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Saturday, May 31, 2003

SIFF, Day 7
It’s Thursday, and I’m starting to be aware that my movie feast will turn into a virtual movie famine when I return to work next Monday.

My first film of the day was one I hadn’t intended to see, since I’d been warned it was “non-linear” —not something I have a lot of patience for usually—but there had been a change to the press screening schedule (all full-series passholders can attend press screenings) and just before it began, I learned that the next movie was Hukkle from Hungary. Fortunately, there was time for me to exchange a few words with the guy sitting in front of me, who’d seen it before, and his spoiler (I won’t repeat it, though it’s given away on the excellent official Web site) transformed my experience and made it my favorite film of the festival so far. It’s a very simple movie with no dialogue (though there is some folk singing in the last five minutes), just beautiful photography and sound recording of life in a rural Hungarian village. The director, György Pálfi, offered the following explanation on the Web site:
The film is basically a film style game in which, behind the idyllic locations and images [lies] the story, as the most popular persons on a magic picture from the turn of the century; often you have to turn the images upside down, you have to forget the images you have really seen to find the thing you are looking for.

After the splendor of the rural Old World came American Splendor, the story of Harvey Pekar life that won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance festival. It’s a very good movie, making interesting use of comic book techniques (American Splendor, Pekar’s long-running comic book series, drawn by some of the best artists in the business, takes stories from his real life experiences—overheard conversations, his massive curmudgeonliness, his family life), and nicely incorporating actors playing Pekar, his wife, his buddies, etc., with the real people concerned, but overall I was slightly disappointed. Pekar’s rather dull life (although he’s now retired, the guy spent decades as a file clerk at a VA Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, so his basic story is one of underachievement and resentment) has been mined pretty extensively over the years, and there’s just not much left. Plus, he’s a grouchy asshole—and admitting that doesn’t really take out the sting. The gimmick of blending actors playing Pekar, family, and friends, with scenes involving the real people is great (especially in the scenes from Pekar’s appearances on the David Letterman show, though there were rather too many of them), but ultimately it felt to me that there was too much gimmickry and not enough “there” there. I’m sure it’ll be a big commercial hit, though.

After the press screenings I walked down to the Harvard Exit for Sudeste, a slow-moving and rather mysteriously motivated Argentine movie about Boga, a young man who lives on and from a river that flows into Buenos Aires. It’s full of huge life events—his father’s death, coming across a gangster who’s been shot in the stomach, helping the gangster “pursue his business interests”—but at the same time it’s really quite boring. A nice slice of life, but not very exciting.

I saw some good Brazilian movies last year—also very much focused on women’s lives—so I had high hopes for The Three Marias. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The movie looked magnificent—the wide cinemascope photography; the beautiful colors; the stylized production design—but once again, there wasn’t much there. It’s your basic clan revenge story: When all the men of a family are cruelly killed by a rival clan, the matriarch gathers her three daughters and gives them explicit instructions about how to redeem the family honor. As low a tolerance as I have for blood and gore, in this case the movie might’ve been redeemed by a bit of splatter; with all the action off camera, there was no obvious path to satisfaction.