Friends: Two Argentinian films today, featuring women with troubles, included a quick glimpse of a carrot being sliced, which may or may not have had symbolic significance.
Its a semi-obese guy who does the cutting in "A Stray Girlfriend," as he prepares a stew for a woman who has several times rejected his advances. The woman is on an anniversary holiday she was expecting to spend with her boyfriend, but he abandons her before they reach the resort they are headed to after she harangues him as they travel by bus. She's very impulsive, trying to decide whether to stay for the four days they had booked or return home. She calls her boyfriend and harangues him some more. She nearly has a fling with a guy at the resort after a night of drinking, but he rejects her advances saying he has a girl friend. The obese guy takes her horseback riding along the beach the next day and tries his luck. She abandons him when he goes swimming, but feels guilt and before she leaves the resort tries to leave him a note of apology. He hears her sliding the note under his door and invites her in and once more tries his luck, to no avail. If carrot-cutting implies castration, so he may feel.
Castration is also an issue in "XXY" the winner of the best picture award in Critic's Week. It is a film about a 15-year old girl directed by a young woman, both of whom were on hand to gleefully accept the award in the ceremony preceding the film. The film starts with another teens-losing-virginity theme when the girl tells a 16-year old boy, who is visiting her family in their small Uruguayan fishing village, "I've never fucked anybody. Would you like to?" The boy is
shocked and doesn't know how to react. He initially resists the girl, but in time becomes enamored with her. This was far from standard fare and was most deserving of its award. The girl alone with her vitality is a delight (she has just been kicked out of school for punching out a guy), but she also is not entirely what she appears to be, allowing the movie to go off into rarely explored territory.
It was all too standard fare from both the Competition films at the Palais earlier in the day.
Catherine Breillat of France, notorious for her explicit, sex-exploitation films, is relatively
restrained in her "An Old Mistress," a period piece taking place in the 1700s. A 30-year old libertine is about to marry and must give up his long-time mistress. When he has a final fling with her, the bride's grandmother, who has arranged the marriage, threatens to cancel the wedding. The libertine explains the history of his relations with his mistress to her in a long flashback. His frankness convinces the grandmother that it is over, and so thinks the guy. But the mistress is persistent and pursues the newly-weds to the isolated seaside village where they have taken up residence to be away from all the temptations of Paris. Ho-hum. Nothing special or unique, not even the occasional conjugal relations. This is simply fodder for those who like period pieces and more than casual cinema sex.
Brooklyn 1988, when drugs were rampant and the drug lords seemed to be taking over the city, provides the backdrop for "We Own the Night" by James Gray staring Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Joaquin Phoenix. Only the star power of the cast makes this marginally worth watching. Father and son, Duvall and Wahlberg, are high level cops leading the fight against drugs, while coke-tooting Phoenix is the wayward son running a night club where the Russian
drug lord they are trying to catch hangs out. Phoenix refuses to cooperate with his brother and father. No one at the night club, other than his Puerto Rican girlfriend, knows Phoenix's background. This was all too contrived and proceeds as expected.
"Night Train" gives an insightful view of present day China as it follows the travails of a woman
working with the Chinese criminal justice system. We see her cheap studio apartment and meet a few of her single-women neighbors. We see her on her job having to deal with those accused of crimes. But the focus of the movie is on a match-making service and some of the not so likable men she ends up with.
Only a five movie day, dropping my average back down to six a day, putting me at sixty through ten days, as I sacrificed a movie by attending the Critic's Week award ceremony thinking the winning film would be played immediately afterward, rather than in a separate following time slot. As the award ceremony dragged on and on, going for more than an hour, I was regretting I hadn't gone to see a documentary on director Lindsay Anderson with his frequent star Malcolm McDowell in attendance. I was taking a minor risk anyway on what would win the Critic's Week
prize as I had seen two of the seven films in contention. Neither were exceptional, but one never
knows about juries. It was a great relief that "XXY" won, just a disappointment that it wasn't shown immediately, preventing me from seeing "Mutum" in the Director's Fortnight later, or my back-up "Rio Bravo," in the classics category. Luckily I didn't end up at "Rio Bravo," as its two-and-a-half hour running time would have kept me in the theater until one a.m. Only once
have I been kept out so late, a night I didn't get to bed until two a.m., which meant a bit of cat-napping the next day when I had to be at the Palais six hours later. But I have yet to sleep through my alarm this year, unlike year's past. When some college students here for the first time asked me before the festival started what advice I could give, it was to have at least one good and loud alarm clock, and a backup as well.