At this point in the game, the days have started to become a blur.
Almost a week of screenings that have averaged out to three per day is exhausting. When everything has been pretty good it's hard to recollect what stood out in an exemplary way that you will remember it in the next few weeks, months, or even year when the festival is over. I can only imagine how festival programmers do it who can view 700, or more, films a year. How can you possibly remember that wide palette that covers all genres, all cultures, and all kinds of stories?
A week into the city of brotherly love's 27th annual film festival and I've barely remembered what films I have even opted to see. Come day eight and I only know where I'm supposed to be among the four screening rooms in three venues and not so much what the titles are. If I was enticed enough by the title's synopsis that led me to viewings blocks in one theater, that was a part of planning my schedule.
With that said, Thursday mid-afternoon started with the Argentine film "The Angel," based on the true life crime spree of baby-faced killer Carlos Robledo Puch back in the 1970's. It was a good film À la "Bonnie and Clyde" that featured a strong performance of apathy and interest by leading man Lorrenzo Ferro. He was in such disregard for human life or well-being in the crimes he committed that his angelic face made you forget about his devilish ways and made it more "acceptable" so to speak.
I didn't root for him, or shout against him, in his crime spree because the film didn't want me to. His killings and robberies were merely a fact of life for him and that doesn't provide an opposite response from the audience. It is what it is, and that's that. A good film, but it didn't provide me anything more than a well-told tale.
After that was "Chef Flynn" about the teenage chef that took the culinary world by storm. I wish this film was made later in the titular Flynn McGarry's career when he had fully developed into a well-established chef. This documentary followed his very early successes through traditional media and viral fame that launched him into notoriety. His overbearing mother ruined the film with her "stage mom" antics and utter disregard for the culinary profession that passively setback McGlynn's chances to be free and create. "Chef Flynn" was a nine-course meal that served the second course before the first was even plated. A story like this should simmer into greatness and not be forced to a roaring boil when nothing else was ready.
The eighth day's final feature was the Cannes-winning "Cold War," which I would have preferred for the "musical-laced" subgenre that is permeating the final quarter of 2018 in the film market. At a short, but dense, 84 minutes, this Polish feature is more-or-less what I would have wanted from the laborious "A Star is Born" that was released earlier this month. A man and a woman, both musicians from Communist-ruled 1950's Poland fall in and out love throughout the decade, only to realize they were truly meant for each other. As she succeeds and he falls their unrequited love for each other is what keeps them coming back to each other.
It takes place at the start of the Cold War, and it is a perfect title for this film where the thumbs on the atomic missile trigger is replaced with a battle of the hearts that simmers for the true passion that never reaches a raging boil. The staged musical sequences are dazzling and the love story is just as nice.
During this screening a tragic event happened that is probably the worst thing that can happen (to me) during a movie. I was finishing up a ball of yarn and so I took another ball out so I could keep working on my dishcloth. In the dark I was getting my self situated with my needles and yarn and trying to work in a new ball into the garment. It's something I've done time and time again.
But then... it happened.
While trying to figure out where my needles went I heard the ominous "ting ting" of one of my wooden needles hitting the floor. No more than 10 minutes into the movie and one of my needles fell into the blackhole of a theater floor and which would not be seen again until the theater lights came back up. The agony of sitting through another 70 minutes of a film without knitting was agony! I had no idea what to do with my hands, I was squirming in my seat. I've become so dependent on knitting during movies that I don't know what to do with myself when I can't!
The only "good" part about this is that it was a stadium seating theater so the needle only dropped underneath the seat in front of me. It didn't have to plinko its way down a gradual decline of a traditional movie theater (one without the fancy recliner seats) to the front of the auditorium.
As I've said before, timing is key to the festival. A delay at one screening will create a domino effect after, especially when it comes to doing the Prince Theater dash or simply catching mass transit home. "Cold War" started late - but a confrontation between an unruly guest and Philadelphia Film Society staff made for an interesting pre-show event - so in my bid to get home I missed my train literally by one minute. I had to wait another hour for the next train to come. Womp womp.
But in that time I managed to finish up the dishcloth that I planned to work on during "Cold War" before one of my needles went rogue and left me defenseless from agitation. It passed the time on the train platform and I even had a man approach me about what I was making. He's a crocheter and he told me about a gay retreat where knitting/crocheting takes place and that I should check it out. For the friendly conversation I gave him one of my dishcloths that I had made during the day.
So on the ninth day I started it off with "Happy as Lazzaro, an allegorical Italian film that was really beautiful. Lazzaro is a simple young man whose "death" affords him the opportunity to bring his saintly, ethereal ways to an alternate dimension/world full of people he used to work with. This was a more discreet way of making a story about Jesus Christ and the eternal power of righteousness being used in the modern world. A harmless man like Lazarro comes with detractors who don't believe in him even though he means no harm to anyone. This was a very satisfying surprise.
Next up were two bottom-of-the-barrel films that I wish I skipped. First was "Mug" about a man whose disfigured face as a result of an accident - in constructing a tower of Jesus Christ no less - leaves him ostracized from his very Catholic Polish village. This film only fuels a perception of the church that they're there when times are good, but when times are bad they write you off and gossip endlessly about you. I didn't learn much from this film and found it to be mean-spirited. But if it were uplifting it would have been a "Mask" retread.
And on that note, the final film of the day was an abomination that combined the most comically bad elements of "Mask," "The Shape of Water," "The Elephant Man" and "Color of Night."
"Border" is a Swedish film about a disfigured woman with an uncanny sense of smell who meets a similarly ugly man with the same powers. These two trolls, as they are identified, sniff out crime and start a very weird and explicit relationship. But seriously, after watching the woman's penis get erect and fuck her man who has a vagina, I was pretty much checked out. I'm no prude, I watched wantonly as a dog got his tail cutoff in "Monrovia, Indiana" the other day at the fest, but this was just vile.
This was such a mess that the film didn't know if it was a love story, a crime thriller or a grossly exhausting exercise in poor taste. I walked out after about 75 minutes, and in reading up what happened in the end I wasn't surprised by what happened. Nothing that I watched in those 75 minutes led up to an ending that would have been anything other than what it was. Ugh, such a horrid experience.
Friday was also closing night for the festival and featured the world premiere of "Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don't Know Me" about the Philadelphia musician. Like opening night, I've skipped closing night for the last few years by choice. Also that night the juries would announce their winners in a number of competition areas, the results of which I will post in my next update.
Ratings (to date):
Infinite Football- Good
The Favourite- Good
The Other Side of the Wind- Good
The Guilty- Very Good
The Image Book- Good
Studio 54- Good
A Private War- Good
Burning- Very Good
Monrovia, Indiana- Excellent
The Front Runner- Good
Bathtubs over Broadway- Good
Dogman- Very Good
This One's for The Ladies- Fair
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes- Very Good
Woman at War- Very Good
Treat Me Like Fire- Poor
Can You Ever Forgive Me?- Excellent
The Angel- Good
Chef Flynn- Fair
Cold War- Very Good
Happy as Lazzaro- Very Good