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Comrades in Dreams
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by Jay Seaver

"Sometimes, the theater is as important as the movie."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: There's something reassuring about"Comrades in Dreams", at least for people who think of movie theaters as special places. That can be rough, especially when so many are multiplexes with new ownership every year as far-off corporations merge, buy each other out, and shut down places that once showed silent films to build places with the aesthetics of a shopping mall. It's nice to know that there are places throughout the world where the theater is part of a community.

Being part of the community means different things in different parts of the world. In Wyoming, Penny Tefertiller has been running The Flick for years, selling homemade caramel popcorn and providing a place where neighbors can stop by and show off their car-show trophies; the middle-aged proprietor is on a first-name basis with all her customers. In Burkina Faso, it's Lassane, Luc, and Zakaria leasing an open-air theater, transporting their film feels on the back of motorbikes and letting people who can't pay for a ticket in in the hopes that their customers will come to love cinema as much as they do. Arup, in India, travels between rural villages with his tent cinema; he's often able to book guest appearances by the films' stars and has become quite a success. And in North Korea, Han Jong-sil believes that the films she books at her local theater helps inspire the community to be more productive and patriotic.

There are parallels between these exhibitors - some natural, some forced. One thing that becomes immediately clear is that, no matter what the country, running a community cinema is hard work, with long hours and no small amount of hassle for not a lot of money. The wives of the African trio complain about them never being home; Arup sleeps underneath the truck he uses to transport his tent. Just getting prints to show is no sure thing: Jong-sil doesn't make it to the city early enough to get her first choice, and it initially looks like someone else is snagging the print Lassane has ordered. Various reactions to the film Titanic pop up, too, sometimes awkwardly enough that it seems the filmmakers are trying to force it in (although the North Korean Titanic reference is a wryly amusing visual).

Boisterous African families aside, it also seems like a business that attracts lonely people. Arup's family seems to be having a little trouble arranging a marriage with someone who will be content with his odd schedule. There initially seems to be some sort of unresolved past between Jong-sil and one of her colleagues, although we find out that her husband is away on a prestigious job. Penny seems to carry more sadness around than any one woman ought to, though we don't know why. As much as all of them like movies, in many cases that's the secondary reason why they run cinemas - creating the social space is the first.

Director Uli Gaulke must have racked up some frequent flyer miles traveling to all four locations. That he's an exhibitor himself (he co-founded the Balasz Cinema in Berlin) may prove a double-edged sword: It probably helped him quickly gained a rapport with his subjects, but may have left him without any curiosity about how one goes about running a movie theater. Comrades in Dreams is somewhat frustrating in this regard; it exists as a fairly passive snapshot of four different theaters, with neither a real story or a lot of enticing information. Gaulke does a fine job of moving between threads, but after a while I started to wonder just what the film was about. It meanders.

Not that a documentary must necessarily be about something. When this ended, it was good to know that all around the world, there were places (like the Brattle in Cambridge, MA or The Movies in Portland, ME) where going to the movies is being part of a community rather than just feeding an entertainment industry, and where the people who put on the show are just as interesting as the show itself

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15668&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/15/07 16:28:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

9/01/11 brian The Korean section is fascinating, others not so much. 4 stars
3/20/11 Charles Tatum Exact same reaction as Jay's review 3 stars
1/24/09 J. Sanchez Interesting, but frustrating in its lack of structure. 3 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 13-Apr-2010



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