Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Film Festival Wrap-Up

The festival is drawing to a close, with the Best of the Fest showing on one or two screens and the theater lobby largely back to its sleepy ambiance. Highlights from the second week:
Miscreants of Taliwood. Might be one of the worst titles ever conceived. Yet this documentary covers a lot of ground with remarkable zest. It focuses on the attempts by the Taliban to eradicate film-watching in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan by blowing up DVD shops. Film-maker George Gittoes interviews various Taliban leaders and DVD shop owners, then moves on to the Pashtun film-making scene, where he signs on as a lead player in a couple of low-budget swashbucklers. Thus comic film-making adventures are interspersed with very serious footage of urban destruction to create a frontal assault on the Taliban’s attempts to keep women sequestered, keep men from watching films in which women appear, and generally squelch the spirit of play in village life.

Gittoes was present at the screening, and after the show the soft-spoken Australian offered a compelling account of why, as he approaches the age of retirement, he continues to make films in the world’s most dangerous war zones rather than go fishing with his grandson.

Letter to Father Jacob is a three-character film set in rural Finland. Father Jacob, a retired priest, is blind. A woman arrives at the rectory to read the mail he receives from individuals seeking guidance, solace or a simple prayer, and to write out his replies. She happens to be a felon, convicted of murder, who has been recently released from prison. The postman who brings the mail (our third character) is scared to death of her. She hardly says a word, though it’s pretty clear from the hard and suspicious look she carries on her face that she doesn’t have a sentimental or a religious bone in her body.

What will become of these three? I’m not telling. But this is one of those flawless films where the stubble on an old man’s face or a beam of light falling on a piece of untreated pine furniture is worth the price of admission. It will never be released commercially. Why not? Among other things, it’s only 82 minutes long. Too bad you missed it.

Small Crimes takes place on a Greek island, where the local cop wishes he were back in Athens, until the local drunk falls off a cliff and he decides to investigate. The plot is thickened by the return of the island’s local celebrity, a gorgeous young woman who hosts a talk show in Athens. She seems to have a connection with the old man’s death, and most of the film details how the cop, the celebrity, and various other village types interact. It’s all very pleasant and low-key, though never really gripping, except during the drunken tavern dance sequence. It has a touch of romance and several odd-ball moments of wacky humor.

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