[Rendez-vous with French Cinema]

I had excellent taste — or excellent luck — this month at SIFF’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema. They selected eight features from the Lincoln Center showcase, I made it to four of them, and I enjoyed them all, despite the middling IMDb ratings. Hooray!

* The series opened with The Screen Illusion, a film directed for television by my beloved Mathieu Amalric. It’s an adaptation of the 1639 Pierre Corneille play, which is actually a meta play. In the original text, a father is told he can see the actions of his missing son through a magical device. In the film, he watches his son as recorded on hotel security footage.

It reminded me of the National Theatre’s recent Hamlet, where the characters were always surrounded by castle security. It’s interesting to me that these plays, centuries old, can so easily be updated to a world of constant surveillance. The walls always have had ears!

The update totally works, & is a lot of fun all the way through. I particularly appreciated the skill of the translator; I’ve never studied Cornielle, but the language of the subtitles felt appropriately stylized.

* Moon Child is a drama about the relationship between a young teen with XP and the doctor who has cared for him. Excellent performances from both the kid (dealing with puberty when his life expectancy is barely into his 20s) & the doctor (who has been appointed to a new position & can’t figure out how to break the news to his patient.)

* Last Screening was described as a cross between Psycho & Cinema Paradiso, & that is exactly what it was. If I were going to remake it for the English speaking audience, I would cast a young Don McKellar in the lead, as the cinema manager slash serial killer. Very spare & static, some parts almost a desaturated Almodovar, to great creepy effect.

* Last in the series was 17 Girls, which reminded me quite a bit of Sofia Coppola’s work, particularly The Virgin Suicides. Inspired by an incident in 2008 when the pregnancy rate in particular school quadrupled & a pregnancy pact among the girls was rumored, this film moved the story from a fishing town in Massachusetts to the coast of France.

The location was an obvious change given the filmmakers, but it really makes it a completely different story to remove it from the particular American debate on sexuality, sex education, abortion, etc. (It was particularly striking in an early scene where teachers complained that they couldn’t force the girls to have abortions!)

However, that transatlantic shift left space to focus on the mysterious motivations of the girls, room for their own contemplation, and the tension of their relationships (largely to each other; in spite of the many pregnancies male characters have very little weight.)

(Side note: according to the SIFF website 3 of the 4 films I saw were meant to be broadcast with filmmaker Q&As which had been recorded at the Lincoln Center screenings. However, no Q&As were shown and no explanation was given. Not a big deal, but it was curious.)

[My Five Favorite Things About The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One. No, Really.]

Before we begin, I should mention that my previous Twilight experience consisted of reading 2/3 of the first book before metaphorically throwing it across the room, & watching the baseball scene from the first movie twice on YouTube.

Also, I once read a truly amazing series of illustrated recaps on LiveJournal, where Alice was played by Bjork. Thanks to that, I knew that Breaking Dawn was the movie where all the crazy shit went down: the honeymoon with a side of domestic violence, the instant pregnancy, the chewing open of the womb, and last, but not least, the fresh-outta-high-school werewolf deciding that this newborn baby is exactly the sort of lady he’s been looking for.

Luckily, even though the final book has been split into two movies, all of that happened in the first movie, making it an obvious must-see. So we did. Of course it was terrible. Of course it was! There’s no way for it not to be. The story, the script, the acting, the music, all of it is terrible. That said, here are my five favorite things about the movie:

1) The actual film-going experience. First we saw Arthur Christmas (which was pretty strange), then met friends with vastly more Twilight experience for Breaking Dawn. If you plan to see it, I advise you do the same thing: go with people who know something about Twilight, and leave time to go out afterwards so they can explain everything. Trust me; you’ll have questions.

2) Michael Sheen spending about 30 seconds chewing the scenery during the closing credits. This was the best part of the movie to such a degree that it damn near talked me into seeing the last one, which apparently involves a vampire war? Where one presumes he & Lee Pace will both chew a lot of scenery? We’ll see how I feel when it actually comes out. I might have come to my senses by then.

3) Anna Kendrick being snarky. I love her anyway, and apparently it was her job to say what we all were thinking. Unfortunately, she isn’t around for nearly enough of the movie.

4) The werewolf council scene, which was essentially Snow Dogs but with werewolves. Though Snow Dogs probably had better effects.

5) Taylor Lautner being ridiculous. For example, he managed to remove his shirt within five seconds of the start of the picture. Not that I want him to take his shirt off, but I think that must be some sort of land speed record. Also, I enjoyed all of the bits where he tried really hard to act, particularly when he attempted to keep a straight face when Bella tells him she wants to name the baby Renesmee. Not to mention the whole imprinting thing, about which the less said the better.

So. There you go. Much as I hate to harsh other people’s squee, I genuinely do not understand you people who love the books or the movies. I tried! I love terrible books & movies too, but apparently not this set. In particular, I have a really difficult time with the racism and the domestic violence. Sorry about that.

Related, it was an unpleasant surprise in this one to find out that the racism isn’t limited to Meyer’s exploitation of the Quileute tribe. Thanks, unexpected trip to Brazil, home of more folks with mysterious legends about blood-sucking demons!

Yup.

[Like Crazy]

Your tolerance for Like Crazy can probably be judged by your response to this question: do you think overstaying a visa is stupid or romantic?

I think it’s stupid. And I knew it was a key part of the plot going into it, because for once I had seen the trailer. But I was interested in the entire cast: Anton Yelchin was pretty adorable in the remake of Fright Night, Felicity Jones I had liked in the most recent film of The Tempest, and obviously I love Jennifer Lawrence & Alex Kingston because I am only human. So I gave it a chance, but…

It’s still stupid! It just is! It is very stressful for audience members who are friends with multiple binational couples! You don’t fuck around with the State Department! It is a bad idea! And it’s all the more irritating because of course the couple in question is straight and white and financially secure and basically oozing privilege. Which is why, I suppose, they think they can just disregard rules and remain consequence-free.

And yet, the damn thing kind of worked on me. It’s beautifully shot. There’s plenty of show-and-not-tell. The couple is young and stupid and in love, and I suppose most people have been there. I particularly liked the depiction of the passage of time, the realistic way in which they fell in and out of each other’s lives, and the perfect ending.

A perfect ending goes a long way with me. But overstaying a visa is still stupid.

[MIFFF: Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival 2011]

This is the first year I attended the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival, a weekend-long festival highlighting genres that don’t tend to be selected for more traditional programs.

The festival itself was in its third year, and while I believe previous years tended more towards the horror side of things at least as far as features went, this year included strong features without gore. Which worked out much better for me, because splatter-splatter type horror generally is not my thing.

The opening night film was Midnight Son, which I think could best be called a mumblecore vampire movie. Despite that description, I quite enjoyed it.

It’s about a young man who has structured his life around his rare skin condition which means he cannot be exposed to sunlight. He lives in a basement apartment & works as a night watchman. Of course, just as his condition starts to grow more complex and demanding (hello, coffee cup full of blood!), he meets a young woman with a few problems of her own.

It was a treat to see a vampire movie so removed from traditional mythology, and the low budget style was a good match for Jacob’s underground life, even though it went ever-so-slightly over the top at the end. It is hard to resist some traditional gore!

::

Boy Wonder was a strong thriller about a boy whose mother was killed in front of him during a carjacking when he was small. Now a teenager living with his recovering alcoholic father, he continues to obsess over finding her killer as well as stalking the city at night as a gritty take on real life superheroes.

He has interesting relationships with the cops at the local precinct, particularly with the outgoing cop who worked on his mother’s case & the lady cop who comes in to fill the retiree’s spot.

The script is tight, the film is very well cast (Bill Sage as the father is particularly effective, I think because I know him best from Mysterious Skin & Precious, both of which bring a clear ick factor), and all threads are brought back together in a satisfying ending.

::

The poster on the IMDb page for Absentia sells it as totally the sort of movie it isn’t, which is unfortunate, because it was definitely my favorite feature of the festival for its concept, its subtle creep factor, its use of fairy tale, and most of all for its neat inversion of some expected gender roles.

Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years, and her sister Callie has come to support her as she puts through the paperwork to have him declared dead in absentia.

Once the papers are signed, though, Tricia starts seeing her husband again. Is he still alive? Where has he been? Is she dreaming? What is the deal with the creepy tunnel at the end of the block?

I loved that it starred ladies, that the primary missing characters were men (including the always-creepy Doug Jones) rather than the typical white-girls-in-jeopardy, and that not *once* did someone blame Tricia’s pregnancy for the things she was seeing and feeling. That in particular was a huge thing for me; I kept waiting for someone to blame her visions of her missing husband on hormones, and it never happened.

I strongly recommend it. I raved about it on Twitter immediately afterwards and I still hold to that.

::

I saw the trailer for The Selling lots during the festival, and it made me giggle every time, which I felt was a good sign.

Richard Scarry (yes, he tells us, like the children’s book author) is a real estate agent who only wants the best for his clients, even if that means talking them out of houses they can’t actually afford. He needs money for his sick mother’s medical bills, though, so he goes along with his friend’s plan to buy & flip a house for profit.

Trouble is, the house is haunted.

The horror-comedy concept works for about 2/3 of the movie, though it gets a little ridiculous at the end. It’s probably worth it, though, just for Richard & Dave’s initial forays into the house, their challenges renovating, and definitely for the open house. It occurs to me now that it might actually have worked better tightened up into a short.

::

Speaking of shorts, I saw the science fiction and fantasy shorts packages. I was excited about how many of the films were not from the United States. Like at the Sci Fi & Fantasy Shorts Festival, I really enjoy seeing the speculative fiction of other cultures, and often a short is the best length of time to play out an idea.

Best of SciFi: Vorgon’s Lonesome Raid (it isn’t easy being a giant monster), Status (getting a Facebook chip in your wrist doesn’t seem that far away), & Earthship (does the world get better or worse after you’ve been hiding from it for years?).

Best of Fantasy: The Astronaut on the Roof (a meta road movie, which allllmost goes too far with the concept but reins itself in at the last minute), Employee of the Month (finding new jobs for genre characters is challenging, but pole dancing is always an option), Dolls Factory (life *can* be too automated), & The Hollow Man’s Tragedy (what if you had no heart at all?)

I am particularly sorry that I missed the animated shorts package, but my knees can only take so many hours, so I had to miss a few things. Do any of you have favorites from that or the horror set that I should seek out? What did you think of The Melancholy Fantastic?

[SIFF weekend three]

+ Small Town Murder Songs is the rare movie that could have stood to be longer by about 15-20 minutes. I would have very much liked to see some of the subthreads teased out just a little bit more, but I understand that that director saw it the other way, wanting to pare it down to the essentials. Which is fair: it’s his movie!

On one level it’s a straightforward crime thriller, with a young woman* being found dead in a small (largely Mennonite) town in Ontario. The strong direction, the intriguing use of chapter titles, the freakin’ awesome soundtrack (must own!), each kick it up a notch.

It also features the final performance of Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs. (I do not like this particular SIFF theme. Perhaps final performances from two actresses does not a trend make?)

+ The Whisperer in Darkness was my first Lovecraft experience and fine, guys, you win. I am intrigued. This was a 1930s-style adaptation, with a lot of elements common with noir, which of course I love. The team also did a short silent film of The Call of Cthulhu, which I will now have to seek out.

+ I had been looking forward to Amador, but then I read a description of it as “mumblecore Almodovar”. I panicked a little. See, I hate mumblecore. But I love Almodovar! Dilemma! Unnecessary, as it turns out, because Amador was neither of those things. But it was quite good.

Marcela (the luminous Magaly Solier) is in rather desperate financial straits, so she takes on the job of caring for Amador (Celso Bugallo), an older, bedridden man. They gradually develop a quiet friendship in spite of themselves, but then he dies while she is still in great need of the money.

It’s a lovely character-driven film, and one of my favorites of the festival.

+ I had been a little nervous about Boy because it is from Taika Waititi, the same writer-director as Eagle vs Shark. And I know a lot of you love that movie, but it was just. so. painful to watch. For me. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment, & I wound up fast forwarding to see how it ended.

To my great relief, Boy was a sweet movie about Boy who lives on a farm in New Zealand with his grandmother & cousins, his goat, and his little brother Rocky, who thinks he has superpowers. Boy believes that when his father comes back he’ll take him to see Michael Jackson in concert. When his father *does* come back things don’t go exactly as Boy expected. Recommended.

+ Secret #3 was one of my favorite kinds of films. Also, it was from a country from which I have never seen a bad movie. In fact, I think I have only seen awesome movies from there. It was not Cars 2. Pixar is not a country.

+ Project Nim is a heartbreaking must-see documentary from James Marsh (director of my beloved Man on Wire. Nim was a chimpanzee stolen from his mother and given to a family in New York City, who taught him ASL & purported to raise him as a human child. That’s just the beginning of the story, which basically ate my brains. You should see it, but only when you’re feeling emotionally stable. And if you haven’t seen Man on Wire, you should see that too.

+ Finally, Detention was billed as The Breakfast Club-meets-Scream. Which made me nervous, to be honest, especially since parody films almost never work for me. But Detention totally did. It rushes at a breakneck pace, cramming in references to those films and more. But don’t look up which ones: it’s much better to be surprised. It’s totally absurd, a ridiculous amount of fun, and never boring. But you have to be a Bad Teen Movie fan willing to go along for the ride. Which I am.

* why is it always a girl? I mean, I know why. I just get tired.