Friends: As Julie and I sat in a tiny Palais screening room awaiting our next movie discussing the one we had just seen, a well-dressed Frenchman stooped in the aisle next to us and said, "I represent the film you're talking about and this one too. If you have any interest in them, here's my card."
Both his films were documentaries starring breathtaking mountains--the Himalayas in one and the Alps in the other. Before I could ask him if he had seen "180 Degrees South," yesterday's exceptional doc with a good dose of Patagonian peaks, the lights went out and the film started.
Almost from the start of "Beyond the Summit," a tribute to 46-year old climbing legend, Catherine Destivelle of France, the greatest woman climber of all time, my palms were sweating watching her scale sheer walls around Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. The film comprises three climbs with friends and mentors. The first was with a long-time woman friend. The second with her 31-year old kid sister. The final climb is up a glacier with her 72-year old ex-husband and an equally old buddy of his.
All three climbs are intimately and spectacularly photographed from the air and from over their shoulders and into their faces. How I can't imagine. Only in the snow can there be seen footsteps of the crew ahead. The terrain was so perilous this had my heart palpitating as if it were a horror movie. Any slip and it would have been instant death. Catherine and her mates are miked and comment and reflect all the way up. At one point she assures us, "I am not suicidal, but I do like danger."
The earlier mountain doc, "Himalaya, A Path to the Sky," had its harrowing moments as well, as an eight-year old monk walks on a narrow snow-packed trail with a thousand foot drop to one side. He's on his way to an isolated monastery. This French production was shot over three months. It portrays the daily life of the monks and the families in the region.
Among the five features I squeezed in today along with these two documentaries was the first of the Competition films, "Chongquing Blues," by Wang Xiaoshuai, director of "Beijing Bicycle." As I walked up the steep aisle in the 2300 seat Palais before the 8:30 a.m. screening I was looking for Charles of Facets. He called out my name before I could spot him in the second row from the top. He had gotten in yesterday and said he would be sleeping on someone's couch his first week here.
After yesterday's Market fare, "Chongqing Blues" looked extra magisterial on the giant Palais screen. From the opening scene of a tram crossing high above the wide Yangzi River I was fully absorbed in this poignant tale of a father just returned from six months at sea trying to learn more about the death of his 25-year old son while he was away. It doesn't help that he had left his wife 14 years before and hadn't seen her since. She slams the door of her apartment in his face, but not before throwing a wad of newspapers at him that tell the story of his son being shot by a cop after taking a woman hostage in a supermarket.
Slowly we learn all the details of his son's life and his as well. I was particularly enamored by the film having recently spent two months in China. I was continually reminded of the many kindly and hospitable people I met there and relating to the spot-on detail.
That was one of two films I saw on Day Two with a kidnapping element. The other was "happythankyoumoreplease" (yes there are no spaces in the title), audience favorite from Sundance this year. One of the twenty-somethings in this sweet romantic comedy that takes place in Manhattan is a writer who takes in a 10-year old black kid who has fled his foster parents and doesn't want to return. His friends are all horrified that he hasn't returned him, saying that it constitutes kidnapping. That is just one of a multitude of story lines in this film of multiple love affairs, all with happy endings. Audience favorites are generally feel-good movies, and this fits that category. Oprah would fully endorse its philosophy. The title refers to expressing gratitude for good things that happen to one, asking for more.
I declined the second film showing in Competition, saving it for tomorrow, so I could see the lone screening of "Big Fan," a rare sports fan movie. The fan in this movie is a 36-year old New Yorker who lives for the New York Giants football team. He lives with his mother, works as a parking lot attendant and is a regular on a sports talk show. His mother and lawyer brother and dentist brother-in-law are continually nagging him to get a real job. He carefully rehearse his radio harangues. After he delivers them his best friend calls and congratulates him, "You were on fire." He and his buddy can't afford tickets to the games, so they sit in the parking lot of Giants Stadium and watch the game on a TV on the trunk of their beat-up car.
This film could have been partially inspired by Cubs fan Paul Bartman, as the fan of this film inadvertently becomes involved with the team's destiny, to an almost outlandish, but plausible extent. This was well-conceived and rings true from start to finish.
I ended the day with the first two films in Uncertain Regard playing in the 1068 seat Debussy theater, the other grand venue of the festival. The opening film was by Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira. He walked up to the stage with the aid of a cane to a standing ovation.
His "Strange Case of Angelica" is the rather flimsy story of a handsome photographer who sees visions of a beautiful wealthy young woman who he is summoned to photograph at two in the morning shortly after her death. As he photographs her he sees her smile at him through his lens. He quickly drops his camera and looks around at the family seated around him. None of them noticed. He is haunted throughout the film by her. This was light-weight fare with none of the emotional depth of "Chongqing Blues." It looked good but amounted to little more than "so-what."
"Tuesday, after Christmas" more than made up for it. It was another solid film from Romania portraying life as it is. Rather than political or social as a recent spate of Romanian films, this one is about a man having an affair. It opens with a prolonged nude scene of a couple in post-coitus. They are too enamored with one another to be husband and wife. The man has a wife, and the younger woman is his mistress of five months. He is seemingly happily married with a young daughter. He is a nice guy, just slightly tormented by what to do. As with the fan movie, there is not a false note in this script.