Monday, May 19, 2008

How to Cover Cannes From the Comfort of Your Own Home

None of the folks for whom I write are daft enough to semd me to the Croisette in May. They know that I'd just dash into the nearest police station and demand political asylum. Yeah, I know, Sarkozy isn't much better than Dubya, but I like the idea of the French Riviera as a sanctuary. Who wouldn't? (Although if I were really going to move there, I'd live in Frejus, a charming town in which the B.W. and I spent a week a couple of years ago -- fewer tourists, but the same lovely sun and sea.)

So I'm not at the Cannes Film Festival, as usual. That doesn't mean, of course, that I'm not interested. After all, this week's Cannes winner will probably be next fall's New York Film Fest "centerpiece." My two main sources of information on the event are the New York Times reports from Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott -- a huge upgrade from previous Times film critics going all the way back to the distant days when you could count on Roger Greenspun for some real insight -- and my friend and fellow Ira voter Michael Giltz, who blogs from Cannes for The Advocate. (Would you believe the entire purpose of this post was to alert you to Michael's blog, which you can find here? Well, not entirely.)

One learns quickly how to read the critical tea leaves in other people's cups. I listen regularly to the Guardian's Film Weekly podcast, mainly because they frequently have interesting interviews with European film folks who don't turn up on these shores. But when co-hosts Jason Solomons and Xan Brooks gushed over the new Fernando Mireilles film, Blindness, something in their febrile tones warned me not to expect much. I wasn't particularly impressed with City of God, which struck me as a visually disorganized mess and one of those DeMillean morality plays that is in love with everything it purports to denounce. I missed The Constant Gardener. But I had a distinct uneasiness about the new film; like Michael G., I have severe misgivings about the adaptability of Saramago's great novel, and nothing in Mireilles's track record suggest the kind of restraint necessary to make literary allegory translate to film. So when Solomons and Brooks gushed about the film's ostensibly "vivid" visual style, I could hear the warning signs for blocks. I been to that party before, baby, and the hangover lasted for weeks. Not surprisingly, Michael, Dargis and Scott all found the film shrill and otiose.

Of course, I'll suspend judgment until I see it for myself. Mr. G and I have been known to disagree. (Just compare our ten-best lists sometime when you have nothing -- and I mean nothing -- better to do.) But I have to admit that the prejudicial weathervanes are all flying in the same direction.

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On a lighter, non-film note, I draw your attention to an item from the BBC: "Mozambique Cops 'Too Fat to Run.'" Makes me want another donut. And I guess "lighter note" was a rather inappropriate choice of words.





Friday, May 16, 2008

Head's Up on Another Rossellini on Cable

I can't seem to find it in my archives, but I'm sure I posted a head's-up regarding the availability of Roberto Rossellini's rather obscure Era Notte a Roma on TimeWarner Cable's "International Movies on Demand." In fact, the film is still available and will continue to be into July. I got another surprise along the same lines a few minutes ago, when I discovered that they are now also offering Rossellini's Anima Nera, which I have barely even heard of. It stars Vittorio Gassman, a highly unlikely actor for Rossellini, so if nothing else that pairing should be of interest. I have no idea what is going on with this on-demand channel, but I'm almost giddy with delight.

A Backlog of Cinema

Occasionally while on-line I find myself wondering about people who let their blogs just trickle away to nothingness. I suppose that my Jewish guilt is so powerful that it acts like a kind of Puritanizm to prevent me from ever doing that. But I certainly can see why other people less driven by their internal governing voices can.

At any rate, I certainly haven't been idle the last two weeks. Indeed, here are links to my two latest film pieces, a review of three recent Jewish-themed films playing around town, and an interview with David Volach, director of My Father, My Lord. At the risk of cliche, let me add that if you are going to see only one more film this year, the Volach should be it. Although he cites Kieslowski as his immediate influence -- and the Polish master's presence is palpable -- I think Volach is what I've been seeking for a long time, a Jewish filmmaker sufficiently steeped in his own religion to understand how to apply the lessons of Bresson, Dreyer, Tarkovsky to Jewish spirituality, and vice versa.

Needless to say, I haven't gotten around to writing up the rest of the Tribeca films. I will say this, though; because of its sheer size, Tribeca is a refreshing change from the more focused festivals that are the rule in NYC. The New York Film Festival continues to be one of my favorite cinematic events of the year, but Tribeca is -- in a very different way -- every bit as much fun.

And of the films I saw at Tribeca this year, let me draw your attention to just a couple:

----The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab, a Spanish documentary about the Bocuse d'Or cooking contest, which includes a memorable line from a Norwegian fisheries expert: "We have happy halibut."

---Strangers, a new Israeli film by Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor, virtually a two-hander in which Liron Levo and Lubna Azabal meet cute at the World Cup then become deeply entangled with one another, a cross-cultural romance (Israeli-Palestinian) that could have been preachy and obvious but is low-key and charming. This one has a distributor and will probably turn up in the fall.