Speaking of that - the hit of last year's M-SPIFF was a locally made movie directed by a Minnesotan, Ali Selim, called "Sweetland". If you haven't seen Sweetland, you just must. It's so sweet and wonderful. It will be out on DVD on July 10th. The number of people who have it on their Netflix waiting list will determine how popular it is and how many copies Netflix buys - help an independent filmmaker and put it on your wait list, please!!
So, back to this year's M-SPIFF. My plans to see a bunch of movies on Sunday didn't quite work out, mostly because of a series of bad decisions by me. But, I did see a couple and I have seen one every night this week. Here they go:
First up is a Norwegian film called "Reprise." I couldn't find a poster for it, but here are the two lead characters:
They're best friends who are both writers. At the beginning of the film they both mail their book manuscripts out to publishers. The one on the right is Philip. His book is immediately published to great acclaim. The one on the left is Eric. His book is rejected. However, Philip has a mental breakdown after becoming obsessed with his girlfriend and ends up hospitalized. Eric and a few of their other friends come to pick up Philip and bring him back to his apartment in Oslo. Eric continues to write and eventually he also is published. Most of the time all the guys just sort of hang out and party and talk and be guys together. It doesn't sound like much, but it was really entertaining. A lot of the film is told in flashbacks, so you have a constantly shifting timeline, although it wasn't at all confusing. The actors are all really good, especially the leads. The film was directed by Joachim Trier, who is getting a lot of buzz about being one of the up and comers.
Next I saw a documentary, Filmmakers in Action. The subject was really interesting - it showed how directors are fighting against any sort of manipulation of their films. There are a lot of ways in which films can be manipulated - you immediately think of colorization and of the pan and scan process of full screen DVDs. But there's also dubbing and inserting commercials for television broadcast and those little logos in the corner on a television broadcast. There's even discussion of whether putting subtitles on a film is mutilation of the film. It is pretty interesting to think about - directors make a million different choices in making a film, all for very specific reasons. Once you've jacked around with those choices, have you destroyed the integrity of the art?
There is definitely a legal difference between Europe and the U.S. and it seems to me that part of that difference may even lie in our views of filmmaking. The Europeans pioneered the "auteur" theory of film. Under that theory, film is a direct expression of the director's personal creative vision - the director is the author of the film like a writer is an author of a book. And in Europe, directors have not only financial rights in film, but a moral right, which they can defend in court. Directors have been successful in stopping all of the different manipulations I listed above in France and other European countries based on their moral rights to control their film. In the U.S., there is no such thing as a moral right to film. You have the copyright which usually is not held by the director, but rather the producers of the film. And in the U.S., we somewhat embrace the auteur theory, but we more think of film as a group effort. The screenwriter creates the basis of the film, the actors breath life into the words, the composer adds music, etc. And the director has the big picture control, but it's not just his or her sole work. Quite often, the director doesn't have control of the film (known as final cut). So, I think in part our laws reflect that theory. We're also more money/business oriented - it is called show business after all.
So, interesting topic. A lot to think about. But the execution of the film itself was not good. A lot of it was directors talking about how they feel about these different manipulations, which was fine. But they would often have one person talking and then they'd cut to some pictures of the next person who was going to be interviewed while you could still hear the current speaker and then return to film of the person being interviewed. So it was sort of like a little sneak peek of who was coming next. So weird and distracting. And in between different parts of the film, they had this young, sexy actress serving sort of as a narrator, I guess. She would read some monologue about the issue or a couple of times she was supposed in a conversation with some of the directors. She was wearing a different outfit every time she appeared on screen, but they were always really sexy and she had dark red lipstick and a ton of makeup on. It just was so weird. It was like, we've got this boring series of interviews with old white guys who are directors, so let's throw this sexy young thing in to liven things up.
Bothersome Man, in English. Another Norwegian film. This one was a little more strange. It's about this guy, the title character, who finds himself delivered to a life that he doesn't quite fit into. He doesn't seem to have a memory of where he came from or who he was before, but he does remember things being different. He's told he's an accountant and he finds everyone at work is very pleasant and his boss is very anxious to make sure he's not overworked. He meets a lovely woman and they move in together. They make love often, but it doesn't seem to have an ounce of passion. Food has no taste, alcohol has no effect, there's no smells anywhere. Everything is just gray and steady and boring. It looks like everyone lives in an Ikea catalog. The man wants more, but that doesn't seem possible. It's obviously a comment on suburban life and materialism. There were some really funny parts, but it was just a bit theoretical and cold for my tastes.
This was another one that was just ok for me. It's set in 1980s China and is about a Chinese orphan who is sent to apprentice a botany professor and learn Chinese herbalism so she can come back to the Orphanage to take care of their gardens. The professor is a harsh and demanding taskmaster, but she stays because she falls in love with his daughter. Of course, a lesbian relationship isn't really accepted in society so the orphan marries the professor's son, who is in the military, so he won't be around but she'll still be able to stay with her sister in law/lover. The film is really lovely and lush. However, it was pretty simplistic and very, very slow paced. I was completely taken by the lead character, who was played by Mylen Jampanoi. I found out her father is Chinese and her mother is French - she has incredibly gorgeous eyes and just looks very exotic. Apparently she recently married a Bollywood star called Milind Soman, who is also extremely gorgeous. It's like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting together.
Last night I saw:
This is a joint Irish/Romanian film based on a true story. In 1999, a group of 41 Romanians got travel visas to enter Ireland supposedly to participate as a choir in a music festival. But no one ever saw any of them again after they left the airport. The immigration scam became huge news in Ireland. In the film, an Irish conman, Mickey, goes to Romania to escape the gangster he owes $50,000. He meets up with an old Romanian friend he once snuck into Ireland in a shipping container. Unfortunately, they were discovered and Mickey landed in jail and his friend was deported back to Romanian. While Mickey is hiding out from the Irish gangster he manages to get entangled with two gangsters in Romania - one called "The Frenchman" who is certifiable and the other a gypsy. In order to extricate himself from all of his problems, he comes up with the idea of putting together a "gypsy chorus" by charging $5,000 per head and getting all the visas he'll need to get them to Ireland. That way he'll be able to pay off the Irish gangster and escape the Romanian ones. Simple, eh? What follows is face paced, highly stylized and great fun.