Friends: Today the wonderful world of cinema took me to the deserts of Iran, the jungles of Thailand, the mountains of Columbia, the Camino de Santiago de Compestela in Spain, an economically depressed French town and back home to Illinois, even passing through customs at Chicago's O'Hare airport. It was another fabulous day of cinema.
An overweight, divorced Palestinian mother and her teen-aged son come to America to live with her sister and husband and young daughters in a small Illinois town in "Amreeka," a film so real they become our neighbors for an hour-and-a-half. The mother is quite high strung and strong-willed. Her English isn't as good as her very bright, but meek, son. The son is thrilled by the opportunity to come to America, but he quickly learns its not exactly the promised land. He is picked on at school, though his sharp-tongued cousin tries to look out for him. She advises him what clothes to wear, telling him he can't wear the pants he'd like as he'd look like he was "F.O.B." "What's that?," his mother asks, "Fresh off the boat." "What does that mean?" "It means that he won't have any friends."
The mother and son are dealt one adversity after another. Much of the film is in Arabic, contributing to its stark realism. This fully-realized, highly-accomplished film earned its young woman director a deal to make more such films.
If "In the Beginning" hadn't opened with the disclaimer that it was based on a true story, I would have been shaking my head at the nerve of the director to concoct this story about a small-time con artist just released from prison who gets involved in an absurdly grandiose con involving a whole French town constructing a highway. This Competition entry by Xavier Giannoli starring luminaries Francois Cluzet and Emmanuelle Devos with Gerard Depardieu in a contributing role was incredibly gut-wrenching. It had me in knots over the great despair all the town's people would feel when they discovered they'd been had.
I kept waiting for the con artist to make his escape with the thousands of euros he had scammed in bribes and funds from the bank. The con artist realizes he has gotten in way over his head. It doesn't help that the town's female mayor takes a liking to him, even though at first she thought he was incompetent and pathetic. I didn't know if this would leave me feeling further disenchanted with the perfidy of man or if somehow it would offer something to be inspired by. It took a while to recover from this original and most engaging film.
An older man traveling by donkey in Columbia on a mission to return an accordion in "The Wind Journeys" was another unique film experience. The guy is a legendary virtuoso, but he is very selective about who he plays for, refusing to play for people he doesn't like, even though he is desperate for money, and even food. He occasionally engages in accordion competitions that are as intense as poetry slams as the accordionists duel each other and the audiences root for their favorite. He is way too head strong for his own good.
A guy just released after 14 years in an Iranian prison in "The Shell" also goes on a journey, at first on foot, then by van and finally by train. He is pursued by the driver of the van, who at first didn't want to pick him up, but is forced to give him a ride when his van gets stuck and he catches up to him. This was a minor film, but still decent fare for the market.
"Les Doigts Croches" was the second film in the market on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. There is a lot of slop in the market and this French Canadian film was deep in it. It didn't even go on location to the Camino, giving no feel whatsoever for the experience. There wasn't a single bicyclist as the pilgrims in the movie, five bank robbers, walked the path. The robbers, moronic, one-note dufuses, are forced to make the pilgrimage after they've been released from four years in jail at the demand of the robber who held the two million dollars they robbed. They refer to their heist as "the crime of the century," another example of how clueless this film is. He says they can have the money after they've completed the pilgrimage. None are happy about it. They are all too-bit criminals who can not shed their criminal ways, robbing a bank along the way. They are continually at odds with one another. The movie didn't care in the least about the Camino. It just wanted to be thriller. It was as two-bit as the criminals.
A married couple goes off to the jungles of Thailand in the "Nymph." The husband disappears after the woman declines to have sex with him in their tent. She is quite distraught over his disappearance. Strange things are happening in the jungle, more mysterious than we at first realize. This was well-done.
The pickings become slim after today with few market screenings. It will be a battle to get into the Hanake and Noe films, both two-and-a-half hours long. I am already nervously awaiting the line-up of Sunday's replay of all the Competition films, hoping there isn't too much conflict among the films I haven't seen.