Blow Out. Last movie I saw at Ebertfest, and man what a way to go out. Love the cold open with a terrible horror film shoot… which we revisit later on. The movie does this throughout, working with both highbrow and lowbrow, exploiting genre trappings while mocking them. John Lithgow is amazing. I love how much old tech is in this: tape recorders, 16mm film, photo development, paper flipbooks, wearing wires. The climax, so ecstatic and lush and colorful and heightened through its slowness, is perfect. There’s something about the idea of truth in this one. Audio isn’t enough. It’s seeing that’s believing.
Radical Grace. This was a fun documentary. It tracks a group of feisty nuns and their guerrilla battles with the patriarchy in the Catholic church. They come under a lot of fire for more progressive outspokenness on a variety of issues. The sisters keep alive a sort of old-school community-based hippie evangelist approach. There’s some good droll “those wild women need supervisin’!” humor throughout. The nerve! Favorite line was from Sister Jean Hughes, when she said something like “God is not a man with a beard. God is the impetus for good.”
Force of Destiny. In this one a sculptor gets liver cancer and falls in love. One of those sweet gentle ones, very weepy and slow. Every now and it’s intercut with trippy scenes: a heron flying with a stick; the hero with his mother as a child; scenes from Italy travel and boats; a masked ball with people in the hospital. One thing it captures well is that special sort of quite terror and anxiety of waiting in the hospital, surrounded by other people’s grief and afflictions. The autobiographical overtones here made me wonder if it’s self-indulgent, and if that’s bad, and why it matters, and why it bothers me, and what it means that it colors my reaction to the film so much. Also a little bit of a not-too-subtle organ donation promotional, and I’m on board with that. Filed under: Ebertfest.
Eve’s Bayou. One of my absolute favorites from Ebertfest. Maybe my favorite, period. Stands out superficially with some impressive child actors, female leads throughout, and no white people. I love how it accumulates little moments. There’s a vibe here I’m not savvy enough to describe other than “very 90s” that’s very… old-fashioned. Full orchestra. Soft film image. Evening glow. It felt like a play at some points, with some of the momentum and delivery in the dialogue, and how the scenes were staged. The scene where Mozelle tells the story of her husband confronting her lover is a little masterpiece. Highly recommended!
Disturbing the Peace. A documentary about how former militants – Israeli and Palestinian – changed their minds, joined up with the enemy, and started to work for peace. It opens with personal stories of transformation. Confessions of wrongdoing. Stories of victimhood. The moment they decided to do something different than fight the other side. In form, it’s a mix of talking heads, reenactments, news reel footage, and live documenting protests and nonviolent demonstrations.
My favorite part was this really great scene between husband and wife. The wife holds a more angry and strident pro-Palestinian stance. She sees the nonviolent, loving approach as a surrender. There’s this awesome parental tension I’d never considered – how do they decide to expose their daughters to that greater world and their perspective, when to introduce them to certain ideas, etc.
There’s also the fact that the rest of the populations (Israeli and Palestinian) sometimes aren’t just ambivalent but sometimes strongly anti-nonviolence, strongly against peaceful protest. Gave me a new appreciation, of how hard it is to do protest work when the rest of your community hates what you’re doing…
I forget whether this was in the movie or in the post-movie conversation, but I also like the idea that forgiveness is not altruistic. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Filed under: Ebertfest.
L’Inhumaine. Marcel L’Herbier’s old French 1924 silent film. I saw this one at Ebertfest, along with Darius Milhaud’s original score played live by the Alloy Orchestra. It… messed with my head.
It starts at this awesome crazy-designed mansion of wealthy singer. You see, she’s a babe and there are men competing for her attention. One is jilted and attempts/fakes suicide. People mourn. There’s a big scene at a Paris theatre with a big rabble-rousing crowd. (That scene also features some awesome cameos from real-life friends from the art world – Proust, Joyce, Pound, etc.). The singer feels guilt. The suicide guy returns. One of the other suitors, a Maharaja, seeks revenge for his jilting by posing as a taxi driver and planting a poisonous snake in her cab. She dies. A mad scientist revives her. Etc. That’s not even the half of it. The final trippy hallucinatory sequence is NUTS. There’s montage, translucencies, overlapping images, swapping color filters, flashes of bold color, accelerating cuts. Don’t sleep on the old stuff.
The Third Man (1949). Number four from Ebertfest. I dug it, and I remember basically nothing about the plot. Post-war Vienna light-and-shadow mystery stuff, cock-eyed angles. Orwell’s reveal, emerging from the shadows, is so good. Nice sewer chase at the end, though I wish they’d tightened it up a bit. I wonder how they managed the sound down there. And basics like navigating around. Apparently that persistent zither soundtrack was a local, on-the-spot hire, some dude they found on location at a cafe during the filming of the movie.
Northfork. Third movie I saw at Ebertfest. It’s really bizarre and I really liked it. In this one, there’s a small town that’s about to be flooded as a new lake is constructed. Some G-men types are hired to evacuate people (a pair of lovers; a guy who nailed himself to his front porch, waiting gun in hand; a man who built an ark for himself and his two wives). There’s also a storyline with a small dying orphan boy who has dreams with imagery that draw from the knick-knacks on his bedside table: a cup of tea, a model plane, a Bible, pillow and its feathers, a model hand, a music box. So, a story of transitions and leave-takings. But for all that, it has its light moments like some really droll, straightfaced wordplay delivered without a hint of knowingness (“fowl play”, “What are you talking about Willis?”), a quartet of angels looking for a chosen one, and some weird gags like the guessing game at the diner. There’s a blend of Catholic, Mormon, and Amish local influence along with some magical realism. So, a really, really odd one. Some of the drama is a little flat, but I love the imagination.
Grandma. Another one from Ebertfest, one of my least favorite of the weekend, but it’s not bad by any means. In short, a granddaughter goes to her grandmother’s house to get money for money for an abortion, and we go from there.
This grandma… has anger issues. She’s gruff, flaky, independent. It’s weird having a central character who’s so angry all the time. Takes something special to keep her worth watching. She’s her own worst enemy for sure. She also drives a classic car that’s near breaking down. She doesn’t take care of it – metaphor! Themes of motherhood, parental influence, experiencing and anticipating loss, grieving, etc. All female cast except for an excellent Sam Elliott cameo and the guy at dinner.
Crimson Peak. This was the opener at Ebertfest when I went a couple months ago. I loved it the first time and it was even better with an enthusiastic crowd in an old theater. Felt like an event. The anticipation helps a lot, and having the director on hand to talk about his movie does, too. One of my favorite lines from Guillermo Del Toro’s awesome Q&A that night:
I don’t make eye candy. I make eye protein.
He shared background on the influences, comparisons and similarities to Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, which have a similar sense of loss and abandonment, and to a few Hitchcock movies – Rebecca, Suspicion, Notorious – as more recent gothic romances where love ends in conflagration. In this one the heroine’s experience of love goes hand-in-hand with the experience of death.
He also talked a lot about the unity of construction through the whole thing. How the story is told in architecture (different architectural styles through the house and each floor, the differing levels of moral order and corruption), in costume (Chastain’s blue dress borrows architectural elements from the house; another draws influence from her association with moth vs. Wasikowska’s butterfly; she’s the only person to wear red, etc.), and in sets (oversized chairs when our heroine takes ill).
Aside from the movie itself, I also enjoyed hearing Del Toro talk about two approaches to evaluating a movie. One, as a viewer, does it do its job? Like, did you feel like you wasted your time? And another way is to approach it as a piece of art – taking into account the context, influences, intentions – did it meet its goals?