Chicago International Film Festival: Week 2

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Unfortunately, the films I saw during Week 2 of the Film Festival were not as interesting or memorable as Week 1′s “Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days” and “You, the Living” (see previous posting). Going to film festivals is much like gay online dating – you’re seduced by the intriguing, articulately-written profile (or film synopsis) with just the right amount of interesting tidbits that beg for more information, but once you agree to meet in person, you plunge into manic-depressive-with-ex-boyfriend-issues-and-Cher-fixation-hell. Or in the case of this week’s film festival movies, incomprehensibility-and-boredom-hell.

“Faro:  Goddess of the Waters” from Burkina Faso has a cliched tradition vs. modernism theme, played out with so much fabulous African color, I thought I was in one of Lisa Ling’s National Geographic specials but with a plot and dialogue.  The film is about an educated engineer who goes back to his remote village to build a dam, and all types of crazy business (possessed virgins, hurricanes, etc.) attributed to Faro, the river goddess ensue. About half an hour into this mess, I was thinking of getting a pedicure.

“Witnesses”, the latest film from acclaimed French director, Andre Techine, is a pretty straightforward story of shifting relationships and sexual identity in 1980s France, during the confusing early days of the AIDS epidemic.  I wished the story was more compelling, and tackled more ideas around the socio-political-cultural context (a lot of work was done in France to try and discover the cause of the disease and how to combat it). But I guess Techine didn’t really want to do an update on “And the Band Played On”, but rather find an excuse to film some really hot man-to-man coupling involving sizzling, extremely butch, rising French-Algerian actor, Sami Bouajila. Pouty actress Emmanuelle Beart, who is usually the objectified one in these French movies, is relegated to the background, usually wearing a heinous canary yellow ruffled sundress and madly typing on an ancient remington typewriter.  The things one does for a paycheck!

Israel’s “Jellyfish” won the Camera D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which is the prize given to first films.  Maybe one can forgive the directors for their baffling mix of styles (magical realism vs. naturalism), languid pacing, and total lack of focus because it is their first time at bat.  The attempt to portray the lives of a group of Tel Aviv residents sounds fascinating on paper, but is totally uninvolving.  Maybe its bias on my part, but I was most interested in the storyline involving the Filipino caretaker, although I wished that the writer and directors painted her story in a more vivid and socially-conscious fashion.

With the abundance of bare breasts and old men ogling them, I kept on wondering whether I was watching a Larry Flynt fantasia video instead of Jiri Menzel’s “I Served the King of England”, the Czech Republic’s entry to the 2008 Academy Award foreign language film category.  This slight trifle, mostly tedious, sometimes funny, tells the story of a guy who climbs the ladder in the hotel industry and survives the Nazis only to be imprisoned as a millionaire needing rehabilitation during the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in the 1950s.  It has a sweet and whimsical tone, which is a little jarring given the dark subject matter, and little else, an art film for the retirement community.

The Chicago International Film Festival ends tomorrow, October 18, with a screening of “The Savages”.  Director Tamara Jenkins and star Laura Linney will be attending the event.

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