Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BFI’s 49th Annual London Film Festival

3 very different movies and yet all of them tied together by a single thread. I reveal that thread at the end of this posting. So here goes -- an American movie made by Norwegian funding, a Brazilian movie and a Mexican Independent film.

Factotum (directed by Bent Hamer): Rating 8/10

Matt Dillon plays Henry Chinaski, a character penned by Charles Bukowski. Whether the character is Bukowski’s alter ego is another matter altogether. Chinaski is a struggling writer. In between his struggles, he drifts from job to job, drinking, gambling, screwing, smoking and drinking even more along the way. Bent Hamer has done a good job of capturing Chinaski’s carefree character. In the first 10 minutes or so, I didn’t buy Matt Dillon’s acting. I thought he was faking it all. But then gradually he settled into his role more (or maybe I got used to seeing him play the character). There is some humour in the movie but at times the movie simply drifts along. Which is the way it is supposed to be! How else can you show such a character? You can’t make it completely dark nor can you make it complete fluff. You have to balance the two moods and Hamer has done that. The movie is shot nicely and the desolate American landscape fits perfectly within the movie. Marisa Tomei has a tiny insignificant role but it is Lili Taylor who has the major role as playing Chinaski’s on-off love interest. Overall, I liked the movie. And Bent Hamer seems like a very humble person and he was very sincere in talking about this project took place and the troubles he had getting funding.

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (directed by Marcelo Gomez): Rating 10/10

If there was a perfect afternoon movie, then this was it. In fact, this was such a cool relaxing movie that I forgot a planet existed outside of the theatre. This road movie is easily one of my favourite movies of the year! The story can’t be any more simpler – a German (Johann) resident has moved to Brazil and makes a living by driving across the vast Brazilian countryside selling Aspirin, a new medicine as per the film's setting in 1942. It would have been difficult for Johann to sell aspirin to people used to rejecting change but he comes up with a clever sales tactic of using the alluring cinematic medium to make his sales. Cinema, Asprins.. has shades of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Starmaker in this aspect. In Starmaker, the salesman was a cheat but in Gomez's film, Johann is not a cheat even though his methods portray him like a mercenary. Along the way, Johann picks up a local (Ranulpho) who wishes to leave his village life behind and head to Rio. The two become good friends and Ranulpho travels along with Johann by helping out as his assistant. But then the World war that Johann escaped from finds its way to Brazil and Johann has a difficult choice to make – to return to Europe or continue his free spirited way. The movie shows how different people’s idea of freedom varies and what makes one person happy can be torture for another.

The cinematography is beautiful. The over-exposed film really conveys the heat and brutality of the scorching sun. Brazil, a country which seems to go on forever as per Johann! Maybe I needed to see this movie in London during my own personal traveling journey to enjoy it. Who knows how I would have reacted if I had to see this movie in a crappy beat up art house theatre sitting in a broken seat with no leg or arm room? The Motorcycle Diaries was sold as something that it was not and I have a feeling some things in that movie were changed to sell it even more. But Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures is pure, raw and emotional. I truly loved it!!!!!!!!

Sangre (written and directed by Amat Escalante): Rating 6/10

Yes this is real cinema, as real as it gets. In fact, it is so real that you are left wondering why on earth you wasted a beautiful London night in the National Film Theatre watching this flick. Yes the venue was perfect, by the River Thames, near the bridge where trains left for Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Café’s, bookstores, fancy restaurants, a theatre next door and cinema showing fine movies. Well, almost fine! Ok, maybe I am being harsh on this movie. This is a festival movie after all. The camera asks us to observe the dull boring life of a couple. The wife works in a Sushi place in Mexico. The husband counts the number of visitors entering through the building doors. They go home, watch soap operas, have sex when the wife commands the husband do so, eat junk food, tacos, or whatever else is in their fridge. The camera lets us watch everything. At times, you wonder if we are being shown too much.

Right from the opening shot, we learn who is the boss in the house – in the first shot, the husband wakes up with blood on his forehead. As usual his wife, or more precisely his second wife, has hit him on the head again. The husband is so scared of her that he can’t ask his daughter from the first marriage to come stay with them. Needless to say, he has to hide his meetings with his daughter from his new wife. But it is clear that the daughter needs parental help. The father does not know how to react. And then something goes wrong. And it is at this point, that the movie goes off the rail as well. Would an average person have handled the situation as the father does in the movie? Who knows!

The camera work is perfect really. You truly feel you are in the room with the couple, or you are at the garbage dump when the city’s waste comes tumbling down as the tiny beetle car is parked in the foreground. However, in the end, I left the theatre untouched and unimpressed. In fact, I was so exhausted after sitting through this movie that I skipped out my final movie of the night, Citizen Dog.

Common Element

So what is the common element in all 3 movies? The concept that a certain Chelsea manager would call ‘voyeur’. The papers in London contained the stupid childish words of Jose Mourinho who called Arsenal’s manager a ‘voyeur’ just because he thought Wenger liked watching another football team play, or as Mourinho said, ‘Wenger likes watching other people’. Well Jose since you know it all, would you call me a ‘Voyeur’ for watching these 3 movies? Because these 3 movies lets us watch the lives of other people as they go about their daily business. That is what I thought while watching the festival. Heck all these movies are about watching the intimate aspects of other people’s life. What is art for one person is something disgusting for another! Anyway, I should not talk any further about that manager lest I be accused of being obsessed with him and his money backed team.

In the end, it was a truly memorable occasion to attend this festival. A truly professional and well run festival with classy venues!

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