The films continue to come in pairs--yesterday two on trash, today two Belgian road movies. One was a last minute market addition that I wouldn't have known about if I had found Ralph in the 60th Theater for the "On the Road" morning screening. He was 30 people ahead of me in line, having arrived at 7:30 to be the first so he wouldn't have to contend with line budgers and the subtle positioning that goes on while everyone is waiting to be let in. I prefer an extra half hour of sleep, trying to get six hours.
There was a several minute gap between the time Ralph was let into the theater and I, as it was filling fast with press spill-over that had priority over us. It was down to letting us second class citizens into the theater in increments. Ralph and I always sit in the upper left hand corner of the theater for a quick exit, but I didn't spot him when I entered as the theater was nearly full and he missed seeing me. So rather than having a debriefing while we waited for "On the Road" to start I was able to read "Screen" magazine and discovered "Torpedo." Its brief synopsis described it as a 35-year old guy, whose life is in disarray, wins a dinner with Eddy Merckx. All of a sudden "Torpedo" replaced "On the Road" as my most anticipated movie of the day.
And after the disappointment of "On the Road" I knew it could be the best movie of the day as well. I've read everything Jack Kerouac has written and many other books on the Beats and have lived the life and know all the characters well. Walter Salles has been working on this movie for years but he failed to capture the manic energy of Neal Cassady that drew Kerouac and many others to him. Kerouac writes of their benzedrine-fueled conversations that went on and on as they drove cross country, often through the night, thriving on the joy of being on the road and their freedom from the constraints of the mainstream. There was none of that here.
Kerouac sought out mad characters and the madness in life. And he succeeded, though Salles did not. This was a most drab portrayal of their lives. It was almost as if Salles was at pains to demystify the Beats, portraying them as characters to pity rather than to emulate or admire. Sean Penn much better portrayed the zest of being free and on the road living all sorts of different experiences in "In the Wild" than this did. Kerouac was a writer seeking experience and continually jotting notes. He had to be thrilled to be living the life he was, collecting material and meeting up with Cassady and many of his friends.
When the representative of "Torpedo" handed me a flier for the film, as often happens at the small market screenings, I asked him if Eddie Mercix was in the film. His English wasn't good enough to understand my question. I was happy to see in the opening credits that Merckx was given thanks for his participation and he is seen early on at a furniture store that is conducting the contest to win a dinner with him. There is a catch to winning it though and the guy who thinks he has won the dinner is denied his dinner. He was so much looking forward to it, he goes to extremes to get it, kidnapping the store owner and driving across the country to Merckx's next appearance. He enlists the help of a former girl friend to pose as his wife and grabs a ten-year old neighbor to be his son. When the kid tells him he doesn't know who Eddie Merckx is, he can't believe it and says he ought to be arrested. Ample homage is paid to Merckx throughout this comedy for it to qualify as a bicycle movie even though the only bicycling is teaching the ten-year old how to ride a bike.
The other Belgian road movie was two hitch-hikers who link up. One is a mysterious young woman with blank eerie eyes who admits she has recently been released from "a loony bin." The other is an aspiring actor who is captivated by her, even though he has a pregnant girl friend. She leads him into all sorts of mischief. She is a very unsettling character. He tails her for a while and then she turns the tables and tails him back to his girl friend.
"Hold Back," a most realistic French film about Algerians and blacks in Paris and racial stereotypes, also had unsettling characters who had me wondering "what next." The movie opens with a black man proposing to an Algerian woman. No one in their families is in favor of their marriage, though none of the family members have met either of them. The Algerian has many brothers. They are so upset a friend offers to kill the black. I was lucky enough to see this fine film as I hadn't been able to get in to "7 Days in Havana," a movie I much wanted to see as Gaspar Noe was one of the seven directors who contributed an episode.
The most entertaining movie of the day was Ken Loach's "The Angel's Share," an almost whimsical tale of English working class blokes in trouble with the law who pull off an incredible heist of some whiskey worth a million pounds. There was some grim darkness to this, a subject Loach can not avoid, but it was largely an enjoyable fairy tale that offers hope for humanity rather than the usual despair that Loach dishes up.
"Journal de France" was another movie I was greatly looking forward to, as it was described as the photographs of six years of travel around France by noted French director Raymond Depardon. That was only an incidental part of the movie, as it was mostly a retrospective of his decades of documentaries of trouble spots around the world, mostly in Africa. They included an interview with a French woman who was held hostage for a couple of years while she was being held, an interview that got him in trouble with the authorities. There was also 60 seconds of silence from Nelson Mandela shortly after he was released from prison. There were only a handful of set shots of small town France and several short segments of driving on winding rural roads that I know so well.