Archive for the “Cinequest” Category

2010

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Czech Republic
Czech / Russian
110 Minutes
Drama / Family
Allice Nellis [Little Girl Blue]

MAMAS & PAPAS is about the strange lottery aspect of human fertility. While some couples try all means of medical intervention, other couples seem to be able to become pregnant simply by glancing at each other. One couple has been trying for three years and the wife is desperate. One couple is arguing over whether their relationship is strong enough to include a child or if it should be aborted. A third couple is pregnant with their third child, but money and space is tight, and didn’t she just hear the story of a woman who legally made some money by handing over her newborn to a desperate, wealthy couple? All of these stories are sort of tied together by the fertility specialist, who has her own family sadness.

There are a few things that raise this film above the typical “baby fever” type of movies we’re all used to.

–>It’s in Czech, which instantly makes it more important. Not really, but the universality of the human experience is something we get while reading subtitles.

–>The not being sure if you want a baby that appears to be the answer to prayers is shown well.

–>As I have some experience with this whole “fertility thing”, I was happy to see an agreeable husband finally explode over being treated like a “stud bull”. Once you get deep into fertility science, all the fun of “reproduction” takes a back seat to shots and timing and specimen jars.

–>As I have some experience with the whole “adoption” thing, I was touched by scenes involving all of the tests (mental, psychological, economic) that one couple had to go through. Also, the other side of the equation (the actual birth mother) was shown with care.

The acting was uniformly good. There are some mis-steps involving scuba diving and whales, believe it or not, and the “find yourself” part of the doctor’s story never took hold of me. But the genetic lottery of who gets pregnant when, by whom, and under what circumstances did take hold of me.

MAMAS & PAPAS

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NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS
1922

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Germany
Silent — Wurlitzer Organ Accompaniment by Dennis James
Fantasy / Horror / Mystery / Romance
F. W. Murnau [Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans]

Film Number 103 Of All Time — They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000

OK, so it was made in 1922. It’s famous for being the first of the many vampire films. It’s campy and corny and silent. But was it fun to watch?

Absolutely. I was mostly worried about dozing off as it was my fourth film of the busy day. But seeing something that my great-grandparents might have seen, in a theater that my grandparents might have gone to as children, surrounded by a balcony full of fans ranging in age from about 8 to about 90, meant that it was an experience I’ll cherish forever.

Dennis James got sounds out of the mighty Wurlitzer that seemed to required five people to perform. He kept the pace and made us scared and happy and when a drummer appeared on screen, I’ll be damned if a snare drum didn’t sound from the right speaker in perfect syncopation. If you’ve never heard live accompaniment to a silent film before, get your ass out of your house and go to one. Even if you don’t like the film. It’ll be worth it.

The story was overacted and the special effects rudimentary, but again, it was filmed just after World War I, for god’s sake. Women and men alike seem to swoon, the bad guys are extra bad, the wacko mental patients extra mentally.

But I found it touched me–the darkness, the lust, the way the Count looked upon a drop of blood while licking his lips.

And my, oh my, to experience all of this in a double-decker full house like the California Theater. The title cards causing snickers and oohs and aahs. The “wow” factor of the Count levitating. The creepiness of a long boat ride. People were enthralled. I was one of them.

And I didn’t doze once.

8.1 IMDB

NOSFERATU

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LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR
2010

March 4, 2011
Cinequest 21
France
French
91 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Roberto Garzelli

Benoit = Thibault Vincon
Helena = Annabelle Hettmann

Sure, it was late, and I had been up since 5:30. And I had worked a full day. And it was my third film of the day. But holy cow, what the hell was this one all about? Helena is getting her degree in Anatomical Drawing (they didn’t offer that at UC Irvine when I was there). She observes surgeries and medical students dissecting cadavers with her sketch pad always at the ready. She believes in the beauty of the outside of people–birthmarks, scars, curves, and whatnot. She can apparently mount a successful breast examination in the shower.

Sent to the doctor because of some back pain, she somehow notices that the sexy practitioner has taken an x-ray of her, but not lower back where she’s feeling the pain. Confronted, he at first makes excuses, but then admits that he’s fascinated by a slight abnormality in her anatomy. You see, he is turned on (in the sexual and non-sexual sense) by human anatomy that differs from the norm. I’ve forgotten what her difference is, but she is not angry about a second, unnecessary x-ray, but rather turned on by his semi-professional attention.

They make a date. And have sex all over the place. Often. She memorizes his moles, he can picture her internal organs. It’s a match made in “Gray’s Anatomy.” She entices him with ever more medically intrusive procedures so that he can “know” her inside and out. MRI? Check. Surgical Scope? Check.

The ending had my audience tittering. At least those who stuck around for it. It isn’t a completely sucky movie, and I kinda get the whole “if you really loved me, you know everything about me and my body” vibe it’s going for. In fact, the feeling I got most from it was David Cronenberg’s CRASH (not to be confused with the Best Picture travesty by Paul Haggis). Where something medical and sexual combine in character’s heads. In CRASH, it was the excitement of a car crash and the disfigurement that brought. In this one, it’s how much you can expect your lover to know about your skeleton and internal organs.

I won’t say anything about the final shot, except that, though I understood the director’s reasoning, it was impossible to pull off.

March 12, 2011: Upon Further Review: I kept thinking of David Cronenberg while I was watching SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH, but now after a few days to ponder, I think I’m leaning more towards the style of Catherine Breillat. She typically takes the viewer on a wild ride that ratchets up the fetish and social acceptability until few are left at the end singing its praises. This can be rape or body fluid or murder. Some Breillat viewers only last five minutes, while others finish even the least accessible of her films, happy for the experience. SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH made a rather severe leap from realistic to plausible to way-out-there a bit too quickly, perhaps, but the themes were in line with Ms. Breillat’s work.

THE SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH.

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2011

March 4, 2011
USA
English
Cinequest 21 World Premiere
Drama / Romance
Conrad Jackson

Elliot Carson = Parker Croft
Chloe Webb = Emilia Zoryan

One of the best pleasant surprises I’ve had in my 14 years at Cinequest.

On paper, this film had every red flag imaginable. Terminal illness, Los Angeles hipsters, a house party, a meet-cute in a Jamba Juice, an internet entrepreneur, and two incredibly adorable young people who spend a single night together. And yet…

Elliot visits his doctor the day before he has brain surgery. The doctor assures him that he’s optimistic, but we can tell from Elliot’s eyes, that he has no such positive feelings. He wears sunglasses indoors as the light bothers him and on the way home from the doctor’s office, he needs to pull over his car in order to barf. Looking for a bathroom in which to clean himself up, he ends up at an ice cream / smoothie place staffed by an almost supernaturally adorable girl named Chloe. As he walks in, she’s taking photographs of the store’s merchandise. She kindly lets him use the bathroom, he orders an “anything with bananas in it” drink, and they make smalltalk. But realistic smalltalk. Awkward, silence-filled, customer-employee smalltalk. He picks up a card for her photo exhibit that night–”you should come”–and heads back to his sparsely furnished, though expensive looking apartment, where he enjoys a bowl of cereal after closing the shades.

Trying to get his mind off of the next morning’s procedure, he heads down to Chloe’s show, where they exchange names and more conversation. Which leads to dinner, which leads to a houseparty, bike ride, security guards, danger, a hike, some music, and all those other things that can make a first night with someone magical. But eventually, Elliot will have to tell Chloe why he hasn’t eaten or drank anything since midnight, won’t he? And what if she wants to plan something for that weekend?

There are several things to say here, in bullet-point format:

–the cinematographer and director find a way to perfectly capture the dizziness, migraine, and ear-ringing that accompany someone who is about to barf. I can’t recall ever feeling someone’s nausea quite so vividly. The sound quiets, the lights get brighter, and the speed sort of changes. Very well done.

–The young woman who plays Chloe, Emilia Zoryan, looks like an “almost” Minka Kelly from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. She has these huge, soulful eyes that stare at Elliot, often when he isn’t looking. She is convincing as a normal, LA girl, who works in a store, but longs for great, artistic things.

–The young man is played by Parker Croft, who was one of the writers of the film. He looks like an even-thinner young Roger Daltrey, all angles, and bones, with a big mop of blonde hair on his head. He has this slow-blinking, surfer drawl dialogue delivery that somehow isn’t annoying. Because it sounds like a kid his age. And with his very thin frame and our knowledge of his condition, we can’t help but cheer for him as he tries to experience a memorable night on what might be his last.

–The two leads, while conversing–both initially meeting, and as the topics get deeper–sound perfect together. At the Q & A after the film, it was learned that the crew filmed this over a two week period of nights. And I know that Parker was one of the writers. But something more is happening here. I don’t know if they work-shopped the dialogue or were given a simple framework upon which to improvise around. The two 20ish actors are speaking like two 20ish people who are meeting someone they might end up eventually liking. The honest awkwardness of silences, of jokes that don’t land, of spilling food on a first date–all of it seems real. They don’t finish each others sentences and they mostly don’t have a rapid-fire HIS GIRL FRIDAY thing happening. It just seems more organic. Or else I was just fooled, which is good enough for me.

–The music worked, especially a “concert in a tunnel” where someone’s friend of a friend is performing on guitar and a tiny amp. The crowd looks happy, if a bit too hip and good-looking. The other songs didn’t hit us over the head. There was no “brain tumor theme” for example.

–A new romance causes us to completely lose track of time, and somehow that feeling was communicated in this film. Everything they do could plausibly have taken place during one night. But looking back on memories of perfect nights with perfect people, we never really relay that story perfectly, do we? Maybe the bike ride took four hours and maybe it was just around the block. The important thing was who you were with, not how long it really lasted.

–Capturing blossoming feelings is incredibly difficult on screen. You have to believe in the chemistry of the two people. They have to be realistically right for each other. There has to be something in each of them that would attract the other. All of these things work in this film. Though, due to Elliot’s condition, he needs to hold back his feelings more than Chloe does. I thought that she fell too hard for him too early. Plus, she’s adorable. Why doesn’t she already have something to do that night?

–Another entirely tiny positive thing that no one probably noticed but me. Both members of the couple sustain minor injuries during their night together. Hers is much less conspicuous. But I noticed that the continuity didn’t lapse when I saw her in a later scene. Attention to detail=A.

Lest it sound like it was perfect, let me slow down that impression now.

–The hipster, mostly white-people, young and funny, houseparty birthday “my friends are outrageous” stuff was almost a bit much for me. Almost. A sobbing birthday girl, a cynical bearded friend, a guy with one of those stupid knit hats with the ear flaps, a conversation about grilled cheese, a top-half-clothing-trade. If I wasn’t so invested in the couple’s beginning, I would have hated, hated, hated that group of people. They hike up an LA mountain, where a group of people has cold beer ready and a tree adorned with lights and a couch and deep and shallow conversations abound. I get that this is a real thing that happens, but that doesn’t mean it makes good cinema. When I was their age, my friends and I acted exactly like them. If you are between the ages of 16 and 30, you’ll even love these scenes.

–Both actors were pretty spectacular, especially when compared to their resumes. Parker was a bit stronger than Emilia, but her big eyes go a long way towards helping us forget that. Parker has a big scene that starts with spinning a globe that I never quite bought. I wanted to, but it was too long, too close-up, too monologue-ish. That was the only misstep I could find in his performance.

In conclusion, I’m almost embarrassed by how much I like FALLING OVERNIGHT. I’m a sucker for the falling in like part of cinema relationships (BEFORE SUNRISE remains the gold standard), but the LA location, the age of the participants, the extra “bonus” of a brain tumor, all told me to avoid this film. I’m glad I didn’t.

FALLING OVERNIGHT

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TUAN YUAN
2010

March 4, 2011
Cinequest 21
China
Mandarin
93 Minutes
Drama
Quan’an Wang

Qiao Yu’e = Lisa Lu
Liu Yangheng = Feng Ling
Lu Shanmin = Cai-gen Yu

Liu fled China for Taiwan 50 years ago during the Communist Revolution. He has come back to an unrecognizable Shanghai and would like to reconnect with his girlfriend from before the war and bring her back to Taiwan with him. Unfortunately for his plans, she leads a broad family of three generations, none of whom is exactly happy to see the man. Oh yeah, and she’s been happily married to “a good man” named Lu for more than 40 years.

The family is understandably upset with Liu’s plans. The sisters bicker, the businessman son-in-law wants to look at it like a business proposition, the oldest son, who is Liu’s biological child, wants to leave it up to his mother. It’s none of his business, he says.

The hip, cool, and bored 20ish granddaughter is put in charge of showing Liu the sights of Shanghai. The city becomes another character in the film. When Liu left, it surely wasn’t the economic powerhouse it is today.

Just about the only person who isn’t upset with Liu’s plan is Yu’e’s husband, Lu. He seems fine. In several hilarious scenes, he shows just how okay he is with his wife leaving him for another country. He refuses money and drinks a toast in honor of the man about to take his wife away.

There is a hilarious section where the couple get caught in a bureaucratic nightmare after being told they were never “officially” married all those decades ago. “What can we do?” “Go next door and get a marriage license and then bring it back here for the divorce.” The wrinkled couple poses for their first wedding portrait sandwiched between much younger newlyweds.

Lisa Lu, as the center of this love triangle, plays her role with quiet reserve. But her eyes tell us everything we need to know about her thoughts. She may have been playing the “what if” game for 50 years–since Liu left. Or perhaps she just wants a late-life change.

And why on earth is her husband Lu, being so peaceful about the whole thing?

One of the rare Asian offerings at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival.

APART TOGETHER

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2010

February 5, 2011
Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Canada
English / German / Dutch
75 Minutes
Crime / Thriller
Ed Gass-Donnelly

Peter Stormare = Walter
Jill Hennessy = Rita
Martha Plimpton = Sam

Much better than expected. A small Canadian town is shocked by the news of a dead girl found at a local fishing lake. Sheriff Walter and his deputy appear to be the only police in town. The town is a farming community where trucks rumble past main street, there’s a barbershop and a diner, and a large Mennonite community.

Walter has a dark past involving his temper, though we’re never sure exactly what that past infraction was. We know he’s born again, lives with a simple-minded waitress named Sam, attends church regularly, and knows everyone in town. It seems that the 911 call after the body’s discovery was made by his former lover Rita, who is now shacked up with a druggie bad boy (with especially bad teeth). Walter may be known by everyone, but he is also ridiculed by quite a few. Whatever his past indiscretion, you can believe the whole town, if not the larger community knows what happened. His deacon reminds him, “you can’t change who you are.”

After the incident, Rita left him, and his father stopped speaking with him. A single, terrible violent event in a community known for pacifism. Redemption is the theme of this film.

The vistas are vast, the people appear to be real small-town folks. Hardly anyone is recognizable to movie audiences. The authenticity drips from the screen. Farmers speak in their native tongue, people pretty much act like normal people, the sun appears to be in a constant state of settingness. And though I’ve probably never written this before, even the dead body appears authentic. How do you stop your eyes from blinking and your neck from pulsating? From the bartender to the old woman serving tea, these characters are perfect.

And the music, what about the music?

If the native tribes of North America converted to Christianity, were recorded by Peter Gabriel’s World Music label, and only brought their drums and five part harmonies, the music would sound like it does in this film. It’s mostly religious in nature, many traditional songs, with a few aching love songs thrown in for good measure. And the drums are loud in the best possible way. It is foot-stomping to be sure. The music is by Bruce Peninsula.

The film is broken into chapters with huge text declaring bumper sticker bible verses. “God Meets You Where You’re At” and “Live In The World But Not Of It” or some such advice. This strangely doesn’t take away from the film in any way. The performances are fantastic. Stormare, especially, who appears to be [this close] to going haywire finds the tone between born again calmness and vein-popping hot-head. He is something to watch.

But the town is the real star. Shots are perfectly composed including a double-wide mobile home being driven through the town with police escort. Sunsets, boats on lakes, tractors going this way and that, horse-drawn buggies. It couldn’t have been shot on a soundstage. I loved the look.

My only complaint might be that it’s too short. The stuff around the murder mystery is as important as the crime itself. I would have liked to have spent some more time in the town.

This is a good one.

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS screens as part of the San Jose Cinequest 21 Film Festival on March 4, March 6, and March 11.

7.8 IMDB

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS

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2010

March 7, 2010
Cinequest 20
USA / Poland
Polish / English
83 Minutes
Documentary
Steven Meyer

Is there really another worthwhile documentary to be made about the Holocaust? This brief, interesting documentary says that there is. This one follows survivors of a less well-known concentration camp called Maidanek, where participants of the Warsaw Uprising were sent. This one lacked a railroad track so the prisoners were marched from the town’s station into the front gates of the camp after traveling for days with no food or water. This camp was also unique in that prisoners were given time in a field which was in between two barracks. Another difference was that it seems as if the Nazi guards made no secret of the ultimate fate of the inmates. At other camps, prisoners on their way to the showers were told to neatly arrange their personal items so that they could find them when the shower concluded. No such charade went on at this camp. Knowing that all the gold and money they had brought to bribe the guards wouldn’t secure their freedom, the prisoners then began burying these items in the field to keep them out of the hands of the Nazis.

The film is a mixture of survivor stories and a methodical archeological dig, as well as a story about the red tape of modern Poland. It’s no shock when items are found (what sort of documentary would it have been if these stories of buried treasure proved unfounded), but hearing about a couple’s buried wedding rings or an entire family’s supply of gold is much different than seeing these items being unearthed. The items are cataloged and the survivors get a chance to hold them, struggling to see tiny inscriptions in some of them.

A post-script tells us that less than 1% of the area has been excavated.

It has become no easier over the years to watch an elderly survivor of a concentration camp walk back through the gates of the camp that killed their entire family. Sobs and memories flood back and we can somehow see their pain. Most were the only one of their large extended families to survive World War II.

Not particularly uplifting, but worth seeing.

—–

The Cinequest Program Said:

When facing even the most dire of situations, the strength of the human spirit prevails.

In 1943, thousands of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising were taken and held in the Maidanek death camp. There, a revolution of a different kind would occur. Realizing they were being selected for death, the inmates, in an act of defiance and bravery, secretly buried their personal possessions so that the Nazis could not take and use them to support their war effort. Sixty-three years later, an international team of survivors and experts from around the world convened for an archeological expedition to unearth the hidden treasures.

Director Steven Meyer’s inspirational Buried Prayers is a beautiful homage to the human spirit and our necessity to survive and fight against those who attempt to take our humanity away from us. And what they discover lying six inches beneath the long-untouched earth are not just relics, but incredibly powerful stories of hope.

—–

BURIED PRAYERS

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STARRING MAJA
2009

Cinequest 20
Sweden / Ireland
Swedish
94 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Teresa Fabik

Sort of a Swedish “Real Women Have Curves” where an overweight, but bubbly teenager shows the audience that she has feelings too. Just because this film was predictable from the first frame to the last, doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

The title character, Maja (Zandra Andersson), is an 18-year-old aspiring actress. She is also huge. She takes acting workshop classes where it’s clear she takes her craft much more seriously than the other, bored members of the troupe. She also is the butt of jokes at her school, and is bumbling in the way that only the cinematically big-boned can be. At a wedding (where she trips into the wedding cake, catches it before it collapses, and then licks the base of the bride & groom figures before quickly reconstructing the top tier, all without anyone noticing), she strikes up a conversation with the wedding videographer. Like all wedding videographers, Erika (Moa Silén) believes that she’s destined for greater cinematic glory. As she’s reviewing her video from the wedding, she stumbles upon Maja speaking directly to the camera about wanting to be an actress and declaring her availability for any projects that Erika might have.

Erika is at first intrigued by Maja’s klutziness and her seeming disconnection between her dreams and her body-type. She begins filming a thrilled Maja while shopping the footage around and being turned down at most production companies, except for one which wants to make her the basis for a comedy film called “Phat”.

When a call comes in about a role in a sitcom, Maja jumps at the chance, Erika does the driving, and a “sensitive” male classmate sneaks out of his house to go along so that he can meet with his “brother”. As this film holds no surprises, we know that Maja’s role will be described as a “hideously obese creature” who set up a blind date with the sitcom star. Erika will struggle with her conscience after setting up the part for Maja with an ex-boyfriend who has become much more successful than she has. The boy from school will learn how men posting ads online will often not, gasp, be exactly who they say they are. Maja will be in heaven as she spoons with the hot, but “theatrical” boy while they share a bed in the big, exciting, city.

There will be drama as Maja’s mother invites a large party over to watch the show, as Erika’s plans for a film at Maja’s expense are exposed, as the boy tells Maja a secret that the rest of us have known about for 45 minutes.

There are some things that the film surprised me about.
1) The boy did go to the big city, meet a man, and have some form of sex with him. Maja: you didn’t do things you didn’t want to do, did you? Boy: [no answer--then tears]
2) The acting troupe is putting on The Twelfth Night (I believe) which includes a character who is so hideous that the rest of the cast pretends to be attracted to him, until he realizes and has a speech about how evil they are by playing with his heart. This role will be played, of course, by Maja, who will wow the community theater crowd to the point of tears with her heartfelt acting talent. But the thing is, Andersson is a really good actress. We want to applaud along with the rest of the auditorium during their curtain call.
3) The film said some things about the actual chances of someone of Andersson’s build becoming famous at anything. There were scenes that were reminiscent of PRECIOUS when she pretends she’s at the BET Awards with her light-skinned boyfriend. There are dream sequences here as well.

The moral of the story I suppose is that if you’re a filmmaker, don’t make fun of your subject, find their inner soul and show it to the audience. And if you’re an overweight aspiring actress, simply find a gay man to hitch your wagon to and he’ll design a graduation gown that will be talked about for years and years. Or something.

I’d let kids of any age see this. It’s empowering. It’s crowd-pleasing. And completely predictable.

—–

The Cinequest Program Said:

Everyone wants to be seen, everyone wants to be noticed.

Finding the perfect balance of comedy and drama, Teresa Fabik’s Starring Maja inspires with a poignant, coming-of-age tale that examines our hopes and fears, about discovering ourselves and about following our dreams.

Meet Maja, an 18-year-old girl from a small town in Sweden. She dreams of becoming an actress and getting the world to see her for the beautiful person she is. But it’s difficult to get anyone to look past her portly physique, her awkward social skills, or her clumsiness. Along comes Erica, a struggling documentary filmmaker, who sees an opportunity to create some comedy and make some money by recording Maja’s daily antics. As time passes, Maja’s warm-hearted enthusiasm wins Erica over and has her questioning her motives. Maja’s journey is riddled with comedy and sadness as she struggles to find the self-esteem and courage to live her dream—on her own terms.

—–

6.9 IMDB

STARRING MAJA

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MOTHER
2009

Cinequest 20
South Korea
Korean
128 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Joon-ho Bong [The Host]

The closing night film of Cinequest 20, was a film by Joon-ho Bong, who also directed the much-better HOST in 2006.

This is basically the story of a mother’s loyalty to her mentally-retarded son. I’ve read a bit about this film and the phrases that continually come up are “challenged,” “simpleton,” and “slow” which I dismiss. The boy in this story is a barely functioning retarded youth who hangs out with a small-time criminal who uses him for whatever bad idea he can think up. I have seen hundreds of filmed portrayals of mentally challenged characters and few dramas have asked me to believe as ludicrous a character as Do-joon who stares at people with his mouth open and answers questions in slow motion. He forgets events and activities the second they are finished. But when he needs to be, he appears to add IQ points instantly. I almost couldn’t get past him. But Hye-ja Kim, who plays the mother, kept me at least partially entertained.

As did director Joon-ho Bong, who may have created a terrible, long, and frustrating mystery, but who can’t possibly be accused of not having the technical skill to pull of beautiful scene after beautiful scene. In one, a police interrogator karate kicks the apple out of the son’s mouth. This had nothing to do with any of the other 127 minutes, but it sure looked awesome! The opening scene showed Mother dancing, with abandon, in a field for reasons that we hope will be made clear by the end, but in actuality never are. But it was still hilarious, stunningly beautiful, and strangely emotional to watch this actress look at the camera and dance as if no one was watching.

The film is full of such moments. A building is engulfed in flames off in the distance as Mother walks through some woods. An incredibly tense scene follows a gratuitous sex scene (nothing wrong with that), in which a spilled bottle of water and it’s resulting puddle make you hold your breath as it spreads toward the dangling fingers of the bad guy.

Plot-wise, not much there. Mother runs a herbal store and moonlights as an illegal acupuncturist. She lives with her 20something son, who would forget to feed himself if she wasn’t around. Son is hit-and-runned by rich guys in a Mercedes. Boy and Thug drive out to the golf course to confront them and end up in the police station where Mother bails Son out and gives out free samples of some sort of herbal drink. Later, after a night of drinking, Boy is accuses of killing a loose schoolgirl and then displaying her for the neighborhood to see. Mother begins an investigation to find the real killer, going so far as to enlist bad guys to beat confessions out of people.

After all, her son couldn’t have possibly done what he’s been accused of, right?

And on and on. For more than two hours. Once the “mystery” has been solved, we are still subjected to another 20 minutes of slow-paced often inexplicable scenes which seem to have no connection with the original story.

I am a huge fan of Asian cinema. I enjoyed The Host and most of the creepy Korean horror films of the past decade. But this one just sucked. I don’t care if it’s from an established and much-heralded director, if this had been made in the US, no one would be giving it a second glance. Somehow it garnered an 8.1 at IMDB and a not-terrible 6.9 at Metacritic. There’s no accounting for taste.

—–

The Cinequest Program Said:

Some secrets can only be uncovered by a determined force of nature…

For twenty years Cinequest has empowered the Maverick via innovation and discovery. It fits this tradition to close a milestone program with a Maverick moment that will truly electrify…and give you one of those special moments when you leave the theatre knowing you’ve discovered something very original, very powerful.

There are many forces of nature. Perhaps the most organic and committed force is that of a mother for her child. And this power and experience of motherhood carries a universal understanding, respect and community. What would you do if your child were accused of a brutal crime?

Mother delivers a breathtaking and hugely entertaining mystery, delving into the realms of truth within the shadow side of humanity.

When it comes to her mentally challenged adult son, Do-Joon, there is nothing this middle-aged matriarch won’t do. Her devotion is put to the ultimate test when a schoolgirl is found murdered and all signs point to Do-Joon as the killer. Denied help by the authorities, she sets out to prove her son’s innocence. Using her amateur sleuthing skills, she uncovers a host of unpleasant secrets among the tormented townspeople. As the quest deepens, the heroine’s own maternal instincts become increasingly blurred.

Rather than stun with shocking sequences, director Joon-ho Bong (director of the hit film The Host) emphasizes and amazes with detailed cinematography. Shots of open fields and mystifying landscape are equally dazzling and fundamental to the mother’s journey. While her eternal love for Do-Joon may come across as shameful and outrageous, the powerful performance of the matriarch overshadows all else on screen.

—–

8.1 IMDB
6.9 Metacritic

MADEO

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APPLAUSE
2009

March 6, 2010
Cinequest 20
Denmark
Danish
85 Minutes
Drama
Martin Zandvliet

Though I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Natasha Richardson look-a-like, Paprika Steen before, I can assure you that I’ll try to catch her in any future projects she might be involved in. She is just that good. She plays an alcoholic actress in Applause, and judging from the way she’s treated by others, a quite famous one. In a bit of too-meta storytelling, Thea is playing an alcoholic in a stage play each evening, while trying to kick the habit during daylight hours. She has also driven away what appears to be a pretty great husband and is trying to reconnect with their two young boys. But as a diva and a boozer, she isn’t exactly sure how to go about winning their trust again. Awkward hugs and unsuccessful trips to Toys R Us are just a few of the problems Thea encounters on her way to becoming a more normal-acting mother.

She attends AA meetings, but insists on visiting her neighborhood bar, even if she only enjoys a club soda and the flirtations of the men there.

The camera work is shaky and close-up. We seem to peer into her eyes, or maybe they just do a great job of catching ours. Thea is at a specific age in an actress’ life. Still beautiful, but with all of life’s years written on her face. She is mean to most of those around her, but Steen never lets us forget the humanity behind the rudeness.

There is also a scene towards the end which will give you the heaviest sense of dread.

A fantastic character study.

—–

The Cinequest Program Said:

“Even though you can’t tell, I am a good mother.”

The reason for the emotional impact achieved in Applause can be summed up in two words: Paprika Steen. One of the world’s most vibrant actresses (having starred in such films as Adam’s Apples, The Substitute and Open Hearts), Steen has the innate ability to make us laugh, cry and, yes, even to fear her with just a glance.

Steen’s tour-de-force performance as Thea in Martin Pieter Zandvliet’s debut film is, in short, fearless. A celebrated actress, Thea has been battling alcoholism for years—an addiction that led to her divorce and the loss of custody of her two sons. Pampered at work and lacking even the most basic social skills, Thea does not suffer fools gladly and fills the lives of those around her with a caustic, venomous sarcasm. But Thea wants her children back desperately and pleads with her ex-husband to let her spend time with them. But how far is she willing to go?

—–

7.2 IMDB

APPLAUSE

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HOUSE OF BRANCHING LOVE
2009

March 6, 2010
Cinequest 20
Finland
Finnish
102 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Mika Kaurismaki

This is the kind of comedy where a man, while getting orally serviced by his girlfriend for rent, tosses a lit cigar out his window onto dry grass, where a brush fire ignites, and as the man rushes outside wearing boxers and brandishing an extinguisher, he loses control of the hose and it sprays all over his face and the window before finally hitting its target. The crowd erupts in laughter. And…scene.

A couple in their 30s is divorcing, but neither wants to leave the lakeside house, so they decide they’ll both live there, as long as they live by a set of ground rules. Samples are, we split the bills, and, no new people allowed inside, which really means that they can’t bring their new lovers over. This rule lasts about an hour. The woman calls a former one-night-stand participant and he flies his seaplane over and docks it at the house. The man asks his pimp half-brother to secure the services of a prostitute who will pose as his new love interest. But she’s on the run from a scary female mob boss who accuses her of stealing some money.

The man’s best friend is some sort of blow-dried, tight-acid-washed-jeans wearing guy who seems to have a way with the ladies, if not with his toothbrush.

The entire plot is based around a divorcing couple, who through jealousy and kidnapping and a next door neighbor with a huge dog, find that they are better together than apart. There isn’t a single surprise, and the mood changes from madcap slapstick to serious tied-to-a-chair torture seemingly at random.

Skip this one.

—–

The Cinequest Program Said:

It’s divorce: Finnish style.

In this wicked comedy, Juhani and Tuula, a successful family therapist and a business trainer, cannot practice what they preach. When they decide to divorce but continue to share the house, reason not only doesn’t prevail, long repressed emotions erupt like childish, playground tantrums. First Juhani brings home a bar pickup, infuriating Tuula so much that she gets even with a tryst of her own the next night. Juhani then ups the ante by hiring a prostitute who’s being tailed by the local mob that thinks she’s stolen a big chunk of their money, to pose as his girlfriend.

Director Mika Kaurismäki’s wild ride through domestic dysfunction not only earns its laughs, it also exposes the futility of false personas where matters of the heart are involved. Ultimately, love, in all its guises, is a part of the human condition none of us can do without.

—–

6.6 IMDB

HOUSE OF BRANCHING LOVE

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2009

February 28, 2010
Cinequest 20
India
Hindi
105 Minutes
Drama
Amit Rai

Not very successful film about a Muslim community in India. A suicide bomber has blown up a marketplace and the Indian authorities respond using force against other Muslims, detaining them for two weeks without trial. Tired of being blamed for the actions of one man, the local leader calls for a general strike, whereby each shop owners will close his store until the unjustly incarcerated men are set free. Our protagonist, an auto mechanic, is given an important job to do by governmental engineers on the day before the strike is to commence. An 1940s Ford engine is brought to his shop by official looking people who need him to fix it. It seems that the final urn of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes was recently found in a bank vault and the government is getting prepared to drive the ashes to the final Indian river using the exact same truck that carried them after his death. This is a huge honor to be picked to fix this engine, but if he keeps his shop open to do the work, his fellow Muslim businessmen will think that he’s disloyal. He will try to speak to the community leaders, but they won’t listen. He’ll be assaulted by the thuggy Muslim youth for going against orders. He’ll try and try to point out that Gandhi may have been murdered for being sympathetic to the plight of Muslim Indians. He’ll lose sleep and rely on his closest friend, a doctor who will tell him to stop stressing.

And what will the women say? We have no idea because there are only two women who appear on screen, only one of whom has a line of dialogue. There is a funeral scene which involves only men.

By the time the film ends, all warring parties will come together in a show of support that the Mahatma would have wanted to see. There is really no surprise here.

Simplistic and boring and overacted. There are some Bollywood type songs that you can bob your head to. I suppose we don’t see many films about the Muslim population of India. However, just last year at Cinequest Firaaq played, which told the story of race relations in India with much more heft.

6.9 IMDB [25 votes]

ROAD TO SANGAM

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2009

February 28, 2010
Cinequest 20
Japan
Japanese
107 Minutes
Drama
Atsushi Funahashi

I don’t need plot or the camera to move or dialogue or sex or violence or fast pacing to keep me interested. But Holy Toledo was this thing slow. I was sitting with a full cup of coffee, it was my first film of the day, and I’ll be damned if I could stay awake.

In the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo are a whole bunch of Buddhist temples and old-timers. And a huge, five-story pagoda used to stand over all of it. The children played around it, and it made the neighborhood happy to have it. Everyone alive at the time agrees that it burned to the ground in 1957, though how it caught on fire has two story versions. Either a crazy homeless man did it, or two lovers killed themselves by lighting it on fire while they were inside. Either way, the burning of this structure has deeply wounded the neighborhood and a student film society sets about interviewing people about it. They are also after the holy grail of filmed footage of the fire itself.

Two characters discuss how important it is to make the elderly interview subjects comfortable before asking them painful questions about the burning. This is supposed to help us in the audience go along with film maker’s pacing, which involves slow, static shots of this temple and that. Of a blind woman scrubbing tombstones. Of various ceremonies for the dead. There is also footage of the young people from the film society (actors, I think), interviewing people with memories of the pagoda (real-life citizens, I think). These stories meander until we end up learning about why the neighborhood isn’t as good as it used to be when the pagoda stood sentry. Some of the interview subjects lament that no one worships dead relatives anymore. Another doesn’t like the crime that’s moved in. Others talk about the beauty of the structure itself and how the designer went against the convention of the time and hung off the edges of the immense structure without ropes.

It is filmed mostly in Black and White, though there are rare shots of color and a few in sepia. The mixture of real neighborhood residents, a real historic fire, and actors working around them is mostly successful. The shots are uniformly beautiful, even while watching someone sweep for five minutes. But oh my goodness is it slow. And dark. And quiet.

Notes:
Slow, static shots…temple after temple…some young people are collecting film from old-timers…a five-story pagoda built in 1600s, then destroyed, then rebuilt in the 1800s, and burned in the 1950s…old-timers reminisce about what the huge structure meant to the town..

DEEP IN THE VALLEY

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2009

February 27, 2010
Cinequest 20
Norway
Norwegian / Polish / English
100 Minutes
Drama
Sara Johnsen

Terrific film about the nature of fate. And love, of course. Axel is an advertising executive in his 20s with a completely dicky demeanor. He is Asian, but was adopted at a young age by a Norwegian couple. He treats women poorly, is reckless and handsome and snobby. His adoptive parents live in a large, expensive house, and it’s clear he’s the most important thing to him. His family hires a new maid, Maria, a sexy woman from Poland, whose own son lives with her mother back in her home country. They are immediately attracted to each other, though when not having sex, he treats her as if she were his family’s maid–which, of course, she is. Maria works a second job washing dishes at an Asian restaurant in a not-so-great part of town. A co-worker, Anne, is quiet and thoughtful and was also adopted by a Norwegian, though her mother has a blue collar job working as a coat check woman in a hotel lounge. Rounding out the cast is a blond farm boy named Per, just back from the Gulf War, after being photographed brandishing a rifle in the face of a small Afghan boy. The publicity from the photo resulted in his being discharged from the army, and sent back home where he is anxious to begin his college studies. His first apartment is across the street from the restaurant. The four will become two couples.

There are several things going on in this film and not all of those things work. The film opens with night vision shots of a war zone, but Per’s military story is by far the least compelling one. He has an embedded photo-journalist (a hot one, to boot) follow him around as he goes about his army business. A car speeds through a roadblock, he kills the driver and screams at the kids in the back seat to get out. A photo is taken and he becomes a scapegoat. He has trouble sleeping afterward, but is polite and smart and ready for college.

The more successful theme is one of class distinction. Axel is spoiled and wealthy and handsome and entitled and works in a high-priced ad agency. Anne is beautiful and sweet and is a waitress at a local restaurant. Maria is in Norway on a worker’s permit, lives in a different country than her son, is both a maid and a dishwasher. That’s our hierarchy. But what caused them to reach the class level they’ve reached? Maria came to Norway looking for a better life. Axel and Anne were adopted as children from their homeland by two vastly different families. One a single mother working in a hotel, the other a well-to-do couple who throw lavish parties, support liberal causes, and think nothing of their mid-20s son coming home to live after a work suspension (for inappropriate language towards a female, of course).

Add to this the relationship that Maria and Axel enter into–she is employed by his family, how can any love affair be equal? When he’s mean to her, his barbs are always aiming towards her domestic servant status.

What if the situation were different? The girl was adopted by the wealthy couple and given all the advantages that Axel now enjoys.

I must say that as someone who was adopted as an infant, this sort of what if discussion is never far from my mind. What if the family before the one I ended up with had decided to take me? How would everything have been different–or the same? Biological children probably don’t go through this, but we “chosen babies” do. So this film hit quite close to home.

Beyond the plot, the film is populated by good looking people of various backgrounds. Axel walks around completely nude–and why shouldn’t he with that body. Anne is striking in her poise and posture and quietness. She has a first kiss that will make you swoon. Maria is louder and demonstrative and sexy. And Per is buff and handsome and as Norwegian as apple pie. Each does a fabulous job with their characters. The music and photography is great.

If you forget about an incredible coincidence for a moment and just let it wash over you, you’ll be in for a great film experience.

Notes:
Coincidence aside, fabulous story of siblings, adopted from Asia to Norway…the son is an affluent advertising creative type who is just an asshole to everyone he meets…his adopted family is beyond wealthy…clearly he’s had everything he’s ever wanted…we see him as the film opens paying his buddy to sleep with his girlfriend, thus proving her unworthiness–it’s a loyalty test she fails…sent home on a semi-suspension (for inappropriate language), Axel meets his family’s new maid, a Polish hottie who he treats like trash…Maria also works as a dishwasher at the Vietnamese restaurant where her best friend Anne works. Anne was also adopted from Vietnam, but her mother is a coat checker at a posh hotel…An ex-soldier, who becomes infamous for a photo of him aiming a machine gun in an Afghan boy’s face, moves into Maria’s low-rent building to being his college studies…the soldier finds comfort in the restaurant and the advertising exec finds comfort in the maid…there are some interesting things being said about the luck of life’s draw…both Vietnamese young people seem smart, one was adopted by affluent parents, the other by a working-class woman…how does this adoption lottery affect those involved…the cast is magnificent, and the Norway we see is less fancy, clean, and healthy than divided, racist, and full of class divisions…not sure if the soldier’s story is as compelling as the others…the scenes of war seem a bit out of place…they are good, but the vibe is different…the film is all about how big events can affect everything that follows, whether it be an international adoption, a child left in another country, or an act during wartime…

7.1 IMDB

UPPERDOG

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THE ROBBERS
2009

February 25, 2010
Cinequest 20
China
Mandarin
92 Minutes
Action
Shu-Peng Yang

A crowd-pleaser that left me sort of cold. Two bumbling thieves walk the countryside until they arrive at a village which is full of idiots. They claim to be hunters desiring water, but it quickly becomes clear that they are after any valuables the villagers have. One of the robbers has an incredible likeness to Toshiro Mifune, but a bit more chubby, and this bumblier of the bumbling duo takes a liking to the daughter of the man they first rob. Before they can get away, some soldiers show up, abuse the villagers in minor ways, then begin to abuse the daughter in much more serious ways. As the rape is taking place (though this rape is mostly played for laughs), the robber with the crush stabs the soldier, which begins a full-on samurai fight with four soldiers vs. two robbers.

This is when the film takes off into supercool territory. The soundtrack is “300-esque”, full of speed metal riffs that have nothing to do with authenticity, but just sound bitchin. As the men are running around and stabbing each other and shooting arrows into each other, the blood spurts, the villagers recoil in horror, and the soundtrack thumps on.

But as soon as there is life in the film, it begins running out of gas. Instead of thanking the robbers for saving a young maiden from her soiled fate, the village elder gets the rest of the men in town to take the two men prisoner. This will happen several more times in the course of the film. The men will save the asses of the village, the dim-witted mayor and his even more dimwitted townspeople will tie up the two men, and they’ll find any number of ways to get out of their control. On one occasion, one fakes the need to pee–in another, a sympathetic (and sexy) butcher-badass leaves one of her knives within reach so they can cut their way out.

But it’s ponderous when the same plot happens over and over. The mayor fakes paralysis in order to sneak away on a donkey to tell the army what the robbers have done with their comrades.

The film is bookended with scenes of an ancient man and woman and their crazy kid who stop for water at a village full of scared people.

The music is cool, but the film is ridiculous. I suppose if you have a soft spot for slapstick, this one might do the trick. And apparently dick jokes translate into any language and dynastic era.

5.9 IMDB

THE ROBBERS

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My 12th year. Will be remembered as the year the Twitter took off and updates were sent back and forth while the festival was in full swing. My biases are away from low-budget films in English and towards foreign dramas. I rarely find film festival comedies funny, which I believe is what they set out to be.

Countries represented this year: Hungary, Serbia, Switzerland. Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Liberia, Norway, Pakistan, and Turkey. Where else do you get a chance to see this kind of variety without the help of Netflix?

My final count was 28 films and one shorts program.

Best Fiction:

1-HISTORIAS EXTRAORDINARIAS — Argentina — Three characters and their stories are told by an unseen narrator
2-SOF SHAVUA B’TEL AVIV (FOR MY FATHER) — Israel — Suicide bomber has 48 hours to live among, learn about, and fall for, the Jews he set out to kill
3-JOHNNY MAD DOG — Liberia — Boy soldiers ruthlessly kill and rape while overseen by older violent men
4-THE PHOTOGRAPH — Indonesia — Nightclub singer attempts to improve her life by becoming the assistant to an ancient photographer
5-FIRAAQ — India — Intertwining stories of Hindus and Muslims unsuccessfully living together in the era of terrorism
6-A NYOMOZO (THE INVESTIGATOR) — Hungary — Humorless pathologist is offered a payday if he kills someone he believes he has no tie to
7-MANNEN SOM ELSKET YNGVE (THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE) — Norway — A boy in a high school rock band is conflicted when he finds himself attracted to the new tennis-playing, artistic, beautiful boy even though he knows he has an almost perfect girlfriend
8-PAZAR-BIR TICARET MASALI (THE MARKET: A TALE OF TRADE) — Turkey — Struggling businessman tries to bring much-needed medicine across the border even though he won’t make a profit
9-BE HAMIN SADEGI (AS SIMPLE AS THAT) — Iran — Housewife and mother feels invisible and artistically stiffled
10-CE QU’IL FAUT POUR VIVRE (NECESSITIES OF LIFE) — Canada — Inuit man taken from his home and family for TB treatment in Quebec City in 1952
11-NOME PROPRIO (CAMILA JAM) — Brazil — Passionate young woman with no sense of privacy exposes her thoughts, secrets, dreams, and body to an eager online readership
12-UN AUTRE HOMME (ANOTHER MAN) — Switzerland — Man with no opinions of his own becomes film critic in small village by copying better-known critical material
13-FINNISCHER TANGO (FINNISH TANGO) — Germany — Con man pretends to be disabled and falls in with a group home and learns a little something about himself
14-RAMCHAND PAKISTANI — Pakistan — Father and son are taken into custody for wandering too near the Indian border and adjust to life in prison
15-TANDOORI LOVE — Switzerland — Indian chef on a film location falls for Swiss woman working in an alpine restaurant
16-EL CAMINO — Costa Rica — Children flee abusive grandfather and attempt to cross the border into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, but the dangers are at least as great on their journey as they were back at home

[Avoid the ones below here]

17-LOS (CUT LOOSE) — Belgium — Journalist wants more serious stories to report on and begins writing about immigrant’s experiences coming to Belgium and falls for a beautiful Palestinian
18-UN ROMAN POLICIER (A POLICE ROMANCE) — France — Arab rookie and French police chief investigate drug dealers and a relationship with each other
19-ESZTER HAGYATEKA (ESTHER’S INHERITANCE) — Hungary — Woman with family home falls a second time for her scoundrel brother-in-law
20-CORPSE RUN — USA — Tech-savvy youth play videogames and talk incessantly about their generation
21-TURNEJA (THE TOUR) — Serbia — Semi-famous theater troupe takes a tour of the war-ravaged countryside
22-CAPERS — USA — Three different bumbling crime gangs filmed in three different cinema styles
23-NA LEPOM PLAVOM DUNAVU (THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE) — Serbia — Cabaret + Shortbus + Irreversible = Loveboat with value added sexual favors
24-WAKE — USA — Young woman tries her luck dating people she meets at funerals. I tried my luck watching this. I got through 30 minutes

Documentaries:

1-WITCH HUNT — USA — Working-class couples unjustly thrown in prison based upon coached evidence of children
2-JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON — USA — Landmark live album has interesting back story
3-ROCK PAPER SCISSORS: A GEEK TRAGEDY — Canada — These people take Rock Paper Scissors very seriously

Impossible To Categorize Or Review Without At Least A Half Dozen More Viewings:

1-CANARY — USA — Replacement organs are sometimes repossessed if the host doesn’t follow their care and feeding correctly?

Fell Asleep But Heard It Was Terrific:

1–YE CHE (NIGHT TRAIN) — China — I have no idea

CINEQUEST 19 2009 FINAL RANKINGS

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2007

March 8, 2009
Cinequest 19
Canada
English
88 Minutes
Documentary
Mike McKeown

Documentary about the World Rock Paper Scissors Society and how they took a child’s game, began to take it seriously as a joke, and how it took over the lives of the brothers who started the society. In the spirit of Spellbound and Wordplay and Helvetica, this is one of those “are these guys serious” type of documentary. Try not to laugh as players lament the loss of the integrity of the game. It takes compelling characters for a documentary to soar and this one has at least half a dozen.

ROCK PAPER SCISSORS

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2008

March 8, 2009
Cinequest 19
Switzerland
German
92 Minutes
Comedy / Musical
Oliver Paulus

Strange mishmash of an alpine village and a Bollywood musical story. Somehow, it works. Lighter than the altitude, characters, all of whom are blonde, begin dancing in a supermarket while a noticeably brown Indian in town with a film crew, sings to the camera about love and food. Madcap, slapstick, romantic. The crowd couldn’t have laughed any louder. Everyone left smiling.

5.2 IMDB (94 Votes)

TANDOORI LOVE

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2008

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
France / Belgium / Liberia
French / Child-Soldier-Patois
97 Minutes
Drama / War
Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Notes:
Simply doesn’t let up from the moment the black screen tells us the title. On a frenetic pace not seen since CITY OF GOD. Boy soldiers, dressed in all sorts of costumes (wedding dress, superman, boombox around neck, top hat) roam around Liberia killing and raping and cheering about it. The true story is probably even more harrowing, but this will do for now. Women are raped, limbs are cut off, and the boy soldiers yell all the time. And that’s the once flaw I found. It was a one-note film. It is shaky cam and loud and on coke and young girls are sexual partners, all of which is well and good filmmaking-wise. But I’d like a few different paces, some down time to reflect on what I’ve seen and to get my heartbeat back where it belongs. I’d like a character to speak in a normal tone of voice. Maybe for five minutes, and then we can start the carnage and bloodshed again. And I don’t want the girl rape victim to change into a willing participant half way through the encounter.
None of what I’ve just written is as good as Jarrod Whaley’s take on his favorite film of Cinequest 19.
There are images in this film I’ll never forget, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed them.

6.8 IMDB

JOHNNY MAD DOG

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CUT LOOSE
2008

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
Belgium
Dutch
100 Minutes
Drama
Jan Verheyen

Notes:
Belgian pushover works for a tabloid newspaper where he is given the “wacky story” of the day. He visits a group that helps new immigrants to help them assimilate into Belgian society. Of course there’s a Palestinian woman and of course she’s beautiful–and single–but will she be nice to him only so she can emigrate? Our hero has a perfectly beautiful supportive girlfriend at home and we don’t know why he leaves her for the new woman–could it be her exotic foreign-ness? Her non-blondness? Her big brown eyes? Protagonist gets an interview with a reclusive rap star / social activist who sings for the downtrodden. The sensibility is all over the place. He speaks to the camera, he learns about racism, he stands up for himself, he deplores violence, he treats his alleged love of his life in subtle racist ways. Oh yeah, and his grandpa wants to kill himself as dementia takes over. Not hard to watch, but sort of unnecessary.

6.3 IMDB

CUT LOOSE

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THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE
2008

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
Norway
Norwegian
98 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Stian Kristiansen

Notes:
1980s music references in this film: The Smiths; Combat Rock; Joy Division; Jesus and Mary Chain; REM The One I Love; The Cure Just Like Heaven; Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen In Love With; Just Like Honey.
This film has the greatest Rock N Roll girlfriend of all time–beautiful, passionate, drinks with the boys, goes to band practice, cries when boyfriend tries out new song on guitar, often initiates sex. Because I wish I was in a band and I wish I had a Rock N Roll Girlfriend like Cathrine, I’ll mention that she’s played by a woman named Ida Elise Broch. Look for her. Even this example of cool femaleness isn’t enough for our hero when a new blonde god arrives at school. They first talk in the lockerroom shower, of all places. Those crazy Norwegians and their lack of inhibitions! The band plays songs like “Pussy Commie Anarchy”. They are a rock trio. And they’re pretty good. Our hero is angst-ridden about being in love with two people. Blonde boy is sometimes shot in super slo-mo with sun shining down on his beautiful hair. The pacing is great. Jarle, the guy we’re following, speaks to the camera to get us up to speed on what era we’re watching. The new boy, besides being handsome, shows Jarle some of his sketchings. Music is interspersed throughout. The boys practice, deal with family issues, buy pot, the usual. Jarle and Cathrine have good sex, he can perform. He makes mix tapes for people he cares about, male and female. And who exactly did he write that heartfelt love song for?
Cute story about boy loves girl, boy gets girl, boy also loves boy, which takes place before bands seemed to be unhappy with their success.

7.4 IMDB

THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE

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2007

March 7, 2009
Cinequest 19
Indonesia / France / Netherlands / Sweden / Switzerland
Indonesian
98 Minutes
Drama
Nan Triveni Achnas

An actress named “Shanty” plays Dita–a supernaturally beautiful girl raises a rather pedestrian story higher than it probably deserves. Dita has a child back in the village with her grandmother. She pretends to work in a factory but is really a karaoke singer and occasional prostitute/companion. Losing her place to live, she rents the attic above a photographer’s studio. He believes he is dying and begins looking for an apprentice. Dita cleans up after him, cooks for him, and assists him with the running of the studio. Why she can’t simply take over is explained by her gender. Add in an evil pimp (is there any other kind?) and we have drama. No surprises, except how the man lost his wife and son. He goes to the train tracks each day to leave and offering and pray. Shows us a part of the world not often seen in western movie theaters.

7.1 IMDB (73 Votes)

THE PHOTOGRAPH

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THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Serbia
Serbo-Croatian / English / German
107 Minutes
Drama / Musical
Darko Bajic

Notes:
Formula: Cabaret + Shortbus + Irreversible = BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE. Started as a multi-language sex romp as a cruise ship departs carrying all members of the sexual spectrum who will learn something about themselves behind the doors of their staterooms. The staff offers food, beverages, and sexual favors for all paying guests. There is also a nightclub show where incredibly beautiful bodies perform in various states of undress. A widow is ready to awaken her long dormant sexuality, a husband branches out with his new male lover, a woman seduces, then tries to sign a young, hot author to a contract. The crew hustles for tips. The envelope-pushing is welcome, the freak flags are flying, the bodies writhe and can dance and everyone is happy, if a bit nervous. There is orgasm and flirting and drinking and a little blow. We are happy, we are gay (often literally)–and then there’s the story of Carl. An incredibly rich, pathetic, mopey guy who knows why he gets girls. He pays them. He checks in and the new girl is sent to him. He calls her a whore, he pretends to engage in conversation until he bluntly asks for oral sex. I’m still fine as a viewer. They have a struggle, trying to gain the upper hand in the dance of dominate sex. I’m still okay. They slap each other, she calls him names. They are play-acting and I’m okay. They wake up bruised from a night of semi-violent passion, I’m fine. But everything goes to hell when he chases her into the dining room where he rapes her in front of the rest of the passengers. For more than five minutes, screaming, tears, horrified guests–five minutes–and the lightness and playfulness vibe is shattered–and people walk out–angry at the film–and at the very end, a bit of a shared wink at the camera–which was most definitely not earned.

7.0 IMDB (57 Votes)

THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE

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THE INVESTIGATOR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Hungary / Sweden / Ireland
Hungarian
110 Minutes
Crime / Drama / Thriller
Attila Galambos

Notes:
Incredibly dead-pan pathologist dates and works without cracking a smile. He favors one word answers and seems to take pride in his job, putting on makeup carefully and helping discover how people died. He has a “relationship” with a cafe waitress with whom he sees movies without reacting in any way. She likes him and wants to have sex (or “get together”) but he replies that he “doesn’t get together.” One day a man offers him $50,000 to kill a person. Our hero’s mother is dying of cancer and he needs the money to send her to a clinic in Sweden. He is cool, doesn’t speak much, is desperate for cash, and comfortable around dead people. A perfect person to ask. He commits the crime and then begins learning about the victim and several ties he may have had with the deceased. Its a why done it, rather than a who done it. What could the dead man have done to have made someone want to kill him. Fabulous, mostly on the strength of the main actor, Zsolt Anger (a misnomer if ever there was one). I’m adding this to my Netflix queue.

8.2 IMDB

THE INVESTIGATOR

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THE TOUR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Serbia / Bosnia and Herzegovina
Serbo-Croatian
108 Minutes
Action / Adventure / Comedy / War
Goran Markovic

Notes:
The Bosnian War. A formerly glorious acting troupe, in need of a change of scenery (and some pocket money) embarks on a tour of the divided country. The manager insists that they’ll be thought of as heroes from Belgrade coming to help the troupes with morale. They arrive in a huge Bosnian Hummer-type vehicle after dodging mortar fire. An indifferent general has, of course, changed the itinerary. They will play once in town and they again at the front lines. Mis-steps ensue. Some humorous. Some funny in a more “we’re all in this together, why are we shooting each other” way. It turns out that no one cares that these actors have appeared on a TV series. Music is terrible. Bad news is telegraphed by single low note on a piano.

7.9 IMDB

THE TOUR

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CAMILA JAM
2007

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Brazil
Portuguese
120 Minutes
Drama
Murilo Salles

Notes:
Takes place in July of 2001 which is a way of explaining the dial-up modem Camila uses. Girl is more angsty and more naked because it takes place in Brazil. Her blog is called CAMILA JAM. The official TMI film of all time. Camila is hot, lives internally, and is unlucky in love–every interlude, every man she fancies becomes some life-long love affair which no other human being has ever experienced. The men, it goes without saying, don’t see it that way. But her internal life, which is published on her blog, CAMILA JAM, writes a much better story than her real life recognizes.
The tone is set early in the film when a man angrily packs up his girlfriend’s stuff in boxes while she sits naked on a chair crying. We then get a rather physical fight as she makes no attempt to cover herself up–we’re not in an American multiplex anymore. As the film progresses, we will see every inch of Camila, she’ll vomit after a night of drinking, she’ll bleed, she’ll fall down some stairs (quite scary actually), we see every tattoo and every bruise, and she wants us to see inside her soul, which is easier said than done, especially in a movie. There are only so many ways to show a character typing on a keyboard–the clickety clack of the keys on a screen, voice over while she sits in front of a monitor. We see a combination of every way a filmmaker has tried to show computer work before and somehow it isn’t boring. Especially because Camila is just moments away from doing something ridiculous or dangerous or, worst case, she’ll continue writing in the nude, and who isn’t in favor of that?
Had this been a moderately attractive indie-girl from the US, there would have been no reason to watch. Chloe Sevigny or Zoe Deschanel, etc. It’s in a foreign language, the people look exotic, Brazil has a certain moral looseness, so we hang with it as if atching the natural habitat of an exotic creature we’ll never have the money to visit.

7.5 IMDB (58 Votes)

CAMILA JAM

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2008

March 5, 2009
Cinequest 19
India
English / Hindi / Urdu / Gujarati
101 Minutes
Drama
Nandita Das

Notes:
Slickly produced story of Hindus and Muslims in India who can’t get along. We hear stories of Indians brandishing swords and burning people and raping thousands. But every Indian blames those “Jihadist” Muslims for the trouble. They are brought up to hate. We see a vast cross-section of people from rich business owners to a small Muslim child who witnessed his whole family being killed by fire and sword. The rich people, like many in America, believe their money and breeding put them above any racial or religious differences. The one mixed marriage is a couple of rich people. Also two young women are friends though one must pretend to outsiders that she’s Hindu.

7.4 IMDB

FIRAAQ

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2008

March 5, 2009
Cinequest 19
Pakistan
Urdu / Hindi
103 Minutes
Drama
Mehreen Jabbar

Notes:
Bratty Pakistani Hindu boy explores a bit too close to the Pakistan/India border and is detained by Indian soldiers as is his father who follows to bring him back. After strip searching to determine their religion, they are transferred to a jail where “everyone wandered close to the border.” Mom/wife tries to get them back but they aren’t registered and therefore can’t be traced. A year passes quickly. The father and son learn the prison culture, Ramchand goes to prison school and gets a crush on his teacher, who is less than thrilled to be teaching a member of the Untouchables class.

8.0 IMDB (191 Votes)

RAMCHAND PAKISTANI

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AS SIMPLE AS THAT
2008

March 4, 2009
Cinequest 19
Iran
Persian
97 Minutes
Drama
Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi

Notes:
Attractive wife-mother is polite to everyone she meets. She timidly offers advice when people insist, she is highly thought of. She may even be a genius. But we’ll never know because she is stuck in the rut of obedient housewife. Her eight-year-old daughter would rather sing along with songs on the radio than learn how to cook from her mother. Her son is even less enamored of his mother, insisting that he can get to English class on his own by using cabs. Her husband is invisible but we know he’s an architect or engineer. They aren’t wanting for much. People borrow from her household because they have it and Taraneh is always willing to help. Quiet, the woman has much poise even though everyone around her is acting psychotic. She keeps an incredibly even keel, even while packing her things in a suitcase and calling a “Koran helpline” where on two occasions she is hung up on. There is a big wedding going on upstairs and a very pregnant neighbor continually reminds her of a life she thought she’d have. When she is asked to bless the wedding for the young couple because “she’s so happily married” its all she can do to not break down. She also dabbles in painting and has begun writing poetry, although its clear that none of her family or friends have any idea. She seems to have just one real friend, a woman who lives apart from her husband and daughter and runs a clothing boutique. A self-made woman who isn’t afraid to be alone. Is the grass greener?

8.9 IMDB (23 Votes)

AS SIMPLE AS THAT

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A CHRISTMAS IN TENT CITY–Poor immigrants recall a long-ago Christmas when there was no money. Several colorful paintings are used Ken Burns style. Very short. Sort of a “remember the migrant children” type of film.

DRAG KING–Loud people talking about cars. Old, old cars. They race with boats dragged behind their cars. Not on trailers, just dragging on the ground. One race filmed. Crashing boats and cold cars–funny and “cool” but shallow and very short.

FORCED INTO “COMFORT”, FIGHTING FOR APOLOGY–Korean comfort women. Uses old footage, semi-colorized, and a weird effect with “motion waves” around the movement of the footage. Interviews with survivors. Some very angry. The survivors protest every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Some of the old footage seems extra sinister in light of present-day knowledge.

NAMING PLUTO–Old English eccentric scientists discuss the Planet Pluto. We meet the old woman who initially named it when she was eleven years old. Her father ran the Oxford library at the time. Not much more story here. There is a scientist with an honest-to-god monocle in his eye.

PICKIN’ & TRIMMIN’–A barbershop in Drexel, NC. One man has cut hair for 69 years, his young apprentice for 42 years. Old men talking story. The place is famous for musicians stopping in to play bluegrass in the backroom. Nothing is scheduled, it’s all jam sessions. All are welcome: kids, old people, people passing through. Funny in a down-home, small town way. Has some great music as well. The head old barber keeps a collection of gag gifts which he enjoys showing off. Really a warm film, full of men. There is nary a woman or person of color in the whole thing. Really well done.

RARE CHICKEN RESCUE–Heavy-set, unkempt depressive loses his job and goes inside his family’s cottage for “four or five years” and only comes out when the sound of the farm’s poultry (mostly turkeys) make him go outside to investigate. He considers this a sign. They “call” him when he needs to get out of the house. They require his food, his water, his egg incubation skills. He realizes his purpose in life now. He may never trust humans again, but he’ll become a best friend to chickens, going so far as to help sustain them as extinction nears. He goes on a road trip to locate eggs of rare species no one has seen in years. He has paintings of these species in books but has never seen them. Very compelling in its fetishization of chickens. Studio interviews are held while chickens sit on laps. A really compelling documentary, the best of this bunch.

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Written by Michael W. Cummins