2010 Summer and Fall Film Festival Journal

All films are rated on a scale of **** (A+), *** 3/4 (A), *** 1/2 (A-), *** 1/4 (B+), *** (B), ** 3/4 (B-), ** 1/2 (C+), ** 1/4 ( C), ** (C-) , * 3/4 (D+), * 1/2 (D), * 1/4 (D-), * (F)

Films in BLACK type are from the Los Angeles Film Festival
Films in BLUE type are from OUTFEST 

A FAMILY  (En familia) 
(d. Pernille Fischer Christensen)
A hat trick of (apparently) unrelated Christensens combine to make an extraordinary Danish family drama.  Primary is Jesper Christensen, who plays a 50ish, quality obsessed baker descended from a German dynasty of bakers, father of four, and possibly dying of cancer.  Lene Maria Christensen plays his eldest daughter:  independent art broker, pregnant at the start of the film.  Others in the cast are equally splendid in this sensitively directed film which describes how a series of major life turning points fracture otherwise strong family bonds. It is harrowing, emotionally devastating, ultimately life affirming.  *** 1/2

ORLY  (d. Angela Schanelec)
There is an entire genre of airport films: sprawling large cast dramas centered on people waiting for flights etc.  One thinks of the French film Jet Lag, or Spielberg's Terminal, or maybe Up In The Air.  Well this film desires to be of that ilk, though a lower budget affair.  But, unfortunately it doesn't measure up, being rather scattered and pointless.  The film interweaves at least four separate stories of people wandering around the waiting room at Orly airport (near Paris)...but none of them are compelling and no effort is made to connect the stories.  The film wastes the talent of several good actors, among them Émile Berling, whom I'd like to see more of.   ** 1/4

LEBANON  (d. Samuel Maoz)
This excellent, if claustrophobic, film focuses on a tank crew on the first day of Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982.  It's one of the most realistic war films ever:  the audience is literally assaulted by the confusion, the noises, even the stenches of inhabiting a battle tank.  It's also an ironic example of the "fog of war": how multiple snafus happen despite good men trying their best.  The director chose to shoot most of the film in extremely tight close-ups of the actors, fitting with the small, enclosed space of the tank and increasing the sense of immediacy.  And the actors are up to the task.  Once again Oshri Cohen shines (he was the lieutenant in Beaufort)...here as the comic relief screw-up Herzel.  Lebanon won the prestigious Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival; and I can understand why the jury went for it.  Powerful stuff.  *** 1/4

Unexpectedly, for me at least, the L.A. Film Festival in its new downtown digs at the Regal multiplex in L.A. Live has been a smashing success.  Sellouts and large crowds, even for obscure foreign language films, have been plentiful.  The audiences seem younger than I've observed in past years, and more film savvy.  And the level of the films I've watched so far has been very high (though I've heard contrary rumbles, especially about the narrative films in competition.)  And I'm impressed with the Regal 14...it is truly a worthy addition to the L.A. movie scene.  Remarkably I've even had no trouble finding street parking nearby to the west of the theater.  Compared to Seattle's parking and logistics nightmares this has been a walk in the park.

PARADE (Parêdo)  (d. Isao Yukisada)
Four disparate, young Tokyo moderns share an apartment.  When one of them, a girl in a drunken stupor, brings home an 18 year old male hustler to crash on the couch it sets off a series of unexpected and delightfully perverse events.  Each character is extremely well defined; and even though I did predict the outcome fairly early on, it was just a lucky guess since the script was full of novel MacGuffins.  It's tempting to compare this film to the tv sitcom "Friends";  but nothing could be further from the case as this is more high class melodrama and quite skillfully cinematic with a memorably propulsive score.  I'd like to give a special mention to Japanese teen idol Kento Hayashi, who imbued his bleached blond hustler character with quirky charm and charisma. 
*** 1/2

(d. Tobias Lindholm & Michael Noer)
In the past year there have been a number of excellent foreign language films about prison life:  France's A Prophet, Spain's Cell 211, Brazil's Lion's Den all have depicted the unique nature of each country's penal systems.  Add Denmark to the list with this violent and even shocking revelatory film.  Johan Philip Asbæk (a Danish actor to watch, who also co-starred in another film at this festival, A Family) plays Rune, novice inmate serving a two year term for some indeterminate stabbing.  He is thrown in with a cell block of tattooed, rough-and-tumble, real-life ex-prisoners in an authentic looking, dilapidated prison environment.  This is no Shawshank Redemption...it's pointedly not the run-of-the-mill prison escape or riot film, rather a down and dirty exposé of filth, corruption and anarchy.  Plus points for surprises along the way and authenticity; minus points for a somewhat familiar story not quite as well done as those films mentioned above.  ***

ANIMAL KINGDOM  (d. David Michôd)
This is an amazing Australian noir drama about a crime family from the point of view of a teenage boy/man who is thrown into dealing with his grandmother and three crazed uncles after his mother, estranged from her family, dies from an overdose.   I don't want to give away details of the story, which is totally mesmerizing and involving.  It reminded me of a recent Australian tv series that I was lucky enough to catch on DirecTV's 101 Network:  "Underbelly", also being a story about Victoria low-lifes and corrupt policemen.  Kudos to young James Frecheville and veteran Guy Pearce (playing the one sympathetic cop in the entire film) for their contributions to an outstanding ensemble of actors too many to mention individually.  First-time writer-director David Michôd is also to be commended for the polish he gives to the wide-screen production reminiscent of Michael Mann (although Michôd's style is not as visually exciting as Mann's, his narrative sensibility is in the same ballpark). *** 1/2

MAHLER ON THE COUCH  (d. Felix O. Adlon & Percy Adlon)
Percy Adlon, who let's face it is a distinctive auteur, has partnered with his son Felix to make this super-arty biopic.  The Adlons claimed, pre-film, that they were the only father-son directing team that they could think of; and they may be right.  In any case, the combo turned out to be a mixed bag from my seat.  The film is structured as a series of flashbacks as a neurotic Gustav Mahler consults Sigmund Freud while the latter is on vacation.  Mahler's problem, as envisioned by this script, is a block caused by his passion for his unfaithful ex-wife Alma.  The flashbacks are dominated by Barbara Romaner, an Austrian stage actress in her first major film turn, who plays Alma as a spoiled rich girl whose fickle passions are thwarted by the role of subservient muse she must play as Mahler's wife.  It's a great performance (not surprising since Percy Adlon is a superb director of women).  The scenes between Mahler (look-alike Johannes Silberschneider) and Freud (Karl Markovics) are not as successful, confusingly shot and rather prosaic compared with the vivid flashbacks.  The film looks gorgeous...but not in the gauzy, burnished way of the usual period productions, rather a more crisp, contemporary look thanks to being shot in digital.  I hate to admit this:  but for all the adult theme and high production values, I found the film a little boring.  ** 3/4

LIGHT GRADIENT (Rückenwind)  (d. Jan Krüger)
Two 20-something gay boys embark on a bicycle trip into the forest on a pleasant German country lane.  They're comfortable with their sexuality, enjoying nature and their mildly sado relationship au naturel.  The film can't quite decide whether it wants to be Blair Witch or Summer Storm; but we're aware that something strange is lurking in the forest.  That there is no ultimate payoff is irrelevant.  Either one goes with the flow (literally, since water is an everpresent metaphor for sexual freedom) and enjoys the pleasures of nature and some attractive boy flesh (Sebastian Schlecht is an actor to watch for)...or one finds the slow pacing and mysterious subtext maddingly obscure and a waste of time.  I'm neutral; but I wish the sex scenes had been a little less coy and arty.  ** 1/2

GAY DAYS (Hazman Havarod) (d. Yair Qedar) plus short THE LIBERATION OF GRIFFITH PARK (d. Matt Spero)
Gay Days is an interesting and informative feature documentary about the history of gay life in Israel, featuring interviews with ordinary people and celebrities who were instrumental in the recognition of Tel Aviv's becoming a kind of gay mecca in the '90s.  It breaks no new ground as a documentary; but succeeded as a film experience with its satisfying mixture of politics and artistic expression.   But I want to talk about the short film which played with it, called The Liberation of Griffith Park.  It's an historical document of early gay life in Los Angeles, utilizing 8mm footage and voice-over interviews from a 1971 "Gay-In" in Griffith Park.  What made this so personally involving was that I attended this actual event; and I met my first lover, Lorenzo in the parking lot as I was going home...and we enjoyed 15 year together after that until he was murdered in 1986.  Furthermore, I'm almost 100% certain that the first voice-over commentary was of me being interviewed at the event, although I didn't actually see any live action footage of either myself or Lorenzo.  This was almost 40 years ago; but I have clear memories of that day.  And this film captured a great deal of the feelings of liberation that we had attending this event.  *** (for the feature)   *** 1/2 (for the short). 

FIT  (d. Rikke Beadle-Blair)
Beadle-Blair is an English gay activist-filmmaker who has a flair for relevant social drama with a flamboyant sensibility.  His British tv series, Metrosexuality seen at the 2001 Outfest, was a touchstone of gay television achievement.  With this wide-screen major production, he's expanding and putting on film a project he's been working on for years: a theater piece which travels to schools in Britain teaching tolerance by example to a generation of school kids.  The film follows a drama class with a new, out-and-proud gay teacher (played by Beadle-Blair himself) as the kids explore their own friendships and relationships emphasizing the gay-straight dualities.  If the film is reminiscent of the American tv series Glee, with a little bit of Fame thrown in, I think that's all to the good.  The lessons of tolerance go down easy because the dramatic scenes are well written and acted.   *** 1/4

ADULTS IN THE ROOM, THE (d. Andy Blubaugh) 
Blubaugh is a real-life 30-something Portland high-school drama teacher, who at age 15 became sexually involved with a 30-year old man he met on the internet.  Using actors to re-create the relationship (the young actor is actually 16), plus interviews with himself and such "experts" as advice columnist Dan Savage, he examines the dynamics of such a relationship with remarkable even-handedness. 
Blubaugh is careful to respect the sensibility of the man he was involved with, maybe too careful.  But perhaps it was the only way to get this film made.  For all the squickiness of the subject matter, the film really does have a lot to say about intergenerational (and incidentally illegal) sex...and says it in a novel and inventive presentation, something between documentary and docudrama.  I have a lot of respect for Blubaugh as a person and filmmaker, even though his film made me uncomfortable.  ***

SASHA (d. Dennis Todorovic) 
A Montenegrin family living in Germany...the elder son is preparing for his conservatory classical piano audition while struggling with being gay and in love with his male piano teacher while living in a traditional homophobic family.  That's the set up for this dramedy which isn't very funny; but nevertheless is affecting as the melodrama works its way to resolution.  The acting, especially the parents, is a little over-the-top; and the director could have paced the film better.  It does almost work, however, since the boy's coming-of-age story has the ring of cultural accuracy.  ** 1/2

BEARCITY  (d. Doug Langway)

* 1/2

ROLE/PLAY  (d. Rob Williams)
** 1/2

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