Handmade With Love from France

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May 262015

handFrance. A documentary. Marion and I like the type of documentary we refer to as “people into their thing”. This is a perfect example. The main subjects are four old school artisans who make the pleated fabrics, and hats and feahter boas and other stuff that goes into haute couture from houses like Dior and Chanel. These are people whose families have been in the business for generations. They are crafts people, not fashionistas. Walking down the street they look like bakers and accountants. My admiration for the uncompromising attention to tradition and detail is just perfectly balanced by the absurd use to which these talents are put. The hats are the best example. Incredible level of craftsmanship, mind you, but for what?

hat2 hat1I have yet to decode the attraction of the silly and, to my mind, misogynistic world of high fashion. Starting with the shoes. There was a scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” in which the Anna Wintour character upbraids her new assistant for insufficient appreciation of the effort and creativity that went into making a particular share of blue the big color for a year. The movie failed. The rejoinder was right there waiting to be spoken,  “So what?”. What difference does it make what shade of blue is hot until they decide to make some other color hot? None, says I.

Of course the artisans are dying out. Business that have been in families for generations are not coming up with enough heirs who want to stay in the business. They got a four of them together to talk about what is happening to the industry. They call themselves dinosaurs, not only because they are old, they are my age, but because their species is going extinct. I have to say, they expressed exactly what I have been feeling about my own life’s work. My business is changing, not exactly for the worse, but there will be less creativity, more regimentation, and by the time I’m ready to stop working, it will be a different business. Its evolution. I’m a dinosaur. But, hey, the birds started out as dinosaurs.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 3:27 am


 Movies, SIFF 2015  Comments Off on Theeb
May 252015

theebJordan. My favorite movie so far. Set in the Arabian desert in world war one. An adventure story, and, a coming of age story. Theeb, the main character, begins the story as a boy and is entering manhood at the end. Its only marginally connected to the war, its in Arabic and  almost all the characters are Bedouins being Bedouins, doing Bedouin stuff.  The old-time Bedouins’ place in today’s Arab world approximates a combination of cowboys and Indians to us. manly guys with a code. And, its not a bad code, nothing like the nonsense the nut-jobs who make the news in the area these days. Starting with hospitality to strangers,  sticking by your family and keeping your word. A long time ago I read a book by TE Lawrence, and he said “it was thought effeminate by the Arabs to carry a provision of food for a little journey of one hundred miles”. Stuff like that.

The basic story as well as the story telling is a lot like an old fashioned Western. They ride around on camels in stead of horses, through areas known only to the local tribe, having adventures and being manly. Great stuff. A perfect ending, again not unlike our Westerns.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 2:05 am


 Movies, SIFF 2015  Comments Off on Waterline
May 232015

waterPoland. Recommended.

A by the book, so to speak, police procedural. All the stock characters. The stoic, laconic veteran a little too personally involved in the case. The grouchy but benign police captain. The odious cop from the rat squad. The eager beaver rookie, with heart. The coroner rattling off facts about ligature marks and time of death. The slick but obviously bad bad guy. Hunches and gut feelings. Stakeouts. The sketchy guy who becomes an ally. The cynical reporter.

None of the above detracts in the least from the movie, I like movies like this that are done well, as this one is. These things are universal. Stock characters go all the way back to the Greeks, and I suspect many of the same ones.

Very good story telling. A lot of the plot points are revealed in a way that the audience has to figure it out, which is a nice feature for a detective movie. Poland has a very mature film industry, the production values are high, the actors are very good.

siff BLURB

 Posted by at 2:21 am

The Lamb

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May 212015

lambTurkey. Not to be confused with “Lamb”, another SIFF movie.

There is a style of movie making where we meet some people, and rotten things happen to them, and then another rotten thing happens, and then they do something, but it makes something rotten happen. And just when you think something has to go right, another rotten thing happens. And we will sit through the whole movie waiting for some good thing that seems like it just has to occur. Usually it does not.

At about the point where Marion and I both thought it was time for a good thing to happen, it didn’t. We don’t have to have a discussion,  we basically have the same thought at the same time, and exchange a look, its kind of cool. So we left.

Rereading the siff blurb, I think maybe we should have stuck it out, and good things did start to happen. If so, we probably would have liked the movie. Set in a fairly traditional Turkish village.

enzoThe kid pictured above is a good reason to see this movie. He reminds me a little of the kid in The Bicycle Thief. One of the great movie performances ever, in one of the 10 best movies ever made. His real name is Enzo Staiola. He’s 76 now. Still with us. He ended up being a math teacher.

 Posted by at 4:07 am

The Golden Hill

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May 202015

goldenNepal. Recommended. Traditional subsistence farmers in Nepal. The ones who, for various reasons, and with varying degrees of acceptance, are still there; having not emigrated to America, not moved to the city, not pursued education. I’m just a sucker for movies like this. There are no bravura performances or points of high drama. The movie was shot on location in an area called Mustang, and was written and performed by people from the area. So the amazing landscapes, the un-polished depiction of the culture, and the account of the choices available to the residents have the virtue of seeming quite real. There is a scene of a traditional celebration and dance that is not nearly as cool as it would be presented in a more polished film, but is very cool in that it just seems to be the genuine article. They start a little awkward in the presence of the camera, I think, but loosen up as they get into the dance. Beautiful people. Nice people. No bad guys in this movie.

Siff blurb

UNICEF Nepal earthquake relief

 Posted by at 5:11 am


 Movies, SIFF 2015  Comments Off on Behavior
May 202015

conductaCuba. Highly recommended. Marion did not like it as much as me, but says its a good movie. Set in what I take to be present day, in a poor neighborhood in Havana, centered mostly on the local school. One thing Cuba has in common with the USA seems to be that all social problems are expected to be resolved by heroic teachers bucking the system. I’m guessing the Cuban film version is about as realistic as ours tend to be, which is not much. The main character is, of course, the smart and personable kid who is always getting in trouble. These are common enough movie tropes, and they are carried off very well in this film. A reason to see the movie other than for the story is to see Cuba. The old Buicks and the crumbling infrastructure and the street scenes full of people just getting by. As I watched I wondered , now that we have finally, finally!, started to open up to Cuba, how long it will be before there is a Starbucks on every corner and people long for the good old days of the embargo. The stupid pointless embargo. I have a strong intuition that Cuba is going to be fabulous. Take a country full of  smart, beautiful people who have had to be highly creative just to get by all these years, add economic opportunity, and they will be fabulous.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 1:55 am

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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May 202015

earlUSA. This years movie about high school misfits. Its charming and clever and should do quite well. There was a guy outside the entrance declaiming in a loud voice that no cell phones would be allowed. He really seemed to be a lunatic, and was treated accordingly. No one looked at him or reacted in any way, just walked right by, checking their messages. This is a sign that the movie people think this film will be worth pirating.

But I have a bone to pick with all such movies. They violate the agreement between the movie and the audience. That agreement is that we, the audience, will willingly suspend our disbelief and the movie remain consistent with the universe it has created.

Most high school movies are ugly duckling stories. The unattractive socially awkward kid with nothing interesting about them finds a  place in the world and is beautiful. Now, that by itself is unrealistic, awkward maladjusted teens with weird parents are most likely to be awkward, self-conscious marginally adjusted adults. But, its a movie and we know the rules and we do not hold them to that reality. And then they go get physically attractive actors whose characters are invariably articulate and clever, and are accomplished in some offbeat but highly creative endeavor. To me, this just breaks the rules. For the role of the ugly duckling, hire a duckling who is ugly, not someone whose next role will be the young Lord Byron. Mind you, I have not attended high school in the last 45 or so years, but I doubt what we see in these movies is any more like the real thing than Archie (my personal, and unfortunate, point of reference) was in my day. Thats always so. Courtroom dramas are nothing like real legal proceedings, just for one example. But, only some of us are lawyers, everybody has been in high school. We all know the movie is cheating.

Siff blurb

 Posted by at 1:28 am

Corn Island

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May 182015

cornGeorgia. Recommended. Almost no dialog, the entire movie is set on an island about the size of Pioneer Square. Smaller, probably. Movies like this attract adjectives like beautiful, deeply felt, meditative, because in addition to being cliches they are these things. Dirt poor Khazak peasants plant a crop on a river island whose existence will be about the same length of time as a growing season; accumulated silt from the spring runoff creates such islands. There is a certain amount of action filmed from the point of view of a boat in the water, circling the island. Circling the universe of the movie, showing everything that happens from the outside.

This a movie and there is a story connected to the seemingly unending armed conflict endemic to this benighted part of the world, but its not what the movie is about and more than it is about the weather.

The two characters, a teenage girl and her grandfather, work very hard with tools that are unchanged since the advent of iron age technology to raise an amount of food that seems pretty small. The economics of subsistence agriculture are hard for me to work out.

georgianThis is the second Georgian movie we have seen. I love the credits. it seems Georgian has its own alphabet, similar but less dyslexic than Cyrillic.

Siff blurb.

 Posted by at 7:01 pm

Snow on the Blades

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May 172015

Japan. I know what the theme of this movie is, because the director was there and just came out and told us. Its about loyalty. I love the premise of the movie. A Samurai is disgraced and to earn back his honor must find and kill the men who disgraced him. The search lasts 13 years, which happens to span the transition from the Edo period to the Mejii restoration. Like the opening of the American West, this is a period that is focused upon all out of proportion to how long it actually lasted.  We think of Samurai as icons, as do the Japanese, even though one of the projects of the Mejii Restoration was to demean and eliminate all aspects of Samurai culture, the better to modernize Japan.

By the way, also like the opening of our West, the samurai were less inspiring than the stories we have about them. Samurai were basically high class thugs. They were retained by warlords to maintain feudal order and fight pointless wars with other warlords. They had a terrific ethic and culture, but what in the end they were for was ignoble. The Mejii were right to suppress them

This is not a typical Samurai movie. Very little fighting. Slow paced. Its not really clear to me what our hero was doing all those years. I was hoping for a film noir version of a Samurai movie, but was disappointed. Many long takes of people experiencing strong emotions in that restrained, Japanese manner. I love gruff, explosive way people, especially men, talk in Japanese movies.   A bit character in one scene, who has maybe 10 words of dialog, looks and acts exactly like John Belushi in his revered Samurai Delicatessen sketch.  Alas, this was my favorite scene in the movie. We would have left early but the director was there and, ans we discussed it afterwards, we independently decided we did not want him to lose face. I was unaware, but he was sitting right next to me, Marion says.

Siff blurb

 Posted by at 5:36 pm

The Village

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May 162015

Set in the mountains of Georgia: Stalin’s birthplace, not Ray Charles’. Movies set in the mountains of Eastern Europe always grab me. The main character is a European who basically parachutes in to a very remote and traditional mountain village and is treated hospitably.  Only in the movies, one wishes, is someone this insensitive to the folkways and mores of the people who are trying to accept them; and are those trying to explain the person’s mistakes so inarticulate. It struck me later that the director, who was present and speaks no English, is Georgian and was telling a story to Georgians that included this storyline. That’s how they see us, I guess, and he is probably right. We are clueless and deaf to good advice.

Certainly worth seeing. A number of enigmatic figures on horses are featured; and in combination with the mountains, this is very engaging. Also a fistfight between two old village guys is quite well done. A recurring theme in my things here is how great is the contrast between storytelling in this type of movie and what we are accustomed to in English language mass media. There would be mandatory elements to, for example, such a fight scene that just do not show up in this movie, and its ever so novel and entertaining.

SIFF blurb

 Posted by at 8:34 am