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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

SIFF, Day 3
I spent Sunday in the Pacific Place mall, though since the shops opened after I entered the cinema complex and had closed before I left it, I might as well have been in Timbuktu.

Angela is yet another “based on a true story,” this time the chronicle of a woman involved in the Mafia drug trade in Palermo, Sicily. Although there’s not much to the pretty straightforward recounting of events, I enjoyed the movie. There are some lovely atmospheric shots of the ancient winding streets of Palermo, and it gave a powerful sense of a huge conspiracy against the forces of law (a huge number of “ordinary people” were shown to be complicit in the drug trade) and the inability of the Italian legal system to fight organized crime. It says something for the film that it got me to identify with a coke dealer to such an extent that I admired her cool poise as she executed deals, resented that she was excluded when the men talked business, and felt a sense of outrage when her beautiful long red nails were unsentimentally sheered off when she was imprisoned.

There was almost a fist fight before the start of L’Auberge Espagnole when some passholders didn’t make it into the screening and others moaned that they had to sit at the front when there were empty seats reserved for the platinum passholders. The full house was slightly surprising given the movie’s commercial opening this Friday! It would be pretty much impossible for me not to like this film, given all the parallels between its subject matter and my life history—living in Spain (check), sharing an apartment with a multinational bunch of young foreigners (check), learning to speak castellano de puta madre (check), etc., etc.—but after seeing two of his movies in the space of 24 hours, I’m starting to think that director Cédric Klapisch is one of those rare directors who can combine “meaning,” for want of a better word, and commercial crowd-pleasing. It’s a fun, funny movie with some serious underpinnings, and it deserves to be seen if only because it incorporates the most potent Spanish fantasy imaginable—a foreigner seducing (or being seduced by) her flamenco teacher! It was only right at the end of the movie that I realized Roman Duris, the guy the lead was the same actor who’d played the drummer in When the Cat’s Away and the main protagonist in Tony Gatlif’s brilliant 1997 movie, Gadjo Dilo. Wow! It wasn’t just the haircut and the preppy clothing—the guy can really act!

JFC, I hope I don’t see a more intense movie than The Magdalene Sisters for the rest of the festival, even though it was brilliant. A fictionalized story about three young women sent to work—as slaves, basically—in the Magdalene laundries in the early 1960s, as the Guardian’s review put it, “This is tough, angry, muscular film-making—it has a kind of 120-degree proof passion which makes most other Irish and British cinema look tame and lame.” I agree with the Guardian’s reviewer that the invented “what happened to …” stories were a mistake, unnecessarily blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Peter Mullan had already convinced us of the totalitarian nature of Roman Catholic church in Ireland and shown us how easily a parallel state (since the girls “imprisoned” in the laundries were treated far more cruelly than any jail inmates I’ve ever seen on film, and they were “sentenced” for life) can degrade and dehumanize people. Geraldine McEwan was magnificent as the avaricious Sister Bridget—it was hard not to compare the role with her portrayal of Miss Jean Brodie 25 years ago—though everyone was excellent.