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Monday, May 26, 2003

SIFF, Day 2
On Saturday morning I headed down to Pacific Place for a day of mall-living—well, cinema-and-corridor-outside-dwelling, technically. A slightly abbreviated movie day because someone from my vanpool was hosting a fancy (and bibulous) 30th birthday dinner party in the evening but some good movies nevertheless.

Invisible Children was part of the Films4Families series, four movies shown at 11:30 on Saturdays at Pacific Place that parents are encouraged to bring their kids to. It was a wonderful film, but not, I think, suitable for children with all its black magic, political commentary (including Commies spouting off about “value added,” which I’ve never heard mentioned in an English-language movie but which has popped up in several Spanish-language films), and animal abuse. It’s Colombian, set in a small town in the 1950s, and although the territory is familiar “boys' coming of age” stuff, it was very nicely done. Eight-year-old Rafaelito has a crush on a cute but slightly stuck-up girl, Marta Cecilia, and becomes obsessed with making himself invisible so he can get right up to her and figure out what she's really like. He gets a book about becoming invisible from a “witch man” who plies his wares at the port and enlists his two best buddies to help him work the spell, which involves getting their hands on the gizzard of a stolen black hen, the heart of a cat (there’s a nasty scene with one of the boys and his family pet), and a picture of the Virgin Mary taken from a scapulary. Aside from its unsuitability as a movie for children, which was the programmers’ fault (not only did it have all those iffy themes, but kids can’t handle subtitles anyway—just because a film is about children doesn’t mean it’s for children), I really liked it. It was interesting to see the politeness of the children, the arrival of television (to watch a girl from the village compete in the Miss Colombia contest), the influence of the church—not exactly malign but not entirely benign either; the Commies, full of slogans but impotent and irrelevant; soldiers used to fighting guerrillas given the job of guarding a cemetery, and warm loving families.

Owning Mahowny was a Canadian film based on true events (a big theme in this year’s festival), specifically Toronto assistant bank manager Dan Mahowny’s embezzling of more than C$10 million to feed his gambling habit in the early 1980s. Mahowny, as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (and I’m sorry, but all the PSM roles are starting to look alike to me—if you rely on your atypical physique too much, if your body doesn’t change, your acting doesn’t change), was a “pure” gambler, who eschewed the perks of gambling—the sex, drugs, and flashy hospitality—and would sit impassively playing for hours. Other members of the audience seemed to like it, but for me it was too much "tell don’t show"—it was impossible to see (from the movie makers showed us) why Mahowny’s girlfriend (played by Minnie Driver) would stay with him since we never saw any possible justification for her loyalty—just the myriad ways in which his gambling addiction screwed up their relationship—even the stealing and gambling seemed random. John Hurt was pretty good as a casino manager desperate to part Dan from "his" money, but somehow I’m never convinced by Hurt when he uses an American accent.

Cédric Klapisch is one of this year’s “Emerging Masters,” and When the Cat’s Away, from 1996, was the film they chose to choose from his “backlist” (his 2002 film L’Auberge Espagnole is also in the festival). A few minutes in, I realized that I’d seen it before, though I can’t recall where. It’s the story of an awkward, lost young woman who finds a rich community in the Paris neighborhood where she’s been living without making connections, when the old woman minding her cat, Gris-Gris, loses him. It’s a little bit heavy-handed (the old ladies who are being evicted so that moronic scenesters can move in end up singing an old song about the glories of Paris—in one of the real neighborhood bars, not the flashy, expensive one Chloe used to patronize), but it’s also a really sweet story about finding friends and connections where you live, with good if unglamorous people, rather than putting on clothes that don’t suit you and going out to alienating places looking for relationship. Some good acting and a nice acknowledgment of the complexities of life.