Archive for March, 2011

Pure and Poligamy

March 14, 2011

Pure is a Swedish drama with a much longer Swedish title (“Till det som är vackert,” for which the literal translation is “For it is beautiful”). The main character is a 20-ish girl with a history of being easy and an alcoholic mother who encourages her to do whatever she can do to hang onto her boyfriend. She has recently discovered classical music and goes to a concert with her boyfriend. She is mesmerized and he is, well, not.

I’m not going to say much more, except that Søren Kierkegaard’s name comes up. Other than the main character, the other characters seem less real, but that is only a small demerit. I’ll give it a strong out of .

Poligamy is a Hungarian romantic comedy that was recommended to me by at least one co-worker who saw it earlier in the festival. The premise is that every morning when András wakes up, his girlfriend Lilla is a different woman, meaning she looks different, has a different personality, has a different job, has decorated their apartment differently, and so on. But she and everyone else think that nothing has changed, and the evidence (photos, videos, etc.) support that. Is András crazy?

I will give this a low  out of  because it is quite enjoyable, but it feels like it could have been more. The rules of this universe seem to change partway through the film, probably because it was too hard to make a feature-length film while sticking with the original premise. So I would say it’s fairly fun but not very deep.

Both seen on 3/11/2011 at Cinequest.

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Potiche and Everything Will be Fine

March 12, 2011

Potiche is a French comedy set in 1977, and the title apparently means trophy wife in French. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu and was directed by François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, and Under the Sand). Deneuve plays Suzanne Pujol, who’s father’s umbrella factory is now being run by her philandering husband Robert. Depardieu plays a former union organizer and current local political figure.

The film really feels like it came from the 1970’s, and it manages to blend broad comedy with some actual meaningful material. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and would give it out of . Question: Is the umbrella factory an homage to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, one of Deneuve’s earliest roles?

Everything Will be Fine is a Danish drama that is very hard to decipher, but I greatly enjoyed trying. The main character is Jacob, a screenwriter who is struggling with his latest script when he comes into the possession of some politically explosive photographs. He becomes obsessed with the pictures, dropping almost everything else in his life.

The reasons the film is difficult to decipher are that it has a convoluted timeline, and (you might not want to keep reading if you want to come into the film fresh) it’s not clear what is real and what is imagined by Jacob. I’ll give it a very strong out of .

Both seen on 3/9/2011 at Cinequest.

Rosa Morena and Copacabana

March 9, 2011

Rosa Morena is a Danish drama set in Brazil, so it’s probably at least as much in Portugeuse as it is in Danish (both languages are subtitled, of course). In the film, Thomas is a single gay man who wants a child. He cannot adopt in Denmark, and he’s hoping that he might be able to find a way to adopt while he’s visiting his friend in Brazil. Complications ensue and abound, and I will not spoil the film by detailing any of them. Mostly I liked it quite a bit, though the ending felt a little too tidy. I’ll give it out of .

Copacabana is a French comedy set substantially in Belgium, reversing the trend (in the films I’ve seen at this festival anyway) to film in sunnier countries than the film’s country of origin. Isabelle Huppert (from The Piano Teacher, I Heart Huckabees, and 8 Women) is the main reason I picked this film, and even though she is very different here (especially when compared with The Piano Teacher), I’m glad I did. She plays Babou, a free-spirit who doesn’t seem to have held a job for any length of time, and who dreams of traveling or even moving to Brazil. Her daughter (played by her real-life daughter) is far more conventional, which leads to friction. I won’t say more except to say that it surprised me frequently and I really liked it, but it was hurt a little bit by a highly improbable event near the end, so I’ll give it out of .

Both seen on 3/7/2011 at Cinequest.

Living for 32, Irena Sendler, A Perfect Soldier, and Dying to Do Letterman

March 8, 2011

Living for 32 is a short (40 minute) documentary about the Virginia Tech shootings, focusing primarily on one student who was shot four times but survived. He has since focused a big part of his energies on tightening up gun regulations, most specifically on applying the same background check requirements on buyers at gun shows that apply to buyers at normal gun stores. The hidden camera videos showing how it is possible to buy an automatic weapon with zero paperwork (just verbally stating that you’re a resident of the state and over 18 years old) was very compelling to me. I’ve become less dogmatically anti-gun in recent years, but if the laws being pursued in this film have not already passed, I will be supporting them. And any film that shifts my political thinking has got to get a good review, so I’ll give it  out of .

Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers is a documentary about a Polish woman who, with a great deal of help, saved the lives of more Jews than Schindler. It’s pretty heart-wrenching to hear about children starving to death, but it’s also great to see some of the people who were saved and also those who did the saving, talking about their experiences. The film combines these recent interviews with vintage footage well and it’s an important subject, but it felt a bit slow to me, so I can only give it out of .

A Perfect Soldier is a documentary about land mines in Cambodia, and specifically about one man (Aki Ra) who as a boy was conscripted into various armies and decided to atone for his earlier bad deeds by removing land mines. He uses extremely simple tools and techniques, but has removed and defused thousands of mines without any injuries. He created a makeshift museum, and has also adopted many children, giving them an education and life that they would not have gotten otherwise. The name of the film is a reference to land mines being perfect soldiers because they will wait patiently for years to do their jobs.

The film is hard to watch when people are shown defusing mines, but it is well done and worth seeing. I’ll give it out of . An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.

The director, producer, and cinematographer were at the screening for a brief question and answer session (there may be spoilers here, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • How did they find this story? The director visited the museum, and later talked the others into going to Cambodia and making this film.
  • A fair number of mines are U.S. made (China and Russia are the other two significant manufacturers).
  • Cambodia is the second most mined country, after Afghanistan. It is estimated that there are 2 to 3 million mines still in Cambodia.
  • Newly-made mines stop being active after some period, whereas old mines stay active indefinitely.
  • See aperfectsoldier.com for more details.

The Village was a Greek short shown before Soldier. It was a slow moving stop-action film that didn’t do much for me.

Dying to Do Letterman is a documentary about a comedian named Steve Mazan who has wanted to do Letterman since he was a child. A cancer diagnosis speeds up the timetable significantly. This setup could have gone very badly, but the film is far more uplifting than it is depressing, and Steve is in fact quite funny. It made me start to think about what things I might want to do but haven’t been actively working on, and it got a bit dusty (as they say on Filmspotting) in the theater towards the end. So I have to give it out of . An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.

The cast (Steve and his wife Denise) and filmmakers (Joke and Biagio) were at the screening to answer questions (there may be spoilers here):

  • First there was a standing ovation, which is funny since he told a joke about how you get shamed into standing once others start.
  • Larry “Bubbles” Brown, another comedian who appears in the film, was also at the screening, as were Steve’s mother and sister and other friends.
  • What’s next? Not sure, but creating the movie was the next thing after getting on Letterman.
  • The film started just as self-filmed video clips, but once he brought Joke and Biagio in, they gave him a better camera for those.
  • The two dogs were old and have both since passed away.
  • The person at Letterman who said it was impossible still works there, and is actually pretty nice.
  • Lots of people at Letterman were following the story, which he didn’t know until he got there.
  • Cinequest programmer Michael Rabehl talked him into premiering the film here.
  • Letterman is a very reclusive person, so there wasn’t any interaction except what you see in the film.
  • Someone they know named Erika had a very similar cancer, and just died on the day that we saw the film.

In the interest of full disclosure I got a free T-shirt just before I entered the theater, and the screening was sponsored by YouSendIt, a company that my wife did some contract work for recently.

All seen on 3/6/2011 at Cinequest.

Among Us and Limbo

March 7, 2011

Among Us opens with Ernst at work as an insurance claims person of some sort, though based on his office and his suit he must be an upper-level supervisor. He explains to the person calling that if the premiums are not payed, you cannot expect to be insured.

I’m not going to say much about the plot, but the other main characters are his wife, Cecilia (played by the Bond girl from GoldenEye, though if you read that as a negative, don’t), their son, Alexander, and a French man named Walter. The film will hopefully work for you as well as it did for me if you just go with it and don’t analyze it too carefully. The acting is good and sometimes excellent, and while the story feels a little corny at times, it really worked for me.

Oh, and it’s mostly in Swedish and French, with subtitles. I’ll give it a low out of .

Limbo is a Norwegian drama set mostly in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad. I don’t recall there ever being any mention of what year it was, but based on the cars, music, and other clues, I would guess it was set in the 1970’s.

The film opens when Jo has been in Trinidad working in the oil industry for the better part of a year, with his wife Sonia and their two children staying behind in Norway so Sonia can take care of her mother. But very shortly the family is reunited in Trinidad, where the children quickly adapt but Sonia encounters difficulties. The other major characters are Daniel and Charlotte, another couple going through their own challenges.

The film is quite good, perhaps especially in the acting, and it ends with a very un-Hollywood-like ambiguity, which I like. I’ll give it a strong  out of .

All seen on 3/5/2011 at Cinequest.

Mamma Gógó

March 4, 2011

I picked Mamma Gógó because it is from Iceland, but didn’t really know what I would be getting myself into. The film opens with a director introducing his film Children of Nature (which turns out to be a real film, by the director of this film). This film within the film is about old people, and it doesn’t get very big audiences, putting the largely self-funding director into financial difficulties. Meanwhile the director’s mother (the title character) starts exhibiting signs of absent mindedness.

On the positive side, the acting is quite good, especially by the actress playing the mother, and the subject matter (Alzheimer’s) is quite important. My main complaint would be that the film sometimes seems to want to be a comedy, and those parts fell flat for me. Overall I’ll give it  out of .

The film was preceded by a short documentary called Sunday’s Best, about the tradition of African-American women wearing hats to church. It was good, especially considering the subject matter is not something I am particularly interested in.

Seen on 3/2/2011 at Cinequest.

Cinequest 21 opening night: Passione

March 4, 2011

Passione was the opening night film at Cinequest 21, in the historic California Theater. The festival’s founder, Halfdan Hussey, started things off, and then we heard from the man who invented the cell phone, or at least lead its development at Motorola. I was never clear how that connected with Cinequest, but at least he was more interesting than the weather person who followed him. She kept her remarks brief, and the film itself started only 30 minutes after the official starting time.

The film turned out to be a personal documentary by John Turturro about Naples, Italy, focusing almost exclusively on music. Since the musical numbers were staged, sometimes elaborately, it might be closer to a musical. In any case I was pretty tired and missed some parts, though several of the musical numbers were quite enjoyable, and I found myself wondering if the soundtrack was available to buy. Since being tired was my fault, I’ll give it a weak out of .

After the film there was a very well done montage of Turturro’s work. Then he was given the Maverick Spirit Award, and there was an interview done on stage. Sadly the interviewer was either unprepared or just really bad at interviewing. Any film reviewer or film teacher could have done substantially better. Oh, well.

Seen on 3/1/2011 at Cinequest.

Oil Rocks, Complaints Choir, The House of Branching Love, and Mother

March 4, 2011

[This post is about the final day of last year’s Cinequest film festival, and was mostly but not completely written then. I figured I better post it before I post anything about this year’s festival.]

Oil Rocks is a documentary about a city built in a shallow area of the Caspian Sea, hours from shore, during World War II. Originally it had 300km (about 180 miles) of roadways, though many of them have fallen into disrepair or disappeared completely due to years of exposure to waves and storms. The city is not open to anyone but the workers who live there, and the director spent 10 years before finally getting permission to visit and film.

The documentary was interesting, especially when it’s about the people who live there. The most memorable was a woman who has been there essentially from the beginning, which means 60 years. At one point she caught a fish for the local cats (I don’t think they were specifically her pets, though I’m not sure). But other than the curiosity factor, there wasn’t quite as much here as I hoped. I’ll give it  out of . Unfortunately there was no filmmaker at the screening, though I understand there was at an earlier screening.

Complaints Choir is about a Norwegian couple who have started complaints choirs, where the choir sings real complaints, in a few places in the world. It specifically shows them creating such choirs in Chicago and Singapore.

It had its moments, but not many for me. I’ll give it  out of . An earlier showing was the North American premiere.

The House of Branching Love is a Finnish film that is hard to categorize. It’s about a couple, Juhani and Tuula, that is divorcing. The opening scene is of them burning things like pictures of them together. There is a lot of built-up anger and resentment, though it was played at least partly for (mostly cringe-worthy) laughs. I don’t remember it all that well, but if I had to guess it would be out of .

The actress who played Nina was there to answer questions (there may be spoilers below):

  • Based on a book by the same name, but the book actually came out (in Finnish) after the movie
  • It was shot in Helsinki in 6 weeks
  • She was born in Finland, but she had been away long enough that she needed an accent coach (this was her first film in Finnish)
  • The leads and others in the film have won the Finnish equivalent of the Oscar
  • The film was #2 for the year in Finland–people call her Nina in the street
  • She sent her head shot to the Finnish agent and she got a call

Finally there was the closing night ceremony and the closing movie. I had some notes from the ceremony, but they don’t seem very interesting a year later, other than to note that Applause won the top prize (the jury prize for best narrative feature film).

The closing film was Mother. It is about a mentally-challenged 20-something who is accused of murder, and his take-no-prisoners mother who gives her all to prove his innocence. As for the previous film, I don’t remember it all that well, but if I had to guess it would be out of . I think I just don’t get Korean films, since many people speak quite highly of this film.

All seen on 3/6/2010 at Cinequest.