It was hard to leave “The Load” after an hour of the yet to be completed trucker’s drive on the backroads of war-torn Serbia to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bobbing. Bridges are out so the grizzled guy driving the route for the first time is at the mercy of others telling him the way. A long-haired young hitchhiker offers to guide him, but he doesn’t want his company. He doesn’t realize he’s hopped on to the back of the truck until later, so reluctantly invites him into the cab. When they come to a mystery intersection, he doesn’t know the way. They guess right for a spell. They get further directions when they stop at a cafe, but a boy steals the cigarettes they’ve been smoking while they’re stopped. The realism is deftly portrayed and so engrossing I didn’t realize an hour of it had already passed. I was glad to see what I had though.
There were only a hundred or so preceding me at the Arcades, but that was gradually inflated during my 90 minute wait by the budgers that no one objected to put me. If Ralph had been with me we might have been able to gang up on them. No one else seems to mind. Only once before did I witness an older lady shame a young woman budger to leave by questioning her morals. Foruntately I was close enough to the entrance of the 250-seat theater not to be too concerned. Ralph didn’t join the line until twenty minutes later, well behind me. He was among the last five to get in.
Whether good or bad, we were glad to have the chance to see one of the most anticipated films of the Featival and what extremes Noé might go to this time. Had he gone too far for Fremaux this time or just bungled it? It began with a prolonged dance scene to loud pulsing music of a couple dozen young professionals, mostly non-white, rehearsing an intricate number full of chaotic gyrations. Noé keeps a head-on static camera for a long spell then begins his signature swooping camera movements. So far so good. After more than half an hour the dancers take a break and go off in twosomes for quick exchanges of conversation, mostly about sex. Then someone starts have hallucinations and realizes the sangria they are drinking has been laced with LSD. This causes a mini-riot of them wondering who did. Then genuine chaos breaks out. It goes on for the rest of the film with the camera turning upside down and every which way. It is less than mesmerizing. Fremaux was right. This was pretty much of a dud, but a dud with some merit showcasing Noé’s sometimes spectacular film sense.
We had no regrets whatsoever seeing it, even though it came at the expense of seeing the repeat screenings of the day’s second Competition film. The first, “Shoplifters” by frequent Competition-contributor Hirokazu Kore-eda, was a winner. Ralph, who worked in Tokyo for fifteen years, was particularly pleased with this culturally sensitive immersion into the life of an unmarried couple who take on an aging pensioner and young kids to help them survive without having to really work. A young boy is the guy’s shoplifting accomplice. He isn’t overly pleased when the guy good-heartedly brings home a five-year old girl one night who is cowering in a cubby like a rodent. The women of the household have some sympathy for her but are concerned about having another mouth to feed. The girl is clearly traumatized and responds like a withered flower given water to their kindness. She begins accompany the guys on their outings. They have to eventually be caught, but even that is portrayed in a gentle, respectful manner. The police interrogating this ring of ne’er do wells are amazingly kindly. This unsantized portrayal of people on the margins was more heartwarming than unsettling. The woman who ends up,doing time for the man, as in the earlier Chinese movie, does not regret their wayward path, saying it was fun.
We fit in another Japanese film in the Market, “The Scythian Lamb,” that also portrayed The Japanese as a people with compassion and scruples. Six ex-cons, two women and four men, all murderers, are sent to a small port city for their reintegration into society. They are unknown to one another and also to those who give them jobs. Only the town’s mayor and two others, one who is assigned to look after them, know their past. The most conscientious underling who gets about on a bicycle is told to keep them all apart. That doesn’t work, as they can recognize the tics of those who have done time. Gradually more and more people learn of their past, some responding sympatheticly and others not so. This may have been a lesser film, but it was still a worthy dose of cinema.
We were also transported to South Africa with Un Certain Regards’ “Harvesters.” This was a most assured and genuine peek into the concerns of a farming family trying to cling to their way of life under the threat of being murdered in the night, the pall that clouds all whites in South Africa. Their main concern at present is integrating a drug addict sixteen year old boy into their family. They believe it is their Christisn duty. The boy thinks they are brainwashed and battles the demanding fathers and kindly older brother. There is much more underlying this story than at first evident.
The day was also highlighted by a tribute to Pierre Rissient before the screening of a film he directed in 1982-“Five and the Skin.” Thierry Fremuax began the proceedings explaining what a titan of cinema he was, even describing the theater named for him at Telluride and acknowledging Tom Luddy, the man responsible, sitting in the first row. Bertrand Tavernier, his pal of over fifty years, then spoke for several minutes, initially choked up. Another colleague read a tribute from his seat in the second row. While he was reading Fremaux gestured to Scott Foundas summoning him to the stage to read an email on his cell phone from Jane Campion giving Rissient full credit for her career. Fremaux noticed Todd MCarthy, who did the documentary “Man of Cinema” on Rissient, standing off to the side and invited on stage. Mc Carthy said he didn’t really have anything prepared, but he still had much to add. He too was semi-choked up saying there was no one in the world with his depth of film knowledge and what a great loss he was. He missed him greatly. He said he spoke to him nearly every day in the past several weeks as he was watching a series of films from the ‘30s. Rissient could remember details from each. The tribute was reminiscent of the Roger Ebert tribute after his death in the large Chicago Theater on State Street across from the Siskel Center. McCartthy, Foundas and Luddy flew in to speak.
As Fremaux started to introduce “Five and the Skin,” he was so overcome by his emotions that he couldn’t continue.. Luddy was among those who rose to give him a hug as he left the stage. Then proceeded a several minute standing ovation. A French writer hanging out in Manila is the subject of Rissient’s film. It a a poetic meditation on his life and the city and his love interests with an occasional reference to Fritz Lang, one of Rissient’s heroes who made a film in Manila shortly after WWII. If Luddy puts this on Telluride’s schedule this fall, it will be very tempting to see this rare film once again.