Montreal International Film Festival
A film festival review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1994 Evelyn C. Leeper
The Architecture of Doom
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Jack L. Warner, the Last Mogul
The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb
What Happened Was...
L'Histoire de Yunnan (The Story of Yunnan)
Cyberteens in Love
"Cinema of Today" (short films in English): "Tall Stories," "Ignotus," "Death in Venice, CA," "The Train"
"Erotic Cinema": "The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch," "Vrooom Vroom Vroooom!," "Touch Me"
The Revenge of Itzik Finkelstein
Total Balalaika Show
Carl--My Childhood Symphony
Daddy, Come to the Fair
El Amante de las Peliculas Mudas
Sex, Drugs, and Democracy
Jeanne La Pucelle (I and II)
I don't normally review films, leaving that to Mark. However, our
initial plan for this festival was that we would not necessarily be seeing
films together and so I figured I would review the ones Mark didn't. As it
turned out, we ended up going to all the same movies but I was already
prepared to write some reviews, so what the heck. I will, however, avoid
repeating the same comments about the festival that he makes (regarding
ticket procedures, etc.).
One thing we had to be careful of in deciding what films to (try to)
see was what language(s) the film was in. Many of the non-English-language
films are sub-titled in French rather than English. We prefer not to repeat
my Malevil experience: I went to see Malevil at a science fiction convention
in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, it was in French. Fortunately, it was
sub-titled. Unfortunately, it was sub-titled in Dutch. This time the only
thing we had initially selected that had no English was Jeanne La Pucelle,
Parts I and II, and those turned out to be sold out anyway. (The Cinema
Imperial, a magnificent older, and larger, theater, had what they called
"Softitles," which is an electronic subtitling system similar to what is
used for super-titles at operas. This makes it possible to show films
subtitled in both English and French, with the English on the film itself
and the French on the board, and that is what was done with, for example,
the Chinese Story of Yunnan.)
The first night of the festival there were only two films, Kabloonak
and Natural Born Killers. The first, because it was the official opening of
the festival, did not accept the coupons sold at ten for C$45; the second
was sold out by the time decided to try to go. In fact, before the festival
even opened, about two dozen screenings were sold out, mostly French-
language or high-profile films. (The one sold-out film that didn't meet
either of these criteria was Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle--and that
turned out to have been filmed in Montreal.) So we decided to spend our
unexpectedly free evening ... going to a movie!
The Architecture of Doom, directed by Peter Cohen, Sweden, 1989, 1:59: "This
fascinating film takes an amazing look at the Third Reich from the point of
view of aesthetics, particularly Hitler's. With shockingly accurate logic
and a wealth of visual material, the filmmaker offers a strong new answer to
the question of how it could have happened in the first place."
This film starts at the beginning, discussing Hitler's early artistic
ambitions and his failure to be accepted into the Art School in Vienna.
Some of Hitler's early water colors are shown (described as being of the
picture postcard level), and indeed the fact that many of the upper echelon
of the Third Reich were failed artists in one medium or another figures
strongly in Cohen's thesis. This rejection of their work, it is implied,
may have led to the Third Reich's rejection of modern art and its proponents
as "degenerative," "decadent," and representative of a general decay in
society. (Sound familiar?) Hitler declared that the Reich would save
society from this decay. This was, of course, just another way of saying
that art must serve the state.
Basing his artistic goals on his three obsessions--antiquity, Richard
Wagner, and his home town of Linz--Hitler gradually expanded his artistic
philosophy into other fields. Cleanliness, for example, was seen as an
expression of beauty and stressed to the populace. Later, when the gassings
of "undesirables" began, this could be presented as just another effort
towards cleanliness. And Hitler fought the war not with 20th Century
objectives, but with those of antiquity: enslave the enemy, level their
cities, destroy the land. Had he not followed this policy, Cohen suggests,
the Russians might not have opposed him so strongly.
Cohen uses only archival footage to demonstrate his theses. While he
at times seems to drift somewhat off his purpose of showing the aesthetic
basis for all of Hitler's policies, on the whole he covers that well and has
produced a very engaging and thought-provoking film. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, directed by Stephan
Elliott, Australia, 1:42:
This is a "road picture," but what a road! Through the wide open
spaces of the center of Australia travels "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,"
an old and not very luxurious bus, along with Priscilla's passengers, three
drag queens on their way to a gig in Alice Springs. They meet various
people (including the obligatory meeting with native Australians), have
adventures, and reveal their personalities and problems to each other along
This is a movie with a lot of style--not surprising, given the
occupation of the main characters. In fact, one of the film's messages
seems to be that when it comes to style, drag queens have it all over the
rest of us. (The scene as the bus pulls out of Sydney is hardly subtle in
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has some things to
say, but its value lies in the interesting characters, especially Terence
Stamp as a transsexual drag queen past her prime, and the sheer pleasure of
watching flamboyance on a grand scale. It may not be a great film, but it
certainly is a fun one. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).
Jack L. Warner, the Last Mogul, directed by Gregory Orr, USA, 1:44:
I just know this will show up on television the week we get back--it is
a made-for-TV film and that's usually how our luck runs. But we figured we
might as well see a film about a film producer at a film festival. (Not too
many agreed with us--while the theater for Priscilla was packed, this had
maybe three dozen people all together.) Unfortunately, this is a rather
run-of-the mill documentary.
Gregory Orr is Jack Warner's grandson--well, actually, he's the son of
Warner's step-daughter (who by the way was the actress who played the young
Bulgarian woman in Casablanca), which makes his claim to be Warner's
grandson a bit debatable, and makes me wonder if the truth isn't being
stretched elsewhere as well. (In fact, the photographs shown while the
narrator is talking about the Warners emigrating to America include some of
the Warners and many other which are just general archival photographs, yet
no distinction is made.)
The film did have its interesting moments. Neal Gabler talked about
the irony of Russian Jewish immigrants marginalized by American society,
founding the industry that would eventually come to define American society.
It was also thought-provoking to see the contrast between Warner Brothers
Studios's actions during the 1930s, when they shut down operations in any
country occupied by the Nazis, and in the 1950s, when they completely caved
in to pressure from HUAC. (They had made Mission to Moscow during he war at
the express request of President Roosevelt, who wanted a film favorable to
our then-allies and came under suspicion in the McCarthy era because of it.)
It seemed to me that Orr spent too much time on his story, even
including a movie he made as a child, instead of concentrating on his
subject. This will probably do well on television as a nostalgia piece, but
doesn't have any spark beyond that. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
Miss Amerigua, directed by Luis Vera, Paraguay/Sweden, 1:33:
We chose this film in part because the description reminded us of
Smile, an unfairly over-looked American film about a day in the life of a
beauty pageant. (Vera was present at the screening and I asked him if he
had seen Smile--he hadn't.) Miss Amerigua is much more political than
Smile, but still contains a lot of wit and character development as well.
The film begins twenty years ago, when Evaristo Morales's father is
killed by Sergeant Banderas, and Evaristo, still a young child, must flee
for his life. It then flashes forward to the present, the day of the big
beauty pageant in Amerigua, sponsored by many companies, including "Coca-
Cola--always Coca-Cola," as the rather nerdy-looking reporter says.
The film primarily follows three of the contestants through the day:
Rosa Morales, sister of Evaristo and mistress to the now-Colonel Banderas;
Maria Descamparo, fiancee to the Colonel's son; and Carmen Banderas, the
Colonel's daughter. We also meet Inocencio Lopez, the reporter;
Reencarnacion, the somewhat effete hairdresser; and various other characters
who will shape the day's events.
Imbued with an atmosphere of magical realism and witchcraft, Miss
Amerigua is an entertaining film with political content (though the latter
is fairly predictable and delivered as speeches as much to the audience as
to the other characters in the film). The contrast between the old ways and
the new is perhaps more subtle and runs as an undercurrent trough the film,
without a blanket declaration that one is better than the other. The
English subtitles were not always perfect ("know" instead of "now," for
example), but were readable, and usually fairly accurate to the Spanish
dialogue (though I caught a couple of mistranslations, such as "damned town"
for what is closer to "shitty town"). Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).
(Vera was apparently very impressed at how many people were in the
audience for a 9 AM showing, since he commented on it not only when he spoke
at the showing, but also the next day in a radio interview.)
The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, directed by Dave Borthwick, Great
This is a very difficult film to describe. It uses an animation
technique I can't recall seeing before in which the "live action" actors are
filmed in stop motion as well as the clay figures. (Or maybe they film the
actors in the regular way, then remove some frames and duplicate others.)
In any case this is fascinating from a visual standpoint, but definitely not
for children (in spite of what the title might lead you to believe). Tom
lives in a very dark world, full of disturbing images, swarms of strange
insects, and unspeakable scientific experiments. It seems at times more
like something out of Franz Kafka than a children's fairy tale book.
This is not for everyone's taste (though it played to an almost full
house here), and given its length (or lack thereof), is unlikely to play in
"normal" theaters anyway. Look for this at theaters which shown
experimental film, film festivals, or perhaps science fiction conventions
(which seem a perfect venue for it). Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).
"The Biz," directed by Darren Walsh, Great Britain, 0:09:
Because The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb was so short for a feature,
it was preceded by this short from the same production company
(Bolexbrothers). It is about a film maker and his encounters at a party
following his first film's premiere. Unless you find the idea of talking
buttocks hilariously funny, you can give this a miss.
What Happened Was..., directed by Tom Noonan, USA, 1:30:
Tom Noonan wrote, directed, and co-starred in this two-person, one-set
film. It cost $300,000 and was shot in just eleven days (proof that the
spirit of Roger Corman is alive in the land). It then went on to win the
Grand Jury and screen-writing prizes at the Sundance Film Festival.
Noonan and Karen Sillas play two co-workers at a law firm. What they
discover when Sillas invites Noonan over for dinner one evening forms the
basis of the film.
Noonan is not afraid to let the characters remain silent when that is
called for, nor does he insist on obvious "twists" or pat resolutions. The
title refers to the story within the story, the children's story Sillas's
character is writing, and how you interpret the film may be based on how you
interpret this story. Though a dialogue, this film is reminiscent of some
of Alan Bennett's monologue plays (more so than to My Dinner with Andre,
which might seem the obvious comparison), and is more likely to appeal to
fans of theatrical plays than to the average movie-goer. Rating: +1 (-4 to
Woodstock, directed by Michael Wadleigh, USA, 4:00:
This was being shown on a giant outdoor screen in the Place des Arts.
Since we got there late, we ended up sitting a block away with our view
partially blocked by a tree, and we could still feel our ribs vibrate from
the sound. We stayed for five songs (including Joan Baez singing "Joe
Hill"), but even twenty-five years ago, there was a lot of this music that I
didn't like and I haven't much mellowed toward it since then. I can't
really give any rating based on this abbreviated viewing. However, it's
interesting to note some of the changes in the director's cut. For example,
the original cut had no footage of Janis Joplin. Now director Wadleigh says
Joplin is possibly the best blues singer in the last thirty years and has
added footage of her to the new version.
Mesmer, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, Great Britain/Canada/Germany, 1:42:
Franz Anton Mesmer has been considered both a charlatan and a
visionary. This film makes no definitive judgment, but seems to fall into
the visionary camp, albeit perhaps a misguided visionary.
Played by Alan Rickman, Mesmer is a man who sees the practice of
medicine in his day (the 18th Century) as barbaric, which of course it was.
The cure for almost every ill was to bleed the patient. Mesmer takes a
different approach. Calling on "animal magnetism," he attempts to use
magnetic currents and forces to cure his patients. He achieves some notable
successes, but many of the cures seem to be temporary and the patients
Unfortunately, much of Mesmer's philosophy regarding his treatments
(the term "mesmerism" is never used) seems as bizarre today as it did to the
established medical professionals then. It is left for the audience to see
the seeds of hypnotism, the power of suggestion, holistic medicine, and the
nature of psychosomatic illnesses in Mesmer's explanations of the pull of
the moon and magnetic forces. Although Rickman is very good (I refuse to
call his portrayal mesmerizing, though Lord knows someone will), and Amanda
Ooms excellent as his patient Maria Theresa Paradies, some of the supporting
characters are rather sketchily drawn. In the end it is perhaps the
strangeness of Mesmer's philosophy which makes it difficult for screen-
writer Dennis Potter to give us a character we can understand. Rating: +1
(-4 to +4).
"Intouchee" ("Untouched"), directed by Seyhan Cecilya Derin, Germany, 0:15
I have no idea why this was paired with Mesmer, except I suppose that
both have to do with the medical profession. In this film (whose title
would have been more accurate if more exactly translated from the original
German title shown on the screen of "Intakt," though it is listed in the
program and on the poster as "Unberuhrt") we see Suna, a young Turkish woman
living in Germany, packed off to a clinic to have her virginity restored so
that she can be married as a virgin to a wealthy older man back in Turkey.
She is not happy about this, but there she meets Hatrice, another Turkish
woman, who is looking forward to her own marriage. Derin shows us two views
of this situation, and in the end does not dictate that one is always right
and the other always wrong. (I think there are some errors in the basic
medical assumption about Suna's need for the clinic, however.) Rating: +1
(-4 to +4).
Men Lie, directed by John Andrew Gallagher, USA, 1:27:
There didn't seem to be much point to this film. Jill is going out
with Scott and believes he is faithful to her. He isn't. She finds out.
That's about it.
Of course, that wouldn't fill the 87 minutes this film takes, so
screenwriter/director Gallagher fills in the time with what is fast becoming
a cliche--a bunch of people giving their comments and opinions to the
camera. (Is it Spike Lee or Woody Allen who started this trend? And
speaking of similarities to Woody Allen films, almost everyone is this film
is of European descent too--I think there was one black "comment
There is actually a positively portrayed male character, and I thought
many of the female characters were negatively portrayed, so I wouldn't claim
this as completely one-sided as the title might lead you to believe, but it
was certainly a pessimistic portrayal of relationships, and not really worth
the time. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
The Advocate, directed by Leslie Megahey, Great Britain, 1:35:
The year is 1452. The place is Abbeville, France. To this small
village comes Robert Courtois to serve as the advocate (the public
defender). His first case is defending a man accused of killing his wife's
lover. That goes pretty well. Then he defends a woman accused of
witchcraft; that case does not go so well. His third case is even more
peculiar by own standards, and we begin to see that what at first seemed
like isolated aberrations in the law are actually part of a larger insanity.
Or as the priest says, "In a world where nothing is reasonable, nothing can
be said to be truly mad."
Colin Firth as the advocate in this film (which I might describe as
"The Return of Martin Guerre Meets Twelve Angry Men") seems a bit out of his
depth in a cast containing Nicol Williamson as the local seigneur, Ian Holm
as the priest, Donald Pleasence as the local prosecutor, and Michael Gough
as the magistrate. But then the character of the advocate finds himself a
bit out of his depth as well.
It may seem odd to say that a mystery set in a period of superstition,
prejudice, and the Inquisition in France has some very funny moments, but
Megahey's script takes advantage of the weirdness going on all around, and
the actors carry the humor off quite well. The supporting cast looks
authentic to the era (perhaps more so than most of the principals), although
not quite to the level of the casting in The Name of the Rose. If The
Advocate occasionally has the look of a made-for-television film, that may
be in part due to the fact that the BBC was one of its financiers, and also
to the fact that Megahey's background is in television and this is his first
This is a very entertaining film that is (so far as I can tell)
historically accurate to its time period. (For example, all the court cases
are based on actual court cases of the time.) I recommend it highly.
Rating: +3 (-4 to +4).
L'Histoire de Yunnan (The Story of Yunnan), directed by Zhang Nuanxin,
During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the Japanese often brought
their families over to Manchuria with them. At the end of the Sino-Japanese
war (the Chinese aspect of World War II) most returned to Japan, but some
found themselves left behind in China. Such was the fate of Jai-Teng Shuzi,
a young woman who came to Japan when she as only fifteen. Rescued from
suicide by a Chinese soldier, Xiasha, she eventually marries him and returns
with him to the remote province of Yunnan. How she makes a life and a home
there for the next thirty-five years forms the core of this movie.
It is quite a change to see a film from and about China that is not
terribly depressing. Yes, Shuzi undergoes hardships, but she also has much
happiness and satisfaction in her life. She isn't sold by her husband,
beaten by her mother-in-law, tortured by the government, or subject to many
of the trials that so many recent Chinese and Chinese-American films (e.g.,
The Joy Luck Club) have emphasized. This is perhaps all the more surprising
in that this film is about a woman and directed by a woman, and commentary
on the poor position of women in Chinese society seems to be almost a
trademark of Chinese film these days. But The Story of Yunnan is filled
with good people--not all perfect people, but not unthinking and uncaring
In her press conference afterwards, Zhang emphasized that this film was
not about war, but about a woman's life, and how what's best is not money or
material objects, but love and family life. She said that while this was an
accurate portrayal of village life of the time period, villages are much
more modern today. Interestingly, in order to appeal to the Taiwanese
market, the lead actress (Lu Xiuling) is not Japanese, but Taiwanese.
Although there is less government support for films in China than
previously, there is apparently still the same amount of control, and Zhang
had to make some compromises, such as spending very little time on the
Cultural Revolution and showing hardly any of the love scenes, and this in
spite of the fact that the film was financed out of Hong Kong. (I suppose
I'm a bit surprised that the government didn't seem to object to showing a
large family as a good thing.) Zhang said there was equality between the
sexes in the film industry in China, and that there were probably twenty to
thirty women directors, but I don't think their pictures get as wide a
distribution as some of the men directors' films do.
The scenery is, of course, gorgeous, and the music by Lin Wai Zhe quite
appropriate to the feel of the movie. See this movie if it comes your way.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
"Cri de la terre" ("Cry of Earth"), directed by Arvo Blechstein, Germany,
This short (titled "Schrei der erde" in German) was a wordless story of
a woman hoeing her field, eating her lunch, and listening to a rainstorm.
If there was a point to it, I missed it. (The publicity flyer said it was
about "man's alienation from nature and at the same time, a homage to the
French painter Jean-Francois Millet.") Blechstein, who spoke before the
film, said this was from the same company that produced the Oscar-winning
"Blackrider," but that this probably wouldn't win one. He's probably right.
As for why it ran with The Story of Yunnan, it could be that being wordless,
it was suitable for both Anglophones and Francophones, or it could be that
both films had something to do with farming, or it could be totally random.
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
Cyberteens in Love, directed by Brett Dowler, Canada, 1:33:
Shot on video, this definitely has the look of a student film, though
technically the filmmakers were not students, but were working under the
auspices of British Columbia Film and the National Film Board of Canada
(Pacific Center). The acting of some of the supporting cast is mediocre to
bad (although Carole Henshall is perfect as Kid Cutter). The computer
animation is fairly basic for today. The staging of some of the action
sequences is pretty lame. Even the basic plot is unimaginative: girl
escapes from state-run orphanage, finds love with street-smart computer wiz,
and gets involved in adventures and danger in cyberspace. But the script by
John Dowler shows great imagination and creativity in its use of
"futurespeak." For example, a rhetorical question becomes an "answer-free
question" and Su doesn't try to find her family, she tries to "family-find."
The film does have a lot of rough edges, but the dialogue helps you
past a lot of that, with its poetry and flow. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
"Cinema of Today" (short films in English):
"Tall Stories," directed by Mark Sehler, Australia, 0:08:
A fairly lightweight animated film with two parallel narrations, one of
a child talking about his rather average life, and other of that child as an
adult describing a much more favorable childhood. Good use of multiple
animation styles, but otherwise just average. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
"Ignotus," directed by Covadonga Icaza, Spain, 0:15:
Two punks get lost and find themselves in a remote village in Spain,
where they are mistaken for saints. It may sound humorous, but it is really
quite dark in tone. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
"Death in Venice, CA," directed by David Ebersole, USA, 0:30:
Since I haven't read the Thomas Mann from which the title comes, I
can't comment on any similarities or differences. This was well-acted but
otherwise uninvolving. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
"The Train," directed by Mike Mathis, USA, 0:25:
When one brother is caught between two train cars in a railyard
accident, the two brothers are forced to come to terms with the situation.
Mark thought this was the best thing he had seen this year; I found it good
but not that good. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).
"Tick... Tick... Tick...," directed by John Luessenhop, USA, 0:33:
This is supposed to be a suspenseful little piece, but telegraphed too
much of what was going on to succeed at it. The device of having two people
alone with a ticking bomb is lessened by cutting away from them to other
scenes. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
"The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch," directed by Ken Russell, Great Britain, 0:28:
This is more normal than most of Russell's films, with some erotic
scenes and also some funny ones. A man fantasizes about a mysterious woman
at a sea resort. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
"Vrooom Vroom Vroooom!," directed by Melvin Van Peebles, USA, 0:28:
A man gets two wishes from an old woman whose life he has saved. This
is a fairly good fantasy story, which might have worked nicely with a little
more horror, but is also fine the way it is. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
"Touch Me," directed by Paul Cox, Australia, 0:28:
Very artistic, but with no plot to speak of. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
The Revenge of Itzik Finkelstein, directed by Enrique Rottenberg, Israel,
Itzik Finkelstein is a failure at forty and just when he is about to
kill himself, help (of a sort) arrives. It's not a deal with the devil, but
rather a deal with a monk from a secret order dedicated to chaos and
destruction. "The Earth is a mess," Anselmo de Medici (the monk) says.
"Lies and stupidity everywhere." And the only way to save the Earth is to
find destroy it. So he offers Finkelstein a chance for him to get revenge
on whichever person ruined his life.
A lot of the jokes in this are old, but it's still funny, certainly as
funny as a lot of American comedies. Though made in Israel, there is no
real Jewish content to the film. Nevertheless, I expect that if this plays
at all in the United States, it will be in cities with large Jewish
populations. It would appeal, I suspect mostly to older audiences (meaning
thirty and up), and is a pleasant enough way to pass the time. Rating: +1
(-4 to +4).
Total Balalaika Show, directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Finland, 0:56:
One newspaper complained about the choice of this as one of the free
outdoor shows of the festival because they felt it was nothing but an
extended music video, and not even Canadian. Of course, the same could be
said of Woodstock, but wasn't--at least not by that writer. In any case, we
actually paid to be this indoors because 1) the free showing was opposite
The Advocate, and 2) rain was predicted for the day of the free showing.
While the theater wasn't full, it still had quite a respectable crowd for
something that had just been shown for free.
On June 12, 1993, the largest stage ever erected in Finland was set up
in Senate Square (hey, we were just there!) for a joint concert of the
Leningrad Cowboys and the Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble.
The Total Balalaika Show is the concert film made there by noted Finnish
director Aki Kaurismaki (who first introduced the Leningrad Cowboys to the
world in Leningrad Cowoys Go America).
Songs included "Finlandia," "Together We Stand," "Volga Boatmen,"
"Happy Together," an absolutely wonderful rendition of "Delilah," "Knockin'
on Heaven's Door," "Oh, Field," "Kalinka," "Gimme All Your Lovin'" (with
strains of the "Internationale" and the "Hallelujah Chorus" added as
background), "Sweet Home Alabama," "Dark Eyes," and "Those Were the Days."
I have to say that during "Happy Together" I found myself comparing and
contrasting this concert with "The Three Tenors." It was an even stronger
feeling when the Russian soloist held the note in "Kalinka" for what seemed
like at least a minute. I also got a real feeling for the fact that the
Cold War is over if the Red Army Chorus is singing Western rock music,
especially when they sang the lines from Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's
Door": "Put my guns in the cold black ground; I can't shoot them any more."
One can only hope.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).
Carl--My Childhood Symphony, directed by Eric Clausen, Denmark, 2:05:
We had originally planned to see only one film today, but then decided
to pick a couple more to fill in the day. Our first choice was a split
choice: Mark wanted to see Federal Hill and I wanted to see Fresa y
Chocolate. unfortunately, both were sold out, so we decided on the spur of
the moment to see Carl--My Childhood Symphony instead.
This is the story of the early life of Carl Nielsen, probably Denmark's
most famous classical composer. The film starts in 1871 when Carl is still
a young child first being introduced to music, then shows him as a slightly
older boy, then joining the army to play in the regimental band, and finally
leaving the army to spend all his time composing.
The main problem with this film is that Nielsen's life seems to be
neither particularly harsh nor particularly wonderful. In spite of their
poverty his family seems to live fairly comfortably. There is illness,
injury, and death, but it seems to be taken as totally ordinary, without any
major angst over it. There are lots of scenes of beautiful scenery, and
kindly, quirky villagers. When Carl goes into the army you figure, "Oh, now
we'll see how brutalizing the army is," but, no, that's an easy and
comfortable life for him as well. Even his disappointments in love don't
seem to affect him very much.
It's a very pretty picture, and I suppose sheds some light on Nielsen's
music, but cannot compare to other film biographies of composers such as
Amadeus or Mahler. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
Daddy, Come to the Fair, directed by Nitza Gonen, Israel, 1:16:
One of the problems of reviewing a film about the Shoah (Holocaust) is
that the subject gives the film some element of "untouchability"--it is very
difficult to say anything negative about it unless it is almost
intentionally offensive. But there are some many mis-steps and misjudgments
in the making of this made-for-television documentary that I simply cannot
From the very beginning, or even before it in some sense, I think there
were problems. This is a documentary of a man returning to Poland, where
his parents were murdered in the Holocaust. With him travel his son and his
daughter, and the film (it's actually videotape, but "film" has become
generic) concentrates more on the son than on the father. It is true that
during the trip, the relationship between the son and the father undergoes a
transformation, but how could they know this would happen at the beginning
of the shooting? At time the camera angles and other effects seem too
studied, more suitable for a narrative film than a documentary. One almost
gets the impression that the entire project was the idea of the son, who
just happens to be in show business, and is more designed to promote his
career than to focus on his father. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4).
Killer, directed by Mark Malone, USA, 1:33:
This film with its cast of five relies on writing and acting rather
than on special effects or action sequences for its appeal (although it does
have a couple of steamy sex scenes). Anthony LaPaglia plays a hitman whose
assignment is to kill a woman (played by Mimi Rogers) who seems strangely
accepting of the fact. Complicating the job is LaPaglia's assistant, who
bungled his last job and is looking for a way to redeem himself.
This is, as I indicated, more a character study than anything else, and
the actors do a convincing job of portraying their characters. Rating: +1
(-4 to +4).
El Amante de las Peliculas Mudas, directed by Pablo Torre, Argentina, 1:32:
I had hoped for more from this film, but it was somewhat of a
disappointment. (It is, of course, possible that after seeing eighteen
other films, including three earlier today, I was not in as receptive a mood
as I might have been.) This story of an aging silent film star has strong
echoes of Sunset Boulevard, and also the same films of the opening of The
Jazz Singer that we saw near the beginning of the festival in Jack Warner,
the Last Mogul. Interestingly, in the Warner documentary, they represented
the start of something; here they represent the end. This film sounds a bit
like Cinema Paradiso: a young boy meets a silent film star who talks about
the early days of the movies. But this is a dark film, with far more menace
and unsettling atmosphere than Cinema Paradiso.
One of the mis-steps the film makes is in its use of music. The boy's
mother gets a job playing the piano in the film star's funeral home. But
she plays Schubert's "Trio for Piano, Violin, and Violincello," and when she
does, the sounds of a violin and a violincello mysteriously appear from
nowhere, and it is clear that the piano music that is being played is not
sufficient to stand on its own. On the other hand there is good use of old
film clips, as well as newly created black-and-white footage purporting to
be of the film star (as played by Alfredo Alcon) in the Hollywood of the
1920s. (The "fake" footage is not as good an imitation of what the real old
footage looks like as that used in the television series "Young Indiana
Jones," but then Torre probably had neither the money nor the facilities
that Spielberg did.)
For its somewhat nostalgic look at Hollywood in the era of the silent
film, this is worth seeing, but probably only for fans of that era. Rating:
+1 (-4 to +4).
And of course, even though we did see nineteen films in a week, there
were several more that sounded interesting that we didn't get to (several of
which played only during the second week after we were gone). These
Kabloonak, directed by Claude Massot, Canada/France, 1:45:
This was the official opening film of the film festival and tells the
story of Nanook, who in 1922 was the "star" of Robert Flaherty's Nanook of
the North. Later when people went back to see him again, they discovered he
had died the following winter during a seal hunt. (Today, of course, they
would have signed him to a multi-picture deal and flown him all over the
world for press conferences.)
Princess Caraboo, directed by Michael Austin, USA, 1:37:
A mysterious young woman appears in an English village in 1817, and the
villagers decide she is a Javanese princess. We went to a press conference
with Austin (who also authored the script) at which some of the questioners
gave away a fair amount of the film, leading one of the film's promoters to
ask the press not to reveal too much in their articles or reviews. So I
won't, except to say this is based on a true story written up in English
Eccentrics, stars Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline, and cost under $10 million.
Sex, Drugs, and Democracy
Sex, Drugs, and Democracy, directed by Jonathan Blank, USA, 1:27:
This documentary look at how the Netherlands treats sex and drugs in
terms of laws and attitudes. Blank is quoted in the daily magazine
distributed at the festival as saying that it was the Commissioner of Police
in Amsterdam who explained to him the provisions made for the handicapped in
the city's brothels. "The Dutch were all really proud of them," Blank said.
Apparently marijuana is illegal (to make the Americans happy), but no one
pays any attention to the law, and abortions are illegal but the government
pays for them. Blank finds the attitudes of many Americans very strange.
For example, the anti-pornography lobbyists have claim pornography affects
the viewer, yet they have probably seen more pornography than anyone else
and claim to be unaffected.
Jeanne La Pucelle (I and II)
Jeanne La Pucelle I (Les Batailles) and Jeanne La Pucelle II (Les
Prisons), directed by Jacques Rivette, France, 2:40 and 2:56:
Even if these hadn't been sold out before we had a chance to get
tickets, the fact that they were in French and un-subtitled would have made
us give these a miss here, but a six-hour epic about Joan of Arc is
something in which I would definitely be interested if it were subtitled in
English (or even dubbed, though dubbing a six-hour movie is probably
prohibitively expensive). The two parts will probably make the rounds
separately in most areas, since I suspect they are each self-contained
Evelyn C. Leeper (email@example.com)
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