Provincetown International Film Festival

Yesterday might have been Father's Day, but mothers seemed to be getting all the attention at the just concluded Provincetown Independent Film Festival, in particular mothers with troubled relationships with adolescent or post-adolescent sons who, perhaps uncoincidentally, are touched with genius or insanity.


Take John Lennon, for example, featured as an upstart pre-Beatle teenager in Sam Taylor-Wood's "Nowhere Boy." Played by Aaron Johnson of "Kick-Ass" fame, he's a scamp and a troublemaker at his starchy private school. Raised by his uptight Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas in cigarette smoking mode), he finally forces himself to reunite with his disturbed mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who abandoned him to her sister Mimi's care when he was five. Turns out mum is a hot ticket and straight off she whisks him away to a flirty date to Blackpool where their quasi-Oedipal relationship follows,  during which Julia introduces John to R& B and Elvis and teaches him how to play the banjo and ultimately become the brilliant, tragic fount of genius, absurdity, and pain we all grew to know and love.

This is very illuminating for fans and disciples of Lennon, but a little rough around the edges as a film. I can't fault the performances, but Taylor-Wood gets a bit hokey and melodramatic at times. Like in depicting how the Beatles, née The Quarrymen, get together: John and his skiffle band wows a crowd at a local gig, a cut is made to some 14-year-old in the audience smoking and nodding as if thinking, "Hey, I can do this!," then a cut to someone introducing that kid, saying something like, "Meet my mate Paul" (or George: but no Ringo in this film). Well, maybe that's how it happened.

Likewise, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Howl" is more successful as insight into a great artist's creative process than as a movie, though it gets extra points for ambition. Allen Ginsberg, like Lennon, had a difficult relationship with his mother, who was also mentally ill, though the only mention in this film is a scene in which Ginsberg (played in an uncanny incarnation by James Franco), in a re-enacted interview, drops with devastating casualness the fact that on his 21st birthday he signed the papers permitting his mother's lobotomy. Perhaps that relationship might be covered in more detail if they do a sequel to "Howl"  on "Kaddish,"  the poem Ginsberg wrote about his mother's death.

Be that as it may, this film is about Ginsberg's breakthrough poem  of the title, the publication of which not only vitalized the Beat movement but resulted in a landmark obscenity trial. Lawrence Ferlinghetti published "Howl" in 1955 and got  brought before the San Francisco District Court for his troubles. The film's directors, Oscar-winning documentarians for "Common Threads" and "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk," have divided the film into four interweaving parts (perhaps reflecting, as a colleague noted,  the four parts of the poem), three of which work pretty well. The three that work are the recreation the trial, a reading of the poem by Ginsberg to an assemblage of appreciative fellow poets and hipsters, and the above mentioned interview. What doesn't work so well is the fourth part, an animated, fairly literal interpretation of the poem that plays like a kind of Beat "Fantasia" crossed with Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch." Blake's illuminated prophecies it's not.

Much more successful cinematically is French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan's "How I Killed My Mother," a semi-autobiographical Portrait of the Filmmaker as a Young Matricidal Man in which he battles conflicting emotions of loathing and love for his single-parent mom  Chantale (Anne Dorval, who looks like a cross between a young Shirley MacLaine and Genevieve Bujold). Young, dashing Hubert, played by Dolan (resembling a combination of the better parts of Tom Cruise and Hugh Grant), hates the way his mother eats, the way she dresses, her bourgeois taste and opinions and banality, but mostly her manic-depressive method of child raising. Oh, and Hubert is also gay, enjoying a blissful relationship with a similarly artistically inclined schoolmate, a fact that is revealed to his mother in one of the most hilarious outing scenes ever. Dolan, meanwhile, directs like a newborn fusion of Truffaut and Godard; he unfolds his story with ever-surprising ingenuity, inventiveness, and wit, with never a false move. And the fucker is only 21 (compare with Orson Welles, who was all of 26 when "Citizen Kane" was made). Anyway, kudos to the good people of the Chlotrudis Society for sponsoring this great movie.

Finally, there's the closing night picture, the Duplass Brother's weird and very funny "Cyrus," in which Jonah Hill plays an overgrown fledgling who refuses to leave his single mom's (Marisa Tomei) nest (kind of the opposite of the situation in "I Killed My Mother") but stands as an obstacle between her budding romance with a boyfriend played by John C. Reilly. More on that film when it opens next Friday.

As it turns out, however, none of these films won the HBO Audience award. Nor did I manage to see the two that did,  Peruvian director Javier Fuentes Leon's "Undertow" and Bruce Beresford's "Mao's Last Stand" (Lucy Walker's "Waste Land" won for Best Documentary). Perhaps I can be forgiven for being a little less rigorous in my movie going, distracted as I was by the festival's location. Not just due the native, natural landscapes, flora and fauna, inspiring though they are, or the town's famously diverse populace and culture, but also the contact which this intimate,festival offers with filmmakers and fellow cinephiles. Like stopping in the hospitality suite after a screening of "Nowhere Boy" and engaging in a conversation with Jeremiah Newton, one of the producers of and on screen presences in  "Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar," about how he knew Lennon in his final years when he was living at the Dakota in New York. Or sitting at a coffee shop on Commercial Street and watching Tilda Swinton, with flame-colored hair and in a long black dress and emerald shoes, striding by like some fabulous mythical creature. Or listening in on Kevin Smith regaling a gaggle of fans at a reception at the Land's End Inn, high on a cliff overlooking the sea and the spot where the Pilgrims first landed in America 390 years ago

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