Saturday, May 14, 2016

Day Four

Koji Fukada maintains a simmering tension from start to finish in his Un Certain Regard entry "Harmonium."  The tension is initially when will the wife of the owner of a small manufacturing firm learn that the man he has just hired and invited to live with them is an ex-con.  Her first reaction is not happy at all with the arrangement, but then she takes a liking to him, especially when he develops a strong relationship with her young daughter.  The tension escalates when the ex-con reveals himself not to be the docile, reformed murderer that he appears to be.  All the intricate plot twists and nuances of this story are perfectly credible, as if it were recounting actual events.  This was the most riveting of the twenty-six films I have seen so far.  Ralph agreed that it stood above everything he has seen so far as well.  

"At Your Doorstep," a Spanish film about the mortgage crisis, is packed with legitimate tension as well.  Since 2008 there have been more than 500,000 evictions in Spain, an average of 170 a day.  This is the story of a young family dealing with the issue.  They have two days to come up with their latest payment or the parent's of the wife, who they have been forced to live with, will lose their home as well.  With such a deadline, which the Loach film lacked, this film had a genuine sense of urgency, and in some ways was a better film, though it won't be recognized as such since it has a smaller platform.  Yesterday's Loach film received only a mixed reaction, with an average score of 2.4 on a four point scale from "Screen" magazine's panel of twelve critics.  One of the two French critics thought it so contrived he gave it zero stars.  The lone four-star review came from the British critic Nick James of "Sight and Sound."

There was some tension in my day's lone Competition film, the lusciously stylistic "The Handmaiden" by Park Chan-wook.  It is the first South Korean film in Competition in four years.  His "Old Boy," which Spike Lee did a remake of, won the Grand Prix in 2003. The tension would have been more palpable if the con being perpetrated had been more evident.  It is only fully revealed in subsequent retellings of the story of a young woman enlisted by a con man to be the servant of a wealthy woman he's seducing.  The con goes awry when the women fall in love.  Their couplings are more graphic and luscious than those of the Palm d'Or winner "Blue is the Warmest Color."  The sex scenes are the dominant feature of the film, earning it the label of an "erotic thriller."

I allowed the casting of Mathieu Amalric, who has been a big draw in France since "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won the best director award at Cannes in 2007, to lure me to see "Struggle for Life," a French farce about building an indoor ski resort in French Guinana.  Amalric is a bureacrat in Guinana and only has a small role in the film.  The lead is a young man who is hired as an intern to assist with the project. He has way more authority than he can handle and is a bungling fool, getting lost in the jungle.  He's 27, the same age as the average age of Napolean's generals, but in the present age, much too young for such responsibility.  

"Welcome to Norway" transported me from the tropics to the arctic.  A guy with a run-down hotel decides to convert it into a home for fifty refugees.  The state subsidies can make him a wealthy man.  The refugees arrive before he has made it fully habitable.  The refugees from all over Africa and the Middle East range from being helpful to being demanding.  One has been a refugee for over ten years and has high expectations on how he ought to be treated, as do most of them. This less than fully-realized effort was more of a comedy than a portrayal of real issues.

I thought I might see Milos of Facets at "The Green Fairy," a documentary on absinthe, as Vincent Van Gogh was mentioned in the program blurb as a character in the film.  Milos had recently given a presentation at Chicago's Art Institute on the portrayal of Van Gogh in cinema, culminating with a twenty-minute short by Alain Resnais.  Janina had attended the talk and said it was excellent--"a triumph."  If Milos had attended this film he would have been perturbed by the overbearing sound track.  I had seen him earlier in the festival after he had seen the documentary "The First Monday in May" and he had complained how documentaries so often fail with their sound tracks.  

Absinthe was created in he late 1700s but it's period of fame came a century later when it became popular as a cheap and inspiring drink among the artistic set.  The film includes reinactments of Van Gogh and Gaughin using it and Oscar Wilde as well singing its praises.  It was at one time banned in the US but is now regaining popularity.

"X" is a Japanese heavy metal band that has been a phenomenon in its country since the '80s, "the greatest band you have never heard of" according to the program.  Gene Simmons of Kiss maintains that if it were an Americsn or British band it would be recognized as one of the best in the world.  "We Are X" traces their history and includes a climatic performance at Madison Square Garden.

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