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Palm Springs Film Festival, II

I didn't make it to the Botanical Gardens, But I did watch the full moon rise over the San Jacinto Mountains and spotted a small owl on tree limb near the hotel. On a more sublunary note I chatted with some of the local volunteer festival drivers about the outlook for the area during the current economic crisis (answer: bad). And I also saw some movies, most of which, unlike those in some festivals and no doubt because of their origins as their countries' Oscar nominees, have been well above average. Which makes for some rewarding viewing now, but might pose difficulties later when we have to choose just one, and a Best Actor and Best Actress, for our prizes. One thing these films have in common with those in just about everry film festival, however, are the strange motifs and patterns that emerge. It might be too early to make generalities, but how likely is it that in two films made in different languages in countries thousands of miles apart would include a near identical sequence of two people engaged in energetic sex in crummy rooms followed by a cut to them eating pizza? Cigarettes, I can see, but pizza is something new. One of those films is "Revanche" by the Austrian director Gotz Spielmann, a noirish, existential thriller that combines the detached, scolding sadism of Michael Haneke with the cold whimsy of Chabrol and with a light touch of Wim Wenders's humanistic, atmospheric angst of the "The American Friend" period. The lead actor even remembers Bruno Ganz from the latter film, louche and hangdog and with a fu manchu, thinning hair and a handgun. Though with a couple of missteps in plausibility, "Revanche" looks like a contender. The second film with the sex and pizza motif is Bruno Baretto's "Last Stop 174," which, as he pointed out in the Q & A following the screening. was inspired by the 2000 documentary "Bus 174" about a notorious incident in which a street punk held a bus hostage on one of Rio's main drags for six hours while millions watched the events unfold on TV. Unlike the documentary, Baretto's film focuses on the perpetrator's back story, spinning a lurid tale of children brutally separated from their mothers, mistaken identity, flamboyant violence, and sex followed by pizza. The result fuses "City of God" (which was also written by "174"'s screenwriter) with "Dog Day Afternoon," with the former not quite adding up to the latter. As Baretto put it, it's "Charles Dickens in Rio." Or in other, more marketable words, "Slumdog Millionaire" in Brazil.

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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