Sunday, October 26, 2014

23rd Philadelphia Film Festival: Winners and Day 10

Even though the festival ran through Sunday, winners for the festival's 23rd turn were announced on Friday night before the closing night screening of "Wild".

The anonymous slate of jurors awarded the British production "The Duke of Burgundy" its grand jury prize in the narrative category. The film is about a young girl who becomes a housekeeper to a wealthy amateur lepidopterist and the sexual relationship that develops. The French ghetto drama "Girlhood" won the special jury prize and Yann Demange won the director gong for "'71", about a new soldier left behind in the turbulent streets of Ireland during the Troubles.
'The Duke of Burgundy'.

"The Overnighters" won for best documentary and one of the most talked about films of the festival, "The Tribe", won the archie award for best first feature.

"Crescendo! The Power of Music" won the Pinkenson Award for local feature.

The audience award will be announced after the festival.

To me the list of winners represented PFF's (unintentional) theme this year- stories told a million times before PFF are all of a sudden new and fresh just because we're seeing these films the first time.

Nice try, but originality was barely evident during this year's festival, and it shows in the prize winners.

As I digress, only to be amped up later in this post, I had only one more day of screenings that I attended, day 10 (Saturday). While I wasn't really looking forward to anything, I figured I'd make the most out of my badge.

Read about the festival's first four days here.

Read about festival days 7 & 8 here.

Day 10: A Continuance of the Unoriginal

I would be staying at the Ritz East for three showings... so forgettable I forget what that hell they were. Wait, give me a minute... Oh yeah, they were "Tu Dors Nicole", "Villa Touma" and "'71".

"Tu Dors Nicole" was probably my favorite, or the one I disliked the least. Young Nicole goes about her days finding ways to kill her boredom, sometimes with her best friend Veronique, other times with her brother Remi and his group of bandmates. As it went on, I kept thinking of "Ghost World", another story about two girls who roam aimlessly expressing their witty wisdom onto others. Later, I would also think of the Mexican film "Duck Season".

I was enjoying "Tu Dors Nicole", but it didn't expand into anything substantial enough like the aforementioned. I loved the idea and it chugged along nicely, but I wanted to reach its full potential beyond the run-of-the-mill love story that slowly evolves in it. I marked this fair on my ballot.

Next up was the Arabic telling of Pollyanna, kind of. A young girl named Badia leaves her orphange to be raised by her three aunts in their titular home, Villa Touma. Two of them, Juliette and Violette, are older and more strict with bringing Badia up as a proper lady of society, while Badia is still just a carefree teenager wanting to be happy in this house of rules.

Like any situation involving a strict upbringing, the protagonist breaks away and it's not until a tragedy that their worth is realized by the staunch caregiver(s). I marked this good on my ballot because I didn't mind the film, but it is a rehash of an already familiar story that's getting praise as a  statement against societal norms in Muslim countries.
Star Jack O'Connell runs toward a predictable mess early on in ''71'.
My final film at the festival this year was "'71". I heard this was another film to check out so I did. Didn't even know what it was about aside from it taking place during the Troubles so that sounded interesting enough.

To give you the TL;DW version, imagine if Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillip", "United 93") and any lame action movie director got together to tell a story about a guy stuck behind enemy lines. That's "'71" for you. It's gritty camerawork was effective during a chase scene in the beginning, but what follows is anything fans of Mark Wahlberg would like: shootouts, tride-and-true formulas that let the protagonist escape death because the enemy doesn't pull the trigger, and a bad guy who switches over to the good side.

A film riddled with cliches is touted as being great just because of its setting. This is a shoot-'em-up film that the masses would feel smart watching because it's not a high budget action film, but fills their thirst for blood and action. This was marked poor on my ballot.

"Tu Dors Nicole"- Fair
"Villa Touma"- Fair/Good
"'71"- Poor

Closing thoughts: In my first go-around at a film festival, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, though not the majority of the films. It's fun going from theater to theater watching movies all day, it's a surprisingly fun endeavor, and not too tiring. The conversations that have blossomed among film patrons (waiting in line or using the #PFF23 hashtag on Twitter) was another delightful experience.

However, the majority of films I saw were less than impressive. I only saw 17 - yes, ONLY 17, which is few when you compare it to other people's schedules - so perhaps I missed some of the other films that got high praise, like "The Tribe", "Creep" and "Faults". Considering I pretty much only had weekends free, I didn't have as much freedom to see all that I wanted, especially if they were only playing during weekdays. I almost managed to see at least one film in each of the selections, so that was good.

In the rough there a few gems in the field of bland films. These are my favorites: "Force Majeure", "Stations of the Cross", "Mommy" and "Goodbye to Language 3D". Perhaps next year I'll be able to see the "better" films, but I enjoyed my time until then. I did see things I will never forget... but some I wish were erased from my memory.

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