The 2012 Cinequest reconfirmed my belief that Cinequest is the premiere film festival in the Bay Area. With six screens within a 1.5 square block area, a strong line-up of films and affordable festival passes, Cinequest edges out the SFIFF. The only downside for me is that it is a 100 mile roundtrip from where I live.
Before I profile some of the films I watched, there were several films which I did not get a chance to see. Prior to Cinequest, No Look Pass won an audience award at SF Indiefest and after Cinequest, the film won a similar award at the SF International Asian American Film Festival. I skipped the screenings at Indiefest because I knew it was on the program at Cinequest and SFIAAFF. I was not able to fit it into my schedule at Cinequest nor subsequently at SFIAAFF.
Mariachi Gringo also piqued my interest and received positive reviews from a stranger I chatted with in the Starbucks across from Camera Cinemas.
With any luck, I'll be able to catch No Look Pass and Mariachi Gringo at another festival or in limited release.
The Island President is topical because it is a documentary following Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed who resigned abruptly (forced to resign?) in February 2012. Although I missed Cinequest screenings, fortunately the film is currently screening at the Landmark Embarcadero.
I missed the closing night film - Deep Blue Sea which is coincidentally, also currently playing at the Landmark Embarcadero. The film was directed by Terence Davies and stars Rachel Weisz.
I'm not sure if one film stood out. If forced to elevate one film, it would be Come As You Are, a Belgian comedy about three men with disabilities. I think Come As You Are is the US title because the film credit was Hasta La Vista. Winner of the Cinequest Award for Best Feature Film (Comedy), Come As You Are follows three young men in their journey to a Spanish brothel which caters to men with disabilities. Jozef (Tom Audenaert) is nearly blind, Lars (Gilles De Schrijver) is wheel chair bound due a degenerative disease (perhaps cancer) and Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is a paraplegic (ALS or perhaps a result of an injury).
Philip, sexually frustrated by being overlooked from young women, proposes the three men visit the bordello. The other two quickly agree and three conspire to also take the vacation on their own as going to a whorehouse is a little awkward when your parents are with you.
Lars' condition worsens which puts the trip in jeopardy but the trio sneak away from their families with the unwitting help of their handicap accessible van driver, Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh), a gruff and heavyset woman.
The rest of the film is a road trip which focuses on three subplots - Philip turns out to be an asshole (although his physical condition and resulting emotional stress contribute to his behavior), Jozef becomes increasingly attracted to Claude and Lars' condition steadily worsens. Although there are many serious moments, the film is definitely a comedy. In fact, the plot is reminiscent of Tom Cruise's Losin' It (1983). Virginity Lost has more poignancy when the protagonist are blind and wheelchair bound. Come As You Are elevates the plot a few steps higher.
In particular, I liked the complex depictions of the three young men. Philip was especially three dimensional. I pondered the "chicken and egg" nature of his personality - was he an asshole who is in a wheelchair or has being in a wheelchair made him into an asshole...or little of both?
Based on Asta Philpot's real-life experiences, Come As You Are successfully balances comedy and drama in bittersweet story of friendship and identity. The film featured excellent performances from the four main actors.
I had high expectations for Detachment with its big name cast and I'm pleased that the film did not disappoint. Set amidst an educationally decaying high school in New York City, Detachment shifts back and forth between substitute teacher Henry Barthes' (Adrien Brody) personal life and the struggles the school faculty are facing. Metaphors for each other, Barthes and his fellow faculty are suffering from emotional detachment. In both cases, their worlds are ugly and cynical so it isn't hard to detach oneself as a protective mechanism.
However, the result is devasting for the young people associated with them. Barthes takes in a teenage streetwalker who quickly becomes a surrogate daughter while Barthes deals with his dying grandfather. At school, Barthes deals with apathetic students and one student (Betty Kaye) who is desperate for attention. Additionally, Barthes begins to have romantic feelings towards a fellow teacher (Christina Hendricks).
Long accustomed to his detachment, the three women and his father's condition send Barthes into an emotional tailspin which he desperately tries to control. However, Barthes is not much different than his fellow faculty who deal with their professional frustration in various dysfunctional ways in their personal lives. You get the sense that each one of the teachers could have had a similar movie focused on them.
The film is not so much a condemnation of the public educational system in the US. Rather, the decay and rot in the system is reflected in the teachers' lives and vice versa with Barthes being Exhibit A of this symbiotic deterioration. The root cause is unimportant because reversing or at least stopping the decay is urgent.
The cast is uniformly outstanding. With the largest role, Brody shines brightest but a few other actors make the most of their screen time. Sami Gayle as Erica, the streetwalker, and Betty Kaye, as Meredith the troubled student, are more alike than their physical differences would imply. Both show vulnerability and...detachment as a coping mechanism with great skill. James Caan steals the film with one scene where he repeats an obscenity mutliple times to great comedic effect. His detachement takes the form of irreverent humor.
Salt had the best trailer of the festival. A screenwriter (Fele Martínez) with a passion for Western films, goes to remote Northern Chile to do some research. In the small town he is staying, he is mistaken for a former resident which begins his misadventures. Although his name is Sergio, the screenwriter is mistaken for Diego everywhere he goes. Unfortunately for him, Diego has run afoul with the local jefe Victor (Sergio Hernandez). Out to settle the score with Diego, Victor kidnaps and beats Sergio which begins Sergio gradual transformation into Diego.
Little background is given as to Diego's past and his conflict with Victor. The one piece of information the audience is given is that Diego used to be with Maria (Javiera Contador)...who is now married to Victor. "Diego" and Maria rekindle their relationship (perhaps reconsummate is more accurate) which seems to be the impetus for Sergio's transformation.
I can only wonder what the real Diego was like because Sergio's Diego is one tough hombre. Reminiscent of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns, Salt has a lot of style and two classic performances from Martínez and Hernandez.
The film is largely an homage to other films. I suspect Sergio is named such as a nod to Leone. Diego is the name of the director and screenwriter of Salt. A good story always shines...however many times it has been told. I empathized with Diego, I loathed Victor and lusted for Maria so the film accomplished all it likely set out to do.
There were a number of lower budget film (at least they looked low budget) which impressed me. Shuffle was my favorite of the bunch. Lovell Milo (T.J. Thyne) keeps moving through time. One moment he is a child and the next he is nearly 30. However, his disjointed episodes focus on Grace (Paula Rhodes who I think bears a resemblance to a young Alyssa Milano). Eventually Lovell pieces together that Grace is the love of his life and that she died at a young age. He vows to prevent her death.
I won't reveal the ending although Shuffle is one of those film where the future affects past as if the young Lovell has foreknowledge of the future. In the end, I was left wondering if the events were actually part of Lovell's life or part of his imagination.
An imaginative script and winsome performance by Rhodes made Shuffle something special.
Michelle Krusiec shows up for a couple scenes. I didn't recognize her when she was portraying a teenage girl. I thought the younger and older versions of the character were played by two different actresses.
Old Goats, Worth the Weight, Forgetting the Girl, How to Cheat, Touch and Delusions of Grandeur were American made independent (or independent looking) films which impressed me also. The performances by Rina Fernandez (who sounds like Mila Kunis) in Delusions of Grandeur, Porter Lynn in Touch and Kent Osborne, Amanda Street & Amber Sealey (also the director) in How To Cheat stood out in my opinion. Porter Lynn did have a tatoo that seemed out of place on her emotionally repressed character but it was only visible in one scene...when she nude.
This post is getting unwieldly so I'll carry it over into Part 3 next time. There were so many strong films at Cinequest that there may have to be a Part 4 as well.
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