Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea; Vegas: Based on a True Story; Sut – Milk; The Birdwatchers


Monday at the Venice Film Festival September 1


Today is quite warm and humid – but it’s Venice and there is water, water everywhere! I don’t think I mentioned the mosquito mutants that come out at dusk here. They are like flying chiggers and they attack as a mob. Bring OFF if you ever come to Venice (or any part of Italy for that matter….)


Tomorrow is the presentation of the Prix Bresson, a Catholic prize. I will have more information on it tomorrow or on Wednesday. Then on Wednesday, there will be an ecumenical panel. I am not sure of the theme yet but I know a couple of the folks who will be representing InterFilm, Hans Hoedel and Karsten. More after the event. Both will be held at the Excelsior (Westin) Hotel for those of you who know Venice.


On the steps outside of the Sala Perla (the Casino), a young woman asked me the time and hearing her American accent, asked where she was from: North Carolina. She is studying in Italy and is here to see what the festival is all about. I invited her to the two events this week; I hope she will come.


So here are the recent films:


Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Gake no ue no Ponyo





Another animated treat from Hayao Miyazaki  (Spirited Away; Howl’s Moving Castle) that will  enchant the very young and old alike. A princess goldfish wants to become a human. She is rescued by a five year-old boy, Sosuke. He has a cut on his hand and when she licks it, it is healed. A taste of Sosuke’s blood allows her to turn human. Sosuke and his mother, Lisa, live on an Island. Lisa works at a residence for senior citizens and Sosuke is a favorite with the ladies. Sosuke’s dad is a captain of a ship. When a great storm arises because  her mother, the Sea Queen, and her father, who used to be human, want her back. Sosuke and Ponyo have a great adventure ….


Some of the critics present think this is a film for 4 and 5 yeasr-olds, but I think it might be a tad scary for children this young. Seven and eight might be better. The animation is just lovely and the story moves right along. I would not say this has a linear story line, but who cares? It is uncomplicated and totally enjoyable. The music is very good, and the Sea Queen looks like a Disney character…. But since Miyazaki is known as Japan’s Walt Disney,  so I guess we can forgive him that. At least none of the characters here are sexualized, unlike many Disney animated female characters. I thought this might be a Japanese version of The Little Mermaid, but thankfully, it is not. It is kind of funny to see human faces on Ponyo’s species of fish, but in an animated world, everything is possible. This is a story where key the girl and boy characters are both heroes. Finally.

Vegas: Based on a True Story


This is the fifth American film from Iranian director Amir Nadiri (Manhattan by Numbers). Here he tells the story of Eddie and Tracy Parker, both recovering alcoholics and gamblers  trying to go straight (especially Tracy) and their 12 year-old son Mitch. They live in a double-wide trailor on the outskirts of Vegas. Tracy is a waitress in a diner and Eddie works at a tire repair place. Tracy treasures her garden. One day, a Marine shows up asking to buy their neat little homestead; he says he grew up on this lot and his mother now wants to live there again. He tells the Parkers they can name their price.


Tracy says no, and Eddie discovers that the Marine is really an imposter. When Eddie confronts him, the ‘marine’ tells him the ‘truth’: the Gibson gang buried a million dollars on their property in the 1960’s…. Suddenly, everything Tracy and Eddie have worked for: stability, hard work, a nice, well-kept home,  church on Sundays, is all gone as little by little they chip away at their property and dignity to take a chance that the buried money is in their yard.


The wind-blown, dirt-filled, landscape is a metaphor for the way some people fall prey to gambling, and Vegas blows right through everything they own or ever hope to be. (Did you ever hear of Reality Gambling? I had not heard of it until this film, but it is easy to see how people can be taken by it, but very sad to think that human beings would do this to others.)


This is a film every self-help and recovery group will want to see and consider. Vegas is a very strong film, though obviously low budget. It hits home.





A Turkish film, this is a kind of cinema poem about a young man in modern, rural Turkey, who wants to be a poet. Hissingle mother keeps three cows, sells milk and makes cheese. There is also a kind of medicine man who writes notes and places them in bowls of milk to extricate snakes from homes … and in the opening scene from a young woman by hanging her upside down over a fire with a pot of milk … and the note … boiling away. She coughs and out comes the snake…. I am still not sure what the notes and the snakes had to do with anything. Very interesting, however. There was little dialogue but it was easy easy enough to follow the narrative. Perhaps the milk/snake was meant to be a metaphor understood best in the Turkish culture. Don’t know….


Below Sea Level


This documentary is about aging baby-boomers, the ‘residentially challenged’ or homeless, who live in a kind of trailor park (trailor is the most beat-up sense of the word) in the desert east of San Diego and about five miles north of the US-Mexican border. They have ended up here because it is illegal to sleep in public in any town or city in the USA but no one seems to care about the desert. These folks have almost no money and are each surviving some kind of personal, health, family, or social tragedy. It reminded me of some of the characters in Into the Wild. Some of these folks are mentally and emotionally challenged as well but they form a kind of community out in the desert, living one day at a time. Interesting that they are all white people…. I wonder what keeps them going? Perhaps it is the music; they make music together. A sad-funny movie about people living at the limits in the USA.



La terra degli uomini rossi


A group of modern day Guarani Indians in Brazil live on a federal reserve. The community is plagued by a series of teen suicides because they have nothing to look forward to. One leader decides to begin a movement and moves back to his ancestral land that has been in the hands of a non-Indian family for 60 years. They build a camp just outside the plantation or ranch  that caters to tourists who come to watch birds. The Indians cross the fields to get water and aggravate the landowner. More and more Indians join the original group until the inevitabile happens. This is a story about land rights, and the continuing saga of indigineous peoples who still struggle in countries formed by European colonizers. We follow the story of two young boys especially, and the hopelessness and courage that complicates family and tribal relations as well a show ranchers, police, and government treat the Guarani. A very strong film that does not exploit the audience by over-powering or graphic violence. This is a human story and it works well. Directed by Marco Bechis. I belive all the Guarani actors are non-professionals; if so, they are exceptional.


Nelson Consianda as Nhanderu, one of the boys in the film who is becoming a shaman, who dreams about the bad things that will happen.



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