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Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
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Sunday, June 01, 2003

SIFF, Day 9
Ironically, I saw fewer films on Saturday than I’ve been managing on weekdays. I blame my awareness that I’m back to work Monday. Well, that and the fact that there was nothing I wanted to see at 11:30. This is the first year that I’ve paid attention to my movie count (which stands at 31 as of Sunday morning), but I’ve resisted the temptation to see movies just so I can add to my total. I will admit, though, that on Saturday afternoon I eschewed a movie that interested me (Big Girls Don’t Cry) in favor of one that didn’t (The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well) so I would be in the “right” venue to ensure I’d get into the 6:30 gala showing of Whale Rider. And boy was I glad I did that, even though the 1:45 movie was a major stinker.

Gasoline, from Italy, was about a lesbian couple and their attempts to dispose of a body, and movies with that premise always have the problem of silliness—if I’ve learned anything from decades of movie-watching, it’s that you should never try to dispose of a body, it rarely turns out well! Lenni gave up her life of privilege when she met and fell in love with Stella, a gas station proprietor (don’t be thinking suited-up entrepreneur, though, they’re both in their very early 20s). When her mom shows up two years later and tries to get her away from the “dirty” life lived on the side of a highway, the trouble begins. Add three tweaked-out crazies out for a night of ever-escalating videotaped thrills, and the movie turns into an extended chase scene with a convincing sense of pervasive danger. Although there’s nothing special about the film, the relationship between Lenni and Stella was convincing, and it certainly held my attention.

As I mentioned before, I chose to see South Korea’ The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well not because I fancied it, but rather because I wanted to be sure that I’d get in to the 6:30 movie. It was worth the sacrifice, but oy, what a mess of a film The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well was. It started out decently enough, with a selfish, cheating novelist who’s stringing along one woman who’s clearly in love with him and having an affair with a different married woman. I like the idea of unattractive characters being at the center of a film, but in practice, this guy was such a jerk that I lost any respect for anyone who had positive feelings toward him. About one-third of the way in, the movie stopped making sense—afterward I suggested to another puzzled survivor that they’d played the reels out of order. The director, Hong Sang-soo, was designated one of this year’s, Emerging Masters, but based on this showing and the comments of other people who’ve seen his other work, I think that must be in Bizarro World.

Fortunately, Whale Rider redeemed the day. The story of a Maori community’s struggle to find a new leader—all the while ignoring all the signs of greatness in one member who happens to be a girl—was a marvelous feel-good movie full of very moving traditional Maori teachings. The acting was uniformly excellent, especially by Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai, who amazingly was 11 when the movie was filmed, and Rawiri Paratene as her grandfather, the chief. After the movie, they were both in attendance, as was Cliff Curtis who played Pai’s father (and who does a lot of work in American movies—usually playing Arabs or Latinos—but who I remember as the sexy Fraser in the fabulous 1993 movie Desperate Remedies). It was definitely one of the coolest Q&A’s I’ve ever been to—we even did a very simple haka—and it’s amazing how poised the now-13-year-old Castle-Hughes is. No wonder this movie has won so many audience awards. It would amaze me if it doesn’t win the Golden Space Needle this year.