Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Day Six

At the half-way point of this twelve-day extravaganza my body has finally adapted to my regime of six hours of sleep a night augmented by little naps when a film lags.  I can now rest my head back on the highlife seats of all the theaters and not feel too concerned about disappearing into slumberland.  Only once today did I nod off during a film--the macabre, all too inert, comedy "Train Driver's Diary," a Serv/Croatian oddity about an engineer on the verge of retirement who proudly recounts his career of killing people deaths who have placed themselves on his tracks. Shortly after the film begins he is in session with a pair of psychologists who want to make sure he isn't traumatized after running into a van of gypsies, killing three of them.  When he delightfully recounts the grisly details of the carnage, it is the psychologists who are traumatized. The engineer's adopted son is six months into his career as an engineer and has yet to have a suicide, so his father decides to place himself on the tracks so he can get his first notch into his belt.

Putting to death others is also the subject of "The Apprentice" from Singapore.  An ex-soldier goes to work as a prison guard in the prison where his father was executed.  He is soon recruited by the long-time guard in charge of the hangings, the man who hung his father, to be his assistant, as no one else wants the position.  His past is a secret.  When and how it will be revealed was almost as effectively portrayed as the secret of the ex-con in the superb Japanese film "Harmonium" that played two days ago, also in Un Certain Regard.

This was my first day without a documentary, but I saw two films that were based on true stories of significance that could have been made into documentaries.  The first was the Competititon film "Loving" by Jeff Nichols. In 1958 in Virginia an interracial couple goes to Washington D.C. to get married, as such unions are forbidden in much of the South.  When they return to their small rural town to live they are arrested in the middle of he night.  They have the option of prison time or exile from the state for twenty-five years.  They go to live in DC, where the husband works as a bricklayer.  They dare to return so the wife can give birth to their first child in the comfort of her rural black home.  They are arrested again.  Only by the benevolence of the judge are they not thrown in jail, but will be if they return again.  Several years later a young lawyer working for the ACLU convinces them to let him pursue their case.  It eventually ends up at the Supreme Court.  Nichols doesn't  stray from the straight forward, unlike his previous films.  He lets the magnitude of the story carry the movie, similar to "Spotlight," with only minimal appeal to the emotions. It is a solid film almost immune from criticism. 

"The African Doctor" delves into racism in rural 1970s France.  A physician from the Congo, recently graduated from a French medical school, becomes the local doctor in a small town in northern France that has had great difficulty in recruiting a doctor.  It took quite a while for this to turn into a feel-good movie as the town refuses to accept him and his wife and two small children.  The doctor is actually reduced to working on a farm when no one will take advantage of his services.  This film needed a much surer hand at its helm to more effectively tell the story.  The family's travails are told with comic overtones, undermining the authenticity of this true story.

France racism was also the theme of "French Tour," one of five films here featuring Gerald Depardieu. All are in the Market except for this Director's Fortnight entry.  A Muslim rapper takes on the assignment of driving Depardieu around France to various ports where he can recreate the paintings of an 18th century painter.  The rapper is doing it as a favor to Depardieu's son who is his agent and also because he needs to go underground for a spell after a fellow rapper threatens to kill him.  Depardieu has no use for Muslims or rappers.  He feels as if he's become a minority in his own country.  But they of course grow to like each other and even go to jail together when Depardieu interferes when he is detained by gendarmes for being an Arab.  It may be formulaic, but Depardieu is always a pleasure.

The day ended as it began in the Debussy with an American film on the periphery of Hollywood fare.  "Hell or High Water" stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers who rob banks in rural Texas to pay the mortgage on their family ranch.  Jeff Bridges is the cop trying to track them down.  The undertones of their plight and all the cinematic flair somewhat compensate for the wayward storyline.  This popcorn escapism left Ralph and I plenty to shrug our shoulders at as we made our mile-long post-midnight trek back to the apartment we're staying at.  We'd be retracing our trek in just a few hours for another full day of cinema beginning at 8:30 in the thousand seat theater we'd just left, barely in time to process all we'd ingested the past day.  And we felt lucky to have the experience.

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