I saw four good films today, two of which you can still catch at the film festival. Although HERE AND THERE (7) is slow and has minimal plot, it rewards patience with a very observant rendering of the life of a man returning to Mexico after living for several years in the states. His two daughters (who look to be about 11 and about 13) don't really know him and his wife takes some time to warm up to him, but over time he is revealed to a an essentially good and hardworking man with dreams of being in a band. Life in Mexico is so beautifully depicted here; the pace is slow, and work is hard to come by, so before long returning to the states seems like the best opton for the man, but the costs of doing so also are by this time apparent. The film very plainly demonstrates so much of the nuance of Mexican life and culture and what is behind the drive to emigrate. It will play again on February 18 and 19.
JUST THE WIND (7), similarly, is low on plot but is a beautifully rendered piece of social realism. It depicts a day in the life of a Romani family scraping by on the margins of a provincial Hungarian town. We know from the opening sequence that there were a rash of incidents there where Romani famlies were shot in their homes; this film follows three members of a particular family--a hard-working mother, a responsible teenage girl, and a preteen boy who roams around pursuing his own education instead of attending school. The director uses a lot of close-in shots of the principals' worlds, and creates a sense of the danger they are in by focusing so tightly on them. A pivotal conversation between members of the local police, which the boy overhears, reveals much about the persistent nature of such ingrained racism, though it could not be expected to make sense of what is essentially senseless. It plays again on February 20.
IN THE SHADOW (8.5) was the brightest star in today's group. A complex thriller depicting the Stalinist police apparatus in Czechoslavakia in 1953, it is filmed in the style of film noir and follows the story of a police detective investigating a robbery that is quickly pinned on a group of Jews. But the detective quickly suspects that more is going on and, indeed, the Jews are being targeted in the service of a larger and more nefarious political agenda. There is enough nuance here that I suspect that I missed some details, but the ideas are nevertheless compelling: what good can one do in a context where it is clear that evil will win out? In a pivotal scene, the police detective tries to explain the answer to his young son; besides building an excellent portrait of this particular aspect of history, the film also poses larger questions about when courage may mean simply finding a place to lodge the truth that is impossible to tell so that someone else can later strike a more lethal blow against evil.
CARMINA OR BLOW UP (7.5) was a huge box office hit in Spain. It's probably too distinctively Spanish to do that well here, which is too bad, because it is a total gas. The title character, a 58-year-old Sevillan bar owner played by the director's mother (presumably playing herself), is larger than life and funnier than hell. In the style of a faux documentary, the film introduces us to Carmina's amusing assessments of the events of her life and her schemes for improving her lot. Her world is peopled with a lot of other colorful folks, all depicted in a suitably picaresque style. The whole effect is pure fun with lots of belly laughs. I especially liked her assessment of herself as the opposite of anorexic; having once been slender, she describes her continual surprise when she looks in the mirror to find that she is fat rather than the fit person she expects to see. Her fights with her equally ribald daughter are also particularly fun.