Locarno Films Part 3

La Neuvaine (The Novena)

Directed by Bernard Emond, Canada, 2005

 

A middle-aged woman doctor lost a son when he was a child. She was unable to save him. When a young woman comes into the emergency room with her child, it is obvious the woman has been beaten up. The doctor encourages her to leave her husband, and gives the woman a card with her phone number on it. The young mother calls later and the doctor takes her and the baby to a shelter. The husband follows the doctor to the shelter a few days later and kills his wife and child, then himself. The doctor has a breakdown. When she finally comes home, she decides to drive along the St. Lawrence River and drown herself

 

At the same time, a young man who works as a shop assistant near the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, learns that his dear grandmother who raised him, is dying. He decides to make a novena to St. Anne. After that first visit to the Shrine, he drives to a remote place near the river and sees the women sitting all alone. He goes and sits near her. After a while, he gives her is coat because she has none. He drives her back to her motel, where she has nothing with her, and goes for food. He asks if she believes in God. She says no. He promises to come back the next day. He asks his grandmother if non-believers can be saved.

 

Over the space of the novena, the young man with simple faith and the middle-aged woman develop a companionship that results in a gentle climax that is human and filled with hope.

 

La Neuvaine is a remarkable film by a director who, though not a believer, believes in the need for faith in life and culture. What was so amazing about this film was the response of the audience. You must know that for many of the other films, people left continually, and for some the audience just plain hemorrhaged. But hardly anyone left this film, and the applause at the end went on and on. After the credits finished, the clapping started up asll over again. Not one other film at the festival generated this kind of a response. The next day, religious and regular critics alike, praised the film as the best of the festival so far. The purpose of the film was not to convert anyone, but to show the place of faith in the world – and perhaps Canadian society. This one shot to the top of my short list and stayed there – not because it was religious and took place at a Catholic shrine, but because it was so authentic and respectful of faith.

 

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

The Quay Brothers, UK, Germany, France, 2005  (Timothy and Stephen

 

Forget the story. I couldn,t tell it if I wanted to.  Think of the earthquake  of 1755 in Lisbon, Portugal, that meets the mold that grows in the Jurassic Park Museum in Culver City, CA. Think of Terry Gilliam and forget just about anything you ever liked about him (he is the executive producer who paid for this thing). Think obscure, dark, a fantasy art piece that belongs in a museum (said Peter Malone) and a narrative that makes no sense. And throw in The Phantom of the Opera for good measure. I developed narcolepsy by the end. Art for arts sake…. maybe. I cannot imagine the audience for such a film. If anyone ever sees it, and you apprecaite it, please feel free to share your insights. (PS the Youth Jury gave this film a special mention and described it as a film about madness; I could go with that.)

 

3 Degrees Colder (3 Grad Laekter)

Directed by Florian Hoffmeister, Germany, 2005

 

A young man disappears and his fiance, along with a couple of friends, go to search for him. They never find him and the fiance eventually marries one of his friends. But she still longs for him, and writes him letters at night. Five years later, he suddenly reappears because the husband found one of the letters and sent it to him. He is scruffy but attractive and has nothing to show for his time away.  When he approaches his former fiance, she is at first distant but when former feelings are rekindled, she is ambivalent. Her husband is hurt and they grow apart. In fact, the young man,s reappearance upsets the whole order of things between his family and his former group of friends.

 

This does not sound like much of a premise, but actually, this was a pretty good movie. The German gentleman on our jury didn,t like it because he said it was typical German existential angst, the legacy of Nietzche but I thought it asked if loyalty and love are still valid in today,s world. This was no fairy tale but real life. I think this film could travel. It was on my short list ofr a while

 

A Perfect Couple (Un Couple Parfait)

Directed by Nobuhiro Suwa, Japan, France, 2005

 

A couple drives from Lisbon to Paris for a wedding. They rent a hotel room and order in a roll away bed then argue about who will sleep in it. They go to dinner with friends and announce that they have decided to divorce. They return to the hotel room and argue about their decision not to tell anyone and doing it anyway. They go to the wedding and that,s pretty lame, too. The next day she goes to a museum and looks at Rodin statues and listens to Rilke’s commentary on his friend’s work. The husband goes to a cafe and listens to the philosophy of an older man who is lonely and drinks too much. The husband and wife talk through closed doors and finally the wife takes herown room after accidentally meeting an old school friend at the museum. Later the husband and wife decide to go and eat anything as long as it is not Portugese (they have been living in Lisbon for 10 years.)

 

This is the longest two hour film I have ever seen. I think it could have been a short story or a stage play, though one of our jury members took extreme exception to this view. He believes this film to be the most contemporary of cinema, though he agrees there might not be an audience for it. The film was dark, and we never saw the faces of the protagonists up close for very long, though the woman more than the man, whom we only got a good look at once. So there was no way for the audience to engage or care about the characters. Lots of people walked out of this film. If anything, this was a literary style film, but if this is the sign of films to come, I will do something desperate, like watch more TV or something.

 

More to come….

Locarno Films Part 2

MirrorMask, directed by Dave McKean, UK and USA, 2004(produced with Jim Henson Studios)

 

In Brighton, England, the daughter of parents who own a traveling circus, rebels about being part of it. When her mother gets sick and is hospitalized, her father must confront his growing financial difficulties and that the circus crew is about to leave him. The girl, about 16 years old, has a long dream initiated by guilt for not apologizing to her mother for her rudeness and rebellion. It,s about how to sort out sorrow.

 

This is a surreal, creative, artsy film mixing reality and high concept animation. It is possible to follow the story although  the mix of Lewis Carroll and Georges Melies motifs (mirrors and the sun) other dark fantasy elements, and what one-eyed spiders mean, rendered it rather boring for me. Also, the girl.s personality or response to her situation is inconsistent. This impressionist  film looks like it must have cost a fortune to produce. I think this would only have a select audience. MirrorMask reminded me of low budget fantasy THE DUST FACTORY, which did not do very well in general release in the US.

 

20 Centimeters (20 Centimetros)

Spain, directed by Ramon Salazar, 2005

 

This is the story of a transvestite prostitute who is saving money for a sex-change operation. She shares her home with a dwarf who wants to make money scalping opera tickets and she often takes care of a child of another prositute who lives upstairs. In fact, all her neighbors in the complex are transvestites and prostitutes. She is also a narcoleptic who falls asleep in the middle of everything she does. In between sequences of her daily life are mostly corny song and dance numbers reminiscent of Gene Kelley and Cyd Charisee, Fred and Ginger. Things get complicated when a young man is attracted to her and does not  care that she is a young man, too. I will let you guess what the 20 centimeters refers to.

 

Although this film has a kind heart, it reflects so much promiscuity that it distracts from any real meaning or sympathy for people searching for their sexual identity that the film might evoke. The characters have no respect for their own dignity, and I wonder if the director had any real regard or respect for his subject. Priscilla Queen of the Desert told this same story so much better, with genuine pathos and dignity.

 

Riviera

Directed by Anne Villaceque, France, 2005

 

A mature, attractive woman (played by a famous French actress Miou-Miou) works as a housekeeper in a luxury hotel on the French Riviera. Her beautiful daughter is an exotic dancer. The mother sees a business man who looks like he would be a good date for her daughter and slips an advertisement for the club under the man,s hotel room door. Meanwhile, the mother sits at home trying to seduce the pizza delivery man while watching exotic dancers on TV. The man, who seems shy, goes to the club and manages to get a date with the daughter, though the daughter nor the man know about her mother,s machinations. However, he turns out to seem shy but in reality has serious issues. When the daughter refuses his advances, he becomes violent. When the mother sees what he has done to the daughter, she gets revenge.

 

At first this very long and ultimately boring film seems to be about a woman who is desperate to have sex, I think it is about power issues between men and women and how women seem to win through dark means. However, even if this is true, nothing can save this film from itself. Roger Ebert said once that some films ought never to be made. This is one, and there were several others here at the festival that I have the same opinion about.

 

Snow White

Directed by Samir, Swiss and Austrian, 2005

Nico, the daughter of divorced rich parents, parties, models, and goes clubbing and does coke with no particular life goals. Her mother, who lives next door, has no room in her head for her daughter or anyone but herself. Her father only pays attention to Nico when she spends too much money. Nico,s friend, Wanda, has wonderful parents, but Wanda is a call girl with ,sponsors,. Paco is a rapper who sings with a group. He realizes that life has to have more meaning that singing to a bunch of spoiled kids. When he meets Nico, both their lives change. Nico is attracted by Paco,s idealism and lies about her rich parents. When he finds out, he leaves her. This happens a few times until Wanda dies while working. When Nico is caught with drugs on her way to Paco in Paris, she despairs and shoots herself. She is saved, but must relearn language after being in a coma. The ending… This is Snow White remember.

 

So many of the films shown at the festival include the rave party scene that it got to be a cliche after a while. However, it works for Snow White because it becomes the symbol for lives without meaning for people who do not even bother searching. The director wanted to imagine what a modern snow white fable would look like, and he managed it pretty well. This is a gritty film, but it has kindness and a prince who is almost too good. It was briefly on my short list. The film was shown to a sell-out crowd, after all, the director is Swiss (though not born here he is considered so.)

Locarno Films part 1

Here are reviews of the films that were included in the international competition. All independent juries, in addition to the international jury, must see all the films in competition. I saw 22 films, 17 of them in competition. Two of the films are from the Human Rights track of the festival, something Locarno started two years ago. It is the only major festival to feature such a track. I apologize for the punctuation but this is an Italian/Swiss keyboard

 

We are All Fine – Iran, direcrted by Bizhan Miraqeri, 2005

 

The story of an Iranian family whose eldest son left five years previously for a foreign land to make his fortune. They have not heard from him in two years when they last received money from him. Now a man who says he is a friend of the son comes to the house and tells the family that their son wants them to make a video tape of each of them so he can bring it to the son. The younger son takes a week leave from the military to rent a camera. Each member of the family, including the missing son,s wife and daughter, his sister, parents and mute grandfather all have a message for the son that reveals how the family wishes it was. The ending is a sad, poignant, surprise about those left behind.

 

Although the hand-held video camera technique seems to be a cliche now, I think it works well for the film. They are a poor family and the son and daughter at home make great sacrifices to support everyone else so it is easy to imagine how they want to please the missing son but want to reveal an anger burning just below the surface. The acting is excellent and despite different countries and cultures, families are the same everywhere when it comes to children … especially the first born son. I liked this film very much and it would be a fine film for international release.

 

Teenage Wasteland (Keller) – Germany, Austria, Italy-  directed by Eva Urthaler (first film) 2005

 

Two 16 year old boys, one poor and the son of an alcoholic mother, the other from a rich family, meet on the bus on the way to school and become friends. They start shoplifting and get caught by a shopgirl who is about 30. For no reason and with no plan, they kidnap her from her home, where they see her boyfriend hitting her, and take her to an abandoned warehouse where they have been spending their time looking at pornography. For no reason, they tie her up for a couple of days. Things go from bad to worse. The poor boy has a conscience but he is dominated by the other boy who is attracted, not to the woman, but to his so called friend. The woman tells the poor boy she needs her medicine and when he goes to her home to get it, he ends up gettting chased by the boyfriend, and on and on.

 

This is a very uncomfortable and violent  film centered on adolescent sexual explorations and its surreal ending does nothing to explain the actions of the two boys. The director admitted before the screening that she is not a specialist in adolescent behavior, but asked herself what would happen if… this film never came close to being on my short list. I hope it is not released  in the US. Like many films in the festival, the fathers are missing or play a minimal role in the lives of the families.

 

Fratricide – German, Luxemburg, France, directed by Zilman Arslan, 2005

 

They leave their homeland to reach goals only to realize they left themselves behind, says the voice of the child in the film, to reach money

 

People start to die, even if they live….

 

A Kurdish man (from the Turkish part of Kurdistan) sends money home so his 17 year old brother can join him in Germany. When the boys arrives he stays in a home for refugee Kurds run by Kurdish activists. The boy discovers that his older brother is a pimp and he is ashamed. The boy starts his own business as a barber to make some cash to send home. In a series of coincidents, the boy attracts the violent attention of some young Turkish thugs. Meanwhile, a very young Kurdish boy ends up in the home, and the older boy befriends him. Both are extremely kind-hearted and they take care of one another. The actions of the pimp as well as the Turkish immigrant thugs collide to a violent climax for the two younger boys.

 

Fratricide is an extremely well-made film that highlights the terrible situation of Kurdish immigrants and refugees to Europe, the struggles within the Kurdish community in Germany as well as the secularization of first generation young people who lose their values to violence in their new world. This film gives a whole new meaning to the word visceral – it is dark, violent and at the same time filled with kindness, goodness and friendship that asks nothing in return. I can see this film traveling well across the Atlantic, though to art house theaters.

 

Face Addict – not in competition, Italian, Swiss, directed by Edo Beroglio, 2005

 

A feature length documentary by Beroglio who returns to the New York fifteenyears after leaving it in order to find himself. The short version of this seemingly endless film is that Beroglio is a photographic artist, who was also a drug addict, though now clean. We meet his friends from New York of the late 60s and early 70s, from Andy Warhol,s Factory and the other artsy nihilistic drug heads that made up his world. As he tries to find the ones who did not die of drug overdoses, we learn that most have finally given up a life of art and drugs, to pursue their art.

 

Most of this film is slow and so utterly self-conscious I could hardly stand it. Then towards the end, we witness one of Beroglio,s friends actually coming clean and choosing life over certain death. This man (sorry, cannot recall his name) was at the screening and looking quite well. I did not know much about Warhol,s culture before and I don,t think I care so much now, but the film provided a close-up of a part of American life I did not know before. It is a strong anti-drug film as well.

 

In the Morning, USA, Danielle Laurie, 2004, documentary, 10 mins. – not in competition

HUMAN RIGHTS TRACK

 

This well-written and directed brief fictional documentary is about ,honor killings, carried out in Islamic cultures – a human rights issue that the UN is monitoring. The film cuts back and forth between the brutal rape (though we do not see it) of a young woman and a back room conversation her father and uncles are having two months later when the young woman is pregnant. We think they are taking about tracking down the rapist and killing him, that the 13 year old brother of the young woman can do it because if he is caught he will only get a few years in prison but they would probably get much more time if caught. The next morning, the young boy kills his sister.

 

 

Faces of Change, USA, Brazil, Mauritana, India, Bulgaria, South Africa, Michelle Stephenson, 2005 – not in competition

HUMAN RIGHT TRACK

 

In preparation for the UN Conference on Discrimination held in South Africa two or three years ago, director Michelle Stephenson, an attorney and human rights documentary maker from New York, obtained a grant from the Ford Foundation to help local people document their situations for the conference. This project was four years in the making. Though it is going to sound like BORN INTO BROTHELS, it is decidely not. The main difference is that in BROTHELS, the director was present everywhere in the film and in FACES OF CHANGE, the voices are only those of the five people and their communities, one each from Brazil, the USA, Mauritania, Bulgaria and India.

 

A few months before the UN conference, the five local activists, selected by their communities or identified by the Ford Foundation, were flown to New York for a two-day training session. The first day was how to use commercial video cameras and sound equipment and the second day on how to beging framing their stories which were all centered around some kind of systemic discrimination in their countries. The people then sent in their tapes, more than 300 hours by the end, every week, and were directed by Stephenson via email and phone, based on what they sent in. Helping the new filmmakers to focus on one aspect of their stories was the most challenging part of the initial effort for the UN Conference, and finally for this longer version screened at the festival

 

Bulgaria- How the Roma children are not given equal educational opportunities. The filmmaker is a Gypsy himself, but who was raised by his parents away from the community. He had become a doctor, and then a lawyer, to help advance his people. He now realizes he must become a teacher and that it is the Roma community itself, not the state officials, that must generate its own advancement. He has married a non-Roma woman who does not think their children should claim their Gypsy roots when they go to school

 

Mauritania – 40% of the people in Mauritania are slaves, without any rights, whose children can be taken away and sold, though the government does not acknowledge this problem and reality. This section documents the situation. The local filmmaker is elected mayor of his town but shortly after the anti-slavery political party he is part of, is declared illegal by the government. However, he continues to be mayor and to fight the situation

 

USA – The story of environmental racism in New Orleans. A housing development was built near downtown New Orleans on top of a toxic dump and the selling of the homes tageted at African American families. When the people started getting tumors, cancers, and serious respitory diseases, one local woman gathered the community to go to the EPA (enviornmental protection agency) in Washington, the City of New Orleans, etc. The EPA came out and tested the site, agreed it was toxic and nothing happened. When a lawsuit was finally brought, and publically posted in the Times-Picyune, the woman was elated. She said it was front page news for them (the irony I saw was that as usual, news about the Black community in New Orleans is listed in the back pages, not the front pages, and in this case, the page fcing the obituaries.)

 

India – The filmmaker belongs to the ,untouchables, the lowest of the Hindu caste system. They are untouchable because they make the drums that are played at Hindu funerals. The drums are made from cow skins, which no one can touch – except these untouchables. The man himself was taken by his parents and raised in a city, so that no one knows he belongs to the ,Dalit, people. He has also married outside his caste and though his wife knows of course, they do not tell anyone in her family so that her sister will be able to find a husband and not suffer from being linked to an untouchable

 

Brazil – The filmmaker is a woman who wanted to become an actress in Rio, but she always lost out to actresses who were white. She became pregnant and returned to her village. She saw how young unmarried non-white pregnant girls were treated, and she documents this reality while working as an activist and going to school. Today she has returned to Rio with her son where she continues this work while building a business that makes wedding videos

 

Can this film effect change, asked Stephenson at the screening. She has no illusions of grandeur and believes in the ripple effect that the work of the local videographers has generated – just by having a camera and the power to speak

 

The film includes footage of the UN conference on racism in Durban, SA

 

Stepheson,s next film will be on survivors of domestic violence in the Hatian community in Brooklyn and the after that a feature film on the life of Toussaint Overture who led the Hatian Revolution in the 18th century.

 

Peter Malone and I met the director on the bus from the hotel one morning and she invited us to see FACES OF CHANGE. The entire jury was able to see it as well.

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