VIFF ’10: Day Two

Of Love and Other Demons – An adaptation of a Gabriel García Márquez story that I haven’t read, Hilda Hidalgo’s first film is about a teenaged girl in 19th Century Cartagena, the daughter of a Marquis, who gets bit by a rabid dog.  Despite the Marquis’ disbelief, he is unable to prevent the local Catholic authorities from imprisoning her under suspicion of demonic possession (apparently the Devil works through rabies).  The priest assigned to examine her of course falls in love with her (she’s not a stunning beauty, but has a fabulous head of red hair, three feet long and shockingly clean for the 18th century) to the detriment of his ecclesiastical career.  More straightforward than I would expect from García Márquez, the film is essentially an ecofeminist parable about the evils of patriarchy, imperialism and the Church and its destructive effects on the environment (the girl is frequently seen communing with insects, and one of the reasons she’s suspected of being possessed is that she can speak the African languages of her family’s servants).  It does leave open the much more interesting possibility that the girl actually is possessed, with the devil using her to wreak havoc with the nobility and Catholic hierarchy in the later stages of the Spanish Empire.

Get Out of the Car/The Indian Boundary Line – A pair of shortish features, both exploring hidden elements in everyday geography.  Thomas Comerford’s The Indian Boundary Line is about a treaty line  running through what is now Chicago.  The line was supposed to establish the Northwestern limit of American expansion, leaving much of Western Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin for the Indians.  The film is split into separate sections, each showing a part of the line as it is now (three parks, an intersection, a normal urban street) with accompanying voiceover (personal reminiscences, treaty language, bits of Little House on the Prairie).  For the most part it’s pretty interesting, though there’s a central section where the voiceover is a list of GPS coordinates that goes on interminably.  More fun is Thom Anderson’s Get Out of the Car, a tour of visual oddities in Los Angeles, with a particular focus on out of use billboards and giant murals of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  The soundtrack is mostly older recordings that were made in LA, though occasionally we hear what appear to be passersby heckling Anderson as he films, which can be pretty funny.  Where The Indian Boundary Line shows the history that surrounds our everyday world, Get Out of the Car tries to highlight the beauty in the urban decay and ugliness we walk past every day.  I haven’t yet had the chance to see Anderson’s acclaimed Los Angeles Play Itself, but this only makes me want to that much more.

Poetry – This is the first Lee Changdong film I’ve seen, and I’m kind of mixed in my response to it.  On the one hand, it’s a wonderful character study of a 66 year old woman, raising her grandson and working part-time as the caretaker for an elderly man who takes a poetry class on a whim and struggles to find poetic inspiration in the world around her.  On the other hand, it’s the story of a grandmother who learns that her son is part of a group of kids who gang-raped a classmate until she killed herself, and is being pressured by the other boys father’s to come up with hush money for the girl’s parents.  I really like that first movie, the second seem unnecessarily exploitive, as if Lee thought audiences wouldn’t be interested enough in the grandmother’s story if there wasn’t some horribly hyperbolical sexual violence mixed in somewhere.  The unreality of that part of the film (not just in its setup but also its coincidence-driven plot mechanics) doesn’t necessarily undermine the rest of the film, but it is fairly distasteful.  The performance by Yun Junghee as the old woman is magnificent.

Icarus Under the Sun – A very low-budget film made by two Japanese women (one wrote and directed and stars, the other shot, directed and plays a supporting role) that’s a grungy, realist account of a young woman trying to find her way in Tokyo.  She gets a job at a mahjong parlor and befriends the eccentrics who work and hang out there: the blind ex-thief owner, the slightly crippled boy named after Alain Delon, the crazy woman who loves the blind owner, etc.  Of all the young adult coming of age films we’ve seen at the several festivals we’ve been to, this is bar far the most serious and probably also the most DIY.  The dreariness of the girl’s life (always in darkness, the various characters dislike of sunshine is a key motif) is almost oppressive.  In the end, she manages to escape into the daytime, but I don’t know that the catharsis is enough to compensate for the misery of the first 75 minutes of the film.  I needed some air.

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