Sunday, October 12, 2008

PIFF: Day Five

Photographed in black-and-white by William Lubtchansky, Philippe Garrel's La Frontière de l'aube is a voluptuous ode to self-destruction. Its hero, François (Louis Garrel), is a sullen photographer who has an affair with Carole (Laura Smet), a moody actress. When Carole's husband returns from Hollywood, François pulls away. He learns later that Carole is in a mental institution after setting fire to her apartment. In the film's second half, François settles down with Ève (Clémentine Poidatz), a boringly pleasant girl from a bourgeois family. François feels guilty for abandoning Carole, who appears to him in his dreams and on the other side of the mirror, urging him to return to her. For Garrel's characters, to be happy is simply too bourgeois.

Garrel's previous film, Les Amants réguliers (2005), was a largely plotless, nearly three-hour movie about the events of May '68 and their aftermath. At just over half the length of that film, La Frontière de l'aube is relatively accessible with more of a plot and even exposition. What binds the films, beyond their having the same lead actor and cinematographer, is their defeatism and resignation. At times Carole mutters vaguely about the revolution, but there's no conviction in her voice. François' options are to resign himself to a comfortable existence with Ève or to follow Carole into oblivion. Garrel, who spent most of the 70s addicted to opium and married to Nico, no doubt understands the appeal of suicide inside-out, and his achievement here--aided immeasurably by the glamorous cast, lush cinematography and Jean-Claude Vannier's sorrowful score--is to make despair seem alluring.

Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking is a timid drama about the Changing Face of the Japanese Family in which nothing at all exciting happens. Apart from the epilogue, the film restricts its scope to a single, unremarkable family visit. Ryo (Hiroshi Abe, an actor who resembles a Japanese John C. McGinley), travels by train from Tokyo to his parents' house by the sea, bringing his wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), a widow, and Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka), her son from a previous marriage. Needless to say, Ryo's stern father, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), doesn't approve of his son marrying a widow. In a very minor subplot, Ryo's wheezy-voiced sister, Chinami (You), tries to convince their mother, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), to let Chinami and her family to move back into the parents' house. Nothing much happens, but a lot gets chewed over.

The film has endlessly been compared by reviewers to the work of Yasujiro Ozu, but even lighter Ozu films, like Early Summer (1951) and The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952), build to a crisis. This film is all pitched at the same level. Amazingly, it won the critics' prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. What does it say about reviewers that they slap down Atom Egoyan for his ambition while Hirokazu is lauded for his timidity?

Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool, like his earlier Los Muertos (2004), is more travelogue than narrative. The minimal plot is merely a device for Alonso to tighten his canvas. Farrel (Juan Fernandez) is a sailor on a cargo ship who hasn't been home for twenty years. When the ship arrives at a small city on the southern tip of Argentina, Farrel asks the captain if he can go on land to see if his mother is still alive. The ship docks in the middle of the night, and Farrel spends the night in a derelict bus. To keep warm, he drinks vodka out of the bottle. In the morning, he hitches a ride on a truck transporting lumber to the small farming village where his parents live. There he makes a discovery about his family, which I won't reveal, but it would hardly be a spoiler if I did. And then he leaves again. There is a long shot of Farrel walking through the snow into the distance. I assumed the film would end here, but it continues for another few scenes, following a different character. By comparison, Alonso makes Garrel look like Steven Spielberg.

The film was not well received at the 9 PM screening I attended Tuesday evening. Towards the end, I could hear one man snoring a few rows ahead of me. When it was over, the woman sitting next to me breathed a sigh of relief. Three or four of us applauded in meek defiance. The woman who sighed asked me why I clapped. I babbled something about the film being very beautiful and very different from most films. She seemed to accept this. In any event, I was not bored. Is there an audience for a film like this? When a movie proves too rarefied even for most festival goers, where does it go from there? Like Farrel, the film seems destined to sail forever without a home to go back to.

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