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.

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