Friday, May 13, 2016

Day Three

Today's menu of films included substantial fare from three pre-eminent filmmakers with films in Competiton that left Ralph and I plenty of fodder to digest and discuss.  Ken Loach's "I, Daniel Blake" is an unrestrained indictment of England's social service system.  Blake, a cantankerous but warm-hearted older working man, has a heart ailment that has him out of work.  His personal doctor disagrees with the government's doctors on whether he should go back to work or not.  His attempts at arbitration cause him no end of frustration between his lack of computer skills and dealing with the bureaucracy.  He erupts with fury multiple times at the social service office.

On one occasion he defends a young single mother with two young children resulting in all of them being evicted from the offices.  They strike up a friendship and he becomes their guardian angel fixing up their flat, helping them get food and drawing the young boy from his shell.  When the young woman is caught shoplifting and is drawn into work that upsets Blake their friendship ends and Blake spirals downward.  He has to sell his furniture and commits an act of protest that gets him arrested.  

The film maintains a fine balance of the struggling and downtrodden looking after one another and offering hope  and the desperation they find themselves in.  Loach says this is his last film, the thirteenth time he has been in Competiton.  Some of the plot twists may be a bit facile and not fully earned diminishing the full power the film could have had, but it is an excellent effort to go out on.

The three-hour long Romanian "Sieranevada" by Cristi Puiu, whose first film "The Death of Mr. Lazaruscu" was the art film of the year in 2005, making more Top Ten lists than any other, is much meatier fare.  It is a small gathering of friends and family in a modest apartment to commemorate the death of the patriarch of the family.  We don't learn much about him, but rather of the lives and torments of those gathered.  The conversation ranges from 9/11 conspiracy theories to how life had been under communism.  Some of it is well-reasoned but it can veer into explosiveness, especially an argument over a parking spot.   Secrets and old grievances are bared including a woman who devastates her husband with the knowledge of all his infidelities.  Each character is convincingly played and has more than a superficial veneer.  As Ralph predicted, this is an early favorite for best screen play. He is eager to see it again to fully appreciate its depth and many nuances.  Me too.

Not so with Bruno Dumont's outlandishly absurdly comedy "Ma Loute".  The setting along the rocky seashore of northeastern France is most beguiling but the story of cannibalism and levitation and a grotesquely obese detective continually falling appealed to a sense of humor I do not share.  Dumont's cinematic skills make it watchable, but the senseless shenanigans of the impoverished locals and effete airs of the wealthy on the bluffs, who have to be carried across the lagoons by those who want to make a meal of them, hardly even leant itself as an allegory.

The rest of my day was comprised of a strange mix of documentaries.  I didn't realize that "Cheer Up," a Finnish film about high school cheerleaders was going to be a documentary.  I had hopes of this being the wackiest film of the festival, but it was a dud, with not enough of the acrobatic, highly cinematic cheerleading routines and too much examination of the mundane lives of the cheerleaders.

I had hopes that "Peter and the Farm" about an idealistic counter-culture refuge of the '60s who had lived the last thirty-five years of his life maintaining a farm in Vermont could be an inspirational affirmation of my ideals.  Half way through the documentary we learn that he is an alcoholic who the filmmakers fear will kill himself and ruin their film. We do get a sense of life on the farm looking after sheep and bailing hay, but this was another example of a seemingly interesting person who on the surface seems worthy of a documentary, but needed more accomplished filmmakers to make him so. 

Sunny Leone, as the most googled person in India, is certainly worthy of a documentary. Hers is "Mostly Sunny."  She is a young woman of Indian heritage who grew up in Sarnia, Canada, moved to LA with her parents in her teens and by happenstance ended up in Penthouse and went on to be the Penthousue Pet of the year in 2003, which led to a career in pornography.  She married one of her fellow porn stars, who became her manager.  She was drawn to India to appear on a reality show and has become a megastar there, forsaking her porn career to become a Bollywood star.  She conveys an innocence and sincerity that has won her widespread popularity.  Her videos were found in Osama Bin Laden's lair.  The film includes an appearance on Howard Stern's show where she describes her porn antics. 

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