SF Int’l Film Festival! pt 5

The marathon is over! 37 movies in 13 days!… Last night was the Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en Rose”… quite a spectacular effort. The lead actress does an incredible job, and the casting was fantastic for the various kids who play Piaf at earlier ages… very sad story, but quite entertaining, well shot and edited (I could have cut out some of the numerous endings that litter the end of the film, but so it goes)…

Here’s the last few capsule reactions/reviews of films I saw:

The Yacoubian Building
Very entertaining, nearly three hours long, a dense movie with at least four or five plot lines all weaving in and out of the Beaux Artes building of the title in Cairo, as well as weaving in and out of class and occupations. Bleak portrayal of the fate of women, which was only the most obvious aspect of the European gaze that framed this story. Based on the all-time best-selling Egyptian novel (written by a dentist!) it blatantly harkens back to an era before the 1956 revolution, when people knew their place and life for the wealthy was very good. One of the main characters is a slowly sinking sonof a pasha, 65 years old, who gets thrown out of his family’s lush apartment by his bitter, heartless sister. His efforts to preserve some kind of civilized kindness is the core of the film, while around that story, several other sagas of political corruption, gangsterism, Islamic terrorism and manipulation, and a whole gay story too, all unfold. The gay angle is super cliche and silly, and the dire portray of women sexually harassed, bought and sold, and kept, all belies the horrified western eye. Of course it’s easy to sympathize since I too am horrified by the treatment of women shown here; few characters are ultimately admirable except the fallen pasha who marries the chaste pretty poor girl for a happy ending. Still, the romanticized Cairo was interesting to compare to the gritty corners occupied by “These Girls” the night before.

Born & Bred
A very strange movie from Argentina. Starts out with a bucolic upper middle class family in Buenos Aires, happy mom-dad-daughter; after 15+ minutes they leave for a country trip and a terrible accident happens. Screen goes black, a fire begins, and the protagonist Santiago is screaming for his wife and daughter, implying they’re dead. When the image returns he’s in a barren tiny airport far south in Patagonia. Then the rest of the film is Santiago as a dissolute, despairing drunk working at a godforsaken airstrip in the middle of nowhere, befriended by his coworkers who are stuck in their own loops of drinking and dysfunctionality. When the Indian friend’s wife dies Santiago bolts from the funeral and has a breakdown, finally admitting to his pal that he “killed his family” by having the car accident. All through the film he’s been calling to Buenos Aires and asking for his daughter, presumably speaking with his mother-in-law, but it’s never clear. The woman’s voice keeps pleading with him to say where he is, but he keeps hanging up. Meanwhile, his friend keeps getting calls for him on his cellphone but Santiago won’t answer them. Finally, after this endless period of despair in the snow and wind, he decides to return to Buenos Aires, whereupon he goes to the old house and his wife answers the door, deeply disturbed and angry with him. He proposes they take a walk and she agrees, and the movie ends… implying that his wife and daughter hadn’t died after all, but his years-long absence had done more damage than the actual accident… I have to admit that I just found the whole story implausible and incomprehensible. They claim it’s a meditation on isolation and introspection, but there was very little to justify that proposition… obviously I didn’t think much of it, in the end.

Along the Ridge
This Italian movie really got into my head and heart. A complicated family drama in which the father and 13-year-old daughter and 10-year old son live together, the mother having left before the story begins. The father speaks very graphically and angrily about the mother having gone off to fuck some other guys, especially a rich guy, but he’s basically a very sweet father trying his best to hold it together for his funny and sweet kids. Great interaction between the two siblings, and good scenes of the boy at school. The dad is pushing son to be a competitive swimmer instead of playing soccer, which the son is increasingly resistant to, even though he’s a good swimmer. Soon the mother returns, crying and begging to be allowed back into the family. The dad is enraged and sends her away, while the kids cry, but very early the next morning he wakes up the kids and brings them to the kitchen table to make a big decision. There is mom who has been sitting up talking with dad all night, and there is a heavy scene of the children being asked whether or not they want their mom to come back (reminding them all that she has left more than once before). She’s a really gorgeous woman and after they accept her back, she’s soon on the phone with mysterious others, implying that it’s probably other men. The son is more ambivalent about her than the daughter, but eventually everyone is back to some semblance of a happy family life (dad has started his own steadi-cam business, which is not doing well). Suddenly the mom is gone again. The sadness and pressure is huge, especially on the father, who in turn dumps it on his son, primarily through his expectations around the swimming competition. There are a great many nuanced moments in all this, realistic and painful and heartwarming by turns. The son abandons his successful swim heat at mid-course, the father is deeply upset, and when the son asks to join his wealthy neighbor for a skiing weekend, dad takes it as a deep betrayal and throws him out of the house in a very harsh moment. Later that night the son sneaks back in to find his dad sitting disconsolate in bed. The son asks if he’s alright, and that leads to an incredibly intense reconnection between them, all the love and tension reaching a climax. It’s a fantastic movie, full of real-life moments, great acting, and probably touched me more deeply than any other film I saw… maybe because it was my penultimate film in a 2 week marathon of movie-watching, but really, it was just fantastic.

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