And that, as they say, is that. AFI Fest 2007 is over. All that’s left is to write up the last two movies I saw, announce the winners and sum the experience up in some way.
Ahh..another film mining family dysfunction and emerging from the dark recesses with humor. Because I saw them so close together, I have to say right up front, this one appealed to me much more than Margot at the Wedding and it carried a much more devastating emotional punch. Maybe it’s not fair to compare them, but I can’t help it. I still liked Margot, but I have to say The Savages heightened my reservations about it.
This time the siblings are a brother and sister. They’re literary types, but of seemingly lower economic origins than Margot and her sister. Instead of a wedding, they’re forced together by the onset of dementia in the father with whom they’ve both had a rocky and distant relationship. As they watch their father essentially waste away, they must confront they long simmering resentments they have with him, the inevitable guilt of not doing more for him even though he was a bad father, their issues with each other and their own personal personal demons.
Along the way, The Savages walks a tightrope between comedy and tragedy, moving quickly from one to the other without ever falling on its face. It’s a marvel how writer/director Tamara Jenkins balances the two tones without delivering an uncomfortable mess. The humor is key. Without it, the emotional horror would be unbearable. There are a couple of heavy handed moments that threaten to ruin the whole thing, but the movie recovers at every turn. Except for the very last shot. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it and it marred what was an otherwise nearly perfect movie for me. Endings are a bitch and this one just didn’t completely satisfy. It’s possible I’ll think and talk about it some more and I’ll reconcile it, but for now it’s my only reservation about an excellent movie.
As you’d expect, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are a blast to watch as Jon and Wendy Savage. The amazing thing is that these are two deeply flawed individuals, yet they manage to win over your sympathy. Even Hoffman who is the least likable of the pair. He’s obviously the oldest and the one who took the most shit from their father, but he’s quietly endured it and now he’s doing the best he can for his father in the old man’s last days. There are little hints here and there of what a monster the father was, but by the time we meet him, he’s a confused, frightened shell of a man and the only two people left in the world to care for him are the son and daughter who don’t like him very much. Philip Bosco does a great job as Lenny Bosco, the old man. He conveys the fear and the anger and the subtle changes as Lenny veers from lucidity to confusion. Also underneath, there is some hint that he recognizes what a horrible father he was and the damage he’s caused. There is regret.
Though leavened by frequent humor, this is difficult stuff and might be tough going for anyone who has lost a parent, but what separates it from the Baumbach film for me was a sense of healing, the hope that these characters will emerge from this horror a little better and stronger than they entered it.
If anyone has any ideas about the final shot, I’d like to hear them. Either way, The Savages is among my favorite movies of what is turning into a very good year.
The Savages will begin a limited release on November 28, 2007.
Directed and edited by one of David Lynch’s long time assistants (going by the pretentious nom de plume ‘blackANDwhite’), Lynch is a non-linear, impressionistic look at the director recorded during the making of his Inland Empire.
Granted complete access, the cameras capture Mr. Lynch on the set working with Laura Dern, behind the scenes recording his amusing weather reports for www.davidlynch.com, regaling his staff with odd anecdotes, talking about the joys of transcendental meditation, photographing Polish factories, participating in set design and working on art in his L.A. home. What emerges is a fascinating portrait of the man and his creative process. Like Lynch’s own films, it’s often vague, elusive and sometimes creepy. As a pure documentary, I’m not sure how successful it is. It’s kind of random and pretentious, but for fans I think it’s a must-see. There are a number of surprising glimpses into Lynch’s process and especially how Inland Empire came together…or very nearly didn’t. If anything, it made me appreciate my favorite movie of last year even more.
Lynch opened in New York on October 26, 2007. I don’t know if it will expand or if it will turn up on DVD. It would make a great extra on a special edition of Inland Empire.
A rumination on creativity is probably a great way to wrap up the festival. Anyway, it will have to do because that’s it for 2007. All that’s left is the hardware and a post mortem.
The Grand Jury Awards:
- International Feature Competition: Munyuranbango
- International Documentary Competition: Afghan Muscles and Operation Filmmaker.
- International Shorts Competition: Spider
- Best Animated Short: I Met the Walrus
- Feature: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
- Documentary Feature: Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story
- Short: Kids + Money
And here are my own personal favorites:
- Best Feature that will get a wide release: The Savages
- Best Feature that will get a limited release and Oscar buzz: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
- Best Feature that might get released but to very little fanfare: Chop Shop
- Best Feature that might never be heard from again: In Search of a Midnight Kiss
- Best Documentary: Confessions of a Superhero
Comparing AFI to the last LA Film Festival I’d have to say AFI was the bigger success for me overall. AFI this year didn’t have quite the same highs as LAFF, but overall it was more consistent. I’m not sure how much of that was programming and how much of that was luck or better picking on my part, but there it is. In the end, AFI was one of the more intense and enjoyable movie going experiences I’ve had in a long long time. I’ve never crammed so much into so short of a period before and it was a lot of fun.