Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Five films, two film series and a film festival (or two) all in one day

To say that I had a busy day would be a understatement. The practical upshot of it all was that I went into Manhattan, saw five films in three locations and got home again in less than 12 hours. It was a great deal of motion and sitting and watching. The only real pause was the on the fly dinner I had. Since it was so much motion and so many films there is no way I can write the day up the way it needs to. Actually some of the films need their own detailed reviews, which will be coming down the line.

The day started with the 11:10 AM screening of Of Gods and Men. This is the film that just won the French equivalent of the the Oscar. I had a ticket for the film at the NYFF last September but I missed it and the press screening because of my back. It's just starting it's US release and it's getting glowing reviews.

I liked the film, but I didn't love it. Despite being based on a true story, I thought it was too deliberate and a tad artificial. Yes I loved the interaction with the local village, but the Islamic extremists seemed to be kind of oddly put in with the characters less real then everyone else. I liked it. I'll see it again, but I kept thinking of the documentary Into Great Silence all through it. (Into Great Silence will be reviewed Easter weekend)

From there I did a mad dash across Broadway and across Lincoln Center to the Walter Reade Theater where I saw three films by Claude Lanzmann who did Shoah. Actually the films were put together from unused pieces for that film. They were being run as part of the Film Comment Selects series. (Lanzmann appeared over the weekend at screenings for the films.)

Visitor From the Living (1997) is a 66 minute interview with Maurice Rossel who worked for the Red Cross in Germany during the war. Rossel did something no one should have ever been able to do, he drove a car to Auschwitz " see if they need medical supplies". He made it to the camp and spoke with the Commandant. No one stopped him. He then drove home after seeing very little. It's a tale that is so bizarre it's worth the price of admission. Rossel also went to Theresienstadt, a town that was turned into a camp for Jews of privilege. He went in knowing this were probably a miss but wrote a positive report based upon what he saw. Lanzmann takes him to task for things best known in hindsight, but as Rossel said, based on what he saw -and only on what he saw- he'd file the same report.

The Karski Report(2010) is one of the finest documentaries I've ever seen. Its a film that left me feeling the weight of the world at the end and completely understanding why more wasn't done to stop the insanity in the camps. I and several others were crying at the end. The film consists of footage shot the second day of Lanzmann's interview with Jan Karski who was in a camp, in the ghetto and saw the death and destruction. He then went to England and America and told Roosevelt, among others what he saw. Trust me, and I'll be writing this up later, when you see his telling of his meeting with Felix Frankfurter who told him "I didn't say you were lying, I said I didn't believe you" everything you thought you knew about the Holocaust will be shattered.

Sobibor, October 14,1943,4pM (2001) is Lanzmann's account of Yehuda Lerner's time in the camps that ended with the uprising in Sobibor. Starting with Lerner being herded on t a train the film follows his course as he went in and out of camps, escaping as he went. (If you want a poster boy for why you should never ever give up this is the guy and his life NEEDS to be made into a movie). Eventually ending up in Sobibor with some members of the Red Army, he is in on the plan to kill the guards and flee. The title is the moment when he was supposed to spring into action. a mixture of his account from the filming of Shoah in the 1970's and new footage, its an absolute kick in the head and a triumphant love letter to the human spirit. Unfortunately Lanzmann wrecks his film by going from a beautiful poetic ending to his intoning the number of prisoners brought to Sobibor over the course of it's existence (I'm not sure since it's not subtitled and we simply see names and numbers and hear Lanzmann's gravel voiced reading.) I know why he did it, but how he did it wrecked the film.

I'll go more into those films in a few weeks when I can get the time to sit down and really write them up. The deserve more than those fleeting words.

From Lincoln Center I went about 75 blocks to the Tribeca Cinemas where The Korean Cultural Service was screening The Story of Mr Sorry. It's an animated film that is beyond bizarre.

Hold that thought. I had a nice conversation with Grady from The New York Asian Film Festival. He hinted at this years festival. He didn't say anything specific, but I get the feeling that this 10th anniversary edition is going to kick ass. He said he has some great films lined up. I can't wait.

Which brings me to The Story of Mr Sorry(2009).

Based upon a novel the film was the graduation project of the Korean Academy of Film and Art. Grady, who introduced the film said that the film is one of the last feature films that was made by the Academy because budget cuts have now made that impossible. It's very sad because it's a great looking animated film.

The plot, which is told in flashback, has the title character, trying to find work as a professional ear cleaner all the while trying to find his missing sister. Along the way he ends up shrinking down to the point where he can walk into your ear and clean it. While doing this he finds away to step into a persons brain and see their (dark) secrets.

It's a very very very very very strange film. How strange? Around ten people from the already small audience wandered out, several right about the the time there was the incest bit. It's probably good they did because after that the film went from dark gray to black, with all sorts of revelations and disturbing images. It all looks cool, but I completely understand why this doesn't have a real release, it's just too out there.

Personally I really like the film's look and the animation, the trouble is that the story is just too much. I mean really too much. Those of you who thought Dogtooth, which was up for an Oscar this year, was much too black and out there will find that film kind of pales in comparison to The Story of Mr Sorry. Trust me, it's just over an hour long and it never lets up.

It's great that the Korean Cultural Service showed it but I'd hate they may have scared people off from the next three offerings Yobi the Five Tailed Fox in two weeks, then What is Not Romance and Audition after that. By all accounts the next three films are more normal and quite good. We at Unseen are planning on attending the last two.(Remember I reviewed Yobi last March).

I think I covered everything, now it's time for bed. (and if that was brief I hate to think what a long winded version would have been).

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