SF Int’l Film Festival! Part 2

More film capsule reactions:

The 12 Labors
Set in Sao Paolo, Brazil, this story of a young man two months out of two years in juvenile jail who gets a job as a motorcycle messenger, is a good look at Sao Paolo and its insane traffic, class divisions, etc., but like too many Brazilian films, it’s predictable, a bit cliche’d, finaly boring for the telenovela shallowness of the characters. Kind of Brazil’s version of Horatio Alger, the poor kid who heroically escapes a life of crime… heartwearming and sleep inducing–of course it was my 4th movie of the day when I saw it!

Set in Chad, the story of a young man about 20 or so named Atim, meaning orphan, who listens to the Truth and Justice Commission’s decision to grant general amnesty to all war criminals from the Civil War. His blind grandfather then bids him to get justice for his dead father by killing his murderer. That man turns out to be a baker and strong Muslim now, aware he caused a lot of harm in his life. Atim travels to his city and becomes his apprentice, wrestling with is urges to shoot him throughout. The great climax, the man wants to adopt Atim and accompanies him to meet his father. (Atim, who is occasionally quite animated and charming, is mostly sullen, filled with rage, and quite mute.) Instead they find grandpa in the desert waiting for Atim’s return. He demands that Atim humiliate the man like his father was, so he is forced to disrobe. Then grandpa says “execute him!”–Atim saves him by feigning it, shotting in the air. Grandpa orders the coup de grace, and Atim feigns it again, fooling the blind grandfather. Atim joins grandpa and they walk away opposite from the terrified baker. Grandpa asks “did you hand shake?” and Atim says “no” and grandpa says “now you are a man.” End of movie… !

Sounds of Sand
Relentlessly bleak, a too-healthy family with beautiful smiles and teeth are forced to migrate when their Sahel village water dries up. The bulk of the film is their impossible trip across the desert, attacked by drug-addled “rebels” and slowly dying of thirst, losing their goats and belongings, one son is taken hostage, another is killed pointlessly. The little girl who was threatened with smothering at the outset of the film, is the only one to survive with her father, when they are saved by a UNHCR patrol from coma in the stark white desert. The refugee camp seems like paradise after this film!

Broken English
Parker Posey stars, Zoe Cassavettes directs, Gena Rowlands supporting actress. Probably the most interesting thing about this movie is that it is billed as a “romantic comedy” but afterwards Cassavettes called it a “portrait of loneliness.” That’s much more accurate. Posey’s character Nora is a near alcoholic pill-popper, scared of intimacy, has sex on first dates after getting very drunk, and ends up miserable, frantically wanting a man she can’t recognize or have. Works full-time in “guest services” at a boutique hotel after getting her degree in Art. Another tale of lonely overworked isolated professional woman–she meets a nice French guy and eventually quits her job to go to Paris to find him (after a whirlwind romance in NY), which she does at the very end of the movie. So it’s left open what will happen, infused with the last half hour of intensely romantic scenes in glorious Paris. Hokey or tragic–take your pick.

The Caiman
The great Italian director Nanni Moretti made this frontal assault on Berlusconi and Italian filmmaking. Amazing by the end when Moretti himself plays the arrogaintly defiant Berlusconi, refusing to relinquish power, refusing to be punished by the courts…. but getting there is a fun trip, mostly about a sad loser of a filmmaker, but one who is also a sweet father going through a sad divorce from his equally sweet, gorgeous blonde wife (also a great mom). Farcicial film-making send-ups, much hilarity, great humanity, amidst corruption and Berlusconi’s Italy.

The End and the Beginning
From Brazil, set in Paraiba, the deep rural Sertao, a filmmaker arond 60 from Rio goes here to find a documentary. He wanders from village to village looking for interesting people, quickly discovering Rosa who works in all the local towns via the Catholic service organization. After a brief effort to interview folks out in other towns, the crew settles on Rosa’s home village and all her extended family and friends. Most are very elderly, some survived severe drought in the 1930s. He queries them about life, marriage, death, religious beliefs, and gives them a lot of room to speak, ponder, share, feel. Becomes a beautiful, deep engagement with a dozen folks, alternately poignant, wry, cantankerous, ironic, mysterious, enlightened, charming…. a bit slow, but weirdly fascinating.

Fabricating Tom Ze
Saw it at El Rio and enjoyed it enormously–Tom Ze almost died, made wild incredible sounds for so long, since Tropicalia in the 1960s, then he wasn’t exiled like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, had a weird almost falling out, rediscovered by David Byrne and becomes HUGE in Europe. The movie takes you into his life, his ’03 and ’05 tours and concerts. Extremely funny, sad and brilliant, just like Tom Ze!

Heaven’s Doors
Wow! Best film of the festival by far!.. 160 minutes, felt like two or three films in one, but it never got boring. Great characters, multiple plots with some overlap, but not so tightly knit that it all comes to a pat ending. Gripping jumpy cinematography, reminiscent of Amores Perros–it’s a tale of a young, poor, hipster men in Morocco, on the coast in Casablanca, already mugging people, though the main guy is digging ditches to support his mother and sister. Eventually he joins the life of crime, but resists everyone who ways there is paradise somewhere else (“across The Strait”), sure it’s right there in front of them all. In fact that’s the real theme, powerful, humanistic, practical–paradise is something we create ourselves in our daily lives. When our hero gets shot on a drop-off, later he gets the address of his assailant. An early climax, presented premonitorily n the incredible complex editing of this film, is when he goes for revenge and is killed as he kills the guy, leaving the wife in a coma and the 10-year-old boy in the bathroom untouched. The 2nd part of the film departs from this mayhem. An ex-pat San Franciscan woman (who I thought might be a tranny, but wasn’t), art teacher and affluent living there, is the aunt by marriage (husband dead before story) of the boy. She’s 42, miserable and lonely and after a very unpleasant beginning, comes to love the boy Salim, only to have him taken away months later when the coma-stricken mother’s brother appears to claim them. But Lisa has been transformed by learning to love Salim, and through him, embracing her own life. The 3rd subplot involves a guy who is in jail the whole film, until he gets out in the end, determined to kill the crime boss who got him arrested (the same boss of the young man who got killed in part 1)… a fallow field of dried yellow stalks has flashed before us many times… now the ex-con brings the boss in his limo to the field and kneecaps him before fleeing to Bangkok. Fantastic, gutsy, amazingly crafted film. Late in film ex-con on phone to his lost love, now 39 and jaded about men in relationships says: “At 50, life has taught me one thing: you never recover from your childhood.” Smart! Surprising–again and again! Swel and Imad Noury made this film, watch for those guys! They are super talented!!

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