The personification of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is based on the notion of change and how we deal with it in an overall manner. The aspect of certain traditional and concerned forms of art sometimes change but do reflect an overall shift in the perception of where an event is going. This was true of this year’s festival which abandoned certain sidebars for others and downsized in other ways to make sure the energy lives on.
While the tributes were stalwarts in recent years, the interrelation this year was a little less so and less filmmakers stayed to show their wares despite a dexterity of diversity in the programming.
Martin Scorsese, attending to receive the American Riviera Award, waxed poetic on the notion of movie making but his film professor proponent while good can at times be too heady or verbose for the average film goer, though its density is a heaven for cine-files.
The films were the true draw this year with a variety of unsigned material making in the rounds in an attempt to create a new market which is difficult considering the balance of time of the festival between Sundance and Berlinale.
One specific element stood out above the others, much like “Good For Nothing” last year. This film, “Shuffle”, might be considered a basic mind reverse film like “Groundhog Day” or “Memento” but it survives because of its heart and its interrelation to the audience because it is never overwrought. The film follows a young man who keeps reliving certain days of his life, not knowing what came before or against it but seemingly existing in a netherworld. The tone can be sardonic, funny or at times, downright romantic but what makes it work is its heart, specifically in the performance of Paula Rhodes as Grace who makes the entire film shine even though the man who is at crossroads is the actual one reliving it. Staged in B&W with an oversaturation, it bleeds old school with a sense of modern storytelling that works quite well.
Moving in trajectory, “Generation P”, set against the cusp of a newly freed post-Soviet Russia, offers a more drug-fueled adage to the notion of metaphor, hell and greed. While overdone on some of its elements in terms of showing what is real and what is not, there are moments of sheer visual duress which reflects the mind of a fast-moving filmmaker who is still finding his way but has a supreme potential like mixing Tarsem with Timor Bekmambetov.
Other films tried to make an impact with certain elements having pertinence but the lack of the Asian sidebar was distinctly missed, and while the French films were at times effective, others fared well than others.
“Up There”, a visual motif against the idea of “Heaven Can Wait” limbo structure, takes a more sardonic, youth-field perspective than say “Defending Your Life” but finds a more moralistic vision of how the dead perceive life. Martin, the lead character, unredeemingly trying to be good above all else to make his way to the white light, understands the different emotions that people strive to leave behind that keep them on the basic plain. While the humor does shine through, the mundane progression at times gives the narrative a bit of a listless quality.
“The Monk” starring Vincent Cassel tries a more controversial bent using the notion of unconscious desire against its protagonist as a personification of the devil seen through the eyes of familial undoing. While the basis has a decadent of Shakespeare wrapped in its web ultimately the resolution seems over-textured in motivations of a character that are both irreverent and against better judgment. Cassel likes the themes because they allow for vicious strains of emotions especially where temptation is involved but overall the soapy progression of the film despite some gothic visuals stays the path.
“Heat Wave”, like earlier Quebec entries, uses the idea of parallel story-lines (ala “Run Lola Run”) spoken in reverse to show the different perceptions of life. While the community it portrays allows a “day-in-the-life” perception that ends in tragedy, it does not create an underlying reasoning for its importance but instead uses its characters as pawns in a simply changing chess view of life where most things happen by random chance and not necessarily by reason. Some of the reversals of fortune create a necessity for drama which the final shot does elevate but without a true nature for the crime committed.
“Another Silence” uses a structure of female revenge as a notion of undoing with an intent dramatic backdrop leaving from the urban elements of Quebec into the back roads of Bolivia and the plains of Argentina. While “You’re Next” in Toronto last year upped this for entertainment value, the lasting impression here is a journey towards murder/suicide. The idea in the mind of this woman that her life is over beyond this one act shows determination of emotion to be sure but what is more interesting is her progression in all ides of amorality especially as far as her connections to organized crime, even though she is a cop. There is a deeper story here which is not adequately explored for what is possible. While the resolution revolves anti-climactic, the possibilities that continue for notions of believability seem decidedly wasted.
“Whore’s Glory”, as one of the sole documentaries seen, is interesting in its access of socially acceptable behavior in what is considered “the oldest profession”. Using different ideas in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico, the idea of humanizing the life of prostitute to a point while dehumanizing as well is an interesting paradox to play depending on what the motivation is and the ability to see it as a job for hire with regulation to perform a desired need. Thailand as seen (or Japan for that matter) through its “Fish Tank” view is relatively civilized though this is probably a more high-functioning brothel in Bangkok. Bangladesh’s whore district is seen as a necessary evil though the hypocritical function of it especially when one of the girls explains why, as Muslims, they can’t perform blow jobs but they can spread their legs, seems an intermittent but foregone conclusion. Mexico is, by far, the worse as shown as its convenience store selling perception on muddy roads but the amount of disease and drug use is much more prevalent. As any degree of service industry, the conditions and overall intent depend on presence of mind combined with a need of desperation.
“Alois Nebel”, using certain ideals of “Persepolis” combined with the Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir”, uses the mundaneness of a lost railroad worker and his disdain of new development as a metaphor for the disconnect of a society moving too fast just because it can. The dramatic tension at times used with the computer enhanced black and white landscape which is either inlaid or above actual footage create a tension-filled progression through the unrest of this man’s mind. His eventual undoing because of his idea of what makes a human connection shows the futility of a man in an ever-changing world with a clear, if not somber, vision.
“The Blue Of The Sky” wants to show redemption within the guise of willing criminality to achieve a higher form of enlightenment. Tried and true, the antagonist shown will screw over his partners-in-crime thinking that no one will get hurt in the overall structure. The reality is that if this story was told with a little more slickness and vitality and not within a cinema-verite style everyman tale, there might have been the possibility of an inventive crime thriller especially if the villain (as aluded) was a female Don balancing viciousness with a sense of emotional longing while optimizing a Black Widow sensation. Instead the motif becomes a ruse of lives less taken with a notion of loss preceding an eventual comeuppance.
“Behold The Lamb” follows a human interaction with a narrative that makes very little sense beyond its metaphorical basis where a lamb must to brought to slaughter to maintain a sense of honor. The female lead who herself is a lost soul who lives neither in her real world or the possibilities of who she could be becomes more of a reverse “Juno” caught in her own web of idiosyncrasies but unable to set them right while the male lead, prone to seizures and bouts of nobility, simply keeps pushing her through with no sense of complacency of his own. Eventually through a lack of comfortability, the redemption of their need tends to fall apart despite some interesting arguments along the way.
“Here There” attempts to integrate three stories of intermittant loss that don’t quite intersect in necessary ways. The most prevalent happens in the mountains of China where a father is rebelling against the notions of modernity despite the intrusions of his young son who both sees the coming industry but also the purity of his father’s reindeer herding. The two stories addendum of a lost man searching literally for his ID under the nose of a landlord who finds him amusing and a noodle waiter who lacks confidence in the notion of who he is to figure if a girl inside his restaurant is a former love smacks of incomplete storytelling despite the need to allow the audience to offer theire own perceptions. One narrative revolves too basically without the other two strictly flowing in parallel to necesssitate the importance of the other.
“Mighty Fine”, possibly the most conventional of the films at the festival, resolutes in its texture of family dynamics allowing for an adequate reintegration of Chazz Palminteri as an over-stressed rage-filled father who both charms and terrorizes his wife and daughters simply because of his own demons and shortcomings. While definitely a morality tale, it allows offers a balance in its coming of age story with a lack of bias (set within the early part of the 1970s) where the aspects of male-dominated hierarchy resound off the post World War II structure which still reigned prevalent in family dynamics then. Andie McDowell as a quiet Italian wife offers a silent complacency whereas her real-life daughter Rainey Qualley plays her daughter on-screen with a strength up against the formidable (at times) Palminteri whose character takes a simpler approach to fixing life with dire consequences that never quite come to bear.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival this year reveled more in their dexterity of the films while the tributes took a bit of a lesser trajectory at this year’s festival. While themes of isolation and redemption struck true, the overall cinematic superlatives rested more in the texture of the mundane and not necessarily the dramatic and vibrant with the exception of the overwhelmingly effective “Shuffle”.