rest of us (i.e., me) she’s not repelled or sympathetic; she’s attracted, fascinated and covetous, and though polite, essentially shameless and ruthless in her work.
Kidman is terrific; her sharp features and taut, toned body are perfect for the sharp angularity of those mid-50s fashions. Her character doesn’t really change--first she’s weird and repressed, then she’s less repressed (she obeys the basic rule of all nudist colonies, I guess, and strips), newly predatory, but still weird. Downey, who possesses one of the most expressive countenances in film, spends most of the time enveloped in soft brown hair--the cinematography is so lush one can almost feel its texture. When the man beneath is at last revealed, Downey’s ravaged face brought tears to my eyes.
One can’t help wondering whether his face is the product of the filmmaker’s vision or the actor’s reality. Not a film for everyone, but definitely a film worth seeing for the most adventuresome among us. Returning on the gondola from the theater to the village, we sat with the booker from the legendary Angelika Theater in New York: “I’m going to make so much money off this movie,” he enthused, “but it’s not likely to do so well in Iowa.”
Last year Capote. This year Infamous. And Infamous is better. Hoffman was very good, but Toby Jones, who plays Capote this time as a much more raging queen, is better, too. The film benefits from having been based on George Plimpton’s more gossipy biography of Capote, and lots of famous faces do lots of cameos and it’s all quite seamless. Daniel Craig (whom everyone knows is on the short list of potential raw meat as he steps into James Bond’s bespoke shoes later this year) is menacing and vicious as Perry Smith, one of two killers of the Clutter family, particularly in a powerful locked-cell encounter with the smug and mincing Capote. The real revelation to my mind was Sandra Bullock, whose Nelle Harper Lee was astonishing. None of that teeth-grating stuttering niceness she’s been exploiting since Speed, just a quiet smart Southern woman traveling with her friend Truman in the middle of America. I loved Catherine Keener last year, but she’s fundamentally a cool and distancing actress. Here Bullock plays the conscience Capote desperately needs, and she does it without seeming prissy or judgmental. A very very good film which may not get the audience it deserves because of last year’s movie. [See below for comments by Toby Jones from the Toronto festival].
Most reviewers have singled out Forest Whitaker’s performance as the primary reason to see The Last King of Scotland and they’re not wrong. A story of Idi Amin’s horrific rule over Uganda from 1971-1979, the film follow the sorry course of so many dictators. Initially hailed as reformer who promised elections, Amin plunged his country into a bloody and vicious hell. But the ultimate impact of this very disturbing film--filled with violent images and constant tension--is undermined by the ever-present bafflement as to why the Scottish physician taken up by Amin stays with him. As sympathetically portrayed by James McAvoy (who most recently played a very naked half-man, half-goat in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), young Dr. Gavigan seems like he ought to know better, but he doesn’t. Arriving in Uganda on a whim to escape the boring life he anticipates in Scotland, Gavigan is quickly seduced by Amin’s charm. What charm, I wondered? Can’t you see that this guy’s a dangerous phony? Apparently not. Perhaps my many years in DC have made me more cynical about “charming” politicians, but this film begs the question: when surrounded by savagery, why would anyone think they’d escape it? A very well made, indeed a stunning film, but brutal. And naïve.
The best film this year was The Lives of Others, a powerful, moving study of the influence of Stasi (from Staatssicherheit, meaning state security) secret police in East Germany in the mid-eighties. It’s difficult now to remember how entrenched, how intractable Eastern Europe’s Communist regimes were at that point. No thought of Communism’s imminent collapse seemed realistic, except perhaps to Ronald Reagan and his most devoted acolytes. For the rest of us - and clearly for the Stasi, too - it was expected that only an apocalyptic miracle would crush the Iron Curtain.
So, if you can remember that time period, you have an idea of what you’re in for. If you cannot, the film may be even more astonishing. A minor but powerful functionary in the Stasi singles out a leading--and quite unassailable--playwright for monitoring, that is, tracking, audio and video surveillance. The impact of that surveillance on the playwright, his acquaintances, and on the Stasi itself, is the driving story of the film. Even knowing that the regime ultimately will fall, the tension of what will happen next, who will die, who will make a false confession, who will be turned to the State’s purposes and away from the humane course, creates a compelling film.
The lead actor, Ulrich Muhe, was himself followed by the Statsi from the age of 13 because of his outspoken criticism of the East German government. Here he plays the bad guy, and his marks--the playwright and his actress-lover--are actually quite oblivious to the surveillance. They are mildly supportive of those who are blacklisted or threatened by the government and ultimately drawn into the dangerous game of opposition.
The film, written and directed by 33-year old Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck--his first feature--was awarded three Lolas (the German Oscars) for best film, best director, best screenplay. Both Muhe and Sebastian Koch, who plays the playwright, won acting awards. A must-see, the kind of movie that make one grateful for freedom and forgiveness.
The documentary The US v. John Lennon is an eye-opening reminder of how powerful governments can be held at bay by a dedicated naïf--especially one with lots of money and an international profile. Even though I lived through the period of John and Yoko’s unconventional anti-war activities, I’d forgotten that the Nixon White House tried to have him deported. But Lennon loved NYC and didn’t want to leave. Through modern interviews and vintage footage, the film chronicles Lennon’s fight to be left alone, while simultaneously courting the limelight in the name of peace, and thumbing his nose at those who were trying to get rid of him. I never could understand why the government went after Lennon--he was only a rock-and-roll guy after all, but when G. Gordon Liddy says in the film that Lennon “was financing people we were trying to put in jail,” that peculiar paranoid government logic that consumes so many tax dollars becomes more clear.
Also clarified, to more beneficial effect, is the nature of Lennon’s devotion to Yoko Ono. The Beatle becomes someone else, connects with a part of himself he only sensed was there before he met her. His pure joy in her presence, his expansiveness are among the most touching moments in this excellent and very moving film. “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” has a particular resonance in this difficult year.
Another winner of foreign Oscars was Indigènes, the story of north African colonial troops who fought in World War II to liberate La Patrie in the expectation that their French overlords would thank them for it and provide all the freedoms that had been so long promised and so long denied. Another film of timely resonance given recent political events in France, it’s a traditional war film moving from one battle to another, with death after needless death, but one cannot help but be struck by the young soldiers’ fanatical belief that fighting for France would liberate their home countries--Morocco and Algeria. The five leading actors won a collective award for Best Actor at Cannes (likely a political act in itself), but one can’t really quibble with the choice. If you like war films, you’ll like this; if you don’t like war films, you can give it a pass.
In Russia, after the collapse of Communism, the export of orphaned or abandoned children became a lucrative business. In The Italian, an adorable (of course) youngster is slated to be adopted by a eager, loving Italian couple. After one brief meeting with the youngster, they go back to Italy for a few weeks to await completion of the paperwork, and the youngster, now known to his fellow inmates at the orphanage as “The Italian”, decides that he wants to find his real mother, who he is sure is still alive and who would welcome him with open arms if only she knew where he was. The film had some of the feel of Les Choristes, a French film from last year, about singing orphans. There’s no music in this film, but if you like stories with irresistible little boys, feisty and yet trusting, you can’t miss with this one. Awwwww. But enjoyable.
The Namesake is another excellent film from Mira Nair about a young Indian-American trying to find his way through the thicket being a first-generation American with parents who want him to have all the advantages they lacked, but who has difficulty bridging the two cultures. Seeing this so soon after the “macaca” fracas, the film had a special resonance, but it will be just as appealing when it finally opens weeks or months from now. Nair’s strong points are all in evidence here--her love of color, her sympathetic portrayal of men and women who want to preserve “traditional values” while simultaneously taking advantage of the best a new culture can offer, her remarkably ability to make Indian families seem no different from any suburban American household. The acting is uniformly fine, particularly that of Kal Penn (who played Kumar in Harry and Kumar Go to White Castle) and Tabu, who plays his mother. Another wonderful film, with much greater depth than the ordinary immigrant-makes-good-in-America flick.
Volver, by Pedro Almodóvar, was another welcome surprise. Not his best, but not surprisingly, a terrific film. This is another of his hilarious films about women and their intricate relationships with one another--moms, daughters, sisters, best friends. There are a few men in the film, most dismissed (or dispatched) fairly quickly and it’s nice to have them waft by the camera occasionally, but it’s clear they’re not really necessary to the story except for purposes of procreation.
The film is set in a working class neighborhood in Madrid like that where Almodóvar grew up, and Penelope Cruz, working class though she may be, is about as gorgeous as he can make her. Some described Cruz’s performance as “Sophia-Loren-like.” I’m not sure I agree. Cruz is so much more delicate (apparently her butt was padded for this role, though that’s a depressing thought since she still looks amazingly tiny) and fundamentally light-hearted but maybe I’m overlooking something. Almodóvar is clearly infatuated by her--his notes on the film border on the pornographic--but it’s okay because the film loves her, too. One closeup of her cleavage went on so long that the audience broke into applause--you couldn’t help it.
Yet Cruz and all the other women in the film are so terrific, so real, and so funny as they try to figure out who’s alive, who’s dead, and who’s that voice in the other room, you’re not even jealous of her beauty. It’s not his best, but Almodóvar demonstrates yet again that, like Ingmar Bergman, he knows a lot more about the minds of women than does the average guy. Another very good film.
Several years ago, Telluride and the Oscars honored Peter O’Toole, who tried to turn down the honorary Oscar on the grounds that he wasn’t yet deceased and might therefore still have the opportunity to win a best acting award on his own. Venus may provide at least the nomination, if not the award. It’s actually too small a film, I’d guess, to merit that kind of attention, but O’Toole is terrific. He plays an aging, once wildly famous, actor attracted to a totally inappropriate young girl for reasons even he can’t fathom. It’s clear he finds her amusing at a time in his life when most things bore him, no matter how thick his alcoholic haze. I can’t, for the life of me, ever see O’Toole without flashing back to that moment in Lawrence of Arabia when he stalks along the wrecked train, his gossamer robes taking wing behind him… He still carries that hint of beauty in his eyes, only now there’s a great deal more merriment and satisfaction about the world those eyes survey.
Other films at TFF that I didn’t see included Babel, the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes--young people liked it very much, older viewers less; Day Night Day Night in which I was told, nothing happened in Times Square; Little Children which everyone seemed to like but which left some viewers bemused; and Severance, described as a “yuppie slasher film” that was fitfully funny. You make the call.
The 33rd Telluride Film Festival took place in Telluride, Colorodo from September 1-4, 2006. Visit the website.
Seen in Munich: Tideland--Comments by Terry Gilliam
By Leslie Weisman, DC Film Society Member
Tideland’s director Terry Gilliam appeared on the podium in Munich this past summer, where he not only discussed the film, but gave us a look back at his filmmaking history and into his philosophy as a film maker. He also threw in a surprising revelation.
An unabashed iconoclast in life as well as in film, Gilliam announced that he exchanged his U.S. citizenship for a British one in January, a "quasi-political, quasi-tax... statement," as well as a status that will give him a clearer view of the U.S. unencumbered by proximity, enabling him to view it from the outside. Recalling his beginnings in film, Gilliam said he and The Simpsons’ Harry Shearer used to be part of a small group that met each week to make three-minute films. (Gilliam also did all the animation for the Monty Python videos.)
Although perhaps best known for adult films that are edgy and violent, even verging on (or plunging into) the bizarre, one of his most successful was the 1981 Time Bandits, a twisted wizard of a film that was a massive hit with kids. Noting with amusement that the studio at first objected to his blowing up the parents in the end--"If you do, we can’t make it a children’s film"--Gilliam savored his reply: "Are you kidding? The kids will probably appreciate it!" (Much laughter greeted that astute observation.)
There have also of course been a few, shall we say, rough patches. Revisiting the infamous "Battle of Brazil" (the interviewer held up one of the myriad tomes written about it and said they fill half a meter on his bookshelf), Gilliam said it always provided him with a ready response whenever anyone asked him what was delaying the film’s release: "[Universal exec] Sid Sheinberg’s holding it up!" Meanwhile, Lost in La Mancha (2002), which depicts the problematic production history of Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote--one that rivals the similarly storied one of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo--has, perhaps ironically, been much lauded, while The Hamster Factor, a chronicle of his 12 Monkeys, reportedly bombed in DC. (Gilliam may at last have won the battle for the rights to the Quixote film. Stay tuned.)
When The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (1988) suffered a similar reception, Gilliam said, he got depressed, but dove into the development of his next screenplay, The Fisher King (1991). Gilliam enthused about its stars, Robin Williams ("we feed off each other") and Jeff Bridges ("he’s super grounded," and was "just what we needed" to balance their mood swings and manic hyperactivity).
Gilliam’s most recent films Tideland (2005), which screened at the Munich Filmfest, and The Brothers Grimm (2005) were edited simultaneously, with Gilliam switching back and forth between them, he told us. And Tideland wasn’t even intended for his direction: the Mitch Cullin book was sent to him for comment, and he was so taken with it, he decided to make a film out of it. Gilliam lavished praise on Jodelle Ferland, the child who plays the lead role, and on Jeff Bridges, who plays her drug-addicted father and, with three daughters of his own, was able to guide her and help her to relax. In directing, Gilliam said, he gives his actors "complete freedom to fail," to try anything they think will work. ("The editing is all.")
His thoughts on other directors and films? Fellini, who also started out as a cartoonist, was his model: a visionary, with the ability to see life that other people don’t see. Stanley Kubrick was "a genius," but a mad one that people hated to work for. As a kid, Gilliam loved Jerry Lewis, and was terrified by Thief of Baghdad, but the film made a lasting impression on him. Paths of Glory blew him away--in fact, changed his life. The interviewer informed him, to Gilliam’s delight, that Paths was shot in Munich’s Bavaria Studios - where Monty Python was shot. A classical closure, for a radical director!
Tideland will have a special screening at the Hirshhorn on October 5 with Terry Gilliam present. See below.
Seen in Toronto and Coming Soon:
Director's Comments on Little Children, Copying Beethoven and Infamous
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
We'll have a full report next month on the Toronto International Film Festival, but for now here are director comments on three films scheduled to open in October:
Little Children. Scheduled opening October 6.
Quick synopsis from the film festival catalogue: "Little Children is adapted from Tom Perrotta's novel. The film is a scathing and frequently hildarious dissection fo the mores and rituals fo a group of hot-to-trot fledgling parents, brought vividly to life by some of the best young actors working today: Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly and fast-rising star Patrick Wilson... Many scenes are at once resonant and utterly surprising--just try not to be stunned by a key sequence at the town pool. From its bravuara opening sequence to it sublime ending, Little Children is smart, riveting filmmaking."
Director Todd Field answered audience questions:
Q: Where did you find Jackie Earle Haley (Ronald James McGorvey)?
A: Jackie has not done much acting lately. He has been in Texas doing regional television. He did a small part in All the King's Men. Somehow he got a copy of our script, we thought we had tight control over the copies, and made a long audition tape. Kate Winslet had worked with him in AKM and said he was terrific.
Q: When was the decision made to use the voice over?
A: The movie was written around the voice over. Several films in the past have used voice over. I liked Tom's voice, his sharp humor. I told him I wanted to change part of the book and he agreed. It started out around that voice.
Q: Who was the voice?
Q: Why was there no consequence to Brad and Sarah's affair?
A: You think they should be punished? You think they are bad? You have all these characters full of judgment and judging themselves and judging others by heresy and gossip. They were more like 2 teenagers in the back of a car. Brad is fixated on 15 year old skate boarders (he was that age when his mother died). He has worked his wife into being his mother. Sara married late, became a mother late and has never figured out who she is. I do not believe either of them should be punished.
Q: Are the actors playing Ronnie and his mother related? They look so much alike.
A: No. They have similar stature.
Q: The pool scene, did you borrow from Jaws?
A: Steven Spielberg was the first person to establish people panicking in the water. He framed it perfectly. Everyone else owes homage to him.
Q: Who wrote the music?
A: The score was written by Thomas Newman. He is an interesting composer and skeptical about music in film. He often wondered if we need music in certain scenes. Tom puts himself through a rigorous process when composing. We worked for months; he wanted to get it right.
Infamous. Scheduled opening October 13.
Quick synopsis from the film festival catalogue: "Despite sharing qualities and subject matter with last year's Capote, Infamous is very much its own work. Based on George Plimpton's relentlessly thorough book Truman Capote: In Which Various Friend, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, Infamous follows famed author Truman Capote (Toby Jones) as he investigates the murder of a family in rural Kansas... A highly intelligent and refined film, Infamous explores how a deep, hidden heartbreak ultimately crippled one of the most brilliant literary minds of our time. As Sandra Bullock's Harper Lee notes at one crucial point, 'At the center of any bright blue flame, there's always a little touch of blue'."
Director Douglas McGrath and actor Toby Jones answered questions from the audience. (Note: Toby Jones is not only superb in this film but has a major role in Michael Apted's Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce and his fight to end the British involvement in the slave trade. This film will be released in February 2007, the 200th anniversary of its end.)
Q: How did you get to that level of acting, to personify Truman Capote?
Toby Jones: Long story, I suppose. There was a lot of material to read, a lot of video footage but it is the screenplay. Had to try to find a way to modulate my voice, took the right voice coach.
Q: Was this film in the works before the Academy Award winning Capote?
TJ: That finished filming in 2004 and we began in late 2005.
Q: How did Capote affect this film?
TJ: It really didn't. That wrapped as we started. We had so much material to get through, a mountain to climb. It was extraordinary being given a role like this. It would have been easier if there were not another film.
Q: What was it like getting out of character at night?
TJ: I had to change the shape of my mouth to speak as Truman did. I took an hour and half of vocal exercises each day. I would get back to the hotel and there was no reason to change to my own voice. No one to talk to.
Douglas McGrath: I want to say just how deep into the part our actor went. For example the scene where Perry sends the tape--we shot the whole scene with Truman lying on his bed. Toby was always willing to try new things. I went up to him after the first shoot and Toby did not move, did not acknowledge any of my suggestions. I went back to the camera and someone said, "Maybe he is dead." I said, "If he does not move, I'll call a nurse." After we had a second take Toby said, "I went to a place where I could not pop out." He was that intense.
Q: Talk about emotion and beauty in a work of art. What was the beauty of this for you?
DM: It is an emotional thing. You don't do a movie like this unless you are trying to change your tax bracket for the worse.
Copying Beethoven. Scheduled opening October 13.
Quick synopsis from the film festival catalogue: "Classical music aficionado or not, its's tough not to be moved by the soaring notes of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The work stands as both a defining highpoint in the composer's career and a dynamic and beguiling legacy of its era... It is 1824. The composer, played brilliantly by Ed Harris, is racing to finish his new symphony. However, it has been years since his last success and he is plagued by deafness, loneliness, and personal trauma... He is matched in intensity and skill by (Diane) Kruger, who makes the young Anna both an enraptured apprentice and a paragon of willful female independence and ambition."
Director Agnieszka Holland answered audience questions.
Q: What in the film was inspired by real events?
A: The story of Beethoven's last years is real. The 9th Symphony inspired by a young woman is fictional.
Q: What sort of training did Ed Harris have to go through?
A: Ed is a great American actor and puts himself into every part. Even before we had money he learned to play the piano, the viola and to conduct. He learned so well that the conductor coach said he conducted like someone who had 10 years experience. The young woman who plays Anna Holtz, Diane Kruger, is European.
Q: Why did you cast Ed and Diane?
A: I know that Ed was a deep man. Diane, I knew she was pretty but did not know that she could act. We were in my home, my daughter shot the test, and I knew she was perfect.
The 60th Edinburgh Film Festival
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
The 60th Edinburgh International Film Festival ended on August 27, the world's longest continuously running film festival, with it head held high. The EIFF shows not only top UK and Hollywood films but outstanding international films from first time feature to well established directors. That celebrity red carpet must look a little tattered by festival end having taken well over a hundred gifted filmmakers past paparazzi and screaming fans. Hollywood celebs such as Steven Soderberg, Sigourney Weaver, Charlize Theron and director Arthur Penn were there to help celebrate. The top up-and-coming international directors along with proved veterans put in an appearance. Among the new directors were German cinematographer turned director Florian Hoffmeister with 3 Degrees Colder, major new Iranian director Saman Salour who brought A Few Kilos of Dates (one of my four Must See films), French anthropologist-documentarian Eliane de Larout proved he could direct feature films with his sophomore effort, Birds of Heaven, and Cheikh Ndiaye came from Burkina Faso (by way of France) with his well received inaugral film, Wrestling Ground.
To cull the top films from the hundreds of hopefuls submitted is an onerous task. The Hollywood Reporter asked retiring Artistic Director Shane Daneilsen (he is being replaced by Scottish film critic Hannah McGill) about "the plethora of rubbish-cheap films being made that you now have to plow through, or is digital filmmaking actually interesting?" Danielson replied, "We are seeing a whole bunch of shit. Digital has removed development, which is one of the most important facets of the filmmaking process. People think you need to shoot everything and chop and stick everything together in the cutting room. It is far too easy to edit and make cuts in the digital age and then piece something together that people think makes a film."
One of the films that made it was the Opening Night film, The Flying Scott, unique in that this audience may be the only one to ever see it. This derring-do biopic follows Graeme Obree on his quest to smash the world one-hour cycling record on a bike he built from washing machine parts. Why will no other audience see it? The film is drowning in bankruptcy. The filmmakers barely had enough money to finish the editing, extras have not been paid and threatened to disrupt Opening Night by picketing. Only one print was made, no funds are available to make others. To date no distributor has dared get involved.
Rising to the top of the films that made it through the festival vetting process were four films I consider Must See. There were other films that were outstanding but had opened in DC or were recommended in other festivals.
A Few Kilos of Dates for a Funeral (Saman Salour, Iran, 2006), Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages, Denis Dercourt, France, 2006), Tuning (Igor Sterk, Slovenia, 2005) and Wristcutters: A Love Story (Goran Dukic, USA, 2006).
Six films came close to my top ring and are definitely worth seeing.
Highly Recommended Films:
Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence, Australia, 2006), The Right of the Weakest (Lucas Belvaux, Belgium/France, 2006), Black Sheep (Schwarze Schaf, Oliver Rihs, Germany, 2006), Cargo (Clive Gordon, Spain/UK, Sweden, 2006), Snow Cake (Marc Evans, UK/Canada, 2005), Driving Lessons (Jeremy Brock, UK, 2005).
A word of warning on Black Sheep. There are two films with that name, the German production and one from New Zealand about genetically altered sheep running rampage. The latter was a decent Midnight Madness film in Toronto, although critic Rex Reed told me that he walked out after ten minutes, thinking it was lame.
In the past Edinburgh's film savvy audiences have picked outstanding films such as Totsi (last year's Opening Night film which had no distribution deal until Toronto), The Full Monty, Buena Vista Social Club and Billy Elliot as the Standard Life Audience Award winner. So what did these knowledgeable Scots pick as the top film this year? Clerks II, go figure.
Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film: Brothers of the Head (Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe, UK, 2006). Jury: John Hurt, Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig, Irish writer John Banville, Scottish Director Michael Caton-Jones and rock star Chrissie Hynde.
Audience Award: Clerks II (Kevin Smith, US, 2006).
Best Documentary Feature Award: The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (Jake Cinnell, USA, 2006). In Osaka's Rakkyo club owner Issei has young men being groomed to become the top male escorts in the city. Here they learn how to dress, how to talk, how to walk, and most importantly, how to fake relationships with the girls who become their source of income. The boys are all heterosexual and the girls are mostly prostitutes.
New Directors Award: London to Bright (Paul Andrew Williams, UK, 2006) An urban thriller looks at 24 hours in the life of a prostitute and a young runaway, fleeing to Brighton in a desperate attempt to save their own lives.
Synopses of Must-See Films
A Few Kilos of Dates for a Funeral. Sadry (Mohsen Tanabandeh) and Yadi (Nader Fallah) work at a gas station far removed from the main highways since an express highway went through. It is winter and heavy snow lies on the ground. Sadry, a former performing strongman who accidentally lost an eye, is behaving strangely. He takes off from time to time and seems obsessed with the weather. Yadi is in love with a girl who lives in a nearby village and send her passionate letters via the local postman, Abbas, played by Mohsen Namjou. Sadry and Yadi occasionally receive a visit from Orppj (Mahmoud Nazaralian) the neighborhood undertaker. He is their only contact with the outside world. This remarkable dark comedy proves that the New Iranian Cinema is alive and well.
The Page Turner. A small-town butcher's daughter, Melanie, aged ten, seems to have a special gift for the piano. She takes the Conservatory entrance exam, but fails after being distracted by the thoughtless behavior of the chair of the jury Ariane Fouchecourt, a well known concert pianist. Bitterly disappointed, Melanie gives up the piano. Some ten years later, while working as an intern with a law firm, Melanie meets Monsieur Fouchecourt. Melanie's efficiency and devotion are quickly noticed and he recruits her to look after his son. Madame Fouchecourt soon warms to Melanie when her musical sensitivity comes out, and the young woman becomes her page turner. The director said, "The main thread of La Tourneuse de Pages is a story of revenge, but behind it is a growing element of something more ambiguous, where fascination and attraction merge into manipulation, but since music-making is primarily a physical act, I felt that this revenge also had to be physical, provoking fear and tension as the story unfolds."
Tuning. Peter (Peter Musevski) and Katerina (Natasa Burger) are trapped in a loveless marriage, held together only by their daughters. Peter visits a prostitute while on business in Brussels and on his return, tries to strike up a relationship with an old girl friend. Katerina is being pursued by a poet whose book she has been designing. When she asks Peter for a divorce there seems to be no possibility of a reconciliation. The title, Tuning, is well chosen. One can tune a violin, tune in a radio or tune up an instrument to a correct pitch. How do you tune a family? When I asked director Igor Sterk about the source of this film he said, "It is hard to explain what is "the origin of the film"--it is many different things coming together at one point. Among them, I was very touched by Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, which also deals with a relationship between husband and wife, some critics also find a relation to Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage. From the other point of view, the subject of Tuning is something I found relevant to explore in the society where I am living. I believe it is something, everyone can find some co-relation to his own life, his intimate problems--it is not some fantasy topic... Tuning has been circling around the festivals for more than a year--it premiered last year in competition at Karlovy Vary film festival, then it was shown in many other festivals (Montréal, Chicago, Ghent, Montpellier). It received Grand-prix for best feature film in Mannheim Film Festival last November."
Wristcutters: A Love Story. Trapped in an alternate world populated by suicide victims, a band of souls tries to find an escape route in Goran Dukic's dark romantic comedy. Although he took his own life, Zia (Patrick Fugit) isn't ready for such a grim hereafter, particularly since he discovered that his ex-girlfriend also killed herself. On a quest to find her, he befriends Mikal, a jaded hitchhiker (Shannyn Sossarnon) and Eugene, a Russian rocker (Shea Whigham) and together the set out in search of what they could not find in their previous lives.
Synopses of Highly Recommended Films
Black Sheep (Schwarze Schaf, Oliver Rihs, Germany, 2006). The producer/cinematographer, Olivier Kolb, said, "Since we were living in Berlin, we had the wish to make a small independent punk-style episodic film about the seedy spirit of this city--mean, funny, but full of love. Berlin, what a city! Once built from sand and swamp, constantly bankrupt, never finished building." Director Oliver Rihs explained to six different writers roughly what he had in mind, where the episodes should play and gave them a brief outline of the characters. The result is a comedy in five facets: tasteless, chaotic, neurotic, ugly, naive and somehow very loving and charming, just like Berlin.
Cargo (Clive Gordon, Spain, UK, Sweden, 2006). Award winning screenwriter Paul Laverty joins with Clive Gordon, one of Britain's top directors of narrative documentaries for this stylish, claustrophobic thriller set aboard a rusting cargo ship traveling from Africa to Europe where a young stowaway uncovers a murderous plot culminating in a terrifying fight for survival. Lavery said, "Twelve years ago I read a small one-paragraph article in a newspaper about a Greek captain on the high seas who found six or seven stowaways and threw them overboard. If a captain brings his ship into a European port with stowaways the fines are massive. He will lose his ship."
Driving Lessons (Jeremy Brock, UK, 2005) was reviewed in the September Storyboard. The film is scheduled to open in October.
Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence, Australia, 2006) Adapted from a Raymond Carver short (So Much Water, So Close to Home), this is a meditation on the New South Wales landscape in Australia and the human drama it frames. A group of weekend fishermen led by Irish expat Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) find the drowned body of a young Aboriginal woman. They decide not to call the police immediately--a decision that plays badly in all their lives. Ultimately the film focuses on the uneasy relationship between the European settlers and the Aboriginals. Gabriel Byrne said at the press conference, "My agent saw the deceptive nature of the film, very simple on the surface but dark and deep underneath.... Most of the film was shot in one take. Some actors only get going after 5 or 6 takes."
The Right of the Weakest (Lucas Belvaux, Belgium, France, 2006). The plot line is quite simple: In order to buy a moped for their friend Patrick's wife three men take up arms to get money. Dreaming that something is still possible to overcome their desperate situation, they attempt a hold-up. When asked if the character of the reformed robber is a reference to the one in Belvaux's earlier film, Cavale, he said, "They share a sense of solitude and they are both armed. And I play both roles. But the other one was determined and unchanging. He struggled, he went to prison, he escaped, he resumed the struggle and he will never stop. this one has decided to give it up, that it is not leading anywhere."
What is the "right of the weakest?" Belvaux answered, "It is the right to get back up, stand tall and shout that you exist."
Snow Cake (Marc Evans, UK, Canada, 2005) This is a film about friendship, trust, snow, acceptance, obsessive behavior, a dog called Marilyn, and about the power of friendship, no matter how eccentric, to change our lives and heal our hearts. The film stars Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Ann Moss. Weaver plays Linda Freeman, a high functioning adult autistic. "I think it's important to say that Snow Cake is about autism," Weaver said when asked about the film. "It's not a slick film, and we didn't want it to be a sentimental one either. Hopefully, watching it is like taking a vacation to a strange place, and getting to know an unusual bunch of people; there's a nice balance of comedy, romance and friendship."
Visit the website.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
The AFI concludes the Latin American Film Festival on October 8; the Pedro Almodovar series ends October 13. A new series, "C'est chic" features the latest films from France and runs from October 13-22. Titles include Comedy of Power, Riviera, The Case of the Grinning Cat, Paris Je T'Aime, Le Petit Lieutenant, The Tiger Brigades, A Perfect Friend, On Fire, Everyday Lovers and In Paris. Films by French director Benoit Jacquot run from October 12-30 including Right Now, Closet Children, A Single Girl, The Disenchanted, Sade, Seventh Heaven and School of Flesh. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the classic Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) is a series of Frankenstein-related films including Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Young Frankenstein (1974) and Flesh for Frankenstein (1973). For Halloween is the great classic Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922) on October 27 at 7:00pm and 9:30pm.
Freer Gallery of Art
As one of the venues for the 2006 DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival, the Freer shows Rigodon (2005) on October 1 at 1:00pm and The Widow Colony (2005) on October 1 at 3:00pm. On October 29 at 2:00pm is Koryo Saram--The Unreliable People (2006) with director Y. David Chung, cinematographer and editor Matt Dibble and producer Meredith Woo in person to discuss the film, a documentary about the forced deportation of Koreans from the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin.
National Gallery of Art
A series of Swiss documentaries begins on October 7 at 4:30pm with A Tickle in the Heart (Stefan Schwietert, 1996). On October 8 at 4:30pm is Step Across the Border (Nicholas Humbert and Werner Penzel, 1990) shown with Das Alphorn (Stefan Schwietert, 2003). On October 14 at 2:30pm is KAccordion Tribe (Stefan Schwietert, 2004); on October 14 at 4:30pm is Signers Koffer (Peter Liechti, 1996); on October 15 at 4:30pm is Namibia Crossings (Peter Liechti, 2004); and on October 21 at 12:30pm is Ombres (Edna Politi, 1997). "Noir on New York Streets" is a series of film noir set in New York City which accompanies the photographic exhibition The Streets of New York. On October 1 at 4:30pm is The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955) with an introduction by critic Jay Carr. On October 21 at 3:00pm is Side Street (Anthony Mann, 1950); on October 21 at 4:30pm is The House on 92nd Street (Henry Hathaway, 1945); on October 22 at 5:00pm is The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948); on October 28 at 2:00pm is Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1949; on October 29 at 4:00pm is Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1947) shown with Edge of the City (Martin Ritt, 1957); and on November 4 at 4:30pm is Killer's Kiss (Stanley Kubrick, 1955). A series of French short films from the Cannes Festival is on October 28 at 4:00pm.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
On October 5 at 7:00pm is Tideland (see comments above) with director Terry Gilliam present to introduce and discuss his latest film. On October 12 at 8:00pm is Matthew Barney, No Restraint (Alison Chernick, 2005) a documentary about the artist's creative thinking through his use of 45,000 pounds of petroleum, whaling culture, and Japanese rituals. On October 19 at 8:00pm is Pine Flat (Sharon Lockhart, 2006) documenting the youth of Pine Flat in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
National Museum of the American Indian
On October 27 and 28 at 1:30pm is Chac (Rolando Klein, 1974), a feature about a small village in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico and shot on location in Chiapas with actors from the local Tzeltal and Lacondon communities.
National Portrait Gallery
To accompany the exhibition "The Presidency and the Cold War" is Thirteen Days (2000) about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Special guest and former CIA senior officer S. Eugene Poteat will discuss his experiences and comment on the background and authenticity of the film.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
The Women's Museum is one of the venues for the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival with a program of short films on October 3 at 6:30pm, October 3 at 8:00pm and October 4 at 6:30pm. A feature film based on the classic Vietnamese epic poem "Kieu" is on October 4 at 8:30pm and a feature film set in Korea Inner Circle Line is on October 10 at 6:30pm. For the ongoing series "Sisters in Cinema," this month's entry is Will (Jesse Maple, 1981) on October 18 at 7:00pm.
Films on the Hill
On October 18 at 7:00pm is Young and Innocent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1937), Hitchcock's favorite of his British films. On October 25 is One Way Passage (Tay Garnett, 1932), a precode romantic drama starring William Powell and Kay Francis. For Halloween on October 31 at 7:00pm is Boris Karloff in The Man With Nine Lives (Nick Grinde, 1940), the first film about cryogenics with Boris as a scientist seaching for a cancer cure; preceded by Laurel and Hardy in The Live Ghost (1934).
Washington Jewish Community Center
On October 17 at 7:30pm is God is Great, I'm Not (Pascale Bailly, 2000), a romance with Audrey Tatou.
On October 3 at 7:00pm is The Witches of Eastwick (George Miller, 1987; on October 6 at 7:00pm is The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963); on October 13 at 7:00pm is The Day the Music Died (Bert Tenzer, 1973). See the website for more.
The film series "Satire in Film" concludes in October with The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) on October 2 at 6:30pm. "The Hungarian Revolution in Film" will present documentary and propaganda films from various countries depicting versions of what took place 50 years ago. Titles to be announced.
National Geographic Society
See below for the "All Roads Film Festival."
"C'est chic" is a series of new French films held at the AFI (see above) and at the French Embassy. On October 26 at 7:00pm is Everyday Lovers; on October 22 at 3:30pm is Kirikou and the Wild Beasts; and on October 24 at 7:00pm is The Passenger. Visit the website for more details.
A series of films made to promote the Marshall Plan will be shown October 17-20. To introduce the series is a panel discussion on October 16 at 7:00pm about the history of the Marshall Plan and its impact on rebuilding Europe's democracies. More than 250 short films were originally produced but were not shown in the U.S. because of a law prohibiting the showing of U.S.-produced propaganda in this country. On October 17 at 7:00pm is "Out of the Ruins" including Hunger, It's Up to You!, Between East and West, The Bridge, Me and Mr. Marshall, Life and Death of a Cave City, Houen Zo!. On October 18 at 7:00pm is "Help is on the Way" including The Extraordinary Adventures of a Quart of Milk, The Home We Love, Rice and Bulls, Island of Faith, Town Without Water, Hansl and the 200,000 Chicks. On October 19 at 7:00pm is "True Fiction" including The Story of Koula, Aquila, The Promise of Barty O'Brien, The Smiths and the Robinsons, Let's Be Childish!. On October 20 at 7:00pm is "Strength for the Free World" with The Hour of Choice, Without Fear, Struggle for Men's Minds, Whitsun Holiday, Do Not Disturb!, The Shoemaker and the Hatter. All films are from 1948-1953.
National Museum of Natural History
"Genghis Khan: 800 Years of Mongolian Statehood" celebrates Mongolia's 800th anniversary in a series of films. On October 8 at 11:00am is The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003); at 12:45pm is Darhad (2005) about nomadic herders; at 2:00pm is Wings of the Altai (2005) about nomadic herdsmen who hunt wolves with eagles to protect their sheep; at 3:00pm is Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005). A documentary about Filipino's experiences in the U.S. Sandaan (Sonny Izon, 2006) is on October 20 at 6:30pm.
On October 11 at 8:00pm is the latest in the "Asian Cinevision" series, title to be announced. On October 18 at 8:00pm is La Petite Jérusalem (Karin Albou, 2005) as part of the "French Cinémathèque" series.
Beckett on Film
A film festival of Samuel Beckett plays will be held from October 10-13 at the Charles Sumner School, 1201 17th Street, NW. The collection of films was produced in 2002 with actors such as John Gielgud, John Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman and Kristin Scott Thomas. Visit the website for more information.
On October 22 at 1:00pm is Viva Laldjerie (Nadir Mokneche, 2004) a film from Algeria as part of the "Sunday Cinema" series. A new seies "Broadway to Hollywood" begins October 15 at 1:00pm, examining the phenomena of Broadway going to Hollywood and vice versa. Some productions to be discussed include Streetcar Named Desire, Angels in America, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Philadelphia Story. Each program will focus on a specific aspect--drama, comedy, the musical, the actor. Dwight Blocker Bowers and Jackson Bryer are the speakers.
Twelve films from the Arab world will be shown October 27-November 5, some with their directors present. Titles include I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed; Waiting; The Prince That Contemplated His Soul; Beur, Blanc, Rouge; Ahlaam, Khochkhach; Bosta; The Betrayal; A New Day in Old Sana'a; A Perfect Day; Arabs and Terrorism; The Night Baghdad Fell. See story above.
The 17th Annual Latin American Film Festival
The Latin American Film Festival which started in September runs to October 8. You can still see the latest films from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and other Latin American countries.
"C'est chic" newest films from France, October 13-22. At the AFI and the Embassy of France.
Washington, DC Italia Film Festival
New and old films from Italy are shown October 21-29 at Georgetown's AMC Theater. Titles and guests to be announced; special tributes to Anna Magnani, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Mario Soldati.
Asian Pacific American Film Festival
The 7th Annual DC APA Film Festival which began last month concludes on October 7 with Asian American cinema including feature films, documentaries, and shorts. Locations vary, check the website.
The 16th Annual Reel Affirmations Film Festival runs from October 12-21 at several locations including the Lincoln Theater, Landmark's E Street Cinema, and the Goethe Institut Inter Nationes. More than 100 features, documentaries and shorts are shown from all around the world, many with their directors present.
All Roads Film Festival
The All Roads Film Project showcases breakthrough films from indigenous and minority cultures around the globe. The series runs from October 5-8 and films are held at the National Geographic. Shorts, animation, features and documentaries include Milarepa, a feature from Tibet; Arctic Son set in the Canadian Yukon; The Hardest of These is Love from Finland's Sami community; Jaisalmer Ayo! Gateway of the Gypsies, a documentary about the nomadic castes of Rajasthani Gypsies; and lots more.
The Virginia Film Festival
The 19th Annual Virginia Film Festival will be held October 26-29 in Charlottesville. This year's theme is "Revelations: Finding God at the Movies." More than 70 films will be shown. Festival director Richard Hershkowitz said, “Our programming this year is taking a multi-dimensional look at spirituality, religion and the movies. The potential of film to create spiritual experiences for viewers will be explored through classics such as Ordet, The Seventh Seal and The Sacrifice. The growing tensions between and within secular and religious cultures are tackled in such independent films as Jesus Camp, Camp Out, Iraq in Fragments, and With God on Our Side. Other selections will explore a multiplicity of faiths--Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and others, as well as irreverent perspectives on religious belief, from the video art game Waco Resurrection to Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.” Guests include Robert Duvall (The Apostle), Liev Schreiber Everything is Illuminated), William Moseley (The Chronicles of Narnia), Brad Silberling, Michael Tolin (The Rapture), Carl Colpaert (GI Jesus) and Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker with an advance screening of One Punk Under God. The program includes films on Christianity, Mormans, Buddhists, Hindus, Judaism, and indigenous religions. Silent films with live music include Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings and Mary Pickford's Sparrows. Symposiums, workshops and film discussions round out the film screenings.