Friends: Where a film took place (location) was the determining factor in my choice of three of the seven movies I saw today. Two of those locations were places I was at when the film was shot, keeping me on extra alert as I watched the film to see if I was caught on camera in the background somewhere.
"The Road to Santiago" is one of two films playing in the market on the Christian pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compestela in Spain I bicycled last year after Cannes. This was a Spanish comedy about a group of six couples who pay 2,000 euros to hike the last six days of the 500 mile trail with a friar of a sort who is helping them to reconcile their relationships. One of the couples is a photographer and a writer assigned to do an undercover story on this guy. They are not a couple and didn't know each other until they met on the day the group set out. But they aren't complete strangers to one another, as they had had an unpleasant encounter in a restaurant shortly before when the woman sabotaged the attempt of the guy and a friend to seduce a couple of bimbos. They are shocked to see each other again.
I happened upon the shoot of this film in front of the cathedral in a small town a day before I reached Santiago. It didn't seem a very professional production, but indeed it was. Though this film isn't likely to make the art circuit in the U.S., it will have a life in Spain. It does a fine job capturing the pastoral beauty of the the route. It was a rare cinematic treat to have bicycles laden with panniers frequently in the background passing the hikers on the trail. The film is more silly and buffoonish than profound. A fast-riding, careening cyclist three times crashes into the group. Once was legitimate, but he would have been riding at such a faster pace than they were walking, he never would have encountered them again.
I didn't realize a film was being shot during last year's Cannes film festival. It was "The Making of Plus One," a U.S. film about a fast-talking, maniacal young producer trying to put together a deal during last year's festival. He goes around telling financiers and distributors that he has lined up the two Kates (Blanchette and Winslow) for a film about two sisters from London who live in LA. The pitch is that one is an aspiring singer-songwriter and the other is just a hanger-on. She is the 'plus one' on the list for parties. He doesn't have the Kates signed, though he has talked to their agent. They command a salary of $10 million dollars each, but he only has a budget of $7 million. But saying he has them brings him more money. He gets increasingly in over his head. He hosts a party on a yacht to promote the movie guaranteeing the press that the Kates will be there. He lines up a couple of look-a-likes for the paparazzi. They fall for it, and the movie deal is a cover story on the next day's "Screen" magazine. The Kates' agent goes berserk.
The mountain scenery drew me to the South Korean film " Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells." The scenery was spectacular. The screenplay was about five pages long of a South Korean businessman who brings the ashes of a Nepalese factory worker back home. He has a dreadful time adjusting to the high altitude.
A French chef goes to Hong Kong to avenge the murder of his daughter and her two small children in Johnnie To's "Vengence," a Competition entry. The chef recruits three hitmen and says they can have his restaurant on the Champs Elysees and his mansion if they track down her killers. He accompanies them. He asks for a gun. They wonder if he knows how to use a gun. When one presents him with an extra gun, he checks it out and says the spring is loose on it. Another of the guys gives him his. That is better. He disassembles it and then challenges the guy who gave it to him to a blind fold test putting it back together. They are impressed. They do some target practice on an abandoned old bike, setting it in motion and shooting at it as it rolls through a field. This was a classic Hong Kong shoot-'em up with a series of outlandishly ridiculous arty shootouts. Fans of the genre will love it.
There are at least half a dozen movies in the market on boxing, some with obvious boxing titles ("Bare Knuckles," "The Tender Hook," "Two Fists One Heart"). "Knockouts" was not one of the boxing movies. Two Paris Hiltonish blonds are not only knockouts, but they go around knocking out male hunks they'd like to have sex with, bringing them back to their house along Venice Beach, sympathetically nursing them back to consciousness, hopping in bed with them,then discarding them. This role reversal movie is not much more than an exercise in T 'n A. The blonds are in bikinis for just about the entire movie. Tom Arnold plays the father of one of the girls. He is dating one of their classmates, another blond bimbo. This was a genuine waste of time.
The Russian film "Tsar," a historical drama from 1565 by Pavel Lungin, was superbly executed, but didn't have enough of a story to keep everyone in their seats. It was my first Un Certain Regard screening that wasn't packed.
I went to see "The Cop" from Italy as the program said it was a "unique docu-fiction feature" using actual footage of an undercover narcotics unit. The star of the film spent a month working with a four-man unit. In the movie he plays a television journalist who is inspired to investigate the drug culture after his teen-aged son dies from an overdose even though he's a good kid and not a drug user other than this once. It is edited at an unrelenting fast-pace, barely more than five seconds per cut, trying to make up for the rather flimsy story line.
Have a Ken Loach film to look forward to tomorrow and the Bulgarian bicycling movie.