05 February 2010

PIFF Week One, Press Screenings (+/-).

The first film is Russia's Hipsters, Monday morning 11:00am. I eat a cinnamon bagel before I go. I don't know anything about the film, the experience is about encountering cinema with infinite trust. What I see is a 50s Moscow Soviet Union drama with scattered musical sequences. A group of psychocandy-colored dressed early-adults are cinematic post-Jarmusch/DiCillo rockabillies. The female lead is Oksana Akinshina of Lilya 4-Ever.

In the first sequence the audience laughs merrily, but the laughter doesn't continue in a united sense. Hipsters strides through its jokes too speedily and derivatively for them to grow in meaning, and its jubilance is exaggerated. It still manages to create infrequent shivers of joy within me. But a film that should be about the joy of discovery takes place in the machinery of convention. Being post-modern it's also hyper-aware and ironic about this (as one characters ultimately states, "The freer the person, the simpler the clothes"). The film unwinds itself in the final twenty minutes, beginning approx. with the birth of the African-American-Soviet-Union baby, and its final message is that you can't be hip for long. But fucking everybody can dance in the street.

I eat at Chipotle. At 2pm A Prophet starts. Jacques Audiard's perfectly crafted, badass, and crushing gangster film. "A better life, for me and my friends."

Blueberry waffles in the morning. Tuesday 11am, the Iranian About Elly. A film with a grueling twenty minute centerpiece. The cast is terrific, each playing their role with bravery and openness. "As lies and deception compound into catastrophe, About Elly focuses on the behavior and values of the Iranian middle class, illustrating how convention, conformity, and tradition can be restrictive, even among those who fool themselves into thinking they are not guided by them."

If you asked me to name my favorite of the week, and told me you'd abstain from kissing me if I didn't reply, I'd tell you my favorite was About Elly. This is a perfect poster for the film. This is how innocently it all begins. On vacation with friends and family, in a seaside villa, your children with you, someone goes missing. Someone is probably dead. And how do you explain to the police, to the person's family, and to yourself, how this has happened? The film examines the shades of guilt cast over the vacationers, and as small white lies build toward a state of total fabrication and confusion, each person goes through a series of confrontations with their own blame and guilt. As a viewer, I do as well.

I eat at Chipotle. It's raining and I don't have a jacket. Ajami is at 2pm. It's a non-linear slums story from Israel/Palestine. Its dimensions are revealed from different angles in dileniated chapters and culminate in a shocker ending.

Two green sauce burritos, from Trader Joe's, for breakfast. Wednesday 11am is Terribly Happy. A Danish Twin Peaks (lumber truck giveaway) by way of Hot Fuzz. It's best when it's funny, and sometimes it's hilarious. It also exhibits blends of tragedy and humor, terror and bliss, paranoia and provincialism. It bursts with a low-key creativity and I hope Henrik Ruben Genz builds in this direction.

I eat at the Persian House. 2pm is Fish Tank. Fish Tank is the first one I'd heard about prior. It won the Cannes Jury Prize. Andrea Arnold had done this previously with her debut Red Road. The protagonist is a teenage hiphop dancer who lives in Essex, England, in a monolithic apartment complex with her mother and younger sister. In a great early moment she head-butts another girl, then tries to free an old white horse tied up next to a trailer home. Arnold treasures her character (played by the real-deal Katie Jarvis), but never lies to us about her, and this means she never forces us to see her in a single way. The elasticity of her emotions enrich the film's shifting textures of bravery and fragility. Arnold's talent as a filmmaker engenders cohesion and broad-ranged poetic realism.

No breakfast. 11am, Art of the Steal. It stunned us all. A comprehensive documentary about an absolute instance of commodification of art. It's a brave wide-eyed film.

Lamb meatballs at the Persian House. 2pm Girl on the Train. The female lead character is great, but her journey is overstated, especially one day following the subtle tragedy of Fish Tank. In a key scene she leans on the shoulder of a young boy and explains away the whole film. Later, the boyfriend explains it again. The second half should have been titled "Explanations" and not "Consequences," essentially. Give Catherine Deneuve something to do!

11am this morning Mid-August Lunch, a delightful, short Italian comedy from screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio, who crafts richly detailed moments and cleanly developed characters. The film left me with the sensations of a genuine visit. It also was the most consistently funny film of the week. Or as I told a friend, it's a smile of a film. That's what I told my friend, "It's a smile of a film," which means that I actually talk like this in person too. I should also mention that these audiences are basically me and a pack of the elderly. They loved it too.

A downtown restaurant, chicken parmigiana sandwich. 2pm today is Home. Another terrific surprise. The film journeys into madness by following a family of five whose house becomes highway adjacent property. It's not a straight trip though, and the film is always vacillating, and always exposing its characters in full dimensions. The level to bizarre detail is astonishing.

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