Today was my much anticipated day with a pair of bicycling films, the last of the five in the program. The Belgian film with the alluring title "Allez Eddie!" was all I could hope for. The other, the German, "Girl on a Bicycle," proved Hollywood doesn't have exclusivity on making insultingly mindless romantic comedies that are painful to sit through.
"Allez Eddie!" takes place in 1975 during The Tour de France as Eddie Merckx is trying to become the first rider to win The Tour six times. An 11-year old boy by the name of Freddie imagines himself the next Merckx. He trains on a bike that hangs from the rafters in the attic of his house while listening to The Tour on the radio. He wears a Molteni cycling cap of Merckx's team with World Champion stripes. His bedroom is adorned with Merckx posters and other cycling memorabilia. His father too is an ardent cycling fan. His butcher shop has a painting of a cyclist. He goes to the local bar packed with other fans to watch The Race and wildly cheer on Merckx.
The butcher shop though is threatened by a supermarket that has just opened in town, an early-day Wal-Mart. A group of young men march around in uniform protesting it, as they fear it will drive all the small grocers out of business, accusing people who patronize it of being collaborators. To gain local favor the supermarket sponsors a bicycle race for the youth of the town. The winner gets to go to Roubaix to meet Merckx. The son of the butcher enters the race, but under a different name, as his father and the vigilante group do not wish to support the race.
The Bicycle in Cinema Certification Board should immediately demand that the word "bicycle" be stripped from the title of "Girl on a Bicycle." Bicyclists need to be saved from being lured into this abomination. Though there is some random cycling in the movie, including a couple of trips on the legendary rental bikes of Paris, this is not by any means a cycling movie.
A young attractive woman is seen on a bicycle several times, catching the eye of a tour bus driver who has just proposed to his girl friend of four years. He sees her three different times, all at the same place near Notre-Dame. The third time, when he finally has a chance to ask her for her phone number, she refuses to give it. He chases after her in his double-decker tour bus, terrorizing everyone on board, who all flee the bus when he finally stops after running her down. He takes her to the hospital and then starts caring for her and her two small children who start calling him "Papa," sneaking off from his girl friend. It was all very stupid and silly, though slickly filmed. The Eiffel Tower is liberally sprinkled in and other tourist sites. Still there's no reason to go anywhere near this.
Once again I sacrificed the morning's two Competition screenings for a bicycle movie. At least it was "Allez Eddie!," well worth the sacrifice. I'm falling behind in my Competition viewing, having only seen three of the eight screened so far, but I can now concentrate on catching up. I did see the Mexican entry "Heli" today that was the second of the Competition films screened back on Thursday. It was part of my day's set of four gritty realistic films, the polar opposite of the lame-brained fantasy world of "Girl on a Bicycle."
"Heli" portrayed contemporary Mexico, while the others took me to Scotland, Morocco and India, all of which I am on familiar terms with thanks to my bicycle and tent. It's been a while since I biked Mexico, before drug lords have become such a brazen and dominant part of many communities such as that in "Heli." Heli is a young man with a young wife and baby who lives with his father and thirteen-year old sister. His sister is dating a seventeen-year old who is in the army and wants to marry her. She thinks she's in love too, though she's not sure and asks her brother's wife how she knew she was in love. She refuses to have sex with him, but they may soon run off to marry. Her boy friend steals several kilos of cocaine that the army had confiscated and was burning. He hides it in the water tank on top of his girl friend's house. Heli discovers it and tosses it into a pond.
The drug lords find out about the stolen cocaine and want it back. They show up at Heli's house with the soldier who stole it already bloody and beaten in the back of their military-style van. They take Heli and his sister and drive them to a home where three young boys who had been playing video games watch and then participate in the torture of the two guys that includes setting the testicles of one on fire as he hangs. A woman, who looks like she could be the mother of the boys, is occasionally seen in the background. The thirteen-year old is not around as someone else drives her off. The brazenness and casualness of the young drug thugs is astounding. This was the lone pregnancy movie of this day. When the thirteen-year shows up days later, unwilling to talk about her experience, a doctor discovers she is pregnant and that she will have to go elsewhere for an abortion.
"For Those in Peril" from Scotland in the Critic's Weekly was a similarly well-conceived and truthful film. It focused on the torment of a young man who was on the lone fishing boat of five that survived a storm. His brother was one of those killed. He wanders his village hoping that his brother will suddenly turn up. No one in the town wants to commiserate with him or give him work.
The Moroccan film "They Are the Dogs" shows a camera crew from a television station following a political prisoner around Casablanca just after he has been released after serving thirty years in prison as he visits friends and family who all thought that he was dead. He is let out in the midst of the Arab Spring. He knows nothing of his son. His last memory is giving him a bicycle. He had yet to learn to ride it when he disappeared. He is told that his son has become a famous bicycle racer. Such is the tone of this semi-cinema verité, half-serious, half-comical look at present-day Morocco.
There was no singing or dancing in the Indian thriller "Ugly," but plenty of violence and gritty realism. A young woman is kidnapped and a lot of people are involved trying to recover her in this Director's Fortnight film.
I also managed two quite good documentaries. The world of fashion continues to provide exemplary material for film. "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" gave a most captivating history of the legendary Manhattan department store. It has launched the fashion careers of many designers. One of the latest is the young designer who has supplied Michele Obama with her inauguration dresses. The film maker had no shortage of interesting characters to interview, some of whom have appeared in other recent fashion-related docs including "Billy Cunningham New York."
Legendary extreme-skier and ski-Base jumper Shane McConkey also made an excellent subject for a documentary. It was a natural that Red Bull produced the film simply titled "McConkey." Watching all his death-defying stunts, it was inevitable that he would one day die. It is a wonder he lasted as long as he did up to 2009.
This was my first eight-film day this year thanks to an early 8:30 screening before the Belgian bicycle movie at ten and then a movie every two hours for the rest of the day. The iPad also made it possible, not having to seek out a computer for an hour but able to compose my report in the few minutes between each movie.