Saturday, May 20, 2006

Day 3

Friends: Even though there may be 35,000 or so of us gathered here for this film extravaganza, for the fourth day in a row I've crossed paths with another film friend. Today it was Kim, director of sponsorship for Telluride. It was most appropriate for us to share seats for Rolf de Heer's "Ten Canoes", as he is a Telluride favorite. Three of his films, "Alexandra's Porject," "Tracker" and "Dance Me to My Song," have all played there in the mountains and so should his latest.

Of all the films on tap here, "Ten Canoes" was the one I was most looking forward to. No other director probes such unique crevices of the human psyche. "Ten Canoes" doesn't necessarily venture off into such realms, but it is still a remarkably original film telling a timeless tale of aboriginal lore with an entirely aboriginal cast off in their aboriginal lands. If nothing else, it is a fascinating ethnographic study, showing the aboriginal way of life--hunting, gathering, stripping bark to make canoes, constructing platforms in the trees to be safe from crocodiles, death dances sending the soul on its final journey, justice meted out, passing down their wisdom from generation to generation. It is narrated by the great David Gulpilil with only occasional aboriginal exchanges. Four of the cast members were in attendance, looking not entirely comfortable in formal attire. De Heer had grown a long gray pony tail since I'd seen him two years ago.

This was a nice contrast to the light entertainment of Pedro Almodovar's "Volver", a Penolope Cruz vehicle as much as anything. Almodovar can't keep his camera off her breasts, shooting them from every angle imaginable. He's so preoccupied by them, he even has Cruz's mother comment after not having seen her in a while, "Your breasts are bigger than I remember, have you had them enlarged." The movie's plot seemed as if it had been concocted at an improv club--disposing of a dead body, starting up a restaurant, the dead return, a 200 lb prostitute, and the comment "who needs a spleen anyway." It may have frequently begged credibility and been more fluff than substance, but it was well-executed and will please those who just want to be distracted and entertained.

The Hungarian "Taxidermia" will please those who thrive on stylized outrageousness and fresh and original images. This three-parter notched up the outrageousness segment by segment, beginning with varieties of masturbation, proceeding to eating to excess and culminating with self-inflicted decapitation. It was all most artfully filmed--including a rooster pecking at an engorged male member proceeding in and out of a lubricated peep hole into his coop, a baby born with a tail that is snipped, a row of gargantuan eaters slurping as much as they can into their mouths and then engaging in mass vomiting, and an intricate machine designed to lop off one's head.

My foraging in the market place was amply rewarded with "Unknown", an American production starring Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear and Jim Caviezel. I was a couple minutes late arriving and was shocked to see a packed 150-seat theater. There must have been some buzz on this. I didn't even realize what a stellar cast I was in for--it was just a screening I could squeeze into my schedule. I did know it was a thriller about five guys who wake up in a locked-down warehouse that they can't escape from after they have been asphyxiated by a gas leak. All their memories have been erased, though they all gradually have some flickers of their pasts. They soon realize that they were involved in a kidnapping, but no one knows who were the kidnappers and who were the kidnappees and why. They know that the law or someone with ransom will be coming at some point, but they all want out and no one can trust anyone else. There is as much fighting as dialogue. It was most gripping--an exhilarating film-going experience. And the end does not disappoint. If the film does not have full distribution, there will be bidding wars over this one.

I followed that with another marketplace dabble--"Valley of the Wolves"--a Turkish film about the American occupation of Iraq that was said to be a big hit in Arabic countries. This is probably more slanderous of Americans than "The Da Vinci Code" is of Catholics, feeding the Arabic audience all the evil evidence they suspect the Americans are perpetrating on them, including Gary Busey as a Jewish doctor, who maintains he is one of the chosen people, performing operations to remove organs from Iraqi prisoners. Busey gets upset when the American soldiers can't keep the Iraqis alive long enough for him to harvest their organs. He pleads, "These are living people, not animals. Stop killing so I can remove their organs properly." The American soldier protests that they are animals, and not people.

The Iraqis are the good guys through and through and the Americans the bad guys in every respect. An Iraqi bride, whose wedding ends up in a massacre when the Americans come looking for terrorists, wishes to become a suicide-bomber. Her father talks her out of it. A sheik comes to the rescue of an American reporter who is about to be beheaded. A James Carville-type character plays the American administrator of Iraq, who prays to Jesus. The Turks come to the rescue and win every battle. A Turkish super-hero ends up killing the Carville character in a knife fight to no doubt huge applause whenever it plays for its intended audience.

I ended my day with the French film "La Tourneuse de Pages" in the Uncertain Regard category, which meant it promised some cinematic merit. The movie begins with a ten-year old girl failing her piano examination in front of a board of half a dozen judges. She may or may not be scarred for life because of this. The film jumps ten years forward as she begins an internship with a law firm. When her internship ends after a few months she volunteers to work as a nanny for one of the lawyers while his son is home for a brief vacation. The lawyer's wife turns out to be one of the judges who failed her, a famous pianist who interrupted the girl's performance when someone came in requesting her autograph.

The young woman, who is played by the female lead of last year's Palm d'Or winner, "L'Enfant", is sullen and brooding. There is no telling what is going on in her head. She gave brief evidence of a mean streak when she nudged down the covering of the piano keys on a young girl after her poor performance, nearly catching her hands. The suspense level is kept at an appropriate level.

Later, George

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