September 10

Finally got to see a film I've been looking forward to greatly, the Jeunet-helmed Amelie. Ran into Jean-Francois finally - it's such a wonderful feeling to have these festival friends that you can return to year after year. Didn't find it too difficult to get back in the swing after yesterday, and squeezed in four films. I tried to stay for the midnight madness (a collection of strange videos for songs from people like Aphex Twin) but left after an hour. I simply wasn't in the mood for that type of music, I guess. Perhaps I'm getting old...

Lan Yu
Directed by: Stanley Kwan

Fests are often good for seeing films that seem like they'd be very difficult for the filmmakers to put together. I've actually seen quite a few mainland-Chinese films that deal with Gay-male love, an aspect of Chinese culture that's obviously at odds with typical Western views of that nation.

This film takes the Tiennamin massacre as its subtle backdrop, so subtle that it all happens though sounds heard off-screen. The story is essentially a melodrama involving a rich 40-something and his 20-something lover. The developer and the architecture student have a up and down relationship that provides a narrative throughline. One interesting element of the film is how it is so flexible with its timeline, jumping ahead when the story demands it without fanfare or obvious cliché.

Grade: B-/C+

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

"Jeunet is the bastard love child of Kieslowski and Gilliam"
- Jason Gorber, Uptown 1, Sept 2001

Jeunet once again demonstrates his almost frightening grasp of cinematic language, creating a thoroughly enjoyable, quirky, beautiful film.

The movie is joyful and whimsical, floating through Monmartre with its tounge placed firmly in cheek.

Amelie herself is very beautiful on screen, while the films strange tale unfolds with enough mystery to keep it engaging. An enormous pleasure to watch the story unfold. A subtitled movie even for those who hate subtitled movies.

Grade: A

Gray Zone
Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson

Tim Blake Nelson, known to most audiences for his slack-jawed performance in O Brother Where Art Thou, crafts an existential dialogue on making choices in the most horrifying of conditions.

Set in Auschwitz II, the film follows the Jews who chose a few more months of life and privileged accommodations in exchange for their service rendered for the Germans. They helped herd the people into the chambers, told them to disrobe and that "all would be fine", and, finally, scooped the bodies up, got rid of hair and teeth, and shovelled the burnt bodies into the crematoria.

The Gray Zone focuses on the 12th group of these Sonnnenkommanders, who actually managed an uprising that resulted in the destruction of several of the chambers. An interesting historical moment, but the film fails to capitalize on the inherent drama. It spends too much time being overwrought and wordy, coming off too much like the play it was derived from.

It unsuccessfully tries to bridge the gap between pathos and establishing a sense of realism, coming across as forced. Overweight prisoners and Harvy Keitel's German accent distract from the mood of the film. The scenes of carnage, though well done, lack the impact that a more experienced hand may have brought. There is a sub-plot involving a survivor from the chambers that feels forced, and in the end the film spends too much time on pedantic discussions when a simple image (like the girl in the red dress in Schindler's) would be far more effective.

Grade: C

Jalla! Jalla!
Directed by: Josef Fares

A warm, sweet Swedish romantic comedy about culture shock in Scandanavia. The story surrounds a Lebanese-Swede in love with a home-grown Swede, a star-crossed lovers kind of shtick. When the lead is obliged to marry someone that has been arranged by his family, he agrees to a ruse engagement in order to save both families embarrassment.

The story is predictable, but it is fun to watch. Jalla! Jalla! means to "hurry up!", and the film works at a quick pace that compliments the performances. A well shot and performed comedy.

Grade: C-