Saturday, August 20, 2005

Locarno Films Part 4

A Perfect Day

Directed by Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige/ France, Lebannon, Germany

It is present day Beirut. One morning, a young man and his mother go to a lawyer's office to have his father declared legally dead so that they can move on with their lives. He has been missing for about fifteen years, since the civil war. The wife/mother wants her son to stay home with her and mourn the death of their loved one, but he wants to see his girlfriend who is avoiding him and he does not know why. He also has a problem - he keeps falling asleep and even goes to the doctor for tests. He has apnea, worsened by his smoking.

In the space of a day, the mother has to confront her inability to move on with her life and the son, who refuses to commit to his girlfriend, and keeps falling asleep, has to confront his own inability to get on with life.

A Perfect Day is a well-toned and evenly paced film that perhaps means more to the Lebanese people than to an international audience. I thought it interesting and the metaphor of the family's experience with that of the nation, though obvious, was well-done.


Directed by Louise Archambault/ Canada

A single mother living with her teen daughter and boyfriend in Montreal, though good hearted, is addicted to gambling and gets into debt. Her boyfriend is at his wits end, and cancels her credit cards. So she decides to take her daughter and go live with a friend in California. They load up the car but only make it across the bridge to the suburbs to the home of an old school friend who is married with two children and is well-off. Though the mother and daughter stay there for a while, old habits die hard and they end up living in a borrowed trailer in a trailer park, friendships and a marriage in tatters.

Familia was a great favorite at the festival (if you go by the audience's reaction and the buzz), but oddly enough, it did not win any awards. It is a film that explores friendships and relationships, especially between mothers and daughters. Though Familia is engrossing, its inner logic was fundamentally inconsistent. The film goes through great lengths to establish how much the single mom "wanted" and "wants" her teen daughter, but when the girl is drugged and raped at a party, and becomes pregnant, they easily take the abortion route. So any sense of transcendence through mother-child bonds is lost. 

La Guerra di Mario

Directed by Antonio Capuano/ Italy

Mario is an 8 year-old growing up with a foster-family in modern day Naples. The foster mother especially wants to give him every advantage but does not understand that children need limits and consistency. He has a vivid imagination, the fruit of trying to survive in the home of his birth mother before the state removed him. The foster mother's well-intentioned but obcessive care for Mario drives her husband away, and ultimately leads the state to remove him from her care.

La Guerra di Mario (Mario's War) is a very good movie and it was interesting to see the similarities between the foster care system in Italy and our own. But though this foster mother is in denial about Mario's reality and needs, the state is blind to his needs as well. I felt like this story could have gone on because the psychological depths of both the mother and Mario needed more development and perhaps resolution - though maybe not. It is a sad tale, without much hope.

Vendredi Ou Un Autre Jour (Friday or Any Other Day)

Directed by Yvan Moine/ Belgium, France, Italy, Slovakia

In the mid-1700's a ship is wrecked on a reef near an island in the Pacific. The only survivor is an aging actor, Philippe, from a Parisian theater company. He manages to live there on his memories and in his vivid imagination for many years - along with the ship's dog. Philippe salvages everything he can from the ship, including the stage, constumes and all the trappings that go with his profession. He reconstructs the stage and acts out parts. A while later, some native people come to the island and one of them stays with Philippe - and Philippe names him Friday. After many years, a French ship arrives. Philippe, who has gone through an existential if not spiritual experience, declines to go back to civilization with them.

Yes, you've heard this story before. It's based on a French version of the original Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: Vendredi ou les limbes du pacifique by Michael Tournier.

There was nothing wrong with this film, if this is your style. It reminded me of a Manoel de Oliviera epic, beautifully filmed but drawn out, slow and very male in its point of view. 

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