Friday, October 24, 2014

23rd Philadelphia Film Festival: Days 7 and 8

It was a dreary, miserable day before I went downtown for a couple of evening showings on the festival's 7th day. I had skipped screenings on days 5 and 6 because I have a legit job where film criticism isn't my primary focus. It's a nice hobby, though.

(Read about days 1-4 of the festival here)

Anywho, one of the films I was most looking forward to, and the one most difficult to squeeze into my schedule, was this year's Cannes jury prize winner "Goodbye to Language" - which tied with "Mommy", another PFF selection. Later on I would be checking out the German film "Stations of the Cross", and while the first few days were full of disappointment, day 7 was a total highlight.

Day 7- Visual Stimulants

The rain was a problem. Parking downtown can be a total asshole, and with the rain I figured I was going to be showered with no possibilities. Luckily, I found a spot about two blocks over with only 7 minutes before the screening started for "Goodbye to Language". I got a good seat and honkered down for whatever the hell was about to come my way.

It's interesting to see what films the festival's artistic director, Michael Lerman, says are one of his favorites of the festival. He didn't say that for this, but did for "Mommy" and "Force Majeure" so I thought "uh-oh". Granted, the short film that ran before was an unconscionably loud and stupid piece of a camera drifting down from the rafters to a woman standing naked on a stage. It was SO. FUCKING. LOUD. with its barbaric chanting soundtrack. Christ did I want earplugs for that.

"Goodbye to Language" has great 3D depth.
Then the main feature started, with all sorts of blasting sounds and images. It was an orgy for the senses. I can't even describe too well why I liked "Goodbye to Language", but I was totally enticed by it. Jean-Luc Godard's latest feature is an acid trip-induced, philosophical clusterfuck of bizarre sounds and sights that will leave you contemplating what's going on and why. In all of its beautiful 3D glory is a story about an older man and a younger woman, a dog trouncing around carelessly in the wild, and pooping.

"Goodbye to Language" is something you need to see at least once. I sure as hell didn't understand it and I don't care. Any film that can superimpose two 3D images leaving your eyes hurting to figure out which shot you should be looking at is a good thing. Godard plays with visuals so much it's like an ever-changing kaleidoscope. So much mess, so much fun to watch. I ranked this excellent on my ballot.

With some time to spare before the 9:30 showing of "Stations of the Cross" at the Ritz Bourse, I popped into my friend's place to kill some time, and yada yada yada, the next movie started.

"Stations of the Cross" was another film I was unaware about and turned out to absolutely love it. This unnerving portrait follows the saint-like figure Maria, a German teenager on the verge of her Confirmation who is so selfless and innocent it gets mistaken for sin by her religiously-strict mother. This is a film so grand that as Maria's story unfolds you really see how much of a saint she really is.

Maria symbolizes Jesus in the film, told in 14 chapters, after each station of the cross, and in scenes that are almost all in front of a stationary camera. This was a truly gripping film, with scenes so delicately directed with rawness and passion, it evokes Haneke's truly effective simplicity. I marked this as excellent on my ballot.
Maria (Lea van Acken) speaks with PaterWeber (Florian Stetter) about self-sacrifice in the film's beginning.

Day 8: Braving the Storm Together

So Thursday rolls around and it was a cold night. I had a hefty load on my plate that evening: the mammoth Palme d'Or winner "Winter Sleep" followed up with the comedy "Teacher of the Year". To my surprise there were long lines forming outside the Ritz East for the 6:40 showing of "Winter Sleep", a film that would not be over until at least 10 o'clock.

As I jumped into the badge holder's line I befriended a woman named Vicky. She's a woman of a certain age who said she's been coming to the festival for about 12 years now. We talked in line about the film's length before going inside, noting that epics like "Doctor Zhivago" and "Gone With the Wind" at least had intermissions. "But they weren't subtitled," she noted. I was hesitant about the long runtime, but she seemed OK with it.

We ended up sitting next to each other for "Winter Sleep" and "Teacher" in theater B, and we made good talk about movies in general and other PFF selections.

Then the film started.
Melisa Sözen in "Winter Sleep"
"Oh God," she said, as if preparing for the longest film ever.

And it started out nice, with beautiful shots of the Turkish mountain/countryside, but then it quickly evolved to unprovoked, LONG conversations about sociological and economic matters of the world. The tale of Aydin and his sprinkling of confidantes at this scenic hotel runs ways longer than need be, with soft-spoken arguments running on for a good 10-15 minutes, usually back-to-back without any room to breathe.

It was an epicly rambling film from the auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who wrote the film with his wife Ebru, that makes you question how two people can write such extensive scenes of dialogue. Kudos to them. Vicky and I agreed this would make a great play. I lost my ballot for the film, but I would have given it a fair rating based just on the magnitude.

We settled in for "Teacher of the Year" in the same theater, and although it wasn't a good movie, it provided a lighter tone than the very serious film preceding it. After Mitch wins California's teacher of the year award, he gets a job offer to be a private school lobbyist that pays double his current salary. That's the meat of the film, everything else is a tired retread of workplace happenings, like "The Office", with jokes that miss more than hit.

It has its laughs, especially from Keegan Michael Key as the school's stupid principal, but it's too much with too little jokes. It was produced by Lower Merion Films, whose logo cheekily puts "Radnor Sucks" at the very of the credits. I marked this poor on my ballot.

So as midnight drew near, Vicky and I parted ways. It was a pleasure having a movie buddy for the night, and we'll probably run into each other on Saturday for the screening of "'71".

"Goodbye to Language 3D"- Excellent
"Stations of the Cross"- Excellent
"Winter Sleep"- Fair
"Teacher of the Year"- Poor
My last day of the festival will be Saturday, where I will be watching "Tu Dors Nicole", "Villa Touma" and "'71".

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