Friday, February 20, 2009

PIFF Day 11

"Katyn" (Poland) was hailed by critics and nominated for an Oscar last year for best foreign language film, but I am not a fan. It takes as its subject a terrible atrocity (the systematic execution by the Soviets of 15,000 Polish army officers, police, gendarmes, and civilian leaders in 1940) followed by a terrible cover-up (after the Germans discovered the mass graves in 1943, the Soviets blamed the massacre on the Germans, who were hardly in a position to mount a defense--and shot anyone who insisted on the truth). The Soviets did not acknowledge the truth until 1990. The problem with the film is that it is very confusing if you don't know much about the history (it only made more sense to me when I looked up information online afterwards) and, instead of illuminating what happened and its effect on the Poles, it mucks up the works by focusing on too many characters, jumping around in time, and then ending with a 20-minute depiction of the massacre itself (not a spoiler, since it is telegraphed at the very beginning of the film. There's a pretty interesting story buried in here about how the Poles were caught between the Germans and the Soviets, but this film did not illuminate it for me. (3)

"Sugar" (U.S.) is less ambitious and more successful. It's a plain and often insightful depiction of a young baseball talent from the Dominican Republic, Miguel, and his journey from a training camp in the D.R. to the minor leagues in small-town Iowa. The film gives you a real sense of how baffling it all is to a young man whose training doesn't include lessons in English and therefore is on his own to adjust to an alien world where he competes for one shot in a million. You see the subtle ways in which he is used by the promoters, the teams, even the fans. Worth a look. (6)

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