The 50th London Film Festival
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
The 50th London Film Festival (October 18-November 2, 2006) brought out the star power to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Babel was the Closing Night Gala with director Alejandro González Iñárritu and stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Rinko Kiuchi part of a record setting 13 Gala premieres. Will Farrell, Emma Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman were on hand to introduce Stranger Than Fiction. Emilio Estevez, Christian Slater and Freddy Rodriguez walked the red carpet for the premiere of Bobby. The festival's Opening Night Gala was The Last King of Scotland and present for that event were the director Kevin Macdonald and stars James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney and Kerry Fox. A few days later Kate Winslet and Todd Field walked the red carpet for Little Children.
In addition to the international stars, British stars were here in record number. Roger Michell, Haif Kureishi, Peter O'Toole, Leslie Phillips and Jodie Whittaker introduced Venus (UK, 2006) (one of my favorite films in Toronto and again here). Anthony Minghella, Jude Law, Martin Freeman and Robin Wright Penn and newcomer Rafi Gavron all were promoting Breaking and Entering. Andrea Arnold and lead actors Kate Dickie and Tony Curran walked the red carpet for another of my favorite films, Red Road (UK/Denmark, 2006). Terence Davies led a spirited Q&A after Distant Voices Still Lives (UK, 1988). Sacha Baron Cohen braved the rain for his hit Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and John Cameron Mitchell and his cast arrived at the Odeon West End in style on a pink London bus for the Shotbus Gala.
Strong political debate was prompted with Nick Broomfield and Ai Qin Lin at the discussion following Ghosts and Lucy Walker's Blindsight received a standing ovation. Cecila Peck presented Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing. The world premiere of Love Story received a standing ovation when co-directors Chris Hall and Mike Kerry were joined onstage by Johnny Echols and Jac Holzman.
International filmmakers flew into London from around the globe. Among them were Phillip Noyce (Catch a Fire), Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, Denmark, 2006), Goutam Ghose (Journey, (India, 2006), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates, Turkey/France, 2006), Toa Fraser (No. 2, New Zealand, 2006), Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, USA, 2006), Davide Ferrario (Primo Levi's Journey, Italy, 2006), Jens Lien (The Bothersome Man, Norway, 2006), Nanni Moretti (The Gaiman, Italy/France, 2006), Mira Nair (The Namesake, India/USA, 2006), and Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night, USA, 206) were among dozens more.
Brian Goron, Artistic Director of the Nashville Film Festival, told me at a breakfast meeting that "London brings the best of the best." And that they do. Sandra Hegbron, London Festival Artistic Director, and her staff bring the best films from the best international film festivals. If you only make one film festival, consider London. You not only have stars on the silver screen but you also have stars in plays in the West End.
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary there were several special events around London. Mike Figgis was joined by contributing filmmakers Simon McBurney, Ngozi Onwurah, Alwin Kuchler and Jex Benstock to a live mix (as Figgis is want to do) in the innovative production of Portrait of London in Trafalgar Square.
Capping their jubilee year, film goers across London had a choice of 50 venues with audiences including passengers at Heathrow's Terminal 4 and patients at the Medicinema in St. Thomas Hospital for an advance screening of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.
Sandra Hebron said about this special festival, "We've been delighted by the enthusiastic response of filmmakers and audiences alike to our special birthday Festival. The diversity of the films on offer, their range and calibre of guests who've attended, and the success of our industry and educational events puts the Festival in a very strong position as we look forward to our next 50 years."
And the winners are:
Four awards are presented at the Closing Gala. Director Andrea Arnold received The Sutherland Trophy (awarded to the director of the most original and imaginative first feature) for Red Road. The FIPRERSCI International Film Critics award went to Javier Rebollo for his film, Lola. Director Florian Hencket von Donnersmarch's The Lives of Others was awarded the Satyajit Ray Award. Mark Herbert was awarded the Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award, which recognizes the achievements of new and emerging British writers, directors and, as in this case, producers. Herbert produced Shane Meadows' celebrated This is England.
Must See Films (Excludes a number of films already reviewed at Toronto and films that have opened in Washington.)
The Lives of Others (Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
This is England (UK, Shane Meadows, 2006)
Red Road (UK, Andrea Arnold, 2006)
Close to Home
Son of Man
Synopses of Must-See Films
Black Gold: There is a food fight at the cinema. Following on the heels of Super Size Me's success comes Black Gold. While you sip your high price designer lattes and cappuccinos, impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers suffer the bitter taste of injustice. Most make around $2 a day. Directors and brothers Nick and Mark Francis take an eye-opening look at one man's fight for fair trade. The coffee industry pulls in $80 billion a year, coffee is the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. Ethiopia is seeking a better return for its major export and, as part of that, is attempting to trade mark the name. Coffee accounts for 67% of the country's foreign export income. Black Gold focuses on Tadesse Meskela, the manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmer's Co-operative Union that represents over 74,000 farmers. He is trying to bypass the international trading system by finding buyers who would pay more for his high quality coffee. Out of your $3 latte the farmer receive 3 cents. See below for an interview with the directors.
The Lives of Others played recently at the AFI in the European Union Film Festival. The LIFF catalogue had this to say: "This remarkably assured first feature from writer-director Florian Henckel von Dommersmarch paints an altogether darker picture of life under the Communist regime in East Germany than the almost cozy existence nostalgically evoked in Good Bye Lenin! Set for the most part in East Berlin during the mid-80s, the film chronicles the consequences of the Minister of Culture's decision to investigate, by means of surveillance, the lives of a successful playwright and his actress wife (whose sexual favors the politician clearly lusts after); those profoundly affected by the bugging of the couple's apartment are not only the artists and their friends but also the surveillance expert put in charge of spying on them, who finally comes to question the ethics of his work for Stasi, the state police. The complex but lucid script, with its wholly credible twists, and Hagen Bogdanski's sombre, noir-inflected camerawork together serve not only to establish a brooding atmosphere of fear, doubt and suspicion but to create a suspenseful thriller of properly political and moral relevance."
This Is England is the story of a summertime school holiday, those long weeks between terms where life changing events can take place. It's 1983 and school is out. Twelve year old Shaun (Thomas Turpose) is an isolated lad growing up in a grim coastal town; his father has died fighting in the Falklands war. Over the course of the summer holiday he finds fresh male role models when those in the local skinhead scene take him in. With his new friends Shaun discovers a world of parties, first love and the joys of Doc Martin boots. Here he meets Combo (Stephen Graham) an older, racist skinhead who has recently gotten out of prison. As Combo's gang harasses the local ethnic minorities, the course is set for a rite of passage that will hurl Shaun from innocence to experience. As in most of Meadow's films, there is a fair amount of violence.
Red Road is a public housing block in Glasgow. Jackie (played by Kate Dickie) watches a bank of surveillance monitors. American audiences will be surprised to learn that in urban areas of the UK you will be caught by 300 surveillance cameras every day. She is an observer, not only at work but in her private life, until she see Clyde, a man whose careless driving plays a major part in her dispassionate life. His return, and her relentless interest in him, reveals a story of loss, revenge and redemption. This is the first film of three in a unique Scotland/Denmark financed film project.
Synopses of Highly Recommended Films
Almost Adult looks at teenagers entering the UK unaccompanied. Mamie is 17 and Shiku seems younger. Mamie left the Democratic Republic of the Congo in search of a better life. They are forced to work in exploitative conditions. See below for an interview with the director.
Bamako is set in the middle of a family home's courtyard (in reality the director's late father's home). In a poor section of Bamako, Mele's life goes on, ignoring the trial of the World Bank and the IMF. Not since Frantz Fanon and Richard Philcox's book Wretched of the Earth have so many African voices spoken out about their life. They may not be voices we want to hear but it is important we hear their cries. Director Abderrahmane Sissako proves that he is the most distinctive director now working in Africa. Bamako will be screened at the AFI on December 7.
Close to Home screens in the Washington Jewish Film Festival on Dec 6 and 9. Smader and Mirit are both 18 years old; other than that they have noting in common. Smadar is outgoing, vivacious and rebellious and lives alone. Mirit still lives with her parents, is quiet and toes the party line. As part of their military service they are assigned to patrol the streets of Jerusalem together. They must detail any Palestinians, check their papers, and register their details in special forms. But the willful Smadar has more on her mind than her service, things such as romance, hairstyles and how to outsmart their officers. Mirit is fascinated by Smadar and is desperate to start a friendship one day. Jerusalem's political reality is forced upon them.
No. 2 is adapted from the director's stage play. A matriarch decides that she must choose her successor as head of the family. It shows a family pulling itself together while falling apart.
Opera Jawa is the only film in the New Crowned Hope series, celebrating Mozart 250th Anniversary, to really put music front and center. It is a Javanese opera, sung to a gamelan-based score by Rahayu Supanggah, combining modern and traditional elements. Spectacular settings, superbly conceived and performed and like nothing you have ever seen before.
Son of Man is brought to the screen by the same group that filmed Bizet's U-Carmen last year. Dimpho Di Kopane looks now at the New Testament and bringing Christ's life to the screen. The voices are modern as is the setting with the fictional Judea representing any African country torn apart by internal upheavals. The music is crucial in this powerful film.
The Venice Film Festival: the Mostra, 63rd Edition
By Cheryl Dixon, DC Film Society Member
The Festival does not merely have a function of discovery and as a melting pot for new names and formulae. It looks at all the multiple aspects of filmmaking, which are all closely linked, and none of which may be underestimated. The Festival is also a place of celebration for established filmmakers, an opportunity for probing and discussion, a parade and meeting with leading stars and, not least, a marketplace. (Introduction by the President of the Venice Biennale, Davide Croff.)
The 63rd annual Venice Film Festival (the “Mostra”) included a lineup of 62 feature films, screened between August 30 and September 9, 2006. 21 feature films, all films in competition were screened as world premieres. Films screened represented 27 countries with Chad and Thailand screening in competition for the first time. The official selection included Films in Competition, Out of Competition, Orizzonti (Horizons, or new cinema trends), and Corto Cortissimo (Short Films). Retrospectives included The Secret History of Italian Cinema, with works by Bernardo Bertolucci, Mario Soldati, Luchino Visconti, and Roberto Rossellini, The Secret History of Russian Cinema, and a tribute to Brazilian filmmaker Joaquim Pedro de Andrade. For a complete description of the Festival’s mission, competition categories, and a complete roster of films, please see the Festival’s website.
What draws me (and others) back to Venice and the Venice Film Festival on the Lido Island year after year? Besides fabulous films and the opportunity to literally bump into world-renowned actors and filmmakers, including the usual, well-represented Hollywood contingent? Well, there’s that wonderful Italian culture--friendly, fun, fashionable, phenomenal. And, of course, one cannot deny the appeal of Venice’s magnificent, very special attributes: namely the beautiful, romantic, and unique setting of this city on water where the vaporetto and gondola abound.
It had been a couple of years since I had ventured to the surrounding islands. This time I revisited Murano to admire its handmade glassware. Also took the opportunity to check out the beach near the Westin Excelsior Hotel, perhaps inspired by the photography of generations of Venice beach-going celebrities in the book, “Bellissima,” found in the Festival bookstore. I also enjoyed delightful, classic, home-cooked Venetian meals, complete with “Spritz,” a local drink. It’s hard to pull away from the world of film, where, during the Festival, the daily news is Festival news found in the magazine, CIAK. It didn’t happen at the Festival if it doesn’t appear in CIAK!
What’s New, Exciting, and Different?
The buzz this year was all about the new Italian Film Festival, the RomeFilmFest (Cinema Festa Internazionale di Roma), held in Rome, in October. Many Venetians were concerned that people would stop coming to Venice, preferring Rome, and the draw of the excitement of a brand-new, large-scale film festival, with over 169 films, and 650 screenings. I assured them that people would continue coming to Venice because of its magical and unique setting, and also its history. The Venice Film festival is still the oldest and one of the largest film festivals in the world, second only in prestige to the Cannes Film Festival. Tough to beat.
Also gone was Beck’stage, last year’s bar/disco/lounge/interview room. Enter Nikki Beach, an upscale venue with seated dining areas and space for dancing, great music, and overall ambiance. At the Westin Excelsior Hotel, the Martini Lounge was up to its usual spectacular form. I sat around Ethan Hawke and Catalina Sandino Moreno as they described working in Hawke’s directorial debut film, The Hottest State. Spied Italian Actor, Stefano Accorsi, getting photographed there. Also, was very impressed with an African village setting next to the Lounge, later the scene of a swingin’ party.
The Lido Low-down
Star-gazers, what could be cooler than walking by the Palazzo, the scene of the red carpet action, and running into Sting? Maybe standing face to face with Catherine Deneuve or chatting with Cameron Crowe about how much you’ve admired his work since Say Anything. Venice is one of the places to run into a calvacade of stars in all kinds of places. For example, I ran into Director Allen Coulter (Hollywoodland) at the Venice airport and talked with him until his official welcoming committee located him. He was instantly recognizable because I had had a chance to meet him at Film Society’s screening of Hollywoodland. Told him I was very anxious to meet and greet a fellow Cantabridgian Ben Affleck, whom I later saw up close, but was surrounded by too many adoring fans. Unfortunately missed the Beckhams, David and Victoria (“Posh Spice,” if you recall), who arrived the day that I left. Finally got a bicycle tour of the Lido, while riding on the back of a bicycle, one of the most popular forms of transportation on the island, steered by a Roman friend, a George Clooney lookalike! See you on the Lido!
And the Winner is…2006 Awards
Golden Lion for best film to Still Life by Jia Zhang-Ke
Silver Lion for best director to Alain Resnais for the film Private Fears in Public Places
Silver Lion - Revelation to Emanuele Crialese for the film Nuovomondo - Golden Door
Special Jury Prize to Daratt by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Coppa Volpi for best actor to Ben Affleck in the film Hollywoodland by Allen Coulter
Coppa Volpi for best actress to Helen Mirren in the film The Queen by Stephen Frears
Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor or actress Isild Le Besco in the film L’intouchable by Benoît Jacquot
Osella for best technical contribution to Emmanuel Lubezki director of photography in the film Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón
Osella for best screenplay to Peter Morgan for the film The Queen by Stephen Frears
Special Lion to Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet for their innovation in the language of film
Orizzonti Prize to Mabei shang de fating by Liu Jie
Orizzonti Doc Prize to When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts by Spike Lee
PREMIO VENEZIA OPERA PRIMA "LUIGI DE DE LAURENTIIS”
Lion of the Future - Premio Venezia Opera Prima “LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS” to Khadak by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Special Mention to the film Adults Only by Yeo Joon Han
UIP Prize for best European short film to The Making of Parts by Daniel Elliott
Corto Cortissimo Lion for best short film to Comment on freine dans une descente? by Alix Delaporte
So, Who Was There?
Stefano Accorsi, Ben Affleck, Jaume Balaguero, David Beckham, Victoria Beckham, Juliette Binoche, Kenneth Branaugh, Adrien Brody, Sandra Bullock, Sergio Castelitto, Allen Coulter, Cameron Crowe, Catherine Deneuve, Brian De Palma, Emilio Estevez, Stephen Frears, Josh Hartnett, Anne Hathaway, Ethan Hawke, Bob Hoskins, Benoit Jacquot, Scarlett Johansson, Toby Jones, Diane Lane, David Lynch, Helen Mirren, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Spike Lee, Lindsay Lohan, Clive Owen, Alain Resnais, Christian Slater, Sting, Oliver Stone, Meryl Streep, Johnnie To, Paul Verhoeven, and Rachel Weisz, to name a few.
Satoshi Kon’s Paprika: This is your brain on anime
By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member
Last year, I interviewed Ciprea Cannavo, an Italian journalist and Asian film devotee, and she enlightened me about Japanese anime (animated) film. This year, I had the opportunity to interview renowned Writer/Director Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers). We discussed, through an interpreter, his latest film, Paprika (2006). Based on the popular sci-fi novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, this film also follows up on the very successful Japanese TV series featuring the same main character, Paprika.
Who is Paprika? She is the alter ego of Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a therapist who enters patients’ dreams to explore their unconscious thoughts as part of the course of treatment. This reminds me of a cross between “Brainstorm” and “Flatliners.” Unfortunately, the key to this unconventional and highly advanced psychological tool is stolen. The thief then uses the device to remove unsuspecting dreamers’ personalities. Dr. Chiba must now discover whodunit, by entering her patients’ dreams to uncover the one determined to undermine this new invention.
Paprika, as Dr. Chiba appears in the dreams, is no shrinking violet. She’s cute, smart, assertive, and physical. Think Xena. She can fight the bad guys when she needs to.
Satoshi spoke of the importance of dreams in Japanese culture--not as a scientific evaluation of life’s events, but highly considered for inquiry into what the dream’s meaning is and its significance to the individual’s waking life.
I asked him about the process of adapting the novel for the screen. He said that the original story was much longer and that there were many more characters, which would be difficult to include in a 90-minute film. He had to simplify the story, and change much of the novel’s imagery. He observed: What is literary cannot be simply adapted. Therefore much of the visual imagery in the film is completely original. There was a hodge-podge of jarring, vivid images on parade, for example, many of which were images from childhood. The film’s tagline, “This is your brain on anime” surely finds its origin in this scene. He described this scene as representing the composition of garbage or discarded images that you don’t think about anymore, but is still very much a part of the collection of images within the unconscious, which holds and records everything. He suggested that you find the parade of images much more in your dreams than in waking life.
He also talked about the fact that in Japan, before anime, manga (comic books) was popular. The idea is that if you make a manga movie, which is very particular to Japan, the images are quite similar to those found in a storyboard. Satoshi, a manga artist and background artist in several films prior to writing and directing his own, was thus able to integrate and develop his own style.
I also asked him about being a Tsutsui fan, and if there were other characters like Paprika, or stories that he was drawn to and would like to do in the future. He responded diplomatically that he had a few projects in mind, other stories that had a Tsutsui-like way of looking at things, but were also different.
Slowly, I am becoming accustomed to this art form, and its popularity is growing here in the U.S. as well. With the success of such Japanese films released in the U.S. like Anime Master Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke and even the use of comic-book images in the popular new TV series, “Heroes,” the reasons for anime attraction become readily apparent. Anime, in general, with its large-eyed, strong characters, universal-themed and complex storylines, and bright hues, has found a niche state-side. Satoshi Kon represents a new generation of manga/anime artists, whose body of work will be worth watching.
Notes from the Venice Film Festival
By Cheryl Dixon, DC Film Society Member
The screen offerings are diverse at the Venice Film Festival. So there’ll be something that will definitely interest you. If you choose to watch an American-made (or English-speaking) movie, here’s your chance to look at foreign subtitles, in this case, Italian, and hone your foreign language skills! Also, certain films present the opportunity to actually see the film principals attending the screening of their respective films. Here are my film notes for this year’s round.
So, what’s the advantage about seeing movies at the Venice Film Festival? You can actually meet the film stars and filmmakers who often attend the public screenings of their films. You can learn Italian (all of the films are screened in their original language with subtitles in English and Italian, yes, we’re talking in some cases two sets of subtitles on a single screen.) with all the words and phrases they won’t teach you in school! You will see, occasionally films that are already released in the U.S., but this time can see again with a heavily-Italian audience. More often, however, you will see film premieres.
I saw lots of great films. My favorites? Spike Lee’s documentary prize-winning When the Levees Broke, Stephen Frears’ The Queen, and Douglas McGrath’s Infamous. Here follows a brief synopsis of a selection of these films with commentary.
The Black Dahlia
I had expected to see a bit more of “Hollywoodland” in this film, but it was quite different. Both Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank were excellent in their femme fatale roles and this was the best acting I’ve ever seen of Josh Hartnett. Kudos to Aaron Eckhart and other supporting actors for great performances all around. Beautifully-styled and costumed, the story, however, based a film noir/mystery/thriller based on James Ellroy’s best-selling novel about the real-life murder of a Hollywood ingénue, requires rapt attention to details throughout. With the multiple plot twists and developments, one can be left wondering how everything ties up in the end.
Emilio Estevez writes and directs a compelling story with a stellar ensemble cast: Harry Belafonte, Nick Cannon, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Freddy Rodriguez, Christian Slater, and Sharon Stone. It’s about the people present at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated there. Drama surrounding drama.
Director Darren Aronofsky’s movie deals with the serious questions about love, life, illness, death, and immortality - the deeper questions about life, death, loving, and living in three stories spanning thousands of years. I found this enjoyable and “different,” a “thinking person’s” movie, like an Ingmar Bergman movie. Perhaps a bit obscure for some audiences, this movie is for when you are tired of “lighter fare” and want a look at the “heavier” life issues. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are perfectly cast as the immortal lovers.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Based on a true story, this movie was written and directed by Dito Montiel (and produced by Trudie Styler, Sting’s wife, and hence the likely reason for Sting’s appearance at the Festival). Robert Downey, Jr., Rosario Dawson, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Shia LaBeouf round out the cast. Set in the 1980s, the story depicts N.Y. gang life, the tragic loss of life due to drugs and violence, and the rescue from the saints.
The Hottest State
Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut speaks candidly about the plusses and perils of both falling in and out of love. There’s a particularly poignant scene where the male lead character, William, portrayed by Mark Webber, keeps calling his ex-girlfriend, Sara, portrayed by Catalina Sandino Moreno, repeatedly to persuade her to come back to him. We’ve all been there. Very heartfelt film, also written by and based on the novel by Ethan Hawke. Auspicious debut.
Does lighting ever strike twice in the same place? This is the story of Truman Capote’s visit to Kansas during the trial of the murderers of a farming family and his subsequent love affair with one of the murderers while writing his masterpiece, “In Cold Blood.” It had been magnificently told before with the stunning, Oscar-winning performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as Capote. I could not believe that this excellent film version, likewise, features another amazing, Oscar-worthy portrayal of Capote, this time by British actor Toby Jones. Kudos to Writer/Director Douglas McGrath. Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, plays Toby Jones’ love interest.
La Stella Che Non C’e (The Missing Star)
Director Gianni Amelio presents an Italian/Swiss/French production featuring Sergio Castellitto and Tai Ling. Vincenzo Buonavolonta, an Italian steel mill worker goes in search of a flawed piece of equipment sold to a Chinese firm. Accompanied by Liu Ha, a Chinese university student, he travels from Shanghai to Mongolia to find the defective furnace part. His travels lead to discovery about himself and the nature of the world around him. Touching. Wonderful acting and scenery.
Writer/Director Satoshi Kon (“Millennium Actress,” “Tokyo Godfathers”) delivers on this anime film based on the popular sci-fi novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. The key to an unconventional and highly advanced psychological tool is stolen, and the thief then uses the device to remove unsuspecting dreamers’ personalities. Dr. Chiba, a therapist who uses this device to enter patients’ dreams to explore their unconscious thoughts as part of the course of treatment must now discover whodunit. Paprika is the alter ego of Dr. Atsuko Chiba. Very entertaining film with strong visuals.
Private Fears in Public Places
This movie was a critical favorite at the Festival. Super-cool uber French Director Alain Resnais wearing a designer power suit and dark sunglasses, made his presence known and received the loud round of applause from the journalists. A French/Italian production featuring Lambert Wilson, Andre Dussollier, Pierre Arditi, Laura Morante, and Isabelle Carre, the movie focuses on disappointing love relationships. A little sad, romance should be great when in Paris.
I’ve long admired Helen Mirren’s work and was therefore not surprised that she could be equally adept playing English Queens both past and present (she has also portrayed Elizabeth I ). Although the prospect of portraying presently living British royalty was quite terrifying, the petite Ms. Mirren, is a powerhouse. Full of the charm, wit, and effervescent personality that similarly characterizes the film’s Director Stephen Frears and Writer Peter Morgan, Ms. Mirren delivers a brilliant performance. This one’s a no-brainer, the word was out that we might just as well hand her the Best Actress Oscar. I couldn’t agree more.
Quelques Jours en Septembre
Juliette Binoche as an assassin? Brother/Sister incest? September 11 as a backdrop? Such are the wide-ranging topics in this Italy/France/Portugual collaboration. John Turturro and Nick Nolte join Binoche in this action drama. A C.I.A. Agent (Nolte) searches for his abandoned daughter with the help of a French agent (Binoche) and his adopted son. A counter-agent (Turturro) anxious to obtain classified information sets out to capture the C.I.A. Agent before he can reunite with his missing daughter. Tales of international espionage and flight from Paris to Venice are always stimulating, but was the brother-sister incest really necessary?
When the Levees Broke
Spike Lee’s HBO Documentary brought back in vivid color and full-scale the imagery of the disaster Hurricane Katrina wrought one year before. Coincidentally occurring during last year’s Festival, the hurricane’s dramatic story is revealed in a no-holds-barred film, including the varying perspectives of ordinary citizens, visitors, and federal, state, and local officials. The documentary includes insight into the history of levee troubles prior to the event and past flooding as a result. A must-see, three-hankie effort, the film excels in the telling of first-person stories of the devastating impact on individual lives. Well-deserved winner of the Orizzonti Documentary prize.
Movies seen before and seen again with Italian subtitles: Hollywoodland, The Devil Wears Prada, World Trade Center.
Films I wish that I had seen: The U.S. v. John Lennon, The Untouchable, Khadak, Letters from the Sahara.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
The AFI celebrates Carol Reed's centennial with a series of films including The Stars Look Down, The Way Ahead, Night Train to Munich, The Fallen Idol, Odd Man Out with a few more in January. A series of Francis Ford Coppola films includes One From the Heart, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, the Conversation with more concluding in January.
The last of the East German films "Rebels with a Cause" ends at the AFI with the formerly banned The Rabbit is Me (1965/1990) and Goya (1971).
Films for the holidays include It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992).
The AFI takes part in the Washington Jewish Film Festival with Nina's Home, You're So Pretty and Steel Toes.
"Judy Garland Sings!" showcases some of Judy's finest musicals including The Pirate, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Star is Born.
A series of new films from Africa are shown December 7-11 with numerous DC premieres: features, documentaries and shorts, many with filmmakers present. See below.
Freer Gallery of Art
Part II of "Discoveries 2006" concludes in December. On December 8 at 7:00pm is The Forsaken Land (Vimukthi Jayasundera, 2005) from Sri Lanka; on December 10 at 2:00pm is It's Only Talk (Ryuichi Hiroki, 2006) from Japan, and on December 15 at 7:00pm is Midnight My Love (Kongdej Jaturanrassamee, 2005) from Thailand. All are DC premieres.
National Gallery of Art
A series of films by Swedish director Victor Sjostrom concludes in December with films made in Sweden and Hollywood. Hollywood films include The Wind (1928) on December 10 at 4:00pm, The Girl From Stormy Croft (1917) on December 16 at 2:00pm and The Scarlet Letter (1927) on December 16 at 4:00pm. Swedish films are The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) on December 17 at 4:00pm, Ingeborg Holm shown withThe Gardner (1912) on December 23 at 12:00noon, A Man There Was (1917) shown with The Sea Vultures (1916) on December 30 at 2:00pm and The Phantom Chariot (1921) on December 31 at 2:00pm.
At a lecture and film program "Germaine Dulac and Pure Cinema" on December 3 at 4:00pm, Dr. Tami Williams will discuss Germaine Dulac and her position in the history of art. Screenings of two films will follow: L'invitation au voyage (1927) and La souriante Madame Beudet (1923).
Other special events include The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, 2006) on December 1 at 6:30pm with the filmmakers present for discussion. On December 9 at 4:30pm is Bandits of Orgosolo (Vittorio De Seta, 1961) preceded by a short film A Day in Barbagia (1958). On December 23 at 2:00pm is Joan the Maid: The Battles (Jacques Rivette, 1994) and on December 24 at 2:00pm is Joan the Maid: The Prisons (Jacques Rivette, 1994).
The Gallery takes part in the Washington Jewish Film Festival with The Rape of Europe (Bonni Cohen, 2005) on December 8 at 12:30pm.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Taking part in the Washington Jewish Film Festival, the museum shows Barbara Hammer's Lover Other (2006), about surrealist artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore on December 6 at 6:30pm; director Barbara Hammer will be present at the screening.
Films on the Hill
On December 6 at 7:00pm is Cardinal Richelieu (Rowland Lee, 1935) with George Arliss who made a name for himself in historical roles, this time inhabiting the manipulative Cardinal Richelieu, power behind the throne to France's weak King Louis XIII. On December 8 at 7:00pm is Ah, Wilderness! (Clarence Brown, 1935) based on Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, a coming of age story set 100 years ago starring Lionel Barrymore, Mickey Rooney and Wallace Beery. On December 13 at 7:00pm is Devil Dogs of the Air (Lloyd Bacon, 1935), the second teaming of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, who were so successful as a pair that they made nine films together.
Washington Jewish Community Center
See below for the 17th annual Washington Jewish Film Festival with more than 50 films, features, documentaries and shorts, from all over the world.
The "Shades of Noir" films include The Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, 1940) shown with Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944) on December 1 at 6:30pm; Gunn (Blake Edwards, 1967) on December 8 at 7:00pm; Brainstorm (William Conrad, 1965) on December 12 at 7:00pm; and Hollow Triumph (Steve Sekely, 1948) shown with Lady in the Death House (Steve Sekely, 1944) on December 15 at 6:30pm.
A series "New Women in German Cinema" focuses on female stars. On December 4 at 6:30pm is Snowland (Hans W. Geissendorfer, 2004) starring Julia Jentsch; on December 11 at 6:30pm is Baader (Christopher Roth, 2003) starring Laura Tonke; on December 12 at 6:30pm is Sunday Girls (RP Kahl, 2005), a documentary with four young German stars; on December 18 at 6:30pm is Ghosts (Christian Petzold, 2005) starring Julia Hummer.
On December 5 at 7:00pm is Nickel and Dime (Sam Karmann, 2003), a gangsterfilm based on Désir Carré, a petty criminal who decided at age forty to begin acting after several stays in jail. On December 14 at 6:30pm is a double feature French Fried Vacation (1978) shown with San Claus is a Louse (1982).
On December 7 at noon is Pearl Harbor (John Ford, 1942). On December 8 at 7:00pm is Wilson (Henry King, 1944), a feature film about President Woodrow Wilson, introduced by Eric Vettel, director of the Woodrow Wilson presidential library.
The Avalon takes part in the Washington Jewish Film Festival with 51 Birch Street (Doug Block, 2005) a documentary about the director's parents; and Wide Awake (2006), a documentary by Alan Berliner about sleep and sleeplessness. See the WJFF website for details.
The Avalon's "Asian Cinevisions" film for December is Isabella (Ho-Cheung Pang, 2006) on December 13 at 8:00pm.
For the "French Cinémathèque" series is Work Hard, Play Hard (Jean-Marc Moutout) on December 20 at 8:00pm.
The History Boys (2006), adapted from the Tony award winning play will be screened on December 6 at 7:00pm. Following the film, NPR film critic Bob Mondello will discuss the mechanics of turning a stage play into a film.