Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The weather is making the rest of my film festival plans look a bit uncertain--and in any event, I won't blog the rest of the films until after Sunday, when I intend to post my list of the top films of 2010. For now, here's what I've seen since last Sunday:

"Katalin Varga" (8) is a powerful depiction of destruction wrought by a series of acts of punishment and vengeance. When Katalin's husband learns the secret that she has been keeping from him--that their 11-year-old son is not biologically his--he calls her a whore and casts out her and the boy. With only a horse and buggy (and telling her son that they are going to visit his grandmother), Katalin and her son venture out into rural Transylvania on a quest to find the man who brutally raped her. She intends to exact vengeance herself, but with tragic consequences. Although set in modern times, the makeshift nature of Katalin's transportation and the rustic Romanian setting gives the story a sort of mythic quality. Beautiful, chilling, and spare, this powerful film left me unsettled and pondering the meaning of justice. The very skillful work of a first-time filmmaker. (In Hungarian and Romanian.)

I'm of two minds about "The Man Who Will Come" (6), an Italian film that depicts a particularly tragic part of World War II history through the eyes of a compelling child heroine. On the one hand, the girl at the center--mute since her baby brother's death--is absolutely wonderful, scrambling unchecked over the hills of her little village and observing gravely her father's toils, her pregnant mother's worrying, and the plotting and escalation of violence between local rebels and the occupying Nazis. As the situation worsens, both she and the adults around her must spring into increasingly desperate action, and all this is well-played and compelling to watch. However, it culminates in scenes of civilian slaughter (upsetting but also a little prettier than they should have been) that I ultimately felt like I didn't really need to see. I have seen a lot of films about atrocities (including at this festival) and am willing to go there if I feel like I understand the filmmaker's reason for taking me there. In this particular case, other than the opportunity to depict a tragedy, I didn't. (In Italian and German.)

"Eastern Plays" (5), a decorated Bulgarian film, is worth seeing as a window into Eastern European culture. It's a well-made film about disaffected youth, focusing on a teenager who falls in with a group of skinheads and, more interestingly, on his older brother Itso, an artist who scrapes by on a carpentry work and appears to be on a regimen of methadone and alcohol. Itso is mostly drunk and morose and mean to his girlfriend--until he intervenes in his brother's gang's attack on a family of Turkish tourists and develops a connection with a young Turkish woman. The film has its moments but, ultimately, drifted and left me feeling disaffected. (In Bulgarian, Turkish, and English.)

I won't be surprised to see a Hollywood remake of "The Double Hour" (3.5), since this Italian film is the type of bauble which audiences seem to love but I find empty and irritating. It's a twisty story about an improbably beautiful hotel maid whose new romance with a hot former cop whom she met on a speed date is cut short by tragic events that leave her reeling and, possibly, a bit confused. To me, the plot felt manipulative and contrived, and the connection between the maid and the former cop is just there because the movie says it is. I didn't care about anyone in the film and was especially irritated by a gratuitous suicide early on and a gratuitous sex scene later, both prime evidence of a filmmaker who can't be trusted. Plus, the whole "double hour" thing has no content. But if you like this sort of thing . . . . (In Italian and Spanish.)

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