28 February 2011

PIFF 2011: A Few Specific Things

For various reasons it's unlikely I'd listen to a full 58 albums or read a full 58 books within a month's span. One reason is it might get in the way of watching movies. From the end of January to the end of February I attended 58 theatrical programs 62 times, while continuing to view titles at home*.

Which is to say films took over my life, in not an entirely positive manner. A lady told me she didn't know what was going on in Egypt and it occurred to me I didn't know what was going on in my life. Plus, Egypt didn't have any films in PIFF this year. Egypt's Garbage Dreams was one of three amazing documentaries at the festival last year.

I'm bound to compare this year and last year, as I'm bound to compare the films to each other; hence, the last post, with films ranked by a count of stars. Which is silly and vague, overall.

So I wanted to say a little more about some films I wanted to say a little more about. For example, I nearly walked out of Poland's All That I Love during its first half, but several good writing choices and two sexy scenes (even middle-brow dramas have sex scenes in European films) made me glad I stayed. The relationship between the band singer and housewife was depicted in tender but brutal tones, and fully developed might have turned into something resembling Fassbinder. Conversely, Sweden's Behind Blue Skies began with several strong dramatic decisions and a sexy scene, but its narrative suffered from diminishing inspiration. A scene with Martin's (Bill Skarsgård) cock in a girlfriend's mouth, as she attempts to persuade him to spend the night with her, was very well done.

At the beginning of The Housemaid, a South Korean remake, a girl stands on a ledge overlooking a neon city block and the camera is over-the-shoulder. My friend says "Enter the Void" enthusiastically. The rest of the movie disappoints, and by the end just goes up in flames. Thankfully, real flames. The Revenant was the worst of the midnight screenings, but somehow charming, like its writer/director D. Kerry Prior, who proudly brags about beginning his career in the special effects department of Don Coscarelli's movies. His film quivers with life but never bursts.

Good Morning to the World was an encounter with a micro-budget Japanese art house film, probably made by a young filmmaker. The way Hirohara Satoru wanted to use his camera to express the interior loneliness of his character made me less lonely, and I hope the filmmaker finds a path that leads to fully realized films. The Woods was this type of movie: everything I didn't like about the movie could perhaps be used as a reason to like the movie. But I don't buy it. Films like Milestones and Symbiopsychotaxiplasm show you can have hippie idealism and also create an interesting film. The Woods dresses a formless, hollow narrative in clothes of innocent rebellion, and if you can buy that you can buy the whole thing. I'll buy Gas-s-s-s. No one could decide if The Woods was more self-indulgent than Heartbeats, but Heartbeats won me sometimes with its sincerity, because sincere self-indulgence is still sincerity.

In Italy's The Double Hour the dream was real (and in The Last Circus the dream is very, very real), but I could hardly care because its double-cross story is entirely lifeless. Just like the art design and attention to period detail don't elevate the predictable, cheap dramatics of Spain's Black Bread or Lope. France's The Princess of Montpensier, directed by Bertrand Tavernier, is better because it treats period detail with a light, minimalist touch, and the characters feel greater in importance than the settings.

Human Resources Manager was the second best movie at PIFF about the transportation of a dead person, as La Pivellina was the third best movie involving a circus performance (the latter suffered from a low-quality source material, which was too bad). Cameraman was illuminating and sometimes inspiring, but clearly preaches to the choir (the same choir was better preached to in Clouzot's Inferno).

As it began I was afraid I was going to like New Zealand's Boy too much. It begins with a great montage over the audio of Boy's class presentation. The montage and presentation provide the audience with knowledge of Boy and his environment, and though the technique was familiar, I loved everything, all the small touches, like the notebook paper animation, dead-pan Michael Jackson admiration, and other curious details. Unfortunately, the experience was for me more curious than emotional, which is how some felt about the opening night film, François Ozon's Potiche. They could be right - but as with other things, if you want to be that thing, be it all the way. And I thought Potiche was curious, playful, and charming for its duration. It's sort of like if Scott Pilgrim was shown on a television in a Douglas Sirk movie, if that makes sense to you.

Japan's Mutant Girls Squad was Scott Pilgrim shown on a television in a Shinya Tsukamoto movie, if that makes sense to you. It sometimes murdered me with novelty and exuberance, and its commitment to cinematic insanity impressed me. It's better than Potiche which I gave a half-star more. I hope that demonstrates the faultiness of the star system, and also the absurdity and energy of Mutant Girls Squad, which I recommend to anyone wanting a cinematic freak out.

Real life conversation: from a friend's point of view, I should care more about the humanitarianism side of Spain's Even the Rain. I tried to make it clear my disappointment was with the dramatic shortcuts and easy answers (which Aftershock and The Whistleblower suffered from to even greater degrees). I appreciate that Even the Rain internally addresses several innate hypocrisies and contradictions in its film type, but I wanted more from the character design, not the ideas. It's possible to do both, as Costa-Gavras and Pontecorvo demonstrate.

The same could be said about Denmark's A Family and In a Better World, both of which I think begin with a promise of emotional honesty they ultimately betray in the interest of dramatic form. On the one hand these movies create a full-size portrait of an issue, on the other hand they neither trust their characters nor the film viewing audience with a component of imagination or mystery. They illuminate all the shadows - thus missing the point of shadows. Isn't that the error of so many films? They want to be films - the popular, widely accepted concept of films - so dearly they willingly seek comfort over challenge. The end of Germany's When We Leave, good or bad, designates it as a movie. A good movie ending brings a question or answer to both the character and audience, and in this case it's hard not to think mainly about the end in terms of dramatic structure, thus stripping the preceding moments of some of their grace. The difference between my appreciation for France's Illegal (how many mother/son relationship films were there this year?) and When We Leave, which both both use dramatic form to expresses emotional intensity, may be a result of Illegal's slightly less definitive ending.

Austria's The Robber is like character contrivance as religious, spiritual, and cinematic worship. The film is all speed and grace. This is sort of fucking brilliant: he's a bank robber who is also a marathon runner, and after each robbery there's a kind-of marathon in which he flees the scene(s) of crime. He's Mann's professional criminal developed to a logical absurdity. The narrative is a polished version of the blank-faced criminal odyssey.

The more I watch and like yakuza films, the more I like Takeshi Kitano. Outrage's deadpan brutality is occasionally softened by environmental flourishes or incredible consequence, and sometimes a scene has both intensity and density. But I never feel like it accumulates dramatic urgency, and I don't feel any closer to the movie by the end. This may also have been my problem with Great Britain's The Arbor, a much different movie, a documentary about British working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar and her family. Dunbar was a mother, and the movie develops beyond the story of Dunbar by entering the story of her children, who recount their stories in taped sessions that are played while actors lip-synch the recordings. I admire its formal inventiveness and narrative nakedness, but sometimes the technique interfered with my emotional investment, and I struggled with the distance between the actual person's voice, and the actor's body and moving mouth.

If you're going to be contrived, you can be contrived all the way, as Spain's The Last Circus demonstrates. The movie makes a thrill ride out of contrivance, and pushes the viewer further into the insanity of its concept as the film progresses. It's a crazy movie, in a completely safe way, and I admire it for its sometimes lavish detours into narrative incredibility. The mania is directed, by Alex de la Iglesia, sometimes with cinematic and visual grace, and sometimes for gaudy fun; if you begin to lose sight of the difference the film works. I did hear one lady say "What kind of person would like this film?".

USA's Cold Weather wants to create the contrived out of natural materials (it's from the city of Portland). Writer/director Aaron Katz attempts to translate a personal, naturalistic style into compact, genre form, and the result sometimes exposes the limits of each. I would say it makes the sides bulge, in a good way, as Katz continues to ask important questions about film nature, and its relationship with the natural, and succeeds in pulling off a meta-genre film without violating filmmaking principles previously demonstrated. It's a growth film for Katz, and might be a film that grows on me.

How to Die in Oregon made tears swell in my eyes three times, and I took a break from the movie after its first twenty minutes. I went into the lobby for a moment, because everything was so heavy for me, and then returned to the movie. It's truly hard for me to separate my feelings about the film from the intense feelings the stories produced in me. I can't imagine making this film, I can't imagine spending hundreds of hours pursuing this and editing it and living with it all the time. I liked the film and I can't imagine watching it again. The film's own clear headedness is a testament to the documentary skills of its maker.

Chile's Nostalgia for the Light brought the universal and personal together through two narrative strands of equal interest and philosophic weight: astronomers, and women who seek remains of the disappeared; both in the Atacama Desert. The complimentary aspects of the narratives are skillfully developed and explored. Mexico's Circo wasn't a documentary version of Geek Love, but a sadder, realer story of circus life and family, less sideshow and more acrobatic. It follows the Ponces as they struggle to find an audience and grow as performers, and investigates the shared traits of real life and circus life. Like the family members, I wasn't sure which I preferred.

Italy's The Four Times was a big surprise, and the second biggest discovery after My Joy. In The Four Times, it feels like Michelangelo Frammartino directs nature. Four narrative strands are given equal emphasis and attention (one of the strands is a baby goat, and another strand is a single tree). The Four Times is an amazing movie of amazing natural and narrative simplicity, fully realized by a sophisticated film design.

Ukraine's My Joy vividly draws the viewer into a miserable world through a perspective of utter bleakness - a message about the transference and perpetuation of hate and fear. It's an icy, cruel film, haunted by violence, that manages both to depict malevolence and conjure it as well. Its overall lack of redemption emboldens several of its core tenets, denying the audience the same escape from harsh reality impossible for its characters. Sergei Loznitsa demonstrates an extraordinary talent for cinematic craft, and his skill in creating fully realized sequences allows the film to work.

In Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, every element of the film's design works in harmony, creating a lush sensory experience. The movie is a steamy love session with cinema. Weerasethakul creates rich, dense sequences, which work because of their intensity, sincerity, and mystery. The film builds and expands several themes and environments introduced in Weerasethakul's earlier films, and continues to enlarge the meanings of his films, which work well together when seeking sometimes subterranean themes. His actors are given or seem to be given total freedom, and sometimes encounter fantasy elements in a realistic but cinematically surprising state of nonplus (and then a kind of tonal, philosophical fusion; a spiritual condition of perpetual awe).

Lee Chang-dong's Poetry must have been my favorite movie, because I think of it as having everything all the good films had. I admire it for its penetration of both character and cinematic form. Chang-dong makes the interior of Mija (Yun Jeong-hie, who radiates, seriously count her mysterious smiles) the stuff of cinematic dimensions. He creates a fantastic fabric out of personal emotions; he deconstructs filmic types in a way that's intensely specific and dramatically engaging.

The tapestry of emotions is clearer in the second viewing, and more rewarding. Chang-dong quietly insists everything has an importance and dramatic depth, but feels free to leave dangling narrative strands and obscure structural departures. The point seems to be it's important because it happens in Mija's life, and like all narratives of self, Mija is her own main character and seeker of meaning; this is beautifully magnified by Mija's search for poetic voice. Like Saul Bellow, Chang-dong believes each person carries a batch of poems.

I've heard it said the scenes run too long, which is what they always say about the films I like. I think these people aren't asking themselves the questions Chang-dong is giving you the freedom to ask, or experiencing the moments Chang-dong is asking you to experience. If you don't shrink from the emotional freedom and mystery that's being offered, it's a film of pervasive and endless beauty. I also believe the film sticks its landing, and succeeds in other important narrative moves.

*Including Endless Love, The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl, French Cancan, Spring in a Small Town, Diary of a Lost Girl, The Devil's Sword, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Who Are You Polly Maggoo?, Perfect Blue, and Ghost in the Shell!

27 February 2011

PIFF 2011: An Overview

Four Star Movies
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2x)
My Joy (2x)
Poetry (2x)

Three and a Half Star Movies
The Four Times
A Somewhat Gentle Man
The Last Circus (2x)
Of Gods and Men

Three Star Movies
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
Silent Souls
The Robber
Nostalgia for the Light
Certified Copy
How to Die in Oregon

Two and a Half Star Movies
Cold Weather
The Arbor
Mutant Girls Squad
Son of Babylon
Steam of Life
The Princess of Montpensier
How I Ended This Summer
The Woodmans

Two Star Movies
Even the Rain
A Family
Of Love and Other Demons
Behind Blue Skies
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff
In a Better World
When We Leave
La Pivellina
Sawako Decides
Human Resources Manager
The First Beautiful Thing
Black Bread

One and a Half Star Movies
All That I Love
Kawasaki's Rose
The Housemaid
The Revenant
The First Grader
His & Hers
Passione: A Musical Adventure
Good Morning to the World
The Woods
The Double Hour

One Star Movies
Barbershop Punk

Half Star Movies
The Whistleblower

Total: 58 movies + 3 shorts programs, and 4 repeat viewings.

19 February 2011


Last night I saw a movie about a killer tire, and the audience was wild (many people were enjoying themselves).

It would be great if Robert, the killer tire, was the face of modern cinema. When wanting to verify his name as Robert, I checked the cast section at IMDb. When I didn't see Robert mentioned, I clicked "Full cast and crew." His name was not listed there either, and not until I began to scroll around the page did I remember tires are not listed in the cast section at IMDb. And then I appreciated Rubber.

The story of the film is familiar, a killer without a past emerges from the desert, but the hero is a first: the first Dadaistic protagonist of the 21st century (and the Dada movement of the 20th century led to the Surrealism movement of the 20th century[!]). The film celebrates the glory of pure nothingness, nothing for the sake of nothing. The sheriff, in the beginning and end, calls the movie a an homage to no reason.

I'd be very delighted if the casting tapes for Rubber were released to the general public, and also the letters written to potential investors and between producers. They all those involved should be given medals, and the largest medal should go to Quentin Dupieux. He is the type of independent filmmaker who furthers the concept of auteurism, not only because he is the writer, director, cinematographer, camera operator, and composer of his film, but because the film is a personal vision pursued to audacious ends.

05 February 2011

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle and Certified Copy

I believe Silviu, the lead in If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, has a tempest in his soul. He's eighteen and has been incarcerated for four years, and in a conversation with his mother says he spent eight years raising his brother, so he started raising his younger brother around the age of six or ten (did he raise his brother from his cell? If the mother has only just arrived, possibly). I think it's fair to say Silvie has a tempest in his soul.

"Most of all I like eating pizza."

The movie is a great portrait of trapped feelings, with a heightening condition of incarceration, helping focus the film on themes of control and manliness (brotherhood, fatherhood, selfhood). It begins slowly as crescendos do. In the beginning moments I enjoyed the film's grainy texture and its invitation into the world of Silviu; it really opens up with Ana's appearance. She's an exterior force, and he dreams of being with her after his imminent (fourteen days away) release. "And I'll pick her up from work, and we'll fuck right there in the car. And we'll fuck on and on and on," he speculates.

She becomes a goal, along with a reunion with his brother. When his mother threatens to take his brother away to Italy, Silviu, in jail, wonders not only what to do, but how to even do it. His mother's interference signifies the presence of obstructive factors in the pursuit of his goals, an indication of uncontrollable reality, so different from prison. The actor, George Pistereanu, who plays Silviu, has the gift of believability. He doesn't betray, through his performance, or through his eyes, his character's future. For the audience member this means a feeling of a shared experience, it allows us to come near him emotionally, and understand the extremity of his desperation by the actions of the film's later moments.

At a certain moment in the film another interceding moment of harsh reality reconfigures the film's stakes. It becomes a much different film than its proceeding moments have indicated, yet remains logical, and mostly consistent. It's as if the gates have opened, and life has poured in. Locked inside Silviu, we are trapped as he is trapped, scared as he is scared. This is the gift of a good film.

Certified Copy begins with a scene waiting for action: an empty table set up for a book discussion. A man enters the frame and makes an apologetic announcement into the microphone: the author is late, and he can't blame traffic because he's staying upstairs. Scattered laughter. Moments later the author arrives and unwittingly makes a similar statement: the banality of the joke is apparent, and no one laughs this time.

Kiarostami has made his point in the first couple minutes of the film, but the idea of an original and a copy will take manifold permutations throughout the film. So too will there be multifarious jokes about Elle (Juliette Binoche) and James (William Shimell) being married, although they met just this day. The joke, as it's elaborated, nearly replaces the actuality of their relationship, and becomes its own copy of a life. Certified Copy is an essay film and a romantic comedy, not one more than the other, which is impressive. I was emotionally invested in every moment of the actors' encounters with each other, and also found my mind working out the ideas being discussed. It's an "invitation to self-inquiry," as the author speaks in the beginning moments.

"I wrote the book to convince myself of my own idea."

Elle initiated the day by passing on her number to the author's friend. Her son, present only in the opening scenes, challenges her reasons for wanting to meet an author whose book she's claimed to dislike. Elle will also tell James, in moments over the course of their time together, how she does not like or disagrees with his book. Sometimes she suggests she does not like him, and in one instance he flatly states that something she's said has made him not like her. Romantic comedies often generate laughter by noticing the differences between the male and female characters, and Certified Copy does this too, but it's also serious about the meaning of their differences and the friction it creates.

"All that stuff's good for books."

Some people may not find it romantic at all. I found it romantic, but not very funny (much of the comedy is monochrome). I think this is what happens when a film is full of life. I think this is what films should be like. I believe there's a proper, acceptable way for a film to be flawed, and that's by virtue of flawed characters or admissions of flawed existence.

In Certified Copy, Kiarostami lets life in. The film buzzes and hums with life. Ambient noises and conversations float in the air, and cell phones ring at inappropriate times. His camera is endless curious and attracted to what it finds most interesting, most telling (and it's never insincere). Life happens between moments in the film, like when James answers his phone and leaves the coffee shop, and Elle begins a conversation with the lady who works at the shop; or when Elle pretties herself in the restaurant, and returns to find James in a different mood (this is the end too - you wonder what condition James returns to find Elle in). The frame has limitless potential with Kiarostami, and as when we watch a movie our thoughts are somewhat encapsulated by the frame, Kiarostami then frees our minds too. In this one, he wants to free our hearts as well, but he knows how hard that can be, and he knows that "simplicity is not simple."

03 February 2011

Son of Babylon and The First Grader

In a future time movies such as these two, with scripts that are dramatic machines, will feature automatons in staring roles. And no one will notice the difference. To be fair, Son of Babylon offers more potential for an actor to breathe; the young boy plays his plucky character with gusto and preciousness. To be judgmental, isn't that the performance of all children in road movies? Movies like these two I normally don't see, and seeing them during PIFF reminds me why I don't, and how they can sometimes offer surprises and delights despite themselves.

Son of Babylon is about people who know "Saddam is a bastard and the Americans are pigs." It offers tiny thrills and tiny tragedies with big emotions, like when the young boy boards the bus that drives away without the grandmother who frantically chases after it. Around these moments swirl a major tragedy, the one of Hussein and the collapse of Iraqi society.

The movie reminds you that so much went missing from the lives of these people. And as everything vanished around them, the people remained, roamers of the desolation, the truly post-apocalyptic, forced to become scavengers of terrible ruins; heartbroken people who visit mass graves in search of family members (I wrote this during the movie, which is sometimes boring). At times there's an almost overwhelming sadness to the movie (and really didn't require a road movie shtick in my opinion) including some late images of a mass grave and fragmented skeletal remains.

The First Grader is a movie about an 84 year old man who wants to attend school for the first time, and it's made for an 84 year old man seeing a movie for the first time (that line © me). This is apparent from the very beginning, and so I thought, okay, the surface rings false, but what about the subsurface? I kept trying to see it, but the dramatic jet engines were on full thrust, and you know what that's like, with the wind of drama blowing so fiercely in my face that I sometimes had to close my eyes. There's a lot of emphasis on the man's age and determination without an expansion of character, except there are these horribly cheesy flashbacks of his past tribulations.

My friends, there is a flashback, at the moment the old man approaches a pencil sharpener, of a horrendous moment from his past, involving a sharpened pencil being stuck inside his ear! This movie is based on a true story, but even if that part is entirely true I would've buried the damn thing, or saved it for my horror comedy, also titled The First Grader (aka The First Grader from Hell). It also reminded me that my good friend Joe Peeler is right and not every dramatic strand requires dialogue, because for example this movie shares a theme of the past haunting the present, like some of the other films this week, but in this movie I'm absolutely 100% sure because there are these lines: "Can't we just put the past behind us?" and, "The past is always present, never forget that." For a movie populated by people who don't like to be told what to do, it's odd this movie tells me how to feel.

"An old man, no better than a goat."

I'm not the audience for this movie anyway. There is an audience for this movie! I swear it, because at the end people applauded. My friends, I was there. I wasn't astounded either, conscious as I was of the fact that the man next to me kept wiping the tears from his face. Two-handed wipes across the face, maybe a thousand tears!!!!

02 February 2011

His & Hers and Of Gods and Men

His & Hers is a documentary from the Irish Midlands about domestic women. It begins, adorably, on a young baby girl lying on a blanket, placing her feet in her mouth; by the middle mark the film reaches middle age. I wasn't constantly glancing at my watch but it may have been a decade jump every ten minutes - tell you the truth I looked at my watch at the middle age point because I thought 'already?' and then I remembered people can live well past middle age because that age is just the middle. These are the type of things you may reflect upon while watching His & Hers.

"Men love their girlfriends the most, their wives the best, and their moms the longest."

You know how there are those oxygen bars? Well, there are these oxygen bars. I've never understood them. One day I may reach an age or health condition in which I do, who knows, but anyway all you do is sit and suck in life giving forces. His & Hers is also like that, you sit at the screen and suck in life giving forces. No men appear in the movie, but the women talk about their: dads, boyfriends, husbands, sons, and dead husbands. Spoiler joke. Most of it's charmingly candid, and some of it's like domestic poetry. One time this black cat was spread out atop the couch fuckin' napping during an interview! That was really cool. They didn't mention the gender of the animals. The women talk about: chores, school, living spaces, pregnancy, health, and pets. The art of life is given primacy over the art of film, and most of the photography is simple portrait-like. Also, it's funny that elders complain about their kids the way young kids complain about their parents. If you think this stuff is like floor-rolling hilarious, or are incapable of remembering it's touching without an 80 minute film, please see His & Hers. I liked it at first but by the end was exhausted.

Of Gods and Men! The moment I knew I really liked Of Gods and Men, I mean really, really liked Of Gods and Men, came during one of the monks' daily meetings. It was an especially important meeting. There was a discussion as to whether Christian (the designated leader) had betrayed the principles of community by making a decision without consulting the others, and as the camera cut between the monks, Amédée raised his finger but didn't say anything. He wasn't sure what to say. His thoughts were stuck, and the film captured that moment.

It could have been earlier, however, when Luc was giving the young girl advice on love, and I suddenly realized he was talking about his love for God. It applied so well to the girl and her boy troubles. The film regularly depicts scenes of worship and religious contemplation, meanwhile developing natural rhythms and showcasing gorgeous landscapes, but wisely avoids the purely religious. Of Gods and Men is about powerful people, and their power is in their hearts. If anything I was forced to remind myself that monks may be less interesting than this in real life, because for a moment I considered signing up: these are men who have strong feelings of tenderness, their convictions have a real power, and every moment of their lives seem to escape happenstance - not because of divinity, but because they invest in each moment the totality of their constitution (except sometimes they are sleepy or tense).

"Wildflowers don't move to find the sun's rays."

The film's beauty is unforced, and mingles with the ugly; there's bloodshed, and sometimes simple daily routine, quotidian failure. For example, an extremely important question within the movie, both dramatically and philosophically, is whether or not the monks are stubborn. They are at first "like birds on a branch" who can't decide if they should flee their monastery under threat from local radicals ('fundamentalism meets fundamentalism' as the press synopsis states), not wanting to force martyrdom, or stay and help the locals as they have pledged. It's a genuine crisis.

I admire the film because it knows there isn't armor for all pain. However strong the monks are, whatever their convictions, the romance of their intentions doesn't pad the blow. They make choices and live with consequences. The decision to become a monk could be one, and in a touching scene a monk laments the loss of his secular life. He tells the story of confronting this reality during his mother's birthday party. What should he do, return home to become a plumber, join the town council? He can hardly imagine.

The physicality of the monks is also a movie, each one embodying another feature-length. Their eyes hold love and war, their faces humor and sadness, their hands strength and weakness. When Amédée raises his finger, he doesn't have to say anything.

01 February 2011

Incendies and The First Beautiful Thing

Incendies is a plane, boat, and car trip away from being the type of film I like. It's an awful combination of spiritually contrived, thematically earnest, and dramatically dense; a veritable stew of gaudy coincidences and histrionics dressed as profundity. I knew I was in a trouble from the beginning: an opening static shot from a window, reminiscent of a beer (Corona) commercial, that morphs into an orphan populated music video (just wait to see why … oh father), literally edited to a Radiohead song. The movie's litany of dramatic clichés is almost astounding: an underdeveloped religious backdrop, bolstered by pretense of concern for war-torn nation, illusions of humanitarianism, tonal somberness, visual and thematic heaviness, a fractured narrative timeline, a central character with unshakeable convictions who symbolizes the perseverance of the human spirit, along with parallel blood-related character on quest for true identity and secret brother, crazily inappropriate dramatic devices, and twists that were meant to enlarge our emotions or do who knows what else but I simply kept wishing would please stop, please.

"To teach the enemy what life has taught me." A quote from the movie, but perhaps the director's intentions for the audience while designing this movie.

In my opinion its dramatic technique is far more hysterical and barbaric than any villain within the movie, on its own plane. And there are several grueling scenes and several horrible moments in Incendies. By the end I thought: why were there grueling scenes? Why did I suffer through this? For me there's a brutal amplification of disappointment that comes from feeling the director masqueraded dramatic masturbation for caring, sympathetic discussion. I won't name other movies that I think do this, so as not to digress, but surely you can think of one that affected you this way, and remember the feeling of thinking more harm than good comes when dramatic flamboyance disguises spiritual reductionism: I do not think this film examines the roots of war, hatred, and enduring love, as its synopsis claims.

I didn't like it overall. If you're smarter than me you won't see it, and if you do see it make sure you stay until the end for the dedication: "To our grandmothers." Its main theme is breaking the "chain of anger," which is a pretty good theme that I think is spoiled by severe dramatic excessiveness. It has a sharp, crisp visual style, and a patchwork of culture, religion, family, and identity, but I think it's all for nothing.

Also I saw Italy's The First Beautiful Thing, before Incendies, and enjoyed it much more, even if the experience was soured by what came after. Initially it was difficult for me to become involved with The First Beautiful Thing, though I loved the liveliness of its first scene, because a lot of time is spent on the resentment the husband and son feel for the mother (wife). They fear and sometimes despise the power of her beauty, and seem embarrassed by her self-expression. Slowly, however, the film begins to burst with all signs of life. The primary characters are the mother and her son and daughter, and by the end of the movie I felt close enough to them to be near-tears during a wedding scene.

The Italians can do this very well (in their time Italian neo-realist films were called 'male weepies,' not, I assume, because only men cried during them, but because they were the films men both cried during and wanted to see). The film embraces the triumphs and tragedies of its main characters, and follows a narrative lifeline from 1971 to 1981 to the present; eventually encompassing the sympathetic downstairs neighbor, a sexually adventurous lawyer husband and wife, and a secret son who spoke my favorite line, "This is my sister … I mean my fiancé!" The mother isn't depicted as a full saint, though she sometimes performs saintly deeds, and too the son and daughter are multi-dimensional. A question asked by the non-secret son to his girlfriend (whom he calls his roommate), "Do we want to misunderstand each other?", echoes through the movie. It's a kind of sprawling slice of movie that neither makes a single dramatic point nor attempts one; it wonders if we live emotionally honest and cheerful lives, and acknowledges the almost never ending inundation of obstacles in our life's path.