As the Grouch On the Scene at this year’s Film Fest DC, I didn’t only take in fun genre flicks that, with a language change to English, could pass for good multiplex fare. I also got to see some more artistic films. Yes, films that take their time. Films that take art seriously. Films that are about something.

In other words, films that the other Grouches would have hated.

Actually, I only really liked one of the following four anyway.

Medal of Honor (Medalia de onoare), Romania

The catalog description read like it was written just for me. Romanian New Wave? Yes! The other films I’ve seen in this movement have been fascinating. A mid-90s setting as the country shifts to capitalism? Goodness, yes! A plot about a man who receives a medal of honor for actions he can’t remember? A thousand times yes! Who wouldn’t be interested in a film about the subjective nature of history and the impermanent, unreliable character of memory?

Those themes didn’t play out quite as I hoped. For a better example – also Romanian – check out 12:08 East of Bucharest. I’d say Medal of Honor is more about an old man confused in a new world.

Ion I. Ion is in his 70s, living in a cramped apartment with a wife who barely speaks to him. He has rambling, frustrating conversations consisting mostly of complaints with anyone he crosses. His son is a doctor in Canada and won’t speak to him after his father turned him in for trying to escape Romania before Ceausescu fell. It was for his own good, he said.

When Ion receives notice that he will be awarded a medal for World War II bravery, he doesn’t know why. He served, but he doesn’t remember doing anything particular brave. But the medal means a lot to him and gives him some prestige with his cohorts. It even gives him an in to get his son to speak to him. So as time goes on he convinces himself of his own acts of bravery. After all, the government gave him a medal and it can’t be wrong, right?

This film is Ion, a man befuddled by the new world order. The plot unfolds slowly and without many surprises. It’s the deep treatment of Ion that allows the film to succeed, though two hours with this stubborn man is plenty for a filmgoer. He’s the guy in your office who you avoid because you know he’ll pull you into a conversation about himself for twenty minutes.

Other Romanian New Wave films I’ve seen have had distinctive visual styles. Medal of Honor doesn’t adhere to that style as much and is filmed more conventionally, though the characteristic long shots still appear from time to time.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: Jared’s dislike for slow films pushes him to the top as Adam would at least see the bureaucratic absurdities in the film as reinforcing his goofy libertarian world view.

Louise-Michel, France

This is one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. I hated it. You should not see it and I will tell you everything that happens so you can get a taste of the ridiculousness of it.

Louise is a hulking woman working in a provincial French garment factory staffed with other women. She’s keeping her head low after doing time for blowing off a banker’s head with a shotgun (graphically portrayed). The women arrive at work one day to find the factory completely empty. Their union gives them a severance and they pool their money for their next venture. Why not hire an assassin to kill the man who shut down the factory, suggests Louise. And so that’s what they decide.

Louise meets Michel, a frumpy security guard who lives in a trailer park. He takes the job but soon realizes he’s unable to kill. The solution? Hire his terminally ill cousin to walk into a party, shoot the factory boss, and then shoot herself. She gets to end her misery and Michel gets the money. Win-win! She pulls off the job.

But it turns out the now-dead boss wasn’t the real boss as the factory was part of a large multinational. So it’s time to pack up another terminally-ill acquaintance of Michel’s, this one wheelchair-bound, and road trip to Brussels. But before the man can wheel his bomb into the boardroom he gets struck and killed by a bus. No matter since the real boss is in the English Channel tax haven of Jersey anyway.

At about this point we find out that Louise is actually a man posing as a woman to land a job after his prison stint. And Michel is actually a woman living as a man. Why the gender switcharoo? I have no earthly idea. It has nothing to do with the rest of the film and is just an element of pure anarchy, fitting since Louise-Michel was actually a historical anarchist. Good thing they found each other, too, because a bickering relationship has given way to affection. Aw!

After stowing away to Jersey, the pair find the company executive. They break into his compound and slaughter everyone on site: the boss, security personnel, servants, babies. Then they go to jail where, nine months later, Michel has their baby. The factory ladies are happy to hear the joyous news and begin their plot to take out the real owners: a California pension fund. The end.

Mind boggling.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: Adam, since at least Brian and Jared would relish in the absurdity.

Alamar, Mexico

We (ahem, Jared) often give films crap because “nothing happens.” Alamar takes this concept to a whole new level. I met my girlfriend after the film and she asked how it was. “Nothing happened,” I said.

“But the catalog actually says that nothing happens,” she replied.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “Really nothing happens. At all. Nothing.”

Alamar follows three generations of men living in a stilt house over the sea in Quintana Roo. But this isn’t Cancun. It’s 73 minutes of the three of them fishing and snorkeling and hanging out in the hut. Skills are passed along from older to younger generations before the young grandson returns to his Italian mother in Rome.

Do you remember the short film segments on Sesame Street that were nothing but footage of kids playing? Like five minutes of just kids finger painting and nothing else? That’s what this reminded me of. There’s no drama, no conflict. Just footage of teaching the grandson how to fish, making bird friends, and feeding crocodiles. I think it’s meant to be a story about passing along tradition in a changing world and of simple father-son bonds even as fate would pull them apart. But these themes are so understated as to be almost nonexistent.

The setting is very pretty and I got by for most of it thinking that it would be nice to be hanging out in a hammock on the world’s second largest barrier reef. But mostly I was bored to death.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: This film is basically the antithesis to Jared. The anti-Jared. If Jared were to watch this film I think they’d cancel each other out and both would cease to exist.

Lourdes, France

Lourdes is a Pyrenees French town known for several visions of the Virgin Mary in the mid-19th century. Now it hosts thousands of ailing pilgrims per year who pray, visit holy sites, and bathe in holy water in hopes of receiving a miracle. The film follows one quadriplegic on a group pilgrimage. She interacts with the other pilgrims and the helpers while visiting all the important Lourdes sites. The first part of the film lets us into this world full of pain, frustration, faith, and desperation. I really dug this part.

When a miracle seems to happen in the group, the reaction is muted. Everyone’s happy someone received their miracle, but they question: Why her? And why not me? What did she do that I didn’t? I’m more devout. She didn’t seem to pray as hard as me at the shrine.

It’s a beauty pageant where the infirm are contestants and God is the sole judge. The losers smile and hug the victor while being upset it wasn’t them. Then there’s the remorse for the jealousy.

It was this exploration of the conflicting emotion and questioning of faith that I looked forward to most going in. Unfortunately it didn’t work too well for me as it didn’t seem to dig deeper than to confirm that there are indeed conflicting emotions. Most of it is way too underplayed; the periphery characters feel most of this conflict while we watch our blank-slate protagonist. And when it strays from the understatement it swings wildly to shrill melodrama. It’s a shame too because for about a third of the film I was entirely on board.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: Adam due to his hatred of all things French.

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