Saturday, October 29, 2016

25th Philadelphia Film Festival, Days 9 and 10: Downfall

(Read about days 7 and 8 here)

Man, come Friday morning I was still reeling from "Paterson" the night before. Such a fantastic movie (and even better after I saw my friend V as an extra in it).

As the sentiment faded, I wasn't really looking forward to much on Friday. I wasn't planning on seeing the closing night film, "Arrival", or seeing that what the award winners were from the private jury that almost no one knows exists. Friday was a day off for me from work and I just wanted to get the most of the badge that I had. I had only seen 13 movies up until the day.
The "Parents" dishcloth. Dropped stitches at the end/top.

On my short roster of three selections was the Danish film "Parents", the Japanese film "Harmonium" and the French Canadian "Boundaries".

These were three selections I should have strayed extremely far away from and should have opted to see something else... or nothing at all.

"Parents" is about a middle-aged couple who have to deal with their adult son finally moving out of their house. What started beautifully, just like the dishcloth I was making when it started, quickly turned into a mess, just like the dishcloth.

A great premise at face value, it then turned into a really weird sci-fi-ish tale where the parents change into their 20-something selves, and the mom wants to have a baby with her son. I couldn't with this film, not at all. Just give me a straight-forward tale about parents dealing with it instead of an overly pretentious bucket of crap that tries too hard to be awesome. I gave it props based on the premise.

Not like "Harmonium" was better. When his friend is released from jail and comes to work at his shop, a middle class Japanese family is torn apart by the father's mysterious, live-in convict trying to make amends with life, or so we think.

This film rubbed me wrong for being too drawn out and for being too convenient a tale about revenge, circumstance and inevitable family drama in clearly provoked plot points without feeling natural. Oy. The dishcloth made in this film was definitely the worst.

The "Harmonium" dishcloth. I was about as
harmonious with my knitting as I don't know what.
And last, but not least, for Friday was "Boundaries". Seriously, what the fuck was I subject to with this? Before I even try to summarize what this was about, at least three people walked out of it before I did an hour into the film, so keep that in mind.

"Boundaries" is about a fictitious country isle off the coast of Canada that is negotiating with Canada and a conglomerate to mine the island's resources. A plot that could tackle some controversial social topics, this was a nonsensical piece of shit that tried to combine one-minute negotiations between governing bodies and personal stories of those involved with the negotiations. If there was a deeper connection to a character and how mining would affect them, I would care about this film. Instead, I got conversations with no meaning, no rationale for the premise and scenes that went nowhere. I would rather watch CSPAN during the most boring of committee meetings than see this pointless dribble of social ineptitude.

This was a day full of crap, and I liked everything at the festival up until then.

"Arrival" seemed to go off without a hitch, but I didn't see it so I can't comment.

Come Saturday, I was ready for a boost. My biggest decision of the day was seeing "The Salesman" or "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail", both playing around 2:30. Even though "The Salesman" won two awards at Cannes, an Iranian re-imaging of "Death of a Salesman" was really not something I wanted to get bore-assed with, so I went with the 2008 financial collapse-themed "Abacus", a topic for one of my graduate classes recently.
A colorful dishcloth for the B&W "Frantz".
But before "Abacus", there was the German/French "Frantz". Right after WWI, Anna, a German, is mourning the loss of her fiancee Frantz who died on the Front. Adrien, a Frenchman, is a mysterious figure who lays flowers at Frantz's grave who befriends Anna and tell hers of his freindship with Frantz. Anyone can tell you these two will become close and Adrien knows more about Frantz than he initially lets on.

If you've seen "The Crying Game" or any other film with that kind of story, you've seen "Frantz" already. Next. Oh, was that a spoiler alert? Well, whatever. Next.

So, "Abacus" was the story of Abacus Federal National Bank, a community bank based in the Chinatown section of Manhattan, which was the only financial institution that was charged with mortgage fraud, or any other related charges, following the 2008 stock market collapse.

Run by the Sung family, this engaging documentary takes a peek inside the supposed fraud trial that was brought in by the Manhattan district attorney. 

What was so great about this documentary was that it stood up for the small banks, and with the tagline "small enough to jail", it epitomizes the need for some small bank to take the blame for the tens of trillions lost in the economy thanks to the big bankers. Small banks, especially ones that caters to Chinese Americans, like Abacus, were the perfect target to put some blame on.

"Abacus" is a condensed 90-minute program, but you get so engaged with this hardworking family with no knowledge of the illegal actions of their staff and how they try to retain composure. It has moments of humor in spite of such a serious moment that would completely cripple their staple institution to so many trying to achieve the national dream.

The third film of the day was the Palme d'Or-winning "I, Daniel Blake". Aside from running 20 minutes late — why does the Philadelphia Film Society/film festival organizers not apologize or give reason for really late starts? — I had to sit through a 9-minute short about broadcast journalism that didn't say much.

"I, Daniel Blake" is one of those movies where the main character, in this case the titular Daniel, gets beaten down at every moment and yet you're supposed to find it gratifying. Daniel is trying to claim some sort of unemployment benefits from the U.K. government after suffering a heart attack on the job. For almost 100 minutes we get scene after scene of Daniel being knocked down and stonewalled from getting his benefits after 40 years of employment.

It is absolutely no fun watching someone getting repeatedly kicked when they're already down. Daniel is a firm yet lovable character, especially in scenes with a neighboring young woman, whose benefits have been sanctioned, and her two kids. This film features such nurturing characters and the only thing we get to see of them is how they're constantly being torn down instead of built up. It may be a gritty look at extremely hard times of everyday working people, and I don't have one percent privilege of my own to cloud my judgment, but this was not enjoyable at all to watch. I want to find reasons to root for people, not watch them slowly suffer.

I almost walked out of the film because I had already formulated one of two possible endings. Turns out one of them came true.

On a knitting note, I ran out of yarn during "Abacus" so I had to sit through "I, Daniel Blake" without any knitting comfort.

Parents- Fair
Harmonium- Fair
Boundaries- Poor
Frantz- Fair
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail: Very Good
I, Daniel Blake- Fair

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