Friday, March 27, 2009

CIFF 2009, Day Eight: Love and death

Back into the bubble. Here's more inelegant but timely reporting on the films seen Thursday at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

-The Candidate (Kandidaten) (Kasper Barfoed, 2008)

Country: Denmark
Genre: Thriller
Synopsis: A lawyer investigating his father's suspicious death is set up to look like a murderer.

Notes: This conventional thriller does nothing to distinguish itself from the many other boilerplate suspense pics that Hollywood churns out. Substitute English for Danish and Mark Wahlberg for this film's lead and you'd have something not only that looks wholly familiar but also wouldn't be deemed worth the time at a festival. Few surprises greet the nondescript main character. As urgent as the circumstances would seem to be, there isn't much tension as he runs around seeking the truth. I've been hoping to come across a solid genre movie, something the fest is light on, but the bland, mechanical Candidate fails to fit the bill.

Grade: C-

-All Around Us (Gururi no koto) (Ryosuke Hashiguchi, 2008)

Country: Japan
Genre: Marital drama
Synopsis: A couple experiences ups and downs during the first eight years of their marriage.

Notes: This is a nicely observed portrait of married opposites and the push and pull of their relationship through new and recurring challenges. Amid all of the misery the husband observes at his job as a courtroom sketch artist, the trauma the wife feels based on expectations of herself and the marriage, and the noncommunication between them, they discover what it takes to make it through the hard times. Unfortunately the image disappeared for a few minutes during a pivotal scene--if not the pivotal scene--so I feel like I may be slightly underrating this based on missing some key moments.

Grade: B

-Melodrama Habibi (Une chanson dans la tête) (Hany Tamba, 2008)

Countries: France, Lebanon
Genre: Melodrama (?)
Synopsis: A washed-up French singer who charted just one song in the 1970s and a lonely 30-year-old Lebanese beautician cross paths when a coffee magnate brings him to Beirut to sing at his wife's birthday party.

Notes: If my synopsis doesn't make this sound hopelessly convoluted, suffice it to say that there's even more nonsense that makes this a film in search of main characters and tone. (I didn't even mention the wheelchair-bound coffee baron's wife being accidentally carjacked and held for ransom along with the Mercedes.) At times it opts for wacky gags. Other moments mine a lightly mournful element. The larger problem, though, is the lack of a firm identification of whose story (or stories) it is. It's too scattered to belong to the singer, played by Patrick Chesnais, or the beautician but just concentrated on them enough to avoid being an ensemble piece. The conclusion seems particularly bizarre considering the relative lightness of everything preceding the downbeat ending.

Grade: C-

-Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 2008)

Country: USA
Genre: Music documentary
Synopsis: The Sengalese pop superstar records, releases, and tours in support of his album Egypt.

Notes: Although the film provides a brief overview of N'Dour's career--most, like me, will know him from collaborations with Peter Gabriel--the bulk of the doc covers his album about the Sufi Islam saints. Reception outside of his homeland is favorable, but in Senegal the album is met with controversy because of the intermingling of popular music and religion. The film can be a bit repetitive, but there's plenty of joyful music to move things along and keep it enjoyable.

Grade: B-

-Quiet Chaos (Caos calmo) (Antonio Luigi Grimaldi, 2008)

Country: Italy
Genre: Grieving process dramedy
Synopsis: A man figures out his own method of dealing with his wife's death and raising their daughter on his own.

Notes: A gentle touch is deployed as Nanni Moretti's executive sets his own process and timeline for responding to the unexpected death of his wife. The actor's placid appearance and demeanor presents a character who must put on a brave face for his child, yet it's also a reflection of his own uncertainty regarding how he should be reacting. The film also utilizes some heartwarming humor, although nothing about Quiet Chaos could be construed as reaching for easy tugs at the heartstrings. With more time to reflect on it, I might be willing to bump up the grade a hair for this splendid film.

Grade: B+

-The Chaser (Chugyeogja) (Na Hong-jin, 2008)

Country: South Korea
Genre: Crime drama
Synopsis: A former police detective turned pimp searches for the man who he believes is capturing and selling his women.

Notes: My genre description and synopsis don't really do justice to what is an unusual movie in a familiar form. Director Na Hong-jin plays to the audience with liberal sprinklings of humor throughout and plays with the viewers as he frustrates satisfying expectations. It's a film that can be goofy in one scene and fairly brutal in the next. I'm not sure that these abrupt shifts are always successful, but it's a compelling film because of its loose spirit. I especially liked how the chases and fights are sloppy in ways that they might actually be in real life rather than the perfectly choreographed and executed action we're accustomed to seeing. One other observation...what is it with South Korean filmmakers and hammers?

Grade: B

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CIFF 2009, Day Five: All in the family

Four days of film festival attendance have pretty much turned my brain to mush. Fourteen hours, six films, and some scattered thoughts...

-Dunya & Desie (Dana Nechushtan, 2008)

Countries: Netherlands, Belgium
Genre: Cross-cultural, coming-of-age crowd-pleaser
Synopsis: Best friends search for their identities through their pasts.

Notes: Set in Holland, the film features polar opposite best friends. Eighteen-year-old Dunya comes from a conservative family of Moroccan heritage trying to arrange her marriage while Dutch native Desie is something of a wild child who casually picks up and drops boyfriends. Like Bend It Like Beckham, it's a comedy in which the cultural outsider wants to become more like those in her adopted homeland, much to the consternation of her traditional parents. Dunya & Desie can be broad and predictable, but I found it to be a pleasant break from weightier fest fare.

Grade: B-

-It's Not Me, I Swear! (C'est pas moi, je le jure!) (Philippe Falardeau, 2008)

Countries: Canada
Genre: Coming-of-age dark comedy
Synopsis: A boy misbehaves in order to restore normalcy to his fractured family.

Notes: This offbeat kid's eye-view of the effects of divorce and family dysfunction features a ten-year-old protagonist with sociopathic and suicidal tendencies...and it's supposed to be mostly funny. Amazingly, director Philippe Falardeau pulls it off due to a strong lead performance from Antoine L'Écuyer. He indicates that there's a good kid fighting to get out, but with all of the unhappiness around him, acting destructively is the only way to rid of his sadness and gain the attention and love he desires.

Grade: B+

-Boogie (Radu Muntean, 2008)

Country: Romania
Genre: Male crisis movie/a day in the life drama
Synopsis: A run-in with old friends causes a man to assess his life as a husband and father.

Notes: Consider Boogie to be the Romanian response to Hollywood's male crisis movies. The film takes its title from the main character Bogdan's nickname, which suggests his untamed youthful days. Meeting up with two old pals while he and his pregnant wife are on a seaside vacation with their young son leads to a spousal argument and Bogdan evaluating what his life has become compared to his still unattached friends. The guys prod Bogdan into being who they used to know, although it becomes apparent that they wish they had what he possesses. It's an austere, well-observed film that maintains Romania's recent track record for uncompromising realism.

Grade: B+

-Prom Night in Mississippi (Paul Saltzman, 2009)

Country: Canada, United States
Genre: (genre)
Synopsis: A Mississippi high school is challenged to hold its first integrated prom in 2008.

Notes: Charleston, Mississippi native and current resident Morgan Freeman offers to pay for the school's prom if they will have just one dance rather than separate events for white and black students. Prom Night in Mississippi has some affecting moments in how it shows students who seem willing to get past the racism of their parents and grandparents yet feel constrained by their small town elders' attitudes. The subject matter lends itself to scenes that elicit strong reactions--the lone interracial couple's interviews can be heartbreaking--although overall the doc plays like a less substantial version of The Order of Myths, another nonfiction film exploring current segregation perpetuated in part by tradition.

Grade: B-

-Tulpan (Sergei Dvortsevoy, 2008)

Countries: Germany, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland
Genre: Anthropological drama
Synopsis: A family struggles with life on a Kazakh steppe.

Notes: To my eyes, films this "real" make it impossible to determine where documentary ends and fiction begins. (I've come across some notes that call Tulpan a narrative feature, but some of this is surely documented reality.) Similar in style to The Story of the Weeping Camel, the film settles into a family's yurt and watches the problems these people face. Pregnant sheep are delivering stillborn lambs. The head of the family's single brother-in-law returns from the navy and tries to find a wife in an area with few young, single women. As a depiction of a way of life, Tulpan can be a pretty amazing film that peaks with a sheep birthing scene. To emphasize the anthropological and documentary elements would be to overlook the humor in the film. Tulpan shows the difficulties these people face, but it also finds room for laughter at a rambunctious child, a cranky camel, and the sailor's overblown tales of sea creatures.

Grade: B

-Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke, 2008)

Country: Mexico
Genre: A day in the life deadpan comedy
Synopsis: A teenager has a minor car wreck and tries to get someone to repair it, but everybody he meets wants a favor of some sort.

Notes: There's definitely a strong directorial vision at work in Lake Tahoe, but as with other deadpan comedies I've run into at the festival, I'm just not in tune them. The film is gorgeously photographed and eventually peels back an emotional core that seemed missing previously. I just wish I found it funnier.

Grade: C

CIFF 2009, Day Four: The system

The truth is that there's nothing terribly smart about putting yourself through the full paces of a film festival's schedule for several days in a row. For nine of the eleven days at the single location Cleveland International Film Festival you can inhabit the theaters for six sessions beginning around 9:15 a.m. and lasting for about fourteen hours. Four of those nine days have midnight screenings that allow you to stick around until 1:30/2:00 a.m. the following day. That's seventeen hours in and around the theater and seven movies.

Carrying this heavy load is for the strong-willed and, let's face it, foolish--myself included. Although all that's being done is watching movies, sitting through that many films in a day, let alone for multiple days, takes a special kind of stamina. Even "just" five films in a day is a lot.

While some days are easier than others, I have found that I will reach a rhythm that may be the moviegoing equivalent to, in athletic terms, being in the zone. The mind becomes clear--or maybe empty is a better word--and you enter a stage where you're on automatic. That may explain why I've had trouble putting down my thoughts on these films. I lack the mental energy to do so.

I hit this level today, although as the end of the day approached, I also started to feel the weariness that catches up with you. The idea is to push through it, but the smart thing would be to do something as novel as take a break or even skip a session or two.

Not today.

-Children of Invention (Tze Chun, 2009)

Country: United States
Genre: Immigant drama/children at risk drama
Synopsis: Single immigrant mother often overlooks her children as she focuses on work.

Notes: A divorced Hong Kong native falls prey to direct marketing schemes as a way of supporting her kids. She sinks her limited resources into direct marketing schemes, which cause bigger problems for her than loss of money and time. Meanwhile, her young son and daughter must amuse and care for themselves while she's physically and mentally away. Although there is a whiff of Nobody Knows in Children of Invention, the circumstances and potential outcome are never as dire. On the film's plus side are the unforced child performances and bright, clean cinematography. The downside is the split focus and shallow depth. The film concentrates on the mother's story for the first half, but just when it presents a major crisis, attention shifts to the kids. Picking one of the perspectives--parent or children--and sticking to it for the duration would have made a stronger movie and allowed it to go beyond surface level.

Grade: C+

-Crude (Joe Berlinger, 2009)

Countries: United States, Ecuador
Genre: Environmental activism documentary
Synopsis: Lawyers sue oil company for environmental damages in Ecuador.

Notes: The title refers to oil, but it could just as well mean how the legal process operates in this case. The suit against Chevron has been fought for at least fifteen years and may continue for that many more. Texaco, now owned by Chevron, operated oil wells in the Amazon jungle and is now being blamed for causing contaminated conditions that lead to severe health problems and premature deaths among the people living in the area. Crude is primarily about the legal battle, and it stirs up plenty of anger at corporations, although it's always hard in situations like this to know what they can rightfully be blamed for and what is bluster.

Grade: B-

-Sin By Silence (Olivia Klaus, 2008)

Countries: United States
Genre: Women's issue documentary
Synopsis: Battered women convicted and imprisoned for killing their husbands work to make their voices heard about domestic abuse.

Notes: Chalk up attending this screening to a confluence of the right circumstances. I didn't plan to see this, but my desire to watch the Dayton-Kansas NCAA Tournament game, this film's short running time (49 minutes), and a Twitter follow convinced me to give it a chance. Sin By Silence is a solid piece probably best suited to fill an hour on PBS. The short is centered on the Convicted Women Against Abuse, a prison group that helps these inmates come to terms with the harm they suffered and try to earn retrials for those prosecuted when battered women's syndrome was not recognized by the courts. The film doesn't excuse what they did or paint them as victims. Rather it explains the silence that led to the actions they felt they needed to carry out and tries to find the answer for preventing abusive situations.

Grade: B

-Eldorado (Bouli Lanners, 2008)

Countries: Belgium, France
Genre: Road movie/deadpan comedy
Synopsis: Weird people are encountered on a trip when a loner auto restorer gives a ride home to the man who tried to steal from his house.

Notes: It very well may be that movies like this play better outside of a film festival's pell mell, or maybe Eldorado simply isn't that funny. It's a slow, stone-faced comedy broken up occasionally by unexpected bits of oddity. The film owes a lot to Jim Jarmusch, but as much as I like his films, I'm not sure how well they'd play in the middle of a scheduled six movie day.

Grade: C

-Sugar (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2008)

Country: United States
Genre: Baseball movie/neorealist drama
Synopsis: A prospect from the Dominican Republic faces challenges upon coming to the United States to play in the minor leagues.

Notes: The studio and festival have requested no reviews of the film--never mind that it premiered at Sundance in 2008--but I think it's worth pointing out that this is a must-see for baseball fans when its limited release begins on April 3. Jose Rijo's appearance in the film and his involvement in the scandal with the Dominican Republic camps and player signings makes Sugar very timely even if it was completed more than a year ago. With the number of Latin American players in the majors and trying to break in, this tells a story that impacts the game but with which many of the fans, like me, are unfamiliar.

Grade: A

-Machan (Uberto Pasolini, 2008)

Countries: Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany
Genre: Sports comedy/based on a true story/social concern drama
Synopsis: Poor Sri Lankans fake being on the nonexistent national handball team to get them out of the country so they can look for work in Europe.

Notes: An enterprising studio exec looking to cash in on the success of Slumdog Millionaire might want to think about picking up the remake rights to Machan. Yes, I'm aware that Sri Lankans and Indians are not the same, but this plucky underdog story has the potential to appeal to those who like Danny Boyle's film and are interested in other tales from this corner of the globe. Based on a true story, this feel-good film about poor people trying to find better opportunities and pulling a fast one on government officials fits into the The Full Monty mold. A nice Hollywood polish could tighten up this genial but overly broad, slowly paced, and diffused focus film.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CIFF 2009, Day Three: Trouble every day

To varying degress each of the films I saw on this day were concerned with problems in front of us or lurking in the shadows.

-At the Edge of the World (Dan Stone, 2008)

Countries: Antarctica, Australia, United States
Genre: Environmental activism documentary
Synopsis: Anti-whaling activists pursue Japanese whaling ships near Antarctica.

Notes: The Sea Shepherd organization takes aggressive action to stop whalers, who they insist are violating international treaties under the guise of killing the creatures for research. Their efforts, on display in this approving doc, involve using two ships and a helicopter to scan the sea for the whaling fleet and then using smaller boats to drop lines in the water to seize up the whalers' propellers. Oh yeah, they're not above ramming the other ships. Some consider the group eco-terrorists. They sail without a nation's flag,which effectively make them a pirate ship. (The group claims that whaling interests pressure countries to strip them of the flags they have flown under.) Also, while it's not fully clear why, there's tension between Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace. Regardless of one's opinion on the matter, this is dangerous work being undertaken, and the film's strongest element is the camerawork that shows with startling immediacy how risky the mission is. At the Edge of the World speaks more about the mission than eco-politics, and honestly, that's what makes a more interesting film.

Grade: B-

-Welcome to Farewell-Gutmann (Bienvenido a Farewell-Gutmann) (Xavi Puebla, 2008)

Country: Spain
Genre: Workplace drama/dark comedy
Synopsis: Three human resources employees have the tables turned on them as they compete for their deceased boss's job.

Notes: Tagging this as a black comedy may be somewhat generous as the film's deadpan tone doesn't have (or shoot for) much in the way of laughs or jokes. It makes some efforts at humor in the form of bleak recognition and suspicion of corporate culture but is a little more serious-minded than what most think of when they hear "comedy". The most immediate comparison that comes to mind is Neil LaBute's body of work, although Welcome to Farewell-Gutmann lacks the delight in cruelty and sense of furor that his films possess. With its talky, performance-oriented style, Farewell-Gutmann plays like a play, but there's little to take from actors whose characters are unpleasant and, more egregiously, uninteresting. Ten mintures or so into it I felt like I had this film pegged as a non-starter. If the schedule had permitted walking out to see something else, I would have.

Grade: D

-The Last Days of Shishmaref (Jan Louter, 2008)

Countries: Netherlands, United States
Genre: Anthropological and environmental concern documentary
Synopsis: Climate change is expected to wipe away an Alaskan island community in a decade or so.

Notes: This frustrating doc observes the lives of the approximately 500 residents of the small Alaskan village of Shishmaref. The film spends the bulk of its time looking at the people's subsistent and poverty-filled way of life, yet the thrust of it is that global warming is causing storms and erosion that will lead to the sea swallowing the place in ten to fifteen years. The only information regarding the enviornmental impact comes from an ABC news report, a Climate Channel piece, and a segment of Al Gore on Oprah, all of which echo one another. The Last Days of Shishmaref is made in the traditional neutral approach (even though it obviously isn't).

The story is told through watching and listening to the affected people, but after awhile the lack of outside information and perspective becomes glaring. Where are people who could speak to what is happening and what might be done? Blame is leveled at the Bush administration, but the film doesn't detail what is needed and why it would cost $180 million--or $100 million, depending on the source--to move a 500-person community that has unpaved roads, no running water or sewers, and no roads into it. The film is nicely shot and gives a sense of the Shishmaref people's removal from society and distrust of the larger culture, but it provides an incomplete view of the problem and its solutions.

Grade: C-

-Three Blind Mice (Matthew Newton, 2008)

Country: Australia
Genre: One crazy night dramedy
Synopsis: An evening of shore leave changes everything for three Australian sailors.

Notes: The overlapping dialogue and freewheeling style borrows from Altman and, most recently, Rachel Getting Married, but its biggest shortcoming is fleshing out the characters through the slow leak of information. One of the sailors has been harmed by others in the navy---tortured might be a more apt way of putting it--but rather than building to something like Rachel's rehearsal dinner scene or the revelatory moment in A Celebration, Three Blind Mice stumbles along with minor nonsensical moments. The characters aren't developed enough to care about what happens to them. It doesn't help that none of them are particularly likable. The night's forward momentum keeps the film reasonably engaging. In general it's solidly made but at arm's length.

Grade: C+

-Terribly Happy (Frygtelig lykkelig) (Henrik Ruben Genz, 2008)

Country: Denmark
Genre: Secrets in a small town noir/dark comedy
Synopsis: A new marshal finds out how that residents of a small Danish town have their own way of dealing with things.

Notes: The oddball locals, the mix of noir and black humor, and the lighting are strongly reminiscent of the Coen brothers' films. If only the screenplay had the rigor and jokes. Terribly Happy gets by for awhile on its resemblance to Fargo and the like, but this riff on small town provincialism doesn't hold enough surprises or laughs to distinguish itself. The stretched out ending doesn't help either.

Grade: C+

-Tokyo! (Michel Gondry, Bong Joon-ho, and Leos Carax, 2008)

Countries: Japan, France
Genre: Omnibus film
Synopsis: Three directors make Tokyo-centric shorts.

Notes: Michel Gondry's delightful first segment about finding one's place in the big city is the kind of funny, creative, handcrafted item that's become his stock in trade. As with the sweded films in Be Kind Rewind, the short film within Gondry's short is a hoot. Leos Carax's middle segment is a weird but tolerable story of a sewer-dwelling creature that terrorizes the city. Bong Joon-ho's concluding short about choosing separation from and feeling loneliness amid a large population provides a nice capper.

Grade: B

We interrupt this festival coverage for...


I'm back from four days at the festival but have only written about one of them here. Never fear, more coverage will appear in this space, but I simply couldn't keep up. Being at Tower City Center for up to seventeen hours a day doesn't leave much time for writing or sleeping, so I opted for scribbling some thoughts on a steno pad and stealing four or five hours sleep when I got to the hotel.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

CIFF 2009, Day Two: Auteur Day

Typically I do not associate the Cleveland International Film Festival with showcasing a lot of films from name directors. It's not that they don't have them. They're just not in the abundance that larger fests have. I mention this because each of the films I saw today has a recognizable name (in cinephile circles) at the helm.

Since this is my first update from the fest, I feel like I ought to point out that:

a) Sleep is very much at a premium.
b) I'm recovering from some creeping crud that does not have me at peak energy.
c) Time for writing is slim. Time for editing or thoughtfulness is basically nil.

In other words, don't expect high caliber writing. This is mostly seat-of-the-pants stuff written in spare moments or in the rush to get to bed.

-Achilles and the Tortoise (Akiresu to kame) (Takeshi Kitano, 2008)

Country: Japan
Genre: Art theory 101.
Synopsis: Artist embarks on a lifelong search for his creative breakthrough.

Notes: Kitano jabs the art world and artists themselves for pretentiousness, particularly based on their insulated existences in which any old experiment is congratulated as brilliant. Essentially the film is a call for art to be born out of life experiences rather than through imitation or messing around with technique. It's intermittently funny on a modest level and sort of diverting as Kitano goes through the various styles of painting, but ultimately he hammers away at his points without much variation. It could also be filed under "vanity project" as the actor-director's paintings are front and center in the film, but I didn't dislike the film so much to feel like it deserves a catty label like that.

Grade: C

-Night and Day (Bam gua nat) (Hong Sang-soo, 2008)

Country: South Korea
Genre: Male crisis art film
Synopsis: A man runs from trouble and a stable life but wonders if the temptations in his new freedom are worth the consequences.

Notes: I started writing how this is very much of a piece with Hong's other films and male protagonists, but without doing the leg work to confirm that I'm not confusing him with someone else, I'll put a qualifier on that claim. This episodic look at a painter conjures his sense of boredom and aimlessness without the film feeling boring or unfocused. More interestingly, Hong digs into the tension between longterm wishes to be moral through resistance to temptation and the instinct that craves immediate satisfaction.

Grade: B

-24 City (Er shi si cheng ji) (Jia Zhang-ke, 2008)

Country: China
Genre: Social commentary fictional dramatization/documentary
Synopsis: One city is an example of an evolving China.

Notes: Having not read the festival program notes recently, I wasn't sure if this film was a fictional narrative or a documentary. Save for the presence of Joan Chen, without foreknowledge it's not always clear which parts are mere reportage and which are performances. Three generations of Chengdu residents tell their stories about their ties to a government-run aeronautics factory that is being converted into luxury apartments and a business park. This one can be demanding of the viewer's patience but eventually won me over as it became clearer how Jia was demonstrating China's shift to a more capitalist or consumer-oriented way of life.

Grade: B

Since I only had time for restroom breaks between the first three films, I bailed on the day's fourth session for lunch/dinner and watching the second half of the Dayton Flyers' NCAA Tournament game. I was going to see Orz Boyz (Jiong nan hai), but hunger and hoops won out. Then it was back to the grind.

-Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, 2008)

Country: United States
Genre: Neorealist drama
Synopsis: Cab driver takes an interest in his seemingly suicide-determined customer.

Notes: Bahrani has been tabbed Someone to Watch by the festival, and he continues to show why with this, his third feature. Bahrani tends to spotlight people and places who exist in the background or who aren't given much consideration, like Man Push Cart's food cart operator or Goodbye Solo's Sengalese immigrant taxi driver. Souleyman Sy Savane is extremely charismatic as Solo, an amiable cabbie who agrees to a stranger's request to drive him into the mountains and what must certainly be the spot where he will commit suicide. Through Savane's performance and Bahrani's subtle revealing of the changing relationship between Solo and William, his fare, the film gains quiet power and builds to an uncertain conclusion.

Grade: B+

-La Belle personne (Christophe Honoré, 2008)

Country: France
Genre: French romantic fatalism
Synopsis: Love hurts in all forms, especially among beautiful people at a Parisian high school.

Notes: The Class this isn't. French teens (and one of their teachers in the form of Louis Garrel) brood and lust for each other in the kind of doomed romanticist movie that only the French can pull off convincingly. (Seriously, Garrel's character would not be viewed in the same terms in a U.S. movie.) Oh yeah, several Nick Drake songs underscore the complicated matters of the heart. I have a soft spot for the French New Wave and its inheritors, so keep that in mind in regard to my favorable assessment.

Grade: B-

I'd planned on seeing The Disappeared at midnight, but I figured there was no way I'd get this entry done or hit the hay at a reasonable hour if I did. (I also thought skipping it would leave me freshed for Tokyo!, tomorrow's midnight pic.) One of the weird things that happens at film festivals is that I'm compelled to see films I'd circled on my schedule even if I'd probably have little interest in seeing them outside this setting. Chalk up one win for sanity tonight in scratching this one off the list.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cinema paradiso

The next week and a half is a good time to be a cinephile in central Ohio. Tonight the Wexner Center is screening HUNGER, the debut film of writer-director Steve McQueen. I've yet to see it, but advance word, such as J. Hoberman's rave review, is strong. At last year's Cannes Film Festival McQueen won the Caméra D'Or for this film about a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison.

I'm regularly impressed with the world-class filmmakers the Wexner Center is able to bring in for visits, so it comes as no surprise that they landed one of only two appearances that McQueen is making to promote the U.S. opening of the film. (The other is in New York, naturally.) McQueen will introduce HUNGER at this evening's screening. More information is available here.

If you're willing to drive a couple hours north and stay indoors while the weather is becoming more spring-like, more than 300 films await at the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival. Opening night is Thursday, March 19, with the jam-packed daily schedules commencing on Friday the 20th and lasting through Sunday, March 29.

I've been attending CIFF since 2005 and have felt it's particularly good at finding interesting Scandinavian films that often never reach Columbus. For instance, Joachim Trier's REPRISE played CIFF in 2007 and had a cursory commercial release in 2008 but never opened here.

This year their Pacific Pearls sidebar looks potentially strong, with new films from Jia Zhang-ke, Hong Sang-soo, and Johnnie To. CIFF also has some of the IFC Festival direct titles, like Joe Swanberg's ALEXANDER THE LAST, which just premiered at SXSW.

Other higher profile titles include the baseball drama SUGAR from the co-directors of HALF NELSON; 2009 Sundance buzz film MOON with Sam Rockwell; James Toback's docu-biography about Mike Tyson; and Joe Berlinger's oil documentary CRUDE. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani has been tabbed as Someone to Watch, and all three of his feature films will be screened, including his latest GOODBYE SOLO.

Keep an eye on this space during the festival as I plan to cover eight of CIFF's eleven days as best as can be done with catching up to seven films in a day and not having time for much else, including sleep. Coverage will begin on March 20, although my first post will probably not hit the web until I get to the hotel on the 21st.