film festival

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Miami Offerings from Northern Europe

After a lovely day at the beach, Monday night found us exploring cooler climes first in Sweden, then in the Netherlands. MIFF is truly international, and Monday night was certainly the strongest night of the week.

YOU, THE LIVING (Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark/Norway; 95 min.)
director: Roy Andersson

Swedish director Roy Andersson follows-up his delightfully surreal SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR with an exploration of humankind in all its subdued glory. YOU, THE LIVING, subtitled, a film about the grandeur of existing, is constructed as a series of vignettes, many hilarious in their deadpan absurdity. In an opening sequence, a woman repeatedly shouts at her lover and her dog, telling them to leave her. When they finally, reluctantly leave, she breaks into song. It's surprising and delightfully funny. Members of a marching band show up repeatedly, particularly a tuba player who annoys both his wife and his neighbors when he practices at home. A young woman meets a rock star she admires and later dreams of their wedding night with him. Another man dreams of facing the electric chair after attempting (and failing) to perform the old pulling a tablecloth out from under place settings at a dinner party.

YOU, THE LIVING took three years to shoot, because nearly all of the sets, including the outdoor scenes, were constructed for the film. There's an amazing sequence when the young girl and her rock star, dream husband are in their new apartment which slowly begins to move like a train across the city. Andersson's washed out palette of grays, browns, light blues and whites are enhanced by the whitened faces of the actors. Andersson's films are experiences that might not be for everyone, but they are unique and delightful for me. 4 cats.

BLIND (Netherlands/Belgium/Bulgaria; 98 min.)
director: Tamar van den Doop

BLIND is your basic, tragically doomed romance, yet it's one that writer/director Tamar van den Doop handles with such beauty and originality that it becomes elevated to something much more. Ruben Rietlander is a young man perhaps barely out of his teens, who lost his eyesight during childhood. His elderly mother Catherine cannot properly care for him on her own, and the women she hires to read to him are driven away by his violent tantrums. Enter Marie a scarred, albino woman in her 30s who is shunned by the villagers. For some reason, perhaps out of desperation, Catherine hires Marie to read to her son. Perhaps because she is an outcast herself, Marie will not put up with Ruben's outbursts and she physically manhandles him rather than flees shrieking as is the norm with the hired help. Gradually, the two fall in love, but in Ruben's mind, Marie is a beautiful young woman with fiery red hair and blue eyes. As is the case in tragic romances, Ruben's doctor discovers a way to restores Ruben's eyesight. Marie knows if this happens, their love is doomed, so she leaves and manages to stay hidden from the heart-broken Ruben... until the inevitable happens.

BLIND is gorgeously shot. Tamar van der Doop has a terrific eye, and the incorporation of Ruben's visual fantasies of how things might appear are surreal and gorgeous. Halina Reijin is particularly strong as Marie, keeping her rage tightly coiled inside, and watching her slowly unclench as she slowly lets her guard down around Ruben is a real treat. The period costumes, and lush settings add to the visual feast. 4.5 cats.

MIFF: The North American Entries

Scot and I took in our first night of Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) offerings on Friday. Each of the ten films we are seeing comes from a different country, and appropriately enough, our first film was from Canada. Sadly, it's been the biggest disappointment so far.

AMAL, directed by Richie Mehta, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, and recently won the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The film is based in India and follows the story of autorickshaw driver Amal who defies convention and is actually honest and hard-working. One of his fares is an exceedingly difficult, apparently homeless man who belittles him harshly. In fact, this man is a wealthy hotel owner who is dying. When his encounter with Amal shows him that some of the wealthiest men are the poorest, he rewrites his will cutting his greedy, conscienceless sons out and instructing his lawyer to find Amal our of the thousands of autorickshaw drivers in the city. If you're thinking it sounds like a parable, complete with cardboard characters and heavy-handed lessons, you'd be right. An ironic twist ending does a little to raise the film above bad to simply mediocre. Mehta adapted AMAL from a short story written by his brother Shaun. 1.5 cats

Moving to the U.S. our second film was a big improvement. Ira Sachs (FORTY SHADES OF BLUE) leaves his tested theme of outsiders living in the modern-day South and enters 1950s, northwestern suburbia to look at the domestic difficulties of marriage in MARRIED LIFE. The talented acting pair of Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson play Harry and Pat Allen, a married couple who like, if not love each other. In an amusing reversal, Pat equates love with good sex, and Harry is seeking a deep, romantic love. He thinks he's found it too, in the form of young, beautiful widow Kay (Rachel McAdams) as he confesses to his longtime friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Unable to confess to Pat, Harry steers the plot into Hitchcock territory by deciding he must kill his wife to spare her heartbreak and pain. Meanwhile, the plot gets even messier when first Richard begins to pursue Kay, then Pat reveals a secret of her own.

While this all sounds like a melodramatic, period thriller, Sachs manages to keep things lively by casting his film as a comedy. It is in the comedic elements that Brosnan is allowed to shine, conveying a surprising physical comedy. The cast is attractive and talented, and the production design lovely, and while there may be a plot contrivance or two, this lively film manages to entertain for the duration. 3.5 cats.

Movies in Miami

Scot, Bruce and I are fortunate enough to be in Miami for the Miami International Film Festival. The weather is gorgeous, the movies have been pretty interesting; some hite, some misses, and the company has been delightful. The Festival itself is well-attended, which is great, but unfortunately it's pretty disorganized. I'm not sure if that's the norm, or unique for this year. It's rather surprising considering the festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. You'd think by now they'd have it down.

At any rate, between the beach, the restaurants and the movies, there has been surprisingly little time to do much blogging, but I am going to try and at least review my films here over the next few days. I'd also like to mention seeing Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper at a Q&A for their film MARRIED LIFE. Believe me, if I could have chatted with Ms. Clarkson personally, I would have extended that Chlotrudis Awards Ceremony invitation! No such luck.

More soon. That's a picture of Scot on South Beach taken last Friday, by the way.