Friends: At last count, Variety says there are 1,275 films slated to be screened here, 40% of which are in English. I've been averaging five per day through the first six days of this twelve day fest. If I keep it up, I will have seen 60, not even 5% of the grand total. It would take me 255 days, or eight months, to see them all at this rate. I snuck in an extra yesterday, thanks to an 83-minute film that left me a 97 minute gap between films. I couldn't have managed it without my bicycle however.
The 83-minute film was "Hotel" by Jessica Haussner of Austrian. It was my second Austrian offering of the day after the stellar "The Edukators." That was a hard act to match, and though this Un Certain Regard offering showed early promise, it fell short of expectations. It had the creepy premise of a young woman going to work and live in an isolated hotel in the mountains. Her predecessor had mysteriously disappeared, and no one wanted to talk about it. An older maid tells her she ought to quit the place before its too late. When the director introduced the film she warned us, "When the film is over, if you have some questions, don't worry, that's normal." The film does end abruptly, but I didn't have any real questions other than, couldn't she have made it more interesting. I don't object to understatement, but with more assurance than this young director possessed. It was the first movie of the festival that had me nodding off, my less than six hours of sleep a night since the fest started finally catching up to me.
That didn't inspire, though, from taking a break before the next screening. Instead, I bolted over to the Arcade four-plex three blocks away for the market screening of the New Zealand film "Fracture" by Larry Parr. I knew absolutely nothing about this film other than it was 90 minutes long, meaning I'd have to leave it with ten minutes to go to make a 7:30 screening half a mile away. Having spent a couple months bicycling both the North and South islands of New
Zealand I have a fondness for the place and am always happy to revisit it on the big screen, an opportunity I hadn't had since "Whale Rider."
"Fracture" was based on a best-selling crime novel about some guy who was in deep shit after having bungled a burglary. He's not the only one wallowing in shit. The info pack that was distributed at the door identified many of the people involved with it as having worked on "Lord of the Rings," no big surprise this being a Kiwi production. As Billy Crystal kept reminding us on Oscar night, just about every one of the country's three million inhabitants worked on the film. These people knew what they are doing. This was a genuine movie, not something I could say of every market screening I've seen. The movie was compared to "Lantana," an exceptional Australian movie that played Telluride a couple of years ago. That's a high standard that "Fracture" couldn't match, but it was still a good enough film to keep the 60 or so audience members in their seats, the first market screening I'd attended that no one walked out of. It has no commercial possibilities beyond New Zealand and Australia, but it is right on the cusp of being film fest fare. For a fest that wants a New Zealand entry, this would not disappoint.
I showed up five minutes before "A Vot' Bon Coeur" was to start at the Director's Fortnight, the only theater I've been turned away from so far, but was able to walk right into this 7:30 screening. If I hadn't been able to, I could have zipped over to a nearby eight p.m. screening. I was regretting that that hadn't been my fate. This French film by the white-haired and mustachioed Paul Vecchiali was his story of trying to make a movie and get funding from the French government. He brought some 15 members of his cast on stage, about their only compensation for their efforts, as none received anything monetarily. There is a flimsy story of some mute Robin Hood figure on roller blades handing out wads and paper bags full of money to the indigent interwoven with his laments of trying to make a movie and having his characters occasionally break into song. It strained to be whimsical without much success.
My finale for the night, however, was a barn-burner--an exceptional French psychological
thriller in the league of "With a Friend Like Harry" and "Read My Lips", other recent French entries in this genre. The French title was "Je Suis Un Assasin," though its English title is "Hook". It was directed by Thomas Vincent. The movie begins with two crime novelists, one wildly successful and the other unknown, meeting on a train. The successful one is in the middle of a divorce that is costing him half his income and also costing him his inspiration. He proposes that the other writer murder his wife and in compensation he will publish his next novel under his name and split the huge profits, a kingly ransom for the unknown writer. He says, since they specialize in crime novels, they would know how to get away with the crime and sites statistics that would encourage this. It was only the second movie of the 30 I've seen, "The Edukators" the other, that had my stomach knotted in tension. This is something to look forward to.
I began Tuesday with an Israeli film, "Or" by Keren Yedaya. Or is the 18-year old daughter of a
prostitute who is less than fully functional. The daughter supports them collecting bottles and working as a dish-washer. She is at least the third young woman lead character of the festival struggling nobly against her circumstances. She tries to prevent her mother from working her trade and is greatly upset when she returns home to find her with a john. This was the first film I've seen that didn't have English sub-titles along with the French, but I discovered my French was good enough to comprehend enough of the French sub-titles to follow this straight forward
story. It wasn't a bad way at all to start the day. I saw it in the Bunuel Theater, in the Palais
complex of 25 or so mini-screening rooms for market fare, so I could stick my head in for 15 minutes of "The Playmate and the Pitcher." The 40-seat theater was empty. Up on the tiny screen a young man was hobbling in a hospital with a walker accompanied by a woman who looked to be his mother. She said, "You'll soon be well enough to play again." I needed to see no more. Usually there is someone at the entrance to market screenings passing out brochures, but whoever was involved with this had long ago abandoned the post, either to go jump in the nearby ocean or find the nearest saloon, even though it wasn't even 10:30 in the morning.
Then it was from the smallest of venues to the largest for the Competition screening of "Tropical
Malady" by Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand. If I hadn't bicycled through regions this film took place in a year-and-a-half ago I would have been thoroughly bored. Instead, I was only marginally bored, especially during the final half hour, as one of the characters meanders and crawls though a dense jungle during the day and night while he is haunted by ghosts and a shaman who can turn himself into a tiger. There won't be any awards for this film.
Sorry I can't report on Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911" that played yesterday and received a 20-minute standing ovation. I'm holding off to see it at the end of the festival when all 18 of the Competition films are replayed and when there won't be much of anything else to see. I'm told I can't count on the English digital translation for the Competition films on the last day of the festival, so I have been restricting myself to Competition films so far that are in any language other than French or English. I was somewhat heartened, however, by being able to get the gist of today's Israeli film without any English translation. When the sub-titles have been in German or Dutch or Greek or Finnish, when I've attended film festivals in those countries, I have been totally lost.
Five-and-a-half days to go and still going strong.