MurderballMurderball is a documentary that I'm gonna call "a raucous good time"... (for the soundbyte). The filmmakers (Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro) focus mostly on the rivalry between the quad rugby teams of the USA and Canada.
The doc is an unexpectedly uplifting and insightful look into a sport that at the time of the movie's making in 2004 - doesn't have sponsors in the way of sports such as basketball, which it shares a court with and is visually tied to. I found myself being excited to learn about a sport that doesn't receive much exposure.
The filmmakers chose to focus on a few key members of the USA team and a former USA team member, Joe, now a Canadian team coach. The coach has a huge bone to pick with the US team and the story focuses heavily on the rivalry between the two.
Besides the inevitable heartwarming stories inherent in a doc of this nature, there are quick shots and a lot of humor on the screen. I felt myself laughing at the profiled players and their bigger than life personalities, it was easy to see past the wheelchairs into the heart of their competitiveness.
I'm not a sports fan, but enjoyed Murderball immensely. I hope the doc will blow the sport out of obscurity into big corporate sponsorship territory.
Murderball plays on April 28 at the wheelchair accessible Kanbar Hall (JCCSF) and April 29 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres as part of the SF International Film Festival.
The Last Mitterrand: Last Socialist StandingThe Last Mitterrand is a Robert Guédiguian docudrama about the last months of the last Socialist President of France. Told through the eyes of a writer who has been contacted to help Mitterrand write his memoir, the film stars Michel Bouquet as François Mitterrand and Jalil Lespert as Antoine Moreau.
Told with over voice and in a series of disjointed meetings, one gets the feeling that Guédiguian had no choice, but to use Moreau as a device to explore the innerworkings of Mitterrand. Perhaps no one actually knows the unadulterated true story of Mitterrand.
As evidence of this, instead of scripting a fictionalized story in attempt to answer the question of why Mitterrand possibly made certain choices (rumors he had sided with the Vichy Government); Guédiguian chooses to use the device of an elder imparting advice in the last few months of his life (à la King Lear). Some of the advice is very endearing, such as the advice involving what exact type of woman to fall for and a cheekingly admitted admiration of Julia Roberts. Other times his ruminations on why he feels people are out to get him seem megalomaniacal. Moreau serves as a foil who not only records, but also embodies youth and youthful socialist idealism.
Like real life, the film leaves in doubt the question of what is truth and what is deception versus selective memory. The audience is left with the idea that Mitterrand might have a questionable past as a "Champagne Socialist", but his career stayed true to the ideas of the Socialist party. Most importantly, he stood up against the capitalist ideals of the US at the UN at a time when Socialist governments (such as the USSR) were falling around the world.
Not being knowledgeable about French government or French history didn't mar my enjoyment of the film. Certain historical markers are indicated and certain key dates, so if you can understand how Mitterrand may have fit into the world at the time of his presidency one can understand why he is still an enigma. Well done in that fictionalized docudrama sort of way.
The Last Mitterrand plays on April 22 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres and April 24 at the Castro Theatre as part of the SF International Film Festival.
Turtles Can FlyAn amazing film by Bahman Ghobadi (A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES) that stars Kurdish-Iraqian child non-actors and their (very rough) lives the weeks leading up to the US invasion of Iraq. Ghobadi, himself a Kurdish-Iranian, films children in a story about a Kurdish-Iraqian refugee camp.
The story follows Satellite (Soran Ebrahim), an enterprising 13-year old, who manages the children in their mine clean-up in the dangerous borderland area between Turkey and Iraq (aka Kurdistan). The village elders are trying to receive news of the impending invasion, so they enlist the help of Satellite to procure and install a satellite dish.
Soon a trio of children (seemingly two brothers and a sister) come to the camp and turn Satellite's world upside down as he falls for the sister (Avaz Latif) and competes with the, older brother, Henkov. The tragedies the trio endure prior to coming to the camp are numerous (shown in a flashback). As Henkov (Hirsch Feyssal) tries to hold his family together and deal with the possible harm of his prophetic abilities, the everyday struggles of the camp's place in Iraq plays backdrop.
Beautifully acted and amazingly directed (wow those children's eyes are FULL OF PAIN!) and without obviously choosing sides, Ghobadi has crafted a film that is the best denunciation of war I have ever seen. If you see only one anti-war movie this year, see TURTLES CAN FLY.
Opens April 15 at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco.
Palindromes: Backwards and ForwardsThe story of Palindromes takes place in the suburbia of America, mostly in New Jersey (a common locale for all Todd Solondz films). There are dispirited youth, caring parents, pro-lifers, religious fanatics and mudane characters that are odd in their "ordinary-ness".
Palindromes starts with a funeral for Dawn Weiner (protagonist for Welcome to the Dollhouse). Dawn has apparently committed suicide and her young cousin Aviva (a palindrome name) wants assurances from her mother (Ellen Barkin) that she won't end up with the same fate as Dawn. In a scene, heavy with foreshadowing, Aviva tells her mother she wants "lots and lots of babies..."
A few years later Aviva, now 13 years old, goes with her parents to visit family friends at a lake home. There she has a sexual misadventure with Judah, the family's son. By the time she gets back to the city, she is pregnant and insistent on keeping the child. She agrees to have an abortion, but unbeknowst to her, there was a tear in the uterus and the doctor gave her a hysterectomy. This is the beginning of the adventures of Aviva played by eight actors (two women, five girls and one boy).
Solondz does a great job of showing the banality of suburban living and the discontent of tweens and teens that inhabit this landscape. With Palindromes his primary purpose is to challenge the concept of the audience's investment in a character, versus the investment in the actor playing the character. It's an interesting concept, but I'm not sure Solondz succeeds.
Could the audience stay invested in the trials and tribulations of an Aviva that (physically) changed from scene to scene in the same film? It was difficult. The characters played Aviva differently, markedly differently, but perhaps unintentionally so. (It may have been more interesting if the actors invested in practicing overtly similiar mannerisms.) Also the secondary characters Joe/Earl/Bob (played by Stephen Adly Guirgis who is sexually involved with Aviva) and Aviva's mom (Ellen Barkin) seemd to treat the various Avivas differently.
Mark Weiner, played once again by Matthew Faber from Welcome to the Dollhouse, was one of the most sympathetic and well-constructed characters. The character acts as a prophet who has no control of what is to be, he is the modern Cassandra. He lets Aviva understand the nature of her palindrome and the "Dawn Weiner-esque" cycle she is stuck in. He is also given the task of verbalizing why Aviva has unwittingly chosen the path she has trodden. Weiner functions as a reveal to the audience, but there is uncertainty whether Aviva understands (or believes or will take heed of) his words.
In the end the film is an interesting experiment at a conversation with the audience about the nature of character and our involvement with the actors on screen. Extremely well-conceived, the film feels poorly executed.
Palindromes plays on April 23 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres and April 25 at the Pacific Film Archive as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. It opens in New York April 13, 2005 and Los Angeles on April 15, 2005.
3 Iron: Houseguest3 Iron is the latest film from Ki-duk Kim dealing with the mysteries of the human psyche (and it's a love story!). The film follows the character of Tae-suk (Hee Jae) who puts flyers over the keyhole of homes, so that he knows which homes are empty. He then breaks into the homes and cleans up the spaces, does laundry and attempts to fix broken appliances, leaving without stealing.
One day he breaks into a house that isn't empty. Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee) is unhappily wed and abused by her rich husband. She hears Tae-suk enter her house and hides in the shadows, observing him cleaning and fixing appliances. Reassured he is well intentioned, she decides to reveal herself to him, he gets frightened and leaves when she picks up the phone.
He sits on the street, considering the events. Seemingly sensing and understanding her predicament (and perhaps being a tad lonely himself) Tae-suk returns to the Sun-hwa's house, wherein they begin a flirtation using a golf ball as a tool.
When Sun-hwa's husband comes home and is violent with her, Tae-suk uses a 3 iron golf club and pelts him with golf balls. Sun-hwa and Tae-suk then drive off together to start a new life wherein she accompanies him, cleaning and fixing the homes while their inhabitants are on vacation. There is a moment of acceptance, as she places herself into the digital photo he is about to take of himself with pictures of the homeowners. At this moment we know they've made an emotional connection. They continue this life for a short period of time before they come upon a home where the homeowner isn't on vacation, but instead dead in his bathroom. They give the man a proper burial, but soon after the man's son shows up unexpectedly at the apartment. Tae-suk is arrested and Sun-hwa is reunited with her still very abusive husband.
After Tae-suk is "released" from prison the reality of what is happening disappears and questions of the final outcome are raised.
Does Tae-suk die or is he reunited with Sun-hwa though she still lives with her husband? Perhaps both. The alternative is that he doesn't die, but has found a way to live just outside of human perception. A strange idea, but very well conceptualized in the film.
Kim makes this blatantly (though perhaps unnecessarily) obvious by ending the film with these words on the screen: "It is hard to tell if the world we live in is a reality or a dream."
Interestingly the two primary characters never speak, until the end when Sun-hwa says "I love you" to Tae-suk in the last minute of the film. Extremely well-acted the piece is a sweet and metaphysical love story. Crisp clean cinematographic shots of a very ordered suburbia devoid of people is an effective vehicle for Kim who has been known to tackle the human psyche through his film lens. A satisfying viewing of a poetic film.
As an unintentional result of all the cooking they do in the film and the myriad of dishes they prepare, 3 Iron feels a bit like a movie about food. Don't be surprised to find yourself craving Korean food as you exit the theater!
3 Iron plays on April 22 and 25 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres as part of the SF International Film Festival. The film will be released in wider distribution May 2005.