Plan A for my first movie Saturday afternoon at AFI Fest was to catch the 2nd screening of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, but I’d already changed my mind by the time I arrived at the theater. There were just too many intriguing prospects to waste a slot on a movie that will be easy to find in a couple of weeks. Besides, if I was going to go, I should’ve gone the night before when cast members Sarah Michelle Gellar, Dwayne Johnson and others came out of the woodwork. The problem was I was interesting in seeing all four of the other choices. I was tempted by a Canadian movie called Continental: A Film Without Guns because I’m automatically drawn to movies with multiple interwoven stories in the same way I’m drawn to caper films, even though I’m usually always burned by both of them.
The other main choice was a documentary of sorts featuring Malcolm McDowell talking about director Lindsay Anderson. In the end I chose McDowell\Anderson because of a longtime interest in the work of both men, because I actually kind of hated the title of the Canadian film and because the documentary started first. Pretty arbitrary reasons, but that’s how it goes. So how did the day turn out?
Never Apologize: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson
Part one-man show, part reading, part monologue, Never Apologize: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson is Malcolm McDowell’s appreciation of his mentor, friend and director Lindsay Anderson. Cinematically, it’s nothing special. It really is just a videotaped stage production, but it’s funny, sweet, touching and an invaluable insight into a director who doesn’t get enough attention in this country.
McDowell energetically re-enacts his own remembrances and relies on Anderson’s personal diaries and writings for fleshing out the story. Along the way he covers the making of If… and O Lucky Man! and also offers tangents about Rachel Roberts, Alan Bates, Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, John Ford and several others. Filled with funny and illuminating anecdotes, Never Apologize is surprisingly entertaining and a must-see for fans of McDowell and especially Lindsay Anderson.
No word on a theatrical or DVD release though this would’ve been a nice extra for the recent O Lucky Man! DVD release.
France, Lebanon 2007
This light, comedy/drama about a group of women in Beirut, Lebanon could easily be dismissed as a chick flick. You could call it Sex in the City Beirut, but that would be deeply unfair. This is a film about women, but it’s not calculated to appeal to that specific demographic. It’s a warm, gentle, sensuous slice of life and a nice respite from some of the heavier festival fare.
One woman is having an affair with a married man, one woman is getting married, another is a divorced actress having trouble getting work as she gets older and a fourth is a lesbian. All four work in a Beirut beauty shop and the film follows their stories. Filled with observances of life for a woman in this conservative, conflict-torn society, Caramel shows female bonding in a positive way. The politics and social aspects are a subtext and what comes forward is this network of women who may bicker and disagree, but are always there for love and support when one of their number is in trouble. Almodóvar came to mind more than once while I was watching Caramel, though this film is without his particular quirks and obsessions.
Supposedly the first Lebanese film to receive a significant US distribution which will happen in January ‘o8.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 Luni, 3 Saptamini si 2 Zile)
Unfairly pigeonholed as “the Romanian abortion drama”, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is more of an illustration of the corruption and decay of an authoritarian society. Abortion is used as an extreme example to show life in Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism, but an overt judgment about the controversial subject is never made. People on both sides of the abortion issue will find things to admire and to hate about this film depending on how hard they try. Either way, they’re missing the point.
At its core, 4 Months is a gripping drama, brilliantly executed. It begins incidentally, following Otilia (the amazing Anamaria Marinca) as she carries on about her business dealing with the black market for the necessities of her day-to-day existence as a student living in a dreary dormitory. For the first 40 minutes or so it’s clear she’s making some kind of preparations for her fuzzy headed roommate, but the fact she’s arranging for an illegal black market abortion is only slowly revealed.
The film is extremely suspenseful, not in a Hitchcock way but almost in a horror movie way. Using extremely long takes with a hand held (but never annoying) camera or an Easyrig setup, Mungiu follows Otilia around, frequently in close-up, with information about her surroundings coming in at the edges of the widescreen frame. There’s a claustrophobia right from the start and a tension that slowly builds into almost unbearable suspense. Before you realize he’s doing it, you’re in it.
Mungiu wisely uses Otilia as the protagonist because her roommate Gabita is highly unsympathetic. Ultimately you can’t help but feel for Gabita, and Mungiu is careful to never pass judgment upon her, but by focusing on the more heroic Otilia, the audience is more easily drawn in. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a terrific, harrowing and moving film that despite it’s controversial subject matter, is surprisingly subtle and engaging. It will go into limited release in the US on January 28, 2008. It is also Romania’s official entrant in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards and is sure to receive a DVD release.
Alex Cox’s first feature since 2002 is a low budget (naturally), rough around the edges, sometimes uneven road movie through the American Southwest and a not-quite-serious-enough-for-meditation look at revenge as it plays out in our beloved Westerns, in politics and in our lives.
Longtime Cox collaborators Ed Pansullo and Del Zamora play two actors who, as children, suffered some kind of abuse at the hands of the screenwriter of a famous Western they appeared in. When they find out that the screenwriter, Fritz Frobisher (Sy Richardson, another Cox favorite), will be appearing for a Q&A at an outdoor screening of the film in Monument Valley, Arizona, the pair hit the road on a quest to serve “righteous justice” upon their tormentor. Along for the ride is Zamora’s daughter Delilah (pretty newcomer Jaclyn Jonet) because she’s got the only viable transportation.
It all sounds pretty silly and it is, but it’s entertaining. John Ford, John Wayne and The Searchers are discussed and Monument Valley is prominently featured, but the film (and especially the finale) owes more to Sergio Leone and it frequently includes visual and verbal references to the Italian director’s great Spaghetti Westerns.
Shot on video, the movie is often beautiful, though at times the video elements have a distracting harshness. I think it might play better on a video monitor than projected onto a screen.
Searchers 2.0 is not iconic like Repo Man. It’s more in keeping with (though gentler than) the much maligned Straight to Hell, which I quite like. Fans of Cox and his unique brand of movie-loving humor will be amused and entertained, others might be put off by the inside jokes and low budget.
I have no word on a theatrical or DVD release for the film. It’s playing the 2007 Santa Fe Film Festival at the end of November.
Today’s must-see-for-me is John Sayles’ new film Honeydripper. Making their second showings at the festival are Catherine Breillat’s new film The Last Mistress, the Sigur Rós concert film, Confessions of a Superhero, Secret Sunshine and Searchers 2.0. New films include Gael García Bernal’s directorial debut Deficit and Chop Shop, the drama about a Dominican orphan in Queens entered in the Feature Competition.