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I’ve been awful about writing up my film festival experiences from the past year. I haven’t necessarily felt a drive to do it. Maybe I’m finding other creative outlets – or corporate America is simply sucking me dry. But I do like to revisit my previous years’ recaps and I do like the idea of perhaps helping a stray Googler find some info about a rare title in a local film festival’s program (I, myself, have found film festival guidance in some far reaches of the blogosphere), so I’ll try to pick up the slack.

I rescued the following two reviews from an old file I was keeping for the AFI European Union Showcase from November, 2012. I’ll add them here and then return to do some shorter capsule reviews from the rest of that fest and a few others. Or that’s the plan, at least.

silence

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen), Germany, dir: Baran bo Odar.

The straight crime procedural seems to be a dying cinematic form given the proliferation of TV crime dramas. It gets to the point that taking over an hour to solve a crime just feels too long. The SVU team would get this done in half the time!

21 years ago, an eleven-year-old girl was raped and murdered, her bike tossed into a field near her home and her body dumped in a lake. On the anniversary of her murder, another girl has disappeared with her bike discarded in the same spot in the same field. The copy-cat murder churns the lives of those involved in the original case: the lead detective, the victim’s mother, and a passive accomplice to the crime.

Continuing the Law & Order comparison, The Silence is the one or two episodes per season where the writers get creative and half the episode is devoted to the perpetrator rather than adhering to a strict whodunnit story line. The perpetrator of the first murder is never in doubt for the audience; Timo, an accomplice in that crime, tracks down the murderer after the second homicide and wrestles with his own demons of guilt and pedophilia.

Meanwhile, a detective on the case is recovering from a mental breakdown following the loss of his wife while the latest victim’s parents hope for good news but fall further into despair. These elements provide a bit more depth to the film beyond a straight crime tale, but not profoundly so. It’s the same Law & Order episode but with an extra hour to give the side characters back stories.

The plot doesn’t rely on sensational twists, suspense, or action sequences. In some ways it’s refreshing to see a crime drama without a car chase. But it also makes it fairly unmemorable. The victim’s parents’ grief is crushing and the tortured Timo’s attempt to repress his pedophilic tendencies is quite interesting. Beyond that, my only lasting impression is how terrible the police are at their jobs in the film. Our damaged detective hero’s superior is aggressively incompetent.

All in all a solid film but nothing special. B.

paradise love

Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe), Austria, dir: Ulrich Seidl

My interest in this film comes entirely from personal experiences and it’ll be impossible to explain without going into a haughty “when I was off traveling the world…” story, so bear with me.

One of the more interesting socio-cultural observations from a trip to Kenya a few years back was on its coast dotted with local villages and resorts full of European holidaygoers: the thriving sex trade. It is a very popular destination for European women to come and find Kenyan “boyfriends.” 50-year-old women walking down the street hand-in-hand with a muscular young Kenyan was a very common sight.

So when I saw that a film at this year’s Cannes festival followed the travails of one of these women I knew I had to check it out when I could. My personal fascination with the subject also means I may not be the most objective barometer. My suspicion is that director Ulrich Seidl’s take on the subject will be plodding to most casual viewers. But for me it was an entirely engrossing dive into an interesting subject matter, peppered with cultural touches that tickled me as someone who has been to the area.

Our protagonist is Teresa, a pudgy middle-aged Austrian who is a single mother of a moody teenager. She jets off to the Kenyan coast to get some sun and find get some local lovin’. Her sexual intentions I think are less explicitly apparent in the beginning. She clearly knows it’s a possibility from hearing about it from a more experienced friend, but she doesn’t want to really admit to herself that she’s engaging in sex tourism.

Throughout her stay, Teresa increasingly gains confidence. Her first encounter with a Kenyan boyfriend has her leaving in a self-conscious huff. By the end she is paying for private shows and dragging hotel workers to her room. The bulk of the film follows one relationship that Teresa enters into rather naively and ends similarly, with Teresa heartbroken that her beau didn’t seem to really love her. Her engagements become increasingly more businesslike afterwards.

From a practical standpoint, I am surprised that someone who came to Kenya looking for sex (even if she was initially unwilling to admit it to herself) could be so surprised about how it all works. Why should she really think she’d found love? Her beau’s constant requests for money elicit an earnest response initially. Doesn’t she – someone who has had friends who have been doing this for years and flew thousands of miles for this purpose – understand that this is how the game is played? You don’t just leave a stack of bills on the table like a man. You go through the motions as if it isn’t just a business relationship to give yourself some emotional cover, but you know what’s truly going on. There aren’t wedding bells in the future

I found a lot to like in Teresa’s evolution from naive and hesitant outsider to aggressive and self-assured predator. I also enjoyed a number of other little cultural touches. Shots peering down the beach, white sunbathers stretched out on the private portion of the sand while Africans stare at them across a barrier from the public beach brought me back to my short time there. As Teresa leaves the resort and is surrounded by locals, their requests for her to buy souvenirs and boat trips, not to mention her uncertainty of how to deal with these demands, reminded me of my own experiences. Plus everyone sings the same joyless “Jambo” song trotted out for tourists everywhere.

Beyond that, the dive into the psyche of the type of woman who undertakes such an expedition really interested me. The casual racism displayed by these women is astonishing but also strangely endearing through its naivete. The moral quandaries of the sex trade also make for good ethical mulling. Is it fair that this feels less unsavory with the typical sex industry gender roles reversed? Their drive to achieve some amount of sexual satisfaction while living in a society that would deny them that as older, less attractive women seems nearly admirable. But then they are also taking advantage of Africans’ poverty, who are in turn willing participants albeit their dire economic situations. There are no easy answers.

I’ll also note that the film veers into near pornography at points. There is plenty of nudity that might push usual American boundaries, but the scene where Teresa and friends pay a Kenyan man to strip and perform for them pushes past those boundaries into new territories all together. Maybe this isn’t a movie to see with grandma unless she’s interested in a whole lot of penis and old lady breasts in an extended 15 minute scene. B+.

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Every year I finish these things later and later. Like I said in my ages-ago first post, it was mediocre year at Filmfest DC. So let’s finally plow through the rest of the films and move onto the 2012 Oscar season.

An Article of Hope, USA, dir: Daniel Cohen

The best of the fest, this documentary kept me utterly spellbound. In 2003, Ilan Ramon became the first Israeli in space on space shuttle Discovery. He and the rest of his crewmates were killed when the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

His space exploits didn’t make Ramon a national hero. His participation in Israeli airstrikes against Iraqi nuclear facilities twenty years prior and a prominent career in the Israeli Air Force had already done so. The film traces this remarkable man’s life as both a man and a national symbol.

Ramon carried with him into space a miniature Torah that survived Bergen Belsen and a pencil drawing made by a teenaged Auschwitz victim. Entwined into the story of Ramon’s preparations to become an astronaut are his thoughtful considerations of what it meant for him as an Israeli, a Jew, and son of Holocaust survivors to launch into the heavens.

The capacity crowd in my screening seemed predominantly Jewish and based on the sniffles I heard throughout the film and the questions asked at the Q&A, they strongly responded to it. As neither a Jew nor someone with connections to Israel, I was still very moved by the film and its portrayal of an extraordinary man. It simply works as a film that should affect any audience.

Clocking in at a few minutes under an hour, I think director Daniel Cohen should consider cutting it down to 40 minutes to qualify it for a Documentary Short Oscar run. But that sounds like that is not in the cards and a PBS showing will hopefully come in the future. Wherever it turns up, you should seek it out. A.

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, USA, dir: Pamela Yates

Three minutes into this film my friend’s mom’s face filled the screen. 30 years ago, director Pamela Yates filmed When the Mountains Tremble, a documentary about the then-raging Guatemalan civil war and it was my friend’s mom who helped Yates connect with guerilla groups. Getting shocked out of your seat by a familiar face is an interesting way to begin a documentary.

Would it be cruel to say it was all downhill from there? I don’t wish to be flip about it and maybe linearly the film didn’t truly apex right at the beginning, but it does seem to suffer somewhat from mission creep and loose editing. Yates returns to Guatemala to film a follow-up and finds a country working to mend the rifts of the past. Researchers comb through piles of police files and fields of mass graves. But the wheels of justice turn slowly and it happens that some of the footage Yates shot 30 years prior could help make the case against army commanders who committed horrible atrocities.

The film is a mixture of a making-of documentary of the first film, a chronicle of the pursuit of justice, and a rumination about a documentarian’s responsibilities. I found it to be a bit overly introspective and not constructed well enough to make it all compelling. It’s too much telling instead of showing and it needed a stronger touch in the editing room to keep it from meandering. D+

Free Men (Les hommes libres), France, dir: Ismael Ferroukhi

Every ethnic and social group apparently needs its Nazi resistance film. In the past few years, the Danes had Flame & Citron, the Dutch Black Book, and French Communists had Army of Crime, which played Filmfest DC in 2010. And now French Muslim immigrants have Free Men.

Tahar Rahim, of A Prophet fame, plays Younes, an Algerian immigrant trying his hand in the black market in occupied Paris. After his capture, Nazi police threaten to send him back to Algeria unless he infiltrates a local mosque and reports back on the activities of the imam, a man thought to be involved in local Resistance activities and the smuggling of Jews out of France.

The imam immediately sees what the largely lapsed Younes is up to, but he lets him hang around. As he becomes more integrated in the mosque’s community and reconnects with his faith, Younes begins to join them in their illicit activities.

As a tale about how oppression begets radicalism, it’s a welcome message if not breaking any new ground. Its main sin is a lack of climax. It establishes the characters but all the furtive glances around the mosque and dashes through secret hallways build to a mini-caper at best which whimpers more than enthralls. C+.

Policeman (Ha-shoter), Israel, dir: Nadav Lapid

Let’s finish with the worst of the fest. Policeman endeavors to tell both sides of a terrorist stand-off. The first half of the film follows Yaron, a commander in an elite anti-terrorism taskforce. He’s about to become a father but an inquiry into an incident during a previous mission could derail his career. He and his close-knit unit discuss how to handle it.

Halfway through, the film abruptly shifts focus to Shira, a college-age upper-class radical. She and some chums are planning an attack to bring down Israel’s elites. The details of the plot are withheld from the viewer, but their violent intent is not. The father of one of her co-conspirator realizes something is about to go down and tries to stop them.

Even as Shira and her group launch their plot and Yaron’s unit is called in to combat it, the story never really returns to Yaron, leaving the first half of the film unresolved and totally separate from the second half. With only half of a movie to establish them, I didn’t end up caring about any of the characters. It was sort of neat to see a contemporary Israeli film that depicts some part of life beyond the Palestinian conflict, but otherwise it completely dragged. D.

The 2012 edition of Filmfest DC (aka the Washington DC International Film Festival) wrapped up well over a month ago and I’ve been slow as usual to get up my recaps. But I felt this was sort of an underwhelming festival so it was tougher to get myself moving. While there were few films that I actively disliked, most of the selections I saw were fine if not terribly memorable. I’m not even going to bother guessing which of my colleagues would love or hate a film the most.

I will use my usual method of dividing the films into art house and genre fare, but given this year’s theme of international comedies, my schedule leaned heavily towards the latter.

King Curling (Kong Curling), Norway, dir: Ole Endresen

My desire to see this film began and ended with the word “curling.” Genre, plot, pedigree: none of it matters because how often do you get to see a movie about The Roaring Game?

It turns out King of Curling is an average entry in the silly sports comedy genre with an extra quirky bent, like a Wes Anderson version of Dodgeball by way of Norway. In fact, I suspect director Ole Endresen has much of Anderson’s oeuvre in his DVD collection because there are a lot of similarities in style and theme.

The king of curling is Truls, a perfectionist skip of a championship-winning team. But his obsession with perfection drives him over the edge, landing him into a mental institution for a decade. Upon his release, his wife is given control over his life and he must stay away from the ice. But when he hears his mentor needs a life-saving surgery and the upcoming national curling championships has a winners’ pot of exactly the amount needed, Truls tries to get his team back together while not succumbing to his obsessions.

The curling takes a backseat to everything else in the film (and it doesn’t even bother getting the curling right). It’s really about intensely quirky characters in various stages of melancholy and midlife crises. Truls’s three teammates are now consumed with anger attributed to an inability to find a comfortable pillow, seeking rare birds, or hitting on anything that breathes. He escapes his disintegrating marriage on a motor scooter while wearing a bathrobe. And if all that isn’t enough, the shots and color palette are also Andersonian.

In the end it’s fairly forgettable, wrapped up in its quirks instead of finding true humor or making coherent points. I didn’t hate it or anything, but it didn’t do much for me and even at 75 minutes I couldn’t have seen it lasting even one more minute. C.

Headhunters (Hodejegerne), Norway, dir: Morten Tyldum

Here is a comedic thriller that manages to grow both progressively darker and zanier. Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter in Oslo who also happens to be an art thief, using his business contacts as marks. He partly does this to continue living beyond his means in a beautiful house with a wife that’s out of his league. When he chooses the wrong victim he has a new problem: finding himself being chased by an ex-special forces assassin.

Roger barely manages to survive several run-ins with the super assassin while simultaneously fleeing the police. Part of the charm of Headhunters is that these situations become more twisted, growing more dark and gruesome but also totally bonkers. As his pursuer follows him to a cabin in the woods you may begin to guess how Roger might get away but you will be quite wrong.

The plot’s twists and turns provide great entertainment and the various threads come together in a satisfying if somewhat pat manner. Headhunters opened in US theaters in April and is still in release. I give it a hearty recommendation: A-.

Robot & Frank, USA, dir: Jake Schreier

Sometimes films just can’t live up to their premises. Maybe some premises are just too hard to live up to? Robot & Frank imagines a near future where helper robots are common tools. Frank Langella’s Frank receives a robot from his son when he begins to show signs of dementia. He’s not fond of the imposition until he realizes the robot’s steady mechanics and emotionless logic would be helpful in his prior profession: burglary.

Unfortunately that’s about all there is to it. The film takes aim at a few points but mostly lands only glancing blows. There are potential points to be made about our relationship with technology and how it shifts our relationships with each other, or a broader look at aging and dependence. There’s a potentially poignant moment where Frank can erase the robot’s memory to cover his tracks after his crime but struggles. The robot has become his friend; can he do to the robot what dementia is doing to him? But it doesn’t make much of an impact.

Instead the film settles for cheap humor, a sweet old man with a new friend story, and a cliched look at the impact of dementia (which sure seems to only appear when the film finds it convenient). It’s harmless and pleasant enough, but I wish it gave more thought to what it was trying to do with its knock-out sci-fi concept. C+.

War of the Arrows (Choijongbyeonggi Hwal), South Korea, dir: Kim Han-min

As a child, Nam Yi promises his dying father he will protect his sister, Ja In. Years later, rampaging Manchus take her and much of their village captive and Nam Yi sets off to bring her home. That’s about it for the plot in this Korean historical epic. The story simply serves to move the action along to the next fight sequence.

And for the most part that’s fine. The archery battles are fun and provide something different from the usual sword fighting in these types of movies. There are some clever touches, like an arrow with a huge blunt head that can blast through obstacles like a mini cannonball. All the action sequences tend to blend together into a big blur and it is somewhat hard to care about most of the characters with such a thin plot. But the action is entertaining and the tone is light-hearted enough that I had a nice time. B-.

Eliminate: Archie Cookson, UK, dir: Rob Holder

One of my favorite aspects of In Bruges is the series of bizarre, fatalistic shootouts near the end. None of the antagonists really dislike each other but they are upholding their own version of a moral code. One characters feels it’s his duty to kill another; his target feels like it’s his duty to run, though he doesn’t really care that much. They take time outs to set ground rules based on what they know of the situation at the time: “I’ll escape from the back of the building and you run around and try to shoot me from there,” “For now I’ll just shoot your leg since it doesn’t do me any good to kill you now but I need to hurt you somehow.”

Eliminate: Archie Cookson stretches that idea over the entire movie. Archie is a former British spy with a career in decline. He works in a translation lab with a bottle of whiskey by his side and goes home to an empty apartment after his wife kicked him out. In his hands ends up a recording whose owners will stop at nothing to keep secret. Hence he becomes marked for death.

The hired assassin is an old friend of Archie’s. The guy massacres Archie’s office when looking for the tape but later meets Archie at a diner. They exchange pleasantries and reminisce over better times. It’s not a lamentful conversation but rather somewhat detached and fatalistic, like they both know what their roles are meant to be: killer and victim. The killer gives Archie a day to find and return the tapes in exchange for his family’s safety.

Archie tries to figure out how to save himself, which sets up a number of chatty shootouts and deadpan conversations. All told it’s an interesting idea to pair this sort of tone with a spy thriller. But it doesn’t entirely work as I don’t think there’s enough of interest happening on screen to make this type of humor pay off time and again across 80+ minutes. It’s also not very believable in the world it creates, that the two sides can lob witty barbs as they hunt each other while dozens of innocents are bloodily and casually dispatched for laughs.

The crowd in my theater laughed a good deal during the screening (and a good deal more than me) so it’s safe to say others may very well get a lot more out of it than I did. But it needed somewhat more polish to sustain its ideas to really please me. C.

Superlasico, Denmark, dir: Ole Christian Madsen

Superclasico made it to the final short-list of nine films in the running for a Foreign Language Oscar nomination and I have no idea how. It’s not that I didn’t like it – I found it perfectly pleasant – but I can’t imagine anyone feeling strongly about it. How did so many voters leave loving this Danish film about a man traveling to Argentina to win back his wife so much that it beat out dozens of other movies?

While in Buenos Aires, the hapless hero must contend with his wife’s new beau, a soccer superstar on the verge of a lucrative move to Europe. He wanders about the city being a general sad-sack and encountering zany characters, like a gruff wine producer and a sexually confident old maid. Meanwhile, the couple’s son runs off to rather creepily obsess over a girl and the wife tries to deal with the chaos her life has plunged into.

I enjoyed the film’s use of Buenos Aires, including a fun sequence where everyone gets lost in the Recoleta cemetery, echoing an experience of my own. It manages to be pleasant in an amusingly quirky way. But it seems to be trying to make some points about modern love that never entirely hit. B-.

Cousinhood (Primos), Spain, dir: Daniel Sánchez Arévalo

Buried somewhere in Cousinhood is a fantastic movie. Alas it has to settle for being merely very good. The film uses the now-common formula of making cogent points about modern life in the middle of profane humor and bromances. This story follows Julian, Diego, and Jose, three cousins who repair to the seaside town where they summered as kids after Julian is left at the alter. He experienced first love with Martina in that town and hopes he can rekindle something with her.

While he hopes to mend his broken heart by getting into Martina’s bed, Jose endeavors to manage his hypochondria on his own without his girlfriend and Diego tries to reconcile a local drunk with his prostitute daughter. All sorts of hijinks, witty banter, and dirty jokes ensue. Each of the plot threads evolve and conclude in satisfying, thoughtful ways without straying too far into patness.

Director Sánchez Arévalo was in attendance at this screening. The movie was an autobiographical and cathartic experience for him: a project for himself after getting dumped and harkening back to his own seaside summers. My impression is that he scribbled out a script and he and his friends headed for the coast. The script could have used a little more polish to hit home its punchlines and themes. It also suffers from basic structural deficiencies like a confused timeline that insists the film takes place over the course of a weekend, which seems impossible given the number of events, encounters, and – I think – days and nights depicted. And yet it still overwhelmingly succeeds and left me with only a small wistful thought of what it could have been and ranks as my favorite narrative film of the fest.

A US version would probably get pilloried by critics for its treatment of its women, and appropriately so. Julian and Jose’s girlfriends are harpies. Martina is some sort of surreally selfless and wise fantasy who puts up with Julian’s bullshit for some unknown reason with no apparent regard for her own desires. I guess even in Spain male filmmakers can devise their perfect women: super hot and caring only to make their men happy. But even though she’s a caricature, at least she’s the most positive and likeable character in the film. She isn’t real but the audience will love her. A-.

Let’s finish up this review of the 2011 AFI European Union Showcase. And it may even be relevant if one of these films pops up in the Oscar discussion.

Bullhead (Rundskop), Belgium, dir: Michael R Roskam

Going in this looked like a crime thriller with an unusual setting: black market bovine hormone dealers in Belgium. How can such a premise be ignored? But it turns out our ‘roided-up bull is no cow but Jacky, a pumped up enforcer in the hormone mafia. The film ends up being a thoughtful and stylish rumination on manhood.

A childhood incident left Jacky with a mangled set of male equipment. He uses steroids to become seriously bulky but the side effects of the steroids and his intense feelings of inadequacy combine to cause some major inner turmoil. He’s emotionally and socially stunted, which doesn’t help when some hormone deals go wrong leading to the police and some rival dealers closing in.

Matthias Schoenaerts won the Best Actor award at the AFI Fest in LA a few months back and it’s very well deserved. He’s a muscled ball of rage and indecision. Belgium also chose to submit this film for the Foreign Language Oscar over the Dardenne-helmed festival darling The Kid with a Bike which is certainly the correct choice. I’m not a raging fan of the film. It has a great character and some interesting ideas, plus it can be oddly funny (boy do the Flemish and Walloon halves of Belgium hate each other). But the story is less compelling than hoped and it sort of peters out. I’m not expecting it to score an Oscar nod. Still, it’s an interesting and thoughtful ride. B+.

Black Thursday (Czarny Czwartek), Poland, dir: Antoni Krauze

In December 1970, Polish workers in Gdansk and the surrounding areas went on strike to protest rising prices and stagnant wages. When the Communist government demanded they return to work, shipbuilders were met at the shipyard gates with tanks and machine guns which subsequently opened fire. This led to several days of riots.

Maybe to a Polish audience a film about Black Thursday makes perfect sense as a major event in the country’s recent history. For an outsider that knows little about the specifics of the incident, the film as structured is an effective warning of authoritarian government. Some of the details didn’t quite connect for me, particularly the political wrangling, but the film still makes a powerful statement. It centers its narrative around one worker and his family then zooms out to events as a whole when warranted. As the violence progresses and his family sits at home worried about his fate, we worry with them. And when workers pile a body of a slain comrade onto a door and carry him around town as a martyr while the police take shots at the crowd from a hovering helicopter, we’re down in the chaos with them.

I think the filmmakers set out to make a film about an event in their nation’s collective consciousness. But for the rest of us we can look past the specifics (and ignore the confusing bits) and feel the terror of what it’s like to oppressed. Poland didn’t submit this film for the Oscars, choosing instead a Holocaust drama that is supposed to be terrific. But if it had gone with Black Thursday I think it would have had the chance to do well in the competition. A-.

Tales of the Night (Les Contes de la Nuit), France, dir: Michel Ocelot

We’ll finish with the last film I saw during the festival, an animated film I tacked on at the end because I’m a sucker for animated films. And this one came with an interesting looking animation style from a director who’d made a mini-splash a few years back with Azur and Asmar.

Alas, that style is not interesting enough to overcome a boring narrative. The film tells six short stories, each set in a different historical period and geography (Medieval times, Ancient Egypt). They are simple fables or fairy tales set around a framing device of a young acting troupe bringing the tales to life on a stage in Paris. Each of the stories is quick. The bad ones therefore pass quickly, but none of them get enough time to develop into something interesting.

Ocelot’s animation style turns the characters into black silhouettes set against layered backdrops. It’s interesting enough, but doesn’t provide enough visual stimulation when the narrative falters. I believe the film was released in 3D in France, which may have helped by giving the picture some depth via each flat layer of background. D+.

As I move on to part two of my AFI European Union Showcase round-up, I come to three films where I struggle to understand the point. I suppose this is something I ponder a lot. I’m never sure it’s a fair question since I don’t find myself thinking this during an entertaining action flick. But, to some extent, all of these left me wondering, “why?”

The Poll Diaries (Poll), Estonia/ Germany/ Austria, dir: Chris Kraus

This coming of age story, which I actually enjoyed, left me wondering what the young heroine has learned, save that sometimes people are shitty. Oda von Siering – who would group up to become poet Oda Schaefer – lives in Estonian Russia with her father and step-mother on the verge of World War I. Her step-mother comes from old German money that is mostly gone and the family lives in a dilapidated mansion on stilts over the water. Her father is a doctor and keeps hundreds of gruesome samples. When she arrives at the mansion from Germany she brings him a gift of some Siamese twin fetuses in a jar.

Over the course of the film, her parents’ relationship becomes strained, Russia and Germany move ever closer to war, her father works to achieve some sort of recognition from other doctors, and Oda hides an Estonian rebel in her father’s workshop. It’s an eventful year, but not one that seems to be full of lessons, except that life can kinda suck, maybe? It doesn’t even really set up Oda’s future as a poet, though the Estonian rebel does encourage her to write. Maybe someone more familiar with her work will draw some parallels.

At least it’s a fairly interesting story set in a fascinating time period. The relationship between the German family and the local Russian soldiers is interesting. A review I read claimed it would be a shoo-in for an Art Direction Oscar, which I dismiss because generally to win an Oscar your movie must be released in the US and people have to actually see it. But beyond those minor details, I see what the reviewer means. The crumbling sea-straddling mansion and the laboratory filled with gross specimens are a production designer’s delight. B.

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam), Italy, dir: Nanni Moretti

I was much less forgiving with the pointlessness of this next film. At Cannes this got the reputation as the Papal King’s Speech with good reason as it follows the plight of a reluctant Cardinal elected Pope. When he has a crisis of confidence a psychiatrist is brought in to try to help him out and convince him to accept the position.

The early parts of the film are quite strong. The opening scenes portraying the dramatic election are engrossing. The tone turns lighter as the psychiatrist comes in and the film is a laugh riot for about twenty minutes. But soon the new Pope has escaped the Vatican where he wanders around and has aimless discussions with regular folk. The psychiatrist is left to hang out with the rest of the Cardinals. In one particularly pointless sequence he organizes a volleyball tournament.

Early on it seems like it will be a humorous film with a powerful explanation of a crisis of faith. But by the end it’s totally run out of steam and we barely know any more about any of the main characters. D+.

Innocence (Nevinnost), Czech Republic, dir: Jan Hřebejk

In this film the existential question doesn’t arrive until the end. For the vast majority of the film it’s an interesting story about an accusation of sexual abuse. When respected doctor Tomás is accused of forcing himself upon a teenage patient, his family and the police (and the audience) are unsure of what to believe. It’s one of those stories where the truth is a malleable concept and it does it pretty well. It’s been done better in other films, but it’s still pretty interesting.

But once that mystery gets resolved in a surprisingly definitive manner considering the ambiguities earlier in the film, the plot totally goes off the rails with further revelations that are neither interesting nor particularly related to the rest of the film. The final twenty or so minutes are awful and killed any of the goodwill I had for the film. D+.

Goodness, the 24th AFI European Union Film Showcase in Washington, DC flew right by and I fell way behind on my comments. But maybe that’s appropriate as I found little that either struck me strongly positively or negatively. Mostly good stuff, but nothing really great.

Some of the films in the festival are in the hunt for the Foreign Language Oscar. Others may receive commercial releases or have been hitting the festival circuit. Some we’ve been hearing about since Cannes. And maybe someone will stumble upon my thoughts and I can steer them towards a good film or away from a bad one.

The Jewel (Il Gioiellino), Italy/France, dir: Andrea Molaioli

The first film I saw at the fest was also one of my favorites. The Jewel is a telling of the fall of Parmalat, the Italian food multinational that collapsed amidst widespread fraud a few years back. The company’s name and specific details were changed for the film but there can be no doubt of the inspiration.

The film is rather disjointed. The first half or so focuses on CFO Ernesto Botta, a loyal but cranky servant to the family-run firm even as his status as a non-relative limits his rise and forces him to share an office with a young ruling family niece just out of business school. His increasingly bizarre dealings with the company’s bosses reveal something is going wrong with the firm while he becomes personally entangled with the niece. It all leads up to Botta needing to decide if he is going to go off the cliff with the firm or blow the whistle.

But once Botta chooses his path he becomes a secondary character as the film morphs into a slick montage of the company’s further descent into fraud and the bosses continuously double down on their involvement. Both parts are quite good but the shift in the middle is a bit jarring. I could see the film choosing one style and sticking to it or concurrently focusing on both Botta and the firm as a whole, but the abrupt shift in the middle doesn’t work.

Still, it’s quite entertaining. Toni Servillo is excellent as Botta and Teho Teardo’s score of strings mixed with electronic elements is a knockout. I stayed through the credits to hear it all. Teho also composed for 2009 Best Makeup nominee, the incomprehensible Il Divo, and I loved the music there too. I guess this guy is talented. B+.

Long Live the Family (Rodina je základ státu), Czech Republic, dir: Robert Sedláček

Now we move into the part of the program about Eastern European families on the run from the law. In Long Live the Family, the police are closing in on Libor for embezzling from his Prague financial firm. He packs up his family and makes a break for it all the while telling them they’re going on vacation.

He’s guilty and he knows the police will catch up. But he flees out of shame, out of a desire for one last burst of freedom, and, strangely, out of desperation borne out of a mid-life crisis. The film has nice enough family moments and introspective looks into Libor’s character. His wife’s growing understanding that something has gone awry develops nicely. But most of the film indulges Libor’s middle aged whining. A visit to family friends devolves into him and his friend drunkenly discussing their affairs and fairly pathetic regrets about how their lives didn’t pan out like they had hoped when they were younger. Libor has a great family and a successful career (supplemented by his embezzlement proceeds). The fact that he committed a crime and is now fleeing from the law takes a backseat. Things may have turned out better for you if you didn’t steal a bunch of money, pal. D+.

Outbound (Periferic), Romania, dir: Bogdan George Apetri

I think I’m just in the bag for new Romanian cinema. There’s no great reason I should have liked Outbound except that I enjoyed its aesthetic.

Matilda gets a day pass from jail to attend her mother’s funeral. Instead, she embarks on a series of errands meant to culminate with her fleeing the country with her son. The result is an episodically structured film with each segment focusing on her meeting with someone: family, exes, bosses, and her son. Truth be told I can’t claim any of these episodes are entirely compelling from a plot perspective, but they do elicit a conflicted portrait of Matilda. She’s our protagonist but she’s quite unlikeable, spitefully sparring with good and bad acquaintances alike.

While the camera does linger on its subjects, the shots do not last an especially long time like in other Romanian new wave films (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days). The strong visuals help bring us into Matilda’s world, enough that I didn’t entirely mind the meandering plot. C+.

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au Vélo), Belgium/France/Italy, dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

The Dardenne brothers are Cannes darlings but I think they’re just not for me. I’ve only seen two: The Kid with a Bike, which has been hitting the festival circuit since this year’s Cannes, and L’Enfant, which won the Palme d’Or in 2005. Both are inconsequential tales of lower-class life in Belgium that left me disinterested.

11-year-old Cyril lives in a group home. His father has abandoned him, though he has yet to accept it. He meets Samantha, who agrees to take him in on weekends. But he’s not an angelic kid. His heart is mostly in the right place but he yearns for affection (understandable given his background) and is prone to lashing out. He rides his bike a lot and makes some mistakes. To me, it kind of pointlessly meanders. Cécile De France, who I enjoyed in Hereafter, is also good here as Samantha. C-.

It’s time for the third and final part of my round-up of the films I saw at the 2011 AFI Latin American Film Festival in the Washington, DC area. Also see parts one and two.

No Return (Sin Retorno), Argentina/Spain, dir: Miguel Cohan

Clubbing wasn’t the gritty morality tale I was expecting, but No Return sure fit the bill! After a hit and run death in Buenos Aires, police zero in on a suspect: Federico, a young family man (and ventriloquist!). But, while Federico is not totally blameless, he is not the killer. Matías, a teenager from an upper class family, is the true culprit. His panicked reaction to the accident has him claiming he was carjacked.

The film spends some time with Federico and his legal troubles as he slides from incredulous assertions of innocence to bitterness. The victim’s father plays a role in publicly shaming Federico and forcing the prosecutor’s hand. The film really shines when focusing on Matías and his family as they continuously double down on their cover-up and justify it to themselves. The strain, conflicted emotions, and intense guilt of the situation are portrayed beautifully.

The plot does sort of go off the rails a bit at the end, but even so the film is quite effective and had me totally riveted. The performances are top-notch across the board. It’s not the most pleasant film to sit through, but if you’re in the mood for something a bit difficult this is a very good choice. A-.

Miss Bala, Mexico, Gerardo Naranjao

If there’s one thing that the drug wars in Mexico have given us it’s the ability to use the prefix “narco-” in front of any word. Well, great ready for much narco-tinged discussion this Oscar season as this narco-thriller gets a major push to bring the Foreign Language award back to the narco-torn country of Mexico. Not that I particularly liked it. I just know that everyone else seems to.

Stephanie Sigman plays Laura, a Tijuana youngster who aims to compete in the Miss Baja California competition. But she attends the wrong party and crosses paths with a drug cartel. Soon she is an unwilling participant in the cartel’s activities, running errands and even doing its bidding in the beauty pageant.

Over the course of a few days, Laura is thrust into a slew of violent situations. The action sequences are sort of the standard movie shootouts with the nice twist of always keeping the focus on Laura. Rather than showing an entire battle, we see Laura stumble, flee, and hide.

This strict point of view also may be part of what disappointed me. I found a bunch of the cartel content quite hard to follow. I suspect that’s on purpose as we only know what Laura knows and she’s swept up in a much larger force of which she only sees a small part. But the result is that I didn’t end up caring. This made the thrills less thrilling and the tension less tense. So I could watch and enjoy the scenes but never felt invested.

I doubt confusion over plot points was the sole reason I was left cold but I can’t really explain any other factors. I’ll actually be interested to see it again in case I was just having a bad night or something. Everyone else seems to love the film and it’s sure to make a splash as Mexico’s submission for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar. I hear Fox is giving it a large commercial push later in the year as well. B-.

Blackthorn, Spain/France/Bolivia/USA, dir: Mateo Gil

Making a sequel to a classic film is an invitation for derision. Thankfully, of the commentary I’ve seen on Blackthorn, a sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, not much of it has devolved to the lazy criticism of questioning the point of its existence. I think that if you believe you have an interesting take on classic characters, go ahead. But just know that comparisons are inevitable and it’s a hard bar to clear.

So let’s just judge Blackthorn on its own merits: which is that it’s sort of meh.

Blackthorn imagines a world where Butch Cassidy survived the raid at the end of the original movie and has been hiding out in Bolivia for a few decades. He decides it’s finally time to head home and sets off, just to have his journey interrupted by a Spaniard on the run after stealing from a local mining bigwig. The pursuit takes the pair through the Bolivian landscape, through valleys and across desolate deserts.

The Bolivian setting gives it a slight air of exoticism, but it’s really quite similar to what you’d expect an American Western to look like. The story is decent though not especially compelling. The film really shines in a couple of scenes, such as a protracted chase across an expanse of salt flats. But I’m not really sure this movie needed to feature Butch Cassidy. I admit I haven’t seen the first film so maybe I don’t have the best perspective, but it seems like the narrative would be fine with new characters. Flashbacks to the younger outlaws during the time of the first movie and soon after don’t help the film at all and the reintroduction of a character from the first film in Blackthorn’s third act only serves to convolute things. Consequently, forging it as a sequel seems a little gimmicky.

The AFI calls it a Bolivian film for the purpose of its festival, but much of it is in English and the star and (I think) much of the financing are American. It is playing in limited release in America this fall. Outreach to Oscar bloggers suggests the studio is trying some sort of Oscar push for lead Sam Shepard, but there’s no way that’s happening and it’s for the best. B.

This ends our coverage of the AFI Latin American Film Festival. It was a pretty good year and maybe slightly better than last year. And now my attention shifts to another AFI fest, this one the AFI European Union showcase which includes some Oscar contenders and Foreign Language category submissions. Stay tuned!

It’s come to my attention that my Spanish translation of this blog’s title has been wrong since my first post for the 2010 festival. Now that I have corrected it presumably people will actually start reading! Moving on to part two of my coverage of the 2011 AFI Latin American Film Festival. See part one here.

All Your Dead Ones (Todos Sus Muertos), Colombia, dir: Carlos Moreno

You always run the risk with a foreign film of something getting lost in translation. Sometimes literally: slang, a turn of phrase, or joke that fits perfectly in the original language might not have an appropriate translation. A lyrical line in one language can lose its beauty in another. But films also are designed with an audience in mind and they rely on that audience having certain knowledge. A joke about a stereotype won’t work if the audience doesn’t already know the stereotype. A cultural reference relies on the audience knowing the culture.

I think some of All Your Dead Ones gets lost in translation.

A farmer awakes one morning to discover a pile of bodies in his field. He dutifully hops on his bicycle to go to town and report the murders. It’s election day in the state and the politicians, policemen, and officials he meets have little interest in a massacre except to figure out how rid themselves of the problem. Eventually the mayor and some policemen make their way to the farm where they hatch a series of absurd plots to take care of the nuisance.

Many of the farm scenes turn into long, drawn-out episodes filled with uneasy silence. My sense is that they are meant to be tense, presumably because the officials’ intent to cover up the bodies could pose some danger to the farmer and his family. I did not feel this tension. To me they were nothing but long, boring scenes and I think this is where the translation problem comes in. A Colombian audience would have an understanding of the local social and political situations. The filmmakers wouldn’t have to do anything special as the audience would provide its own tension to an awkward showdown between police and lowly farmer.

On the other hand, I found the police more bumbling than threatening. I know of Colombia’s recent history of paramilitary and rebel atrocities, but there’s nothing in an encounter between a farmer and the police that would seem fraught with danger to me.

At least this is how I read it. Maybe it is meant to be kind of boring instead of tense. D.

Hermano, Venezuela, dir: Marcel Rasquin

It’s not often you get a movie that falls into the cliches of not one but two genres. In Hermano, Venezuela’s submission for last year’s Foreign Language Oscar, we get treated to a story of Daniel, a boy growing up in the Caracas slums trying to stay out of trouble while leading his soccer team to the city championships.

There is an interesting foundation to the story in Daniel’s family. The film opens with what he calls his “birth”: when he is discovered in a trash heap by a mother and her young son, Julio. The film skips ahead to when the boys are teens and the family’s interactions are sweet and interesting. The brothers are close and make a great team on the soccer field, but their status as legitimate and adoptive sons always remains just under the surface. Julio is also involved with the neighborhood’s crime syndicate, which Daniel tries to avoid but cannot always.

Hermano is one of those films where every character is allowed to have one emotion at a time and always feels that emotion very strongly. First I am sad but now I am very angry at you and now I love you. It undercuts the appeal of the family’s unique bond. It also checks all the boxes for a poor child trying but not always succeeding to avoid trouble movie and a sports movie, including the usual implausibilities of the latter.

Still, it’s hard to be too annoyed with the film as it is amiable enough. The story kept my attention even if it didn’t always grab me emotionally. Some scenes are thrilling and the limited look into contemporary life in Caracas is welcome. C-.

The Last Commandant (El Último Comandante), Costa Rica/ Brazil, dir: Isabel Martínez

Sometimes you see a movie that isn’t at all what you expected. This was my experience with The Last Commandant. The plot revolves around a former Sandanista commander in the Nicaraguan civil war who surfaces in Costa Rica decades after the war’s end. Judging from what I read about the film, I expected something related to the war’s aftermath and the social and cultural rifts that linger.

It turns out it’s a character study of an asshole. Our commander is just an asshole who didn’t care about the war, didn’t care about his wife, doesn’t care about his former soldiers he encounters, and doesn’t care who he has to screw over to get what he wants. And what he wants is the money to open a cha-cha-cha studio, a dream he’s rather pathetically pursued for years.

Interestingly, the film starts as a story about his former wife as she searches for him before entirely shifting to the commander himself. So this film wants to defy all sorts of expectations!

It’s a somewhat interesting movie that kept my attention even if it didn’t thrill or move me. It’s Damian Alcazar’s lead performance that makes it good enough to mildly enjoy. Movies about assholes can wear on the viewer and Alacazar brings enough of a pathetic air and even some humor to push the film over the line. C.

Clubbing (De Caravana), Argentina, dir: Rosendo Ruíz

Juan attends a concert in Cordoba to take some photos of a music icon. While there he meets Sara and she goes home with him but she steals his camera. He tracks her down to find that she works with a drug dealer who only promises to return his camera once he does some work for him, thrusting Juan into lower-class and criminal worlds he was unaware of in his previously high-class life. Sounds like a gritty crime drama with shifty morals and character-testing predicaments, right?

Maybe at this point I should mention that besides Sara and drug dealer Maxtor, the third member of the crime ring is a sassy but very sweet transvestite named Penelope who wants to open a spa. And that Juan doesn’t really mind his criminal errands. In fact, he rather enjoys his excursions into the criminal underworld. Juan and Maxtor become friends while Juan pursues Sara. It turns out the whole thing is very low stakes. The only real conflict is friction with Sara’s ex-boyfriend who is a competitor both in business and love.

So what’s the point then? It becomes something interesting by the utter bizareness of it all. The characters have interesting and random conversations, especially driven by Maxtor and Penelope. They’re often about nothing important but are still amusingly strange. Rodrigo Savina as Maxtor stands out with his earnest but manic investment in these discussions.

All told, a movie that modestly succeeds by riding its bizarre characters even as the plot fizzles. Not too shabby. C+.

The blog has been ignored for the last month as most of us traipsed around Europe. But now we’re back and we’re kicking off with some film festival coverage! No, not Telluride or Toronto or New York or Venice, but…

Just like last year, I’m on the scene for the 22nd annual AFI Latin American Film Festival at the AFI Silver theater here in the DC area. These little local festivals are great for sampling some new films outside the usual ones that get commercial releases in the US. My choices don’t always work out, but I’ve found some terrific films over the years.

Many of these films you’ll never hear from again. But some will receive US releases and others may well factor in this year’s Foreign Language Oscar race. I’ve also visited some dark corners of the internet looking for guidance when picking what I want to see out of a film festival catalog. Perhaps I can steer a random Googler with a catalog to her own hometown festival to some winners (or warn her away from the losers).

The Mexican Suitcase (La Maleta Mexicana), Mexico/Spain, dir: Trisha Ziff

This documentary featured as the opening night selection for the festival. In 2007, a box of negatives from photos taken during the Spanish Civil War was unearthed in Mexico. The film dives into their progeny, leading to discussions of the war, the photographers, and the nature of photography as art and journalism.

The box contains work from Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour, and Gerda Taro, three photographers who lived among the Republican soldiers and helped pioneer modern war photography. All three eventually lost their lives in war zones. Several very famous photos from the Spanish Civil War came from them.

It turns out the negatives made their way to Mexico on the same route many of the war’s losers did: they crossed into France, where former Republican soldiers waited in concentration camps before a sympathetic Mexican government granted them asylum. The negatives ended up with a Republican general and then buried in his daughter’s closet.

The film switches among several threads. A story of the late stages of the war and the years after it forms a narrative backbone with discussions of the photographs filling in much of the content. While I was watching I couldn’t help but think that the filmmakers were tackling too much. There is the discussion of the photographers’ innovations, their relationships with each other, and the way their work has been viewed as a one block of work instead of by three distinct journalists. There is also the discussion of the discovery: who found the negatives, their journey to exhibition, and whether their appropriate home is in Mexico. And there’s all the coverage of the war in general.

This broad range of topics is necessary because no part on its own is enough for a feature length film. But at least they flow into each other nicely. I do think an interest in the Spanish Civil War or photography would be necessary to enjoy the film. I am interested in the former so I found it sufficiently interesting, though a few of the more technical photographic discussions tried my patience. B.

Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora É Outro), Brazil, dir: José Padilha

The first Elite Squad played the DC Film Fest in 2008. I was on a favela – Brazilian slum – film kick at the time after seeing and loving City of God. Not that the kick has necessarily waned since as it’s still strong enough that I went to see the sequel even though I didn’t care for the first. The original followed the travails of a paramilitary branch of the police department that took on tough assignments in Rio’s dangerous slums. The officers find their convictions tested by corrupt cops and moral quandaries. It was meant to be one of those tales where we wonder if the ends justify the police’s ends, but I thought it was too much flash over substance.

The sequel takes several of the original’s main characters and does so much more with them.

Nacimiento, the commander from the first film, has moved up in the world. Now he wears a suit, in charge of part of the state’s security apparatus. He has terrific success pushing the gangs out of many of the city’s favelas. Unfortunately they are replaced by corrupt cops and organized crime. This thrusts us into a world where politicians, cops, and criminals combine to form a pervasive and corrupt system. When Nacimiento realizes what has happened, and its violence hits too close to home, he fights back.

What makes Elite Squad 2 so good is that it starts with terrific action sequences and makes them mean something through its well-developed characters and social conscience. It feels like an intense exposé in the guise of an action film (but don’t worry, I wouldn’t say it ever gets preachy). It’s absolutely engrossing and tugs on the emotions. I left the theater thrilled.

Elite Squad 2 is Brazil’s Best Foreign Language submission for the upcoming Academy Awards. I wonder if sequel aversion will hurt it in this category even though it’s a terrific film, upstages its predecessor, and isn’t reliant on viewers having seen the first. I would be quite excited to see it nominated. It will also receive a US commercial release in November. A.

Of Love and Other Demons (Del Amor y Otros Demonios), Colombia/Cost Rica, dir: Hilda Hidalgo

I probably should have known better on this one. Gabriel García Márquez is a writer I think I enjoy more in concept than in practice. His languid pace projected on a silver screen is a killer.

When Sierva, a teenager in colonial Colombia, is bit by a mad dog, she is sent to a convent to be exorcised, as it was believed at the time that rabid dogs transmitted demonic possession. The young priest assigned to her case begins to think there’s nothing wrong with her, though the long periods of isolation seem to be making her a bit mad. They begin a tentative, very slow, very uninteresting courtship.

Some reviews I read said the slow pace works because there’s so much beautiful imagery on screen. I respectfully beg to differ. The camera finds plenty of little moments to linger over, but they are not beautiful nor interesting enough to make up for the plot. This movie pretty much sapped me of energy for the rest of the day so potent was its lethargy. It doesn’t get much worse than that. D-.

Okay, okay Film Fest DC has been over for months so let’s get this over. Plus I put a largely anonymous documentary from the Fest on my first half top five list and it’s worth discussing.

This last post will cover the two documentaries I saw at the 2011 Film Fest DC. Conveniently, they are my most and least favorite films of the festival.

Armadillo, Denmark/Sweden, dir: Janus Metz

People may say it’s too reductive, but it’s true: Armadillo is the Danish Restrepo. There’s nothing wrong with that because both are terrific films. Seeing one doesn’t diminish the power of the other. Both follow the tour of duty of a group of soldiers in Afghanistan where the filmmakers get unbelievable access. One battle in Armadillo takes the Danish soldiers into a nearby town, battling Taliban along fences and irrigation ditches. The battle rages all around the camera. The footage is so real and so immersive, if I didn’t know better I might think it was staged.

Several of the soldiers become the stars of the movie, including a leader, a more reserved youngster, and a soldier full of bravado who can’t wait to go and kill some Taliban. The story takes an interesting diversion from Restrepo when the latter man continuously brags about the enemies he killed at close range. When news reaches home about potential atrocities committed by the soldiers, we have an front-and-center view of the reactions of the unit, not to mention our own perspective of what happened since the battle was all caught on film in its full, bloody chaos.

Besides the episode above, Armadillo differentiates itself from its American cousin by more prominently portraying the futility of the Afghan war. The unit fights over the same small area of land, just to have more Taliban come and attack again. The locals are caught in the middle. There’s a certain theatricality to the routine of it all. The soldiers walk through the village. The townspeople file out so the fight can begin. The fight happens. The soldiers return to base. Repeat. The soldiers pondering the point of the war and their involvement are particularly interesting given their nationality.

Director Metz also gives his film a delightfully artistic touch. Beautiful shots of soldiers blowing off steam lit by flares in the dark Afghan night makes for a wonderful segue between chapters.

Armadillo received a brief U.S. theatrical release, but as best I can tell has no DVD release date set. It is available to stream on Amazon. I was entirely engrossed by this film and it’s well worth checking out. A.

Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz), France/Germany/Chile, dir: Patricio Guzman

I tried to see it at last year’s Latin American Film Festival, but it withdrew. I was so happy to see it on the Film Fest list this year. Oh, Past John. You poor, misguided fool.

This documentary is set in the harsh Atacama desert of northern Chile. These days it is one of the world’s major copper producers and its clear skies make it a major destination for astronomical observation. During the Pinochet regime it was also the location of slave labor and death camps. Nostalgia for the Light attempts to reconcile the region’s contrasting history, that a place that is a window to the heavens where man contemplates his place in the universe can also be the location of such awful human cruelty. Where the dry desert preserves remains of natives and murdered dissidents while scientists examine waves that have taken millions of years to reach earth.

The result is a ponderous and excruciatingly boring existential meditation. The problem doesn’t lie with the thesis or story, such as it is, but the execution. We do meet interesting people, including astronomers, philosophers, former dissidents, and family members of disappeared prisoners who comb the sand for bone fragments. But Garcia has too light of an editorial touch and too often lets his subjects ramble on into mumbo jumbo instead of focusing on the insightful bits. Whatever points he wants to make get lots in the slog.

The visuals are no better. Many of the voice-overs are accompanied by long shots of unimpressive night sky or barren desert. At least I had the subtitles to read to keep me engaged with the screen. I don’t know how fluent Spanish speakers would survive. Every transition is a quiet shot that lasts many times longer than it needs to. As viewers, we anticipate the rhythm of editing. A landscape shot between scenes should last a couple beats. Here it could go on for 15 or 20 seconds for no apparent purpose.

I have never attended a film with so many walk outs. Unbelievably it had a small commercial release here, though I can’t find box office figures for it. I know it was playing in DC the week after the film fest. Not that it matters; you shouldn’t see it. D-.

This finally concludes our Film Fest DC coverage. The fest was just so great we needed three months to cover it all. See our other coverage here: John’s look at the genre films and the more arty choices, plus Jared’s take on what he saw.

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