Sunday, February 15, 2009

PIFF Day 8

Four movies today--what I'd call a good day. Here's the lowdown:

Lorna's Silence (Belgium) was described by one reviewer as an "intriguing misfire," and I must say, I agree. Oddly, it won the Best Screenplay Prize at Cannes--and the screenplay was what fell apart at the end. An examination of the European immigrant underworld, it tells the story of Lorna, an Albanian woman who has married a junkie, Claudy, in order to earn her Belgian citizenship. He has been chosen exactly because he is expendable--the plan, hatched by an unscrupulous gangster, is that Lorna will eventually leave Claudy and he will be killed, so that she can marry a Russian mafioso who will pay to gain his legal status. But she is surprised by an attack of conscience along the way and the plan slowly unravels, exposing her to grave danger. I found Lorna's character interesting and the story intriguing, but the details didn't add up as the picture went on. (6)

Terra Nova (Russia) is a terrible, violent mess--and reportedly one of the most expensive Russian productions ever made. Set in 2013, after the world has abolished capitol punishment (the film's only nod to optimism), the international community hatches a plan to send a group of hardened convicts up to a deserted northern island. Not surprisingly, the inmates soon spend the rest of the film devising ways to murder each other (not to suggest a lot of planning goes into it). Early on, one of them comments that being in hell would only be amusing if one could spend the whole time devising new tortures. That seems to be the extent of the vision of this film as well. Don't bother. (2)

As a film, The Garden (U.S.) is not in the same league as the other three films I've seen that received Oscar nominations for best documentary ("Man on Wire," "Trouble the Water," and "Betrayal"). Still, it is an absorbing and maddening account of a 14-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles that thrived for more than a decade until a developer cooked up a secret deal to buy back the property from the city at a reduced price and then to evict the poor, mostly Latino families who used the plot to grow their own food. Their long legal fight to save their community's symbol of hope is heartbreaking and a devastating example of social manipulation and racial injustice. (7)

I ended the day with Moscow, Belgium (Belgium), a charming romantic comedy about Matty, a defeated middle-aged woman with three kids whose art-teacher husband has taken up with one of his students. One day while leaving what appears to be the Belgian equivalent of Costco, she backs into a large truck driven by Johnny, who is more than 10 years her junior. After a first angry encounter, they find themselves attracted to each other, and fireworks ensue, especially since Matty's husband chooses that time to return home. Nothing new here, but wonderful performances around (particularly the two leads), and a screenplay that won an award at Cannes. It was nice for once to see a woman playing a woman in her 40s who actually looks like she is in her 40s. (7)

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