Monday, October 13, 2008

Black Sheep @ the 2008 Festival Nouveau Cinema

My festival experience has thus far been a great one despite the films I’ve seen not being that memorable. I know there is better to come though and the people running the show have been nothing but helpful. The actual opportunity to see all these films, whether they be great or not, is enough to keep me excited and enthused. My initiation to the festival had a bit of a rocky start though. I had intended to begin my screenings with the highly lauded THE HUNGER but that is when I found out that accreditation does not automatically give you access to any screening at any time. Well, it does essentially but you need to book these screenings in advance. By the time I found that out, THE HUNGER was sold out. No bother, I had another screening the next day right after work. It was my last day before my week’s vacation from the day job (Hallelujah!) and I had to rush all day to make it on time. Nothing was getting done; I had an argument with a colleague; a headache pounded all day. Basically, I was a wee bit stressed. Somehow, I made it out of there and found myself suddenly sitting at the Ex-centris cinema for WENDY & LUCY. This did nothing to alleviate my tension.

WENDY & LUCY is the kind of movie that exhibits real people with real problems. It is the kind of misfortune that rarely makes an appearance in mainstream cinema but Kelly Reichardt's WENDY & LUCY can in no way be described as mainstream cinema. Well, there is the matter of its indie darling star, Michelle Williams. Williams went from “Dawson’s Creek” alumni to Academy Award nominee and serious actress after her harrowing performance in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Her presence in WENDY & LUCY is the film’s center and she continues to demonstrate a range no one would have ever expected given her pop beginnings. Williams plays Wendy, young and homeless, she is making her way across the country to Alaska in search of work. Lucy is her dog, whom she misplaces early on in the film. I’d like to say that there is a deeper meaning to the film and a biting commentary about what it means to be a vagrant in America and there is on some level but it is mostly just Williams looking for her dog.

After that downer, I needed something more romantic, something more joyful and opted for a film called UNIVERSALOVE. It promised to be a music heavy piece about the universality of the most complex of human emotions. How could I go wrong? It sounded innovative and fresh but sadly it was dull and bordered on ridiculous. Six different stories are told in brief pieces and set around the globe. The music of Austrian indie rock band, Naked Lunch ties the stories together by bridging the gaps with half rock/half electronic songs that fill the spaces and make for intriguing tonal moods but do nothing to lend to the plot. Subsequently, we’re left with nothing more than a string of music videos. The stories themselves, including one where a guy brings his dead wife home after a car accident and another where a wedding dress salesperson is stuck in a fifteen year relationship going nowhere, don’t seem to bear any connection so I struggled to understand what universal link filmmaker Thomas Woschitz was trying to draw. Perhaps it was an unfair expectation but I wanted to see what ties us together not what keeps us entirely disconnected.

The kids have it figured out though. In VOY A EXPLOTAR, Mexican director, Gerardo Naranjo gives us two young people that appear literally to be exactly as the title describes, ready to explode. Roman and Manu (first time actors, Juan Pablo de Santiago and Marie Deschamps) are your typical dramatic teenage types. They cannot deal with rules and expectations and order and find themselves feeling like they could blow at any second as a result of being trapped in this kind of life. And while adolescents struggle with finding meaning and understanding within themselves, they certainly have an ease with exploring others as a means of avoidance. The two ticking time bombs are soothed by their exploration of this unfamiliar pull between them but it isn’t long before that pull becomes a push and the timer is on again. VOY A EXPLOTAR is an engaging commentary on youth, love and how that love can grow into something that either fosters or ruins our sense of self. Unfortunately, it isn’t as explosive as it needs to be to justify its own title.

Next Up: An interview with ALL TOGETHER NOW director, Adrian Wills.

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