Friday, May 13, 2016

Day Two

The lone bicycling film had one of its two screenings today--"Blood Road," a documentary about ultra-endurance athlete Rebecca Rusch bicycling the Ho Chi Minh trail in search of the crash site of her father while serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War in 1972 when she was three years old.  I had recently read her autobiography, "Queen of Pain," written before she undertook this ride.  

The screening was by invitation only, but that didn't scare me off, as I knew from past experience that if there were empty seats I could well be let in.  And so it was today.  Only four of the invitees showed up for the film, which was just a 36-minute rough cut.  It gave a good taste of her ride on paved and dirt roads and single track through mountainous terrain.  I could fully appreciate the early part of her ride on paved roads with all manner of traffic, having ridden Vietnam's Highway One myself from Hanoi to Saigon, the opposite direction which she was riding.  

She was joined by the premier Vietnam female cyclist, whose father also served in the war and was still alive.  They rode mountain bikes and only carried small packs on their backs as they had a support crew, which included Rusch's fire-fighter husband.  Their budget also was adequate to provide for aerial shots of their ride.  The producer who introduced the film said it ought to be completed by November.  

This was the fourth of a string of documentaries I packed my schedule with today, sandwiched between the first Competition film on the schedule and two Un Certain Regard films at the end of the day.  My first two docs were about legendary soccer players--Bobby Moore of England and the Ukranian Valerie Vasilievich Lobanovskyi.

Bobby Moore was the captain of England's lone World Cup champion in 1966.  The film, simply entitled "Bobby," could well have simply focused on the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous event for England.  The Cup was held in England and included footage of a young Queen Elizabeth opening the tournament and also attending the championship game in Wembley Stadium against Germany with the team marching up to her after the win.  It was just twenty years after the war, adding to the intensity of the game and magnitude of the victory.

Moore was a most dignified and elegant leader as well as a great talent on the field, respected by all.  Pele called him the best defender he played against.  Not only did he score and assist on goals, he made extraordinary steals from opponents.  He was an iconic figure at the time, ranking with rock and movie stars.  His post playing career though was an extreme let-down.  He was not enlisted to coach higher profile or the national team, despite his high standing.  He divorced his wife and died from cancer at the age of 51 in 1993.  His second wife campaigned for a statue of him in front of Wembley.  Both wifes speak glowingly of him in the film as do ex-teammates as well as football officials, some of whom regret how he was neglected in his post-playing career, especially that he was never knighted.

Lobanovskyi, in contrast, was both an extraordinary player as well as coach, reflected in the title of the documentary--"Lobanovskyi Forever."  It too portrayed the game as transcending the world of sport.  He was the star of the Ukraine team Dynamo Kiev that was considered the best team in the world in 1975.  Football was the lone area where it was permissible to manifest nationalism during the Soviet era.  After his playing career he became a highly driven coach who was rarely known to smile but brought out the best of his players.

Every year there seems to be at least one documentary by someone traveling around France showing the beauty of its countryside and talking to locals.  This year's version by Raymond Depardon was simply entitled "Les Habitants," though translated to "France" for the English version.  The French title was more appropriate, as the film is conversations between two locals that the filmmaker happens upon sitting at a table in the caravan that he is pulling around with him with a window in the background looking out upon a town square.  The conversations are all about everyday matters--boy friends and girl friends and personal relationships and the anticipation of having a baby and where to vacation.  There are about twenty of them in sixteen different towns.  It included road footage traveling between towns through the magnificent scenery I know so well.  This didn't have a transcendent quality I was hoping for.

The three feature films of the day, all selected by the festival organizers for the two top competitive categories, transcended the mediocrity of the market, exemplifing cinema as an art form. "Staying Vertical" by Alain Guiraudie of France was arty from the start, with the top of the head of the lead character, a screen writer, cut off as he talks to a young man standing along a country road asking him if he'd like to be an actor.  It is the first of a series of strange encounters with outsiders that have a sexual, mostly homoerotic, bent.  The encounters grow stranger and more implausible as if the film is intent on being original and outrageous, culminating with an act of sodomy.  

The opening film for Un Certain Regard was likewise very artfully filmed, but it had a genuine sense of reality and purpose and importance.  "Clash" takes place virtually inside a police truck full of demonstrators arrested in Cairo in 2013 protesting the military coup of the Islamic president.  This Egyptian film fully captures the chaos and claustrophobia of the experience.  The twenty or so people crammed into the truck range in age from children to the elderly, men and women. They don't all get along initially, but then they have to band together as they are shot at and stoned and need water and need to urinate.  It's only ninety minutes long, but seemed to go on interminably, both for those in the truck and those in the audience.

The day concluded with the Israeli/Palestinian film "Personal Affairs."  This took the time to develop personal relationships, mostly the bickering of an older couple and also their children with their spouses and girl friend.  The older couple have three grown children.  One lives in Sweden and has been trying to get his parents to visit.  His father would very much like to but the mother adamantly refuses.  The two other children try to convince her to go.  But that plot line is almost incidental to the discord in all the relationships, including a writer son and his girl friend of three months.  The writer's sister is encouraging them to marry, claiming she's happily married, though it certainly seems otherwise.  The director and writer of the film was a woman.  It left one wondering about her regard for male/female relations.

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