Here are highlights from the films at the Local Heroes International Film Festival:
[ THE TERRORIST ] ^ * * * 1/2 ^ Even though Malli is only 19 years old she is already a trusted leader among the people of her camp in the Indian jungle, one of many such renegade hideouts. Malli, played by the plain but expressive Dharkar, has been given the privilege of carrying out a very important assassination – a mission that will take her life along with her target’s. We are not told the goal of the terrorists, nor the identity of Malli’s target, but we do know that he should be very afraid for Malli is a determined young woman. In every scene the camera either has its eye on her or we are seeing her point of view. We see her reaction when her comrades are slaughtered by government troops, we see her dreams while she sleeps, and we begin to not only see, but feel her distress as the assassination approaches. The sounds of Malli’s heavy breathing and sighs are high in the sound mix of The Terrorist. I got the impression that we, the audience, are her conscience, watching her with judging eyes. She doesn’t even realize we are there until it is almost too late. Stylistically, the film has the look of an Asian action movie with its wide angle lenses and liberal use of slow motion and the story suggests an Indian La Femme Nikita. Without a doubt, this is one of the strongest and most stunningly photographed films to come out of India in a long while.
[ ORIUNDI ] ^ * * ^ Remember that awful Anthony Quinn/Bo Derek hot tub ghost story, Ghosts Can’t Do It? Oriundi feels like the Brazilian remake that nobody wanted. Quinn plays 93-year-old Giuseppe Padovani, patriarch of the Padovani family. When he arrived in Brazil with his wife, Caterina, 60 years ago, they established a successful pasta factory in the immigrant town of Coritiba. It is now a failing business handled by Giuseppe’s grandson Renalto, who is going through a mid-life crisis of petty proportions. At his 93rd birthday party Giuseppe spots a woman who looks remarkably like his wife who died in a tragic plane crash with her lover. Could she be back from the dead? Will Renalto pursue his dreams and find happiness? Does this movie sound any different from your average episode of The Days Of Our Lives? Oriundi is the disappointing follow-up to Central Station, the Brazilian hit also written by Marcos Bernstein. If it weren’t for Quinn’s moving portrayal of an aging man who continues to long for love, it would be a complete waste of time. The plot utterly unravels as the film plays on and it is only when Quinn is on screen that any interest in the characters is generated. While many filmmakers do just fine with large casts and multiple subplots, Bernstein, as he showed in Central Station, would have done better to stick to one story. At least John Derek had the sense to sprinkle a liberal amount of nudity into his insipid films. No such luck here.
[ AUDITION ] ^ * * * * ^ Part of the reason this new film from The Bird People of China director Miike Takashi is so alarmingly creepy is that the first 50 minutes of the picture feel like any number of family dramas. The pace is not fast, not slow, the characters seem straight out of any corporate culture, but right around the half-way mark there is a slight mood shift. By the end I found myself feeling so creeped out it was Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer all over again. Aoyama (Ishibashi) is a successful movie producer and father whose wife passed away some years earlier. He begins to feel longings for companionship and, upon the urgings of his son and business partner, decides to hold an audition for a wife masked as an audition for a new movie. From his first glimpse of her photograph, Aoyama is hooked on the ostensibly timid Asami (played by Japanese fashion model, Eihi). Before the audition he has his mind made up and pursues her despite warnings from his partner who can’t say exactly what’s wrong with her – “something chemical”, he says. It is from here on that things get very, very strange and at one point I guessed (incorrectly) that the film was a Basketcase reworking. I will say nothing more of the plot except stay far, far away if you find torture scenes difficult to bear – Audition contains one of the most graphic I have ever seen.
[ JUHA ] ^ * * 1/2 ^ Aki Kaurismäki, the Finnish director behind Leningrad Cowboys Go America and last year’s Drifting Clouds, has created a movie more ambitious than Eyes Wide Shut, more audacious than South Park… it is silent. I suppose this has been done a handful of times since the death of intertitles, most memorably Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, but Kaurismäki isn’t going for laughs here. Juha and Marja are happy as puppies living in the country when the fast, dangerous Shemeikka comes roaring out of Helsinki offering Marja the chance to live the fast life. Naturally, she accepts Shemeikka’s offer and Juha goes through a heavy bout of alcoholism (as is bound to happen to the hero of any given Kaurismäki film). At first I enjoyed the film’s sentimentality for the times of silent movies, for the return to the roots of filmmaking: telling a story with moving images. But the film is littered with lots of intertitles to tell the story (to me, that’s cheating) and only Kuosmanen as Juha truly expresses himself in the grand pantomime tradition. I can appreciate Kaurismäki’s love for the silent medium, but I think it may truly be a lost art.
[ EAST WEST ] ^ * * * ^ I have a soft spot for any movie that begins with a camera moving quickly over deep, dark water. Yes, it is yet another Dr. Zhivago style epic spanning decades and playing against extreme political circumstances but it has lots of cool open water shots going for it. In 1936 Stalin extended an invitation to all exiled Russians to return to the Soviet Union if they so wished. Marie has just traveled to Odessa from her native France with husband Alexei to find that the glorious new Russian regime is in fact a bitter dictatorship. They are not even off the boat before the first murder occurs before their eyes and it’s just downhill from there. The shifting political allegiances are almost as common as the romantic betrayals and revelations in this film by Indochine director Wargnier. It is certainly an interesting story that is well told, well acted, well photographed but where is the heart that was so plentiful in All About My Mother, its fellow nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars? East West is a fine achievement as far as recreations of historical events goes but I just couldn’t get wrapped up in the characters. Perhaps the extreme circumstances portrayed in the movie were just too far from my own experiences, but this didn’t keep me from loving Schindler’s List. Extreme circumstance can happen to anyone but only a truly insightful director or writer could make these situations applicable to my own life. See it for the beautiful shots of the water and for the vision of a man swimming through swelling waves in deep, dark waters, oh – and Catherine Deneuve, still icy as ever.
[ COSY DENS ] ^ * * * * ^ Who would have thought that a film set in the months leading up to the Prague Spring could be such fun? Maybe it’s the 60’s Czech rock soundtrack or the humorously failed suicides. Tensions come to a boil between two ideologically-opposed, neighboring families in Prague in 1967. The swooping camera, ubiquitous in films about people who live in apartment complexes, finds young Michal trying to commit suicide because, he tells us, he is sooooo in love. The support for his noose, a gazebo roof, comes tumbling down as he steps off the stool sending a young girl flying down to him, scolding him. From there on I was hooked on the sweet but serious love triangle between the two young neighbors and the girl’s handsome Elien who models himself after Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. Like a more mirthful Mike Leigh, Hrebejk brings out the private moments of people’s lives for all to see and admire.
[ KIKUJIRO ] ^ * * * * ^ Remember that fun-on-the-beach sequence from Kitano’s Sonatine? Well, here it is again but stretched out for two hours. Kitano stars as Kikujiro, a hard-boiled… something. He’s not a gangster, as his wife says early on, “Quit playing the gangster”, so what is he? He’s just a man assigned to escort an 8-year-old neighboring boy to see his mother who lives far away, making for a road movie that avoids all the road movie clichés. Along the way they play games, lose all their money, make friends with the wimpiest bikers I’ve ever seen on film, and become close friends. If you are expecting the cool, relaxed violence prevalent in other Kitano films, you won’t be entirely disappointed but be prepared to laugh and marvel at a pair of the most gorgeous dream sequences this side of Salvador Dalí. Early on, Kitano’s jokes are often at the expense of the child but you never feel spiteful towards Kitano himself – you know the two will eventually become fast friends, striking a bond that will last forever. Awwww. OK, so it doesn’t avoid all the road movie clichés. See it anyway.
[ CINEMA VERITE: THE DEFINING MOMENT ] ^ * * * * ^ Canadian documentary director Peter Wintonick (Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media) presents this information packed overview of the roots and future of cinéma vérité (AKA kino pravda, candid eye, cinéma direct, free cinema…). The film offers interviews with 21 of the biggest names in documentary and documentary-style filmmaking including Bob Drew, Richard Leacock, Wolf Koenig, Jean Rouch, and D.A. Pennebaker. They speak of the miraculous technical advances such as handheld cameras and synchronous sound, which allowed a number of cameras to shoot simultaneously with one overlapping soundtrack. But of all the interviews that make up this brief but decisive overview of the cinéma vérité movement the one I liked best was with Fred Wiseman. His rant against cinéma vérité as a definable thing struck me as the truest moment of the film, a film that is supposed to expose the truth about the truth movement in cinema. He made a note that all films are about manipulation whether it be Godard or Disney. To quote Wiseman, “everything about these sort of movies is a distortion.” The documentary follows the progression of cinéma vérité from its birth in Russia in 1919 to its present day incarnation as a mode of story-telling in Homicide and The Blair Witch Project. Definitely a worthy viewing, though what the hell was Floria Sigismondi doing in this movie?
[ THE WIND WILL CARRY US ] ^ * * * * * ^ I loved this movie. And I yawned through Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s previous works Taste Of Cherry and Close-Up. I found both those movies somewhat interesting from an intellectual point of view, but what was there on the screen to engage us, the audience? Kiarostami has been attempting to establish what he calls “unfinished cinema” for years. He has maintained that by leaving out pieces of the story, by not telling everything through dialogue and explicit cinematography, he is able to more fully engage the audience in his films. I never expected him to fully deliver on his premise. His latest work, The Wind Will Carry Us, dispenses of all my misgivings. I think that Kiarostami took the (few) criticisms of his last film, Taste of Cherry, to heart and focused his energies on telling as much as he could through the lens and through his deceptively simple dialogue. Essentially, the story concerns four men who travel from Tehran to the village of Siah Dareh where they wait and wait for a specific event: the death of an ill woman. They deceive the inhabitants of the village into thinking they are treasure hunters, and in a sense they are. We only get to know Behzad, the leader of the group, who is engaged in a battle with his conscience. He has a specific job to do in this village and cares not for the objections of the townsfolk nor their traditions. He takes pictures of a woman who asks him specifically not to do so, he drives his truck over the village cemetery, which he uses as high ground for better cell phone reception, and lies to a little boy he befriends. He is forever praising the villagers for their fertility, “You have ten children? Well done! You have five brothers? Bravo!”, yet he has no respect for life or death. The film even manages to be somewhat fast-paced (by Kiarostami standards) with an element of suspense thrown in during the final act. To give away any more of the events would be to place my own interpretation of events on you, the reader. Be your own judge. The film debuts in America at the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 30.
Get more info from the official site at: ^ http://www.nsi-canada.ca/localheroes/loclhero/index.htm