Friends: Gus Van Sant proves once again that he understands teens in "Paranoid Park," based on a novel about a high school skateboarder who accidentally kills a railroad security guard as he attempts to pull him off a freight train he's hopped aboard as a lark.
The teen is a marginal suspect, but manages to keep his cool, though he's driven to do things out of character, such as read the newspaper. The movie, with an array of well-drawn, sensitive, fully-realized characters, including a few parents, is more a portrayal of teens struggling to deal with life than about the crime. This is a hopeful picture and not without Van Sant's usual dazzling flourishes.
Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart" is another incisive, spot-on portrayal of real people, and these are really real. This movie is about the kidnapping and beheading of "Wall Street Journal" journalist Danny Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. It is based on his wife's book. Angelina Jolie gives a most credible performance in the role. Winterbottom brilliantly captures the frenzy of Karachi and the search for Pearl.
A shot of a woman's posterior from Ulrich Seidl's "Import/Export" graces the cover of the festival program. Today we finally learned why she was in that pose. She is one of a handful of characters who are the focus of this movie reduced to desperate measures trying to cope with life. She sits in a room with a camera upon her doing whatever some Internet client asks her to do. It would be hard to say which of the cast of woeful characters is mired in the most humiliating of circumstances. There is a woman who has come to Austria from the Ukraine seeking a better life to support her child back home. She lands a job as a live-in cleaning woman, but is fired after her first day when the ten-year old boy of the house loudly berates and accuses her of stealing his cell phone. There is a young thug of a man who loses his job as a security guard. He owes all sorts of people, including his step-dad, money, who want it right now. He tries terrorizing people on a subway platform saying they owe him money from a drinking binge earlier in the week. Seidl, a some time documentarian, is known for his confrontational, disturbing films and this is no exception, though this is more uneven than some of his other work. He could make it more riveting by trimming some of its 135 minutes.
"The Counterfeiters," also from Austria, is another true story. It is based on the largest counterfeiting ring in history--the Nazis at a WWII concentration camp. Chief counterfeiter is a Jewish prisoner who had been imprisoned for counterfeiting before the war. He's the head of an operation of prisoners counterfeiting English pounds and U.S. dollars. The prisoners don't want to assist the Nazis, so delay their success in counterfeiting the U.S. dollar as long as they can despite threats from the Nazis. They succeed early on in duplicating the pound, producing
132 million dollars worth of them. They finally give in to the Nazi threats and start doing the same with dollars, but very near the war's end. I was glad to have stumbled upon this film in the market.
I was also glad to have seen "And Along Come Tourists," another film about a concentration camp, Aushwitz, except in current times. This slight, but captivating film, is about a German who comes to work at Aushwitz to do odd jobs including looking after an 80-year old survivor of the camp who still lives and works on the premises. The German is doing this as civil service rather than serving in the military back home. The survivor doesn't particularly welcome the
German, but in time they develop a respect and friendship for one another. The survivor gives
speeches, to not always appreciative or attentive audiences, on what it was like to be in the camp. This was the first of half a dozen films I've seen in the Uncertain Regard category that refreshingly wasn't weighted down by trying to be stylish. Instead it let the characters and story carry the movie.
I was the only one of the thousands here who cared to see what the catalog called "Kris
Kristofferson's greatest performance to date" in "Disappearances"--a market screening in the 32- seat Gray 4 theater in a hotel just off the main boulevard along the beach front. Gary Farmer and Genevieve Bujold were added reasons to give this a look. It takes place in 1932 Vermont just after a harsh winter that has left Kristofferson without any feed for his animals. He is forced to return to his past vocation of being a whiskey-runner. A hooting white owl early on forebodes of death says Bujold, hoping it is her own. The movie has other surreal elements, some intentional and others not, justifying everyone else for not having any interest in it.