Today was the kind of film festival day I live for: four good films back-to-back, no disappointments. The first was "The Life of Fish" (7), about a man, Andre, who returns to his home town in Chile ten years after making a life abroad as a journalist. The movie takes its time in revealing the tragedies and youthful carelessness that caused him to leave behind his group of friends, and lingers on his ambivalence about what kind of connection to reestablish with someone who was important to him in his youth. The film depicts small moments that surely are cataclysmic to the characters but since all of the action occurs at a party that Andre can't seem to leave, the story seems a bit slight in the end. That said, the film is so emotionally resonant and so beautifully acted and directed that it is far more satisfying than most Hollywood fare. You can still catch this one on Wednesday night.
The most delightful film of the day was "Almanya--Welcome to Germany" (7.5), which won an audience award at the Chicago Film Festival and German Film Prizes for Best Film and Best Screenplay. It's a buoyant look at one Turkish family whose patriarch was part of the wave of Turkish guest workers to immigrate to Germany in the early 1960s. The film moves back and forth between the present day and the family's early years in Germany, depicting how the family came to be Germans but also celebrating the richness of their Turkish heritage. It doesn't go particularly deep or try to solve any of the complexities of this mix of cultures--but it is so warm-hearted and strikes such a charming comic tone that I didn't find myself longing for more. Instead, I willingly surrendered to this film's joyous celebration of this slice of immigrant experience and the riches possible in understanding one's roots. This film has one more upcoming performance on Sunday evening.
The best film of the day was "Restoration" (8), set in Tel Aviv. For 40 years its protagonist, Yakov (Sasso Gabay), has run an antique furniture restoration shop with a partner, Malamud. Their arrangement is that Malamud handles the business end; Yakov prefers to spend his time in the quiet, painstaking work of restoring the shop's store of ancient treasures, sanding and varnishing and finding the beauty in things long-discarded. But when Malamud dies suddenly, the taciturn Yakov, though watchful by nature, discovers that he has somehow ceded to his partner so much of their shared life that their finances and his own relationship with his son, Noah, are in a precarious state. Struggling to save the business, Yakov hires a mysterious young man, Anton, as his assistant; Anton becomes a sort of surrogate son, but introduces more layers of trouble as well as he pursues an attraction to Noah's pregnant wife and also seems to thwart Noah's plans for his father's business. Anton and Yakov work to restore an antique Steinway piano, which might be worth enough to cover all Yakov's debts if they can replace the frame, a delicate task necessary to restoring the instrument's voice. It's an apt metaphor for the task facing Yakov as he works to restore his life. All of the relationships and performances are suitably complex, and the director takes his time to reveal, quite skillfully, the essential character of the two younger men, the dead partner, and Yakov himself, in relation to the ancient piano. This film, and Gabay's performance in particular, are marvelously nuanced and full of hidden treasure. You have a couple more chances to catch it on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Finally, though its premise is slight, "Beyond the Road" (6.5), a Brazilian film, is an enjoyable road movie that made me yearn to travel the Uruguayan coastline. In it a young Argentine banker named Santiago encounters a lovely Belgian vagaband named Juliette on the ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. He is headed to check out some inherited property and she is wandering toward a boyfriend who lives at a hippie commune. He gives her a ride and the ride turns into a longer road trip, as the two opposites discover the gorgeous Uruguayan coastline and countryside, encounter an array of roadside attractions and quirky local characters, and move toward and away from each other. It's an easy ride that captures the desultory nature of youthful journeying (especially if those youth happen to have some resources and beauty to smooth the way). You can still catch it on Tuesday and Thursday this week.
Sunday's fare will take me to Romania, Albania, and Norway. The feast continues!