Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day Three

I was turned away from only one film today, the least so far, and it wasn't the Tour de France film that the program stated was for Buyers only. It only took some minor convincing to talk my way into the screening. I told the film's representative that I was an avid fan of The Tour and that I had ridden The Tour route the last few years and planned to do it again this year. I showed her a photograph of me with The Devil at The Tour and told her that this was the film I was most looking forward to seeing in the festival. I'm not sure which won her favor, but she said to wait a few minutes until she was sure the theater didn't fill with buyers and she would let me in. There weren't any non-buyers such as me hanging around and there was no rush of buyers either, so my day, and maybe the festival, was made.

I had a similar experience at the Berlin film festival nearly fifteen years ago with "Phantom Pain," a German film that is one of the best bicycle movies ever, right up there with "Breaking Away" and "Two Seconds." It was buyers only then too, but they didn't pack the theater, so I was allowed in. If this movie, "Tour de Force," (the French title is more appropriately, "La Grande Boucle," the French euphemism for The Tour de France) was in its class, it wouldn't matter how good the films were the next nine days, the festival would be a great success. That was a tall order to fill. Unfortunately, this film was more like "Premium Rush," last summer's hokey bicycle messenger movie, than "Phantom Pain." Like "Premium Rush" it had some authentic bicycling footage and understood the sport, but deflated the movie with a nonsensical plot.

The premise showed promise. A 40-year old guy who works for a large chain of sporting good stores that sponsors a  Tour de France team is offered the dream assignment just before The Race starts of driving one of the team cars during The Tour. At the team presentation he accidentally bumps into the team's star and ruins his lucky necklace. The star is infuriated and demands that he be fired. To compound the guy's misery, his wife is quite angry that he didn't tell her that he had just been given the driver assignment, as they had vacation plans, and once again allows The Tour to take precedence over her. She disappears with their teen-aged son and leaves him a note not to call.

He decides to fulfill his life-long dream of riding The Tour route on his own ahead of the racers. So far this is somewhat plausible other than the star throwing such a fit over his lucky talisman. At the team presentation, he is befriended by a former great team director, someone known as a "cycle-whisperer," a cycling version of "horse-whisperer." It is said that he whispered something into Greg LeMond's ear when he was struggling in the 1986 Tour, and that was how he won The Race. This crusty old character has just served two years in prison, taking the fall for a team owner. He offers to help this guy ride The Tour route. On the first stage the rider is befriended by a Dutch husband and wife and their 20-year old daughter who are following The Tour in an RV with a course marker in their front window as they have done for many years. They are such Tour fanatics that their daughter was conceived as they followed The Tour one year. They feed him and give him massages and their daughter occasionally rides along with him. All good.

After a few stages the former team director arranges a TV crew to do a story on this guy's efforts and also arranges some sponsorship. His exploits become a national story covered on the Tour broadcast every day. It upsets the star and owner of the team who fired him that he is getting more attention than they are. The star challenges him to a personal race as he's being interviewed. The touring cyclist makes no pretense that he is competing with the riders, but on a rest day they square off in a mini-team time trial, something that would be utterly preposterous. Even more so, the touring cyclist enlists the help of Bernard Hinault and Laurent Jalabert, two retired great French riders who are part of The Tour entourage every year, to be his teammates in this showdown.

The movie was filmed during The Tour two years ago. There is much footage taken from that race and others, shown on TVs in the background and also simply as part of the story. Since he is riding a day ahead of the racers, stage starts and finishes that have been set up are included in the movie. It is full of authentic detail. It also captures the superlative French scenery. Like "Phantom Pain" there is a dramatic cresting of the Tourmalet. One of the more grievous faults of the movie though is the pathetic double they used for The Devil, rather than including the real one.

Despite its many faults and the missed opportunity for another great cycling movie, I couldn't help but be pleased to see The Tour being showcased in a big budget movie with the story line of someone fulfilling the dream countless Tour fans of riding The Tour route. The movie is worth seeing if only for its opening, beginning with a toddler getting a bike for Christmas, then tracing his early career as a racer from a young tyke in home video footage up through his teen-aged years. There is even a quick shot of a kid stopping along the road during a race to take a leak just as the professionals do. Another small delight was a French rapper by the name of Arm Strong. He takes the name because Armstrong was a "bad mother-fucker."  The son of the touring cyclist is a big fan of the rapper and runs away from his mother to attend one of his concerts. She calls her husband during the mock time trial worried about their son. He suspects where he has gone, so takes a break from his Tour ride to attend the concert. The rapper is of course an ardent cycling fan and knows all about the touring cyclist following The Tour. That impresses his son and they have a reconciliation. He joins his dad for the rest of his ride to Paris. And there comes the final great great insult to the plausibility of this tale. The touring cyclist infiltrates the peloton, even though there is a squadron of gendarmes trying to catch him, and he is welcomed by the rider he had the rivalry with, who happens to be in the yellow jersey. There is some authentic race footage on the Champs Élysées mixed in with some credible footage of the guy racing along. The rider in yellow allows him to win the stage. His wife is awaiting him with open arms. A great movie could have been made of a touring cyclist following The Tour. It did not need all this brainless hocum.

This wasn't the only movie of the day with a rebelliousness teen-ager who flees her parents, causing them great consternation. The other was in the superb Competition entry "The Past," by Ashgar Farhadi, whose last film "A Separation," won the Oscar for best foreign film. This film has an almost equally intricate plot, though on the surface it just seems to be the simple story of the end of a marriage and the beginning of another. The Iranian husband of an Iranian couple returns to Paris after a four-year absence to finalize their divorce so his wife can remarry. The film is rich in bickering between the three principles. The wife is played by the star of "The Artist," and her boy friend by the star of "A Prophet," both Cannes award winners. The ten-aged girl isn't happy at all about her mother's new boy friend, who has moved in with her. This was another movie with a pregnancy that has a strong bearing on the plot, as the woman is pregnant by her new boy friend, one of the reasons why they wish to marry. At 130 minutes, it may have been a trifle long, but it was a richly engrossing drama that could be worthy of best acting or script or more awards.

My only other feature of the day, along with four very mediocre documentaries, was the Un Certain Regard "Miele." The best part of this movie was the lead character getting around on her bicycle. She is a young woman who assists the terminally ill to commit suicide. The film takes place in Italy but she has to fly to Mexico periodically to get the barbiturates used to kill dogs for her clients. She is greatly upset when she discovers one of her clients isn't terminally ill and is just depressed. She tries to recover the poison she has sold him. Not much of this movie rang true.

When I was turned away from a repeat screening of the Competition film "Young and Beautiful" within eight people of getting in I greatly regretted having stayed to the end of the utterly stupid documentary "Shooting Bigfoot." This English production featuring several idiotic Americans who claim to have seen a Bigfoot and take the director for another citing was a complete waste of time. These Bigfoot fanatics were more moronic than conspiracy theorists, but there is enough interest in Bigfoot that these guys have websites and one has actually made four movies himself on his search. These guys were all so lame-brained not even Werner Herzog or Errol Morris could have made them interesting.

When I couldn't get into "Young and Beautiful" I filled in the time slot with a documentary on a town's recovery from the Japanese tsunami, "The Radio of Hope: After Tsunami 3.11." It had the noblest of attentions, but was very average film-making. It did more to represent the ways of the Japanese and their culture, than it did to shed much light on its subject. The German documentary "Breath of the Gods," also did more to show how it is in India than it did to elaborate on its subject, yoga. This movie would be a contortionist's delight with a considerable amount of archival footage of Indians twisting their bodies into extreme positions.

It is a shame that Spike Lee hadn't directed the documentary "Linsanity," as he would have certainly elevated this remarkable story to the heights it deserved, and gone easy on the religious angle, which was one of the prime thrusts of this effort. The movie seemed to have the full cooperation of Lin and his family. There are interviews with his parents and his brothers and home videos of Lin as a toddler and footage of his playing in youth leagues on through high school and college and of course the pros. It is a conventional by-the-numbers documentary.

His rise to prominence was certainly phenomenal. Before he burst into international fame with the Knicks he had been cut by two teams that year and was about to be cut by the Knicks. He was only given a chance to play because the Knicks in that strike-shortened year were forced to play three games in three nights and were greatly depleted. Lin knew it was his last chance and he gave it his all. The 89 points he scored in his first three starts, including 38 against the Lakers and Kobey Bryant, were the most any NBA player had scored in his first three games in the modern era. As mediocre as this movie was, it was still nice to relive this incredible story that ended up earning Lin a three year 25 million dollar contract with the Houston Rockets.

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