Just Before the Door Shuts

Well, I certainly procrastinated well this time. New Directors is almost over -- it ends Sunday -- and I've managed to waste a week before offering my quick round-up of the series. I could blame it on the run-up to the Iras and post-Ira letdown, which would be partly true, but regular readers know it's just laziness. However, my review of the two Jewish interest films is here.

I only got to a half-dozen of the films in this year's event, but here are my impressions of the other ones I saw.

Hit So Hard -- Patty Schemel was the original drummer for Hole, Courtney Love's band, and her life has been pretty complicated, to say the least. In addition to working with Love and being a close friend of her husband Kurt Cobain, Schemel had drinking and heroin problems. The first 40 minutes or so of this documentary, directed by P. David Ebersole, are riveting. Schemel is a likeable personality and the rapid rise of the band and its impact on her life make for lively viewing. After that, though, it turns into an increasingly self-serving episode of This Is Your Life. That's what happens when the director is a personal friend of the subject and her partner is the co-producer. A missed opportunity, particularly since Ebersole had the use of hours of privately shot video and film from Schemel.

Incendies -- A highly anticipated film from Quebec, directed by Dennis Villeneuve, with a strong cast headed by Lubna Azabal and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin (who is the best thing about the film). Azabal is the dead mother of Desormeaux-Poulin and her twin brother, Maxim Gaudette. In her will she sets out a task for the twins that involves excavating her mysterious past in a country that is clearly based on Lebanon. They are dropped unprepared into a history of tribal jealousies, political and sectarian violence, revenge, torture and the like. Villeneuve directs this material with considerable detachment, and the script is too schematic. Despite some nice performances and a few striking sequences, the result suffers from a significant lack of heat. The last line of the film says something about "breaking the chain of anger," but the film belies that phrase. More like breaking the chain of mild annoyance.

Majority -- Given its title, one might expect this to be a film about Turkey's slightly fragile democracy. Unfortunately, it's another meaning of majority that is at stake here. Metkan (Bartu Küçükçag ̆ layan) is 21, but he lives at home with his parents and works as a lowly errand boy for his father's construction firm. When he begins an affair with a young Kurdish woman, there are signs that he may be groping towards the adulthood that his age confers legally. But his father's vitriolic racism threatens the relationship and the girlfriend hasn't a chance against the sheer inertia of Metkan's life. Sort of an aimless Turkish variant on mumblecore, with more at stake and a thoroughly unappealing protagonist.

Hospitalite -- This one is the keeper, the best of the six films I saw, a hilarious farce by second-time feature director Koji Fukada. Kobayashi (Kenji Yamauchi), the owner of a small print shop finds himself importuned by a man (Kanji Furutachi) who claims to be the son of the shop's late co-owner, the guy who bailed out Kobayashi's dad when times were tough. Kobayashi offers him a job and he moves in, literally. First he brings his blonde girlfriend (Brierly Long), who is Brazilian or Bosnian or, more likely, American, and a teacher of English and/or salsa dancing. Then he gradually imports some new staff and eventually fills the shop and apartment with an army of mysterious foreigners. Fukada could have played this sinister intent like a junior Joseph Losey (there are echoes of The Servant) but, refreshingly he turns the project into spirited comedy with devastatingly effective timing and an alternately obsequious and menacing performance by Furutachi. The result is a sort of Tokyo-based Jonsonian comedy of humours, deftly orchestrated and terrific fun.