Created after viewing the movie Julie & Julia (in which Julia Childs' love for cooking inspires a love of the same in Julie Powell), this blog is the outpouring of my love for film that was nurtured in me by a man for whom I hold deep respect and profound admiration:
Last night the 14th Annual Sarasota Film Festival came to an end. I'm sure I'll be suffering from symptoms of film-deprivation and withdrawal soon enough, but I think all the blogging I have yet to do will keep it alive for awhile. At the Filmmaker Tribute and Awards that preceded the Closing Night Film, this year's jury winners were announced. I want to share who won... and who should have:
Narrative Feature Competition Winner: Elena
Having seen every film in contention save for 11 Flowers, I can definitively say that this was hands-down the best film in competition. It was one of the few four-star films I saw, a truly Hitchcock-ian masterpiece of paced tension and subdued brilliance (my review is soon to come). It's nice to see the best film win.
Judging from his last two features,director Yorgos Lanthimos specializes in films centered around social experiments. In his last film Dogtooth, he used the story of homeschoolers brainwashed and shut in by their parents to examine the effects of a leading power (ranging from governmental to parental) using misinformation and lies to instill obedience in others and maintain authority. It was a depraved, even disgusting film (an alleged dark comedy whose humor escaped me), but shouldn't any authority's abuse of power be met with disgust?
I saw three movies on my fourth day at the festival, but in honor of two of the friends I've made (I'll call them Easy Rider and Less Is More) waiting in one of the many lines I've spent time in this week, I'm going to blog on the third before I write on the second. So today I'll be reviewing Restoration,then my next post will be on Alps, thus saving The Intouchables for sometime after that.
Restoration * * ½
A film is the summation of its parts, but sometimes they just don't add up. Restoration's parts are great in and of themselves, each of them well-crafted like the furniture Fidelmen (its protagonist) restores. The film's sum can't equal its individual qualities though: strong reality-rooted-performances that stray from sensationalism, its fittingly mournful violin-heavy musical score, and a well-written script. Its central problem can be summed up with one word... "emptiness".
There are two way to unnaturally die: by causes outside of one's control, or through events brought on by one's own actions. The Oscar nominated Monsieur Lehzar shows how one man copes with the effects of one, while absorbing the backlash and debris from the firestorm of the other. Though slight in its scope, it tackles this most universal of experiences: death -bringing to mind other small-scale but profound masterworks like Starting Out in the Eveningor The Visitor.
The contradiction of children is that they can be simultaneously simple and complex creatures. Though nuance may escape them, pretense cannot fool them. But the discovery of the reality of death is a molding and unsettling time for any child.
The toll child-abuse takes on its victims has been much publicized through social services and child-protective agencies, but what of the toll taken on those working through child services to end the abuse? Counseling and rehabilitative therapy are available to the children who undergo these horrors. Rehabilitation can only begin when the horror ends though, so there can be none for those protective workers whose horrors never cease -wading through the muck for children each day. Polisse(the winner of 2011's Jury Prize at Cannes) examines the effects of being the rescuers on the "muck-waders".
It begins as a startlingly desensitized film, glazing over masses of victim-stories depicted in blunt, sexually explicit, and borderline vulgar sequences. These initial scenes are overly long and seem uninvolved and emotionally disconnected from the plethora of abuses depicted and described -observing them only at a distance (from a bird's-eye-view).
This film had the potential to be a slight, but pleasant little comic gem. It has Jane Fonda hysterically parodying a stereotype of herself: she claims to prophetically dream, her basement's filled with pot, and she dances howling under every full moon. And it showcases promising young Nat Wolff's potentially star-making comedic turn as Fonda's awkward grandson. The plot revolves around the reunion of conservative and uptight Diane (free-spirited Catherine Keener in a horrible case of mis-casting) and her hippie mother Grace (Fonda) after twenty years of estrangement. After her divorce, Diane packs up the kids and heads to Grandma's place in Woodstock to escape the reality of her pain.
The film's problems, there are many, center around the film's indecision on its view of Grace. It starts off by satirizing, parodying, and generally making fun of her free-love hippie lifestyle, but then it comes to embrace it -making her philosophies on life the film's guiding principles and standards for morality.
Today (4/14) was the first full day of programming at the Sarasota Film Festival. Excitement levels were high and everyone was abuzz over last night's screening of Robot and Frank. To start the day, I saw Frank Langella in the first of the festival's "in conversation" series. Unlike other "in conversations", Langella's didn't follow the chronology of his career, but rather focused on his recently published book. Despite my disappointment with the inappropriate focus, Langella's charm shined through. Then I was off to Hollywood 20 to see my first film of the day...
Oslo, August 31st * * * ½
Regret. Not deserving a second chance but wanting one. Hopelessness. These are the things that Oslo, August 31st is about. Anders (as sensitively played by Anders Danielsen Lie) is a drug addict who has been ten months sober due to his stay in a rehabilitative home. Soon to re-assimilate into the outside world, he is given an evening to leave the home. The film begins the morning after his evening out and follows him through his day -where he is to leave again for a job interview in Oslo. In addition to attending his interview, Anders uses his day out to see those he loves and hasn't seen since he entered the home. But these visits cause wonder as to whether there is hope for him in recovery on the outside.
Unlike Sidewaysor The Squid and the Whale-two very pretentious films populated with very self-important individuals, director Joachim Trier's first film Reprise managed to populate itself with educated, literate characters who seemed absent of pretense or snobbery.
It's finally here, the 14th annual Sarasota Film Festival! Last night kicked everything off with the Opening Night Film: Robot and Frank. It was screened at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and among the huge turnout (what appeared to be in the high hundreds) were Robot and Frank's star and director Frank Lagella and Jake Shreier, respectively. Langella was charismatic and held a nice rapport with his director as they interacted during the post-film Q & A. I'm looking forward to the conversation David Edelstein will be hosting with Langella this afternoon. But onto my thoughts of the film itself...
Robot and Frank * * *
Frank Langella plays an aging and retired cat-burglar who is slowly starting to feel the effects of senility. Even playing the epitome of a"grumpy old man", Langella brings his inherent air of distinguishment to the colorful character. Set in the "near future", Frank's adult son (with whom he has a strained relationship) gets him a home-healthcare robot to take care of him since he can't always be there. After Frank gets over his initial disdain for the robot, moments of surprising humor and depth begin to occur between them -ranging from the robot's unexpected announcement that it's time for Franks enema, to their conversation about how the robot is just a shell filled with programming whereas Frank is filled with actual thoughts and intellect. But its when Frank discovers that the robot could help him start stealing things again that the plot really gets moving.
The Sarasota Film Festival is one of the highlights of my year. This will be my third year attending and I'll be seeing more films than I have have ever had opportunity to before: 27. In addition, I'll be seeing the Oscar-nominated Frank Langella in a live on-stage conversation regarding his expansive body of work and to promote his new film Robot and Frank. Every year, I always look forward to Roger's blog-posts from the festivals he attends. I check in late each night to see what he's seen and experienced at Cannes or Toronto that day. I vicariously experience those festivals through him. I appreciate his daily insights and then mentally file away the names of films that he recommends (even if those weren't the ones getting all the press attention that day) to see upon their theatrical releases. Because of Roger's festival blogs, I discovered two very little known films what are now some of my favorites: Rodrigo Garcia's Mother & Child and Atom Egoyan's Chloe. Those films also alerted me to the talent of their respective directors (both of whose work I researched and now follow).