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Checking in at the 2004 Palm Springs Int’l Film Fest — MTV’s ‘Real World: San Diego Film Critics’

For more info, visit http://www.psfilmfest.org/
by Greg Muskewitz

Palm Springs, California — the 15th Palm Springs International Film Festival; here I am, in the wee hours of my fourth day here, and I don’t even know where to begin. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t remember what day it was, or how long I have been here without looking at a list, it’s also a rare occurrence for me to see the sun for more than 30-minutes a day combined, insofar as I’m here to watch movies, and anything after that falls much lower on the laundry list. In trying to fit in the maximum amount of screenings per day, that does not leave much chance otherwise to do anything else but sleep, and occasionally, eat. The attempt to actually review the films I have seen in the process of seeing more is truly futile, so what else to file a report about? As it stands, within the next seven hours I will be attending my first screening of the day, which will be the twelfth, in total, so far, but only the first of five for the day. (I arrived late in the day on Sunday, able to catch two screenings, with four on Monday, and five more yesterday.) So in the meantime, some daily notes and observances …

*****************************
Checking in at the 2004 Palm Springs Int’l Film Fest — MTV’s “Real World: San Diego Film Critics”
One place there is not a lot of diversity is within the festival’s attendance.

Palm Springs, California — the 15th Palm Springs International Film Festival; here I am, in the wee hours of my fourth day here, and I don’t even know where to begin. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t remember what day it was, or how long I have been here without looking at a list, it’s also a rare occurrence for me to see the sun for more than 30-minutes a day combined, insofar as I’m here to watch movies, and anything after that falls much lower on the laundry list. In trying to fit in the maximum amount of screenings per day, that does not leave much chance otherwise to do anything else but sleep, and occasionally, eat. The attempt to actually review the films I have seen in the process of seeing more is truly futile, so what else to file a report about? As it stands, within the next seven hours I will be attending my first screening of the day, which will be the twelfth, in total, so far, but only the first of five for the day. (I arrived late in the day on Sunday, able to catch two screenings, with four on Monday, and five more yesterday.) So in the meantime, some daily notes and observances …

I learned late in the run that another one of our own, The Ultimate Dancing Machine, is or was here as well, having written up two film reviews already posted (The Agronomist and Saltimbank). (UDM, if you’re still here, drop me a line at musky@hollywoodbitchslap.com.) Today’s audience for Los Debutantes was informed that the PSIFF is now officially the largest film fest in the U.S., with around 200 films being shown, as well as 53 out of the 56 foreign language Oscar submissions. It’s my first time at this festival (as well as in Palm Springs), and apart from the impressive line-up of films, they truly do bring in a large crowd. Rarely will you find an open seat next to you. While there seems to be at least one film from almost every country (I’m exaggerating slightly, mind you), one place there is not a lot of diversity is within the festival’s attendance itself. Largely a retirement community, the crowd here in Palm Springs noticeably lacks much viewership from a younger audience, which isn’t necessarily a negative. (Though the volume of festivalgoers 55-plus stands out, until my age and lack of those close to it was brought to my attention, I had hardly noticed.) And with that “senior” audience, I’ve found that they strongly lack in one developmental area: the love of film. What serves instead as their placebo is a love of going to the movies, which is still plenty of palpable enthusiasm. But the post-screening discussion is not something the average cinephile or cinemaniac would dive head-first in to join. It doesn’t matter what movie you’ve just seen, but one person from the audience is hyping it up as “the best film they’ve ever seen,” where only feet apart, it’s being denounced by another as “the worst movie they’ve ever seen.” The discussion doesn’t get much deeper than whether it was good or bad and whether or not they recommend it, but falling along the lines of what other movies a particular actor has been in, what else they are seeing that day, or how crowded their auditorium was. (One of yesterday’s laughable recommendations from a Blue Hair to a Red Hair was “The Triple of Bonville”!)

I’ve come with two other critics from the San Diego Film Critics’ Society, and one of the pleasures we all seem to take from the experience is, with all of the movies available, we can come home to our hotel room each night and not have seen a single film in common. So any typical post-screening arguments will have to be held until a later date when one of our recommendations to the other is caught and disliked at a subsequent showing. (Any other commotion between our trio is more along the lines of MTV’s “Real World: San Diego Film Critics” — who walks around the room in their underwear?; who smokes?; who cannot read “one way only” signs before turning the wrong way (not that I would spill).)

So, to briefly get on to what I have seen, and which of those were hot, not, or mild, here is a re-cap of my enjoyably busy past few days:

Who Killed Bambi?: A blandly intriguing question, a more specifically intriguing answer. Quiet suspense film out of France (directed by the co-writer of With a Friend Like Harry, this time co-written with that film’s director) that really knows how to build and apply the tension without spreading it thin. Also with a great performance from the lead, Sophie Quinton.

Twentynine Palms: Slow-moving French/English film from Bruno Dumont (L’Humanité) that focuses on two out-of-towners who fight and have sex. Kinky, demented, experimental, but equally pointless, empty and tedious.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room: Anachronistic French comedy/whodunit set in the 1920s, with a formidable cast, ingenious ideas, inspired direction, plenty of humor, and some strong production values. It’s still a hodgepodge, not assisted by the fact one of the reels was played out of order, but the film’s board game simplicity is still an admirable quality.

Twin Sisters: From the Netherlands, a touching lifetime recap of a pair of German twins who are separated at a young age, and whose differences in upbringing lead to two very different lives of circumstance. Emotionally attaching, the performances of Nadja Uhl and the two older actresses who play the twins in their last stage of life, are particularly affecting.

Fear and Trembling: French comedy about a Belgian girl born in Japan, who returns years later to get a job as a translator, but ends up being reduced to bathroom attendant. It’s often hilarious, rather short and inconsequential, but certainly among the lighter fare that I’ve as-of-yet seen.

9 Souls: Japanese drama about nine convicts who escape from a reformatory prison. It takes the stance of being a social commentary without actually making the commitment to make its points or criticisms. The movie wants to have insight, but it always opts for the superficial exchange instead.

A Thousand Months: Overlong, but not wholly uninteresting view of Ramadan in 1981 through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy. It has some real insight into the specific time in this culture, but it’s roundabout in getting to it, and the image is pretty poor.

The Promised Life: Isabelle Huppert in top form as a hooker who goes on the lam with her 14-year-old daughter after the jeune fille kills her mom’s pimp. Aside from the agitated hand-held camerawork this begins in, once everything begins to settle down (though not to a lull), the film runs quite smoothly.

Bon Voyage: Overly busy French film set during World War II; it has a great cast with the look and ambience of something from the 1940s, but it is unable to recreate the frenzy of something political like Z, instead feeling very over-stuffed and bloated.

This Very Moment: German film with slight traces of Hansel and Gretel, but with little of the fairytale intrigue and renovation as François Ozon’s Criminal Lovers. A bit rudimentary and vaguely incomplete, it still captures the attention (though it doesn’t fully reward it) and has two great performances from the young stars, Sophie Conrad and Leo Bruckmann.

Los Debutantes: Chile’s official Oscar submission, made by a first-time director with heavy influences from Quentin Tarantino. (The main gimmick is covering the same frame of time and events from a trio of perspectives.) Very sexual, without always being sexy, and amateur, without necessarily being new.

More is to follow over the next few days. My appetite is only whet, so needless to say, I cannot predict when I will next come up for air. Six hours to go till Raoul Ruiz’s That Day, already on this day.


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=930
originally posted: 01/14/04 06:14:18
last updated: 02/02/04 00:09:20
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