I'm slipping! Three days went by in which I attended no festival films -- partly due to the fact that I had to prepare for Regent College's conference
on faith and film, partly due to other things -- but on Sunday, I eased back into the festival groove with two films. Gaz Bar Blues
(Quebec, 115 min.) won the ecumenical jury prize at Montreal
last month, and it's a reasonably interesting look at a working-class family -- one father, three sons -- who run a gas station in the late 1980s. One of the sons goes to Berlin to take photos of the falling Wall, and the photos we see in the film were actually taken by the director, Louis Bélanger, back then; interestingly, the son in question becomes disillusioned by the unification of Germany and the spread of capitalism to the east (a process that begins with the selling of chunks of the Wall as souvenirs), so he tries to patch it up! The character is arrested for this, and in the Q&A after the film, Bélanger assured us that he had not done this particular thing himself. He also told us he had not roughed up the gas-station company's regional inspector, the way the character in the film does in one scene -- rather, in real life, it was Bélanger's older brother who did this! (And then they apparently patched things up some time after that; the inspector helped the brother get a job.) Some of the characters who hang out at the station are fairly eccentric; I especially liked the gruff guy who issues stern warnings to the brothers, lest they get involved with the wrong crowd, and who gets rather impatient with a little girl after the air pump destroys the tire on her bicycle.
Then I saw Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property
(USA, 62 min.), a documentary that is less about the apocalyptic leader of an 1831 slave revolt in Virginia and more about the various attempts made by artists and historians to interpret this character's life over the years -- in novels, in plays, and so on. It reminded me to some degree of discussions around the historical Jesus, which sometimes seem to be more about the historians who specialize in this subject than about the subject itself. The filmmakers dramatize the historical events as well as the novels and so forth that were based on those events, using different actors in each dramatization, and at the end, they put themselves in front of the camera, and they take the audience behind the scenes of these dramatizations, emphasizing that they, too, are part of this ongoing process. Very meta.
And then, yesterday, I returned to the festival with a vengeance. After catching a press screening of Kill Bill
in the morning, I caught Zabriskie Point
(USA, 110 min.), a 1970 film by Antonioni that the festival is showing as part of its retrospective 'Los Angeles Plays Itself' series. How odd, to go from a film which celebrates the trashier aspects of 1970s pop culture to a film that was one of the artier products of 1970s pop culture. Zabriskie Point
begins on an almost documentary note, as a bunch of white students meet with the leaders of the Black Panthers and discuss the pros and cons of expressing their solidarity -- it was very, very interesting to see this footage and to hear all this talk of revolution just one week after seeing The Weather Underground
, which brings an historical perspective to this era, highlighting some of the divisions among these groups and showing where all that talk went in the end. Interestingly, when the two main characters have sex in the desert shortly after they meet, Antonioni suddenly brings in a montage in which we see LOTS of people having sex in the desert -- couples, threesomes, maybe even foursomes -- and it's clear that the sex between the two characters, who are basically total strangers, is not meant to be some isolated fling but is supposed to be part of some sort of all-you-need-is-love movement towards oneness; and yet that, too, is one of the attitudes of the age that invites some skepticism in The Weather Underground
After that, Casa de los Babys
(USA, 95 min.), in which John Sayles explores yet another important social issue -- the adoption of third-world children by reasonably well-to-do first-world women -- from a variety of perspectives, including the women themselves, the nurses who look after the infants, the people who work in the hotels for these women, the locals who dream of moving to America, the locals who object to the way that their country's infants are being treated as just another globalized 'resource' to be 'refined' by the richer nations, the boys who were NOT adopted and now live in the streets, etc. Some might think that Sayles has bit off more than he can chew, since he has to tackle all this stuff in such a short time, but I liked the film, and I think it does a very good job of balancing the quasi-abstract political issues with a rather warm and deeply felt humanity; indeed, I think it's fair to say that Sayles has given US a lot to chew on. Folks here may also be intrigued to learn that Mary Steenburgen's character is described as a "born-again" type who does not "proselytize", and she attends the local Spanish AA meetings even though she has the weakest grasp of the language of any character in the film. (Oh, and like Kill Bill
, this film co-stars Daryl Hannah -- yet another odd little coincidence today.)
After that, just two more films. At Five in the Afternoon
(Iran / France, 106 min.), which won the ecumenical jury prize at Cannes, could almost be a sequel to Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar
-- it is based on a novel of his and directed by his daughter Samira, and it takes place in Afghanistan shortly after the fall of Taliban. The main character is a woman who pursues an education behind her father's back and dreams of becoming the first female president of her country some day; meanwhile, her father complains that blasphemy has overtaken the country (women no longer hide their faces from men! what is the world coming to!) and it is almost as though God had died. One of the running gags of this film is that this woman expresses a great interest in the political goings-on of other countries, but whenever she meets refugees or others who have come from other countries, they can never tell her who is running their country; in one amusing (if slightly silly) scene, she meets a French soldier who DOES know the name of his president, but cannot tell her why, exactly, the French people elected him. Another recurring theme was the contrast between humans, who have belief and doubt, and animals, who do not. Certainly an interesting film, but it felt a bit long to me -- I mean, how many shots do we NEED of the protagonist secretly putting on her high-heeled shoes?
Then came Kiss of Life
(Great Britain / France, 86 min.), a film that the program compares to the works of Kieslowski, but which did not achieve that level of mystical profundity, at least not for me. Maybe the fact that it was the fifth film I saw that day and I was starting to get tired had something to do with it. Anyway, the film is about a mother who, as the program says, tries to "make things right" with her family AFTER she is killed in a car accident. I didn't recognize the actress, but David Warner plays her father(-in-law?) and Peter Mullan plays her husband, who spends the entire movie trying to get home from some United Nations operation somewhere in eastern Europe. Not much here that resonated with me, though it might be somebody else's cuppa.
Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 08 June 2005 - 10:48 AM.