I Review the First PFF/CF Weekend

March 30, 2009 at 1:50 pm 6 comments

Back Soon

Back Soon So many comedies, particularly those that ride the festival circuit, just aren’t closers; momentum dies and so do the laughs, usually once the third act rears its head. (The fest’s ‘60s Japanese pop satire GS Wonderland is a prime example of this sad phenom.) So whenever some yuk-fest manages to never lose grasp of its tone, it’s time to slightly overrate it. That’s the deal with Back Soon, an Icelandic weed comedy that, objectively, is no great shakes — it’s a weed comedy, for one thing — but which managed to make me laugh fairly consistently for its full 92 minutes. An exercise in ultra-digressiveness, Solveig Anspach’s film is essentially a litany of deadpan-absurdist humor, and it won me over in its opening minutes when a traveling Irish girl innocently asks one sadsack native for a light and is instead given a fairly epic and graphic description of the guy’s father’s fatal bout with lung cancer, to which she politely and guiltily listens. From there its frozen fish used to (unsuccessfully) break car windows, guitars descending from just above the top frame line for impromptu musical numbers and cell phones eaten by angry geese. And best of all, it never vies for seriousness, or much of anything other than your hard-earned cackles. And after imbibing a batch of interesting but fatally flawed films or even outright mediocrities, such unambition can simply hit the spot. B

Kabuli Kid There are few genres I don’t do more than the “baby (or kid) who de-assholes an asshole” genre. (See Tsotsi, Three Men and a Baby, et al.) So imagine my surprise when this Afghani film about a malcontent cab driver who finds one of his passengers has left their newborn in the back seat turned out to be almost comically devoid of sentimentality. Taking its cue from Iranian cinema, Kid focuses largely on process — the loops the cabbie (Hadji Gul) has to jump just to feed and take care of the baby, which winds up being so time-consuming he can barely do his job. Not too soon in it becomes apparent that this won’t end with the cabbie coming to want the baby himself; he’s trying to peddle it off, in increasingly desperate and crass ways, well into the third act. Most surprising? Almost no cute baby close-ups. Let me repeat that, all caps: ALMOST NO CUTE BABY CLOSE-UPS! Writer-director Barmak Akram has no trouble being didactic, though his gripes re: Kabul life post-U.S. invasion feel slightly natural coming out of a pissy cab driver’s mouth. B

Landscape #2

Landscape #2 So many Eastern-European films serve as metaphors for specific homegrown horrors American audiences likely know little about; see the Bulgarian Zift, playing later. (Or, rather, don’t.) I’m sure this nasty little Slovenian number is an allegory for the way the youth know little about their country’s disgusting history, chiefly a post-WWII massacre that opens the film in striking blurry out-of-focus. Cut to today and two burglars — one old, the other young and horny — steal a painting and some documents that tie a slimy, ancient general to said massacre, causing the release of a taciturn badass to annihilate most of the supporting cast. Even with my ignorance this feels a bit too tidy, though it’s hard not to appreciate its cynical rot — wherein the truth only comes out when it no longer matters, and it emerges not out of honor but just by some clueless scoundrel out for his own purposes. Message: avoid Slovenia. B-

9 to 5: Days in Porn

9 to 5: Days in Porn Though it indulges more than a bit too much in vacuous porn star confessionals, Jens Hoffmann’s spacious porn doc deserves credit for trying to find as many angles from which to look at an industry as successful as it is loathed. Some are full of shit; some treat it as pure business; some fail; and some — notably former star-turned-watchdogs Sharon Mitchell and Nina Hartley — have a complex mix of appreciation and critique. If anything its net is too wide; the film lacks organization and its take on the biz sometimes seems less complex than schizophrenic. B-

The Other One
There are two things holding this moody character study together: star Dominique Blanc and pretty shots. Directors Pierre Trividic and Patrick Mario Bernard know how to create an arresting image, usually via a combination of long lenses and obtrusive objects blocking part of their frames. But their story, in which a middle-aged woman (Blanc) goes quite bonkers after her younger lover takes on another woman exactly her age, meanders too much, veering drunkenly and constantly needing focus. At least they have Blanc, who brings an intelligence and wit that makes her character seem at least slightly aware of her increasing craziness — long as there’s not a hammer lying around. C+

Salt of This Sea Vascillating between well-observed and just plain stupid, the feature debut of Annemarie Jacir (Like Twenty Impossibles) tells of a Brooklyn-born woman of Palestinian-descent (Suheir Hammad) who journeys into the West Bank in an attempt to forcefully claim her ancestry. Cue the expected feuds with customs, border guards, etc. Less expected are the almost surreal strains of credibility, starting with how a tourist can both get into Palestine and then elude arrest after her visa runs out, plus a mid-film bank heist for which there just aren’t words. Jacir’s perspective is a lot more complex than her protagonist’s, and she includes one scene where Hammad comes off as the bad guy compared to the nice Israeli girl living in the house from which her grandfather was booted half a century prior. B-

Tyson First things first: please note that one of the executive producers of this doc on Mike Tyson is Mike Tyson himself. But that ain’t nothin’: if it didn’t often look like a Jame Toback film, you’d assume Tyson directed it as well. Like The Kid Stays in the Picture, Tyson puts an iron grip on its subject’s surely tainted perspective, never thinking of looking for a second opinion on, say, whether Iron Mike really didn’t rape that girl or whether he really didn’t beat ex-wife Robin Givens. Longtime Tyson bud Toback (Fingers, Two Girls and a Guy) is at least honest about his lack of objectivity, never pretending that this is anything but one man’s often self-pitying view of himself; hopefully it wasn’t Toback who decided to have Tyson often staring sensitively into the ocean. Its still questionable. C+

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As promised: Absolutely Epic Weekend Picks Post What You Should/n’t See at the Film Festival: Monday, 30 March

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