Friday, May 26, 2006

Day 9

Friends: Helen had great news for me today. The Danish Film Institute gave her a video of a bicycle messenger movie, hoping she'd program it. She doesn't have high hopes for it, as it wasn't being screened here, not even in the market, but she promises I can have a look at it when I return.

It was the first I'd crossed paths with Helen since Day l, as she has been in the press orbit this year with her pass. We met at the ten p.m. Director's Fortnight screening of "Dans Paris", which neither of us got into, not even she in the VIP line. I had a 10:30 back-up. Helen was going to slip over to her hotel and file her "Time Out Chicago" report and then return for an extra midnight screening of "Dans Paris." If my 10:30 movie started promptly and part of its 90 minute running time included lengthy closing credits, I might be able to hightail it back and join her. She said I probably didn't really need to get up early for next morning's 8:30 Competition screening, as it was something French, implying it was likely to be less than Competition-worthy. A seventh screening for the day was tempting, but not getting back to my tent until two a.m. wasn't. As it was, my movie didn't let out until after midnight, so it was just another six-movie day, just below my average.

The other excitement for the day was the sight of a bike cresting a hill in the distance in the Lithiuana/German "You Am I," and, as it approached the camera, discovering that it was a recumbent, a truly rare cinema-sighting. As the cyclist climbs the next hill he's passed by five cyclists out on a day ride who gleefully wave at him. He's a curiosity too at the small cafe he stops at. After a quick bite, when he leaves, a little girl says to her mother, "Look, he's going to ride it." Someone asks, "Couldn't you get a normal transport." He replies, "It's not about transport, but about communication."

The cyclist is a young architect who is fed up with the conventional life and decides to retreat to the woods and build a tree house along a river. His tree house is as quirky, practical and original as his choice of bikes. He uses pulleys to hoist up his material to build his amazing living space. He charges his battery to run his tools by pedaling his bike. He tosses the I Ching. If this less than fully realized movie had stuck with him rather than diverting to neighbors, who also lived out of the mainstream, it could well have been one of my favorites of the festival.

Ebert, among others, is saying I may have seen the best of the festival this morning at the Palais--"Days of Glory," a French film honoring the contributions of the Algerian soldiers who fought with the French during WWII and portraying the discrimination they had to overcome. It opens in 1943 in Algeria as the French-led Algerian troops are being trained to fight the Germans in their own country. After they drive them out of Algeria they are taken to France to fight the Germans there.

The Algerians fought a two-fold battle, one against the Germans and the other to gain the respect of their French officers. They were treated with less than equality, not even being fed the same food as the French. The Algerians stand up for themselves and learn to take pride in their efforts. The film is well-executed in every respect, and is the first of the festival whose climax touched me emotionally. It depicts the horror of war, but also the bravery of those fighting it.

The Italian "The Family Friend" is the second film in Competition along with "Babel" to show young, highly-skilled women playing volleyball. Paolo Sorrentini, who directed "The Consequences of Love," which was in Competition two years ago, has a keen eye for the captivating and dazzling image, as setting and spiking women offer. The volleyball in both movies was incidental, just an added cinematic ingredient from directors trying to dazzle and capture the eye of their audience. "The Family Friend" was rife with such flair, helping to compensate for a less than focused story line.

The family friend is a part-time money-lender whose day job is running a small seamstress operation. He's old, short, a bit unseemly and ugly, but is a conversational charmer. Most of his loans are modest and to friends, but still he needs an enforcer. When an opportunity for a killing, a million euro loan, comes along, he doesn't know whether to violate or stay true to his principles. That he has fallen in love with a young, manipulative beauty queen complicates

An ex-con and marital strife are at the heart of the Belgian "I Don't Care If Tomorrow Never Comes." A man just released from prison seeks out the foster father of his son demanding that he let him take his son for a week's vacation to the southwest of France. Going through the proper channels would take too long. The foster father hesitates. The perfectly cast ex-con with a menacing look threatens, "Don't make me take him by force."

Accompanying father and son on their road trip is the son's mother, who doesn't want the son to know she is his mother. When he asks her at one point if she has any children, she says no. Mother and father get along for a while, but that doesn't last. I had one of those out-of-body experiences I occasionally have about half way through the movie, suddenly realizing how much I was drawn into this small, well-executed film, caring about the characters and what was going to happen to them, and how lucky I was to appreciate this form of art and to be able to indulge in it to the degree I have here and over the years. I took a quick gaze at the sea of heads around me, noticing too how lost they were in the film, before returning to it myself. This isn't a film that will gain much notice or receive much play, but I was happy to have seen it.

"Barbers," a French-Canadian documentary about barbers, was not the small gem I was hoping it would be. Instead, it was an amateur point-and-shoot effort by someone who had a relative who was a barber and thought he could make an interesting documentary. He visits several barber shops in Quebec, filming guys getting their hair cut. Most are self-conscious and don't have much to say. The director finds one barber who has the gift of gab and spends a goodly portion of the documentary letting him hold forth as he sits in his chair. He talks more about growing up in war-torn Italy than about barbering. If I'd had a back-up movie of interest to escape to, I would have bailed on this very early.

A young woman suicide bomber circling around 42nd street in New York spends the last of her money eating food from street vendors and fast food joints in the American "Day Night Day Night." This barebones film is devoid of details explaining who she is and why she is doing what she is doing. She has been recruited and trained by hooded characters that we also know nothing about. This was a strangely riveting film that has the audience wondering from the very start what is going on and what is going to happen. The woman is very polite and timid. She gives a mesmerizing performance. It was a movie I liked very much, but wasn't sure if I should have.

Later, George

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