SIFF 2009: Piles of garbage, piles of snow, and one scary scary cliff

Our Rating

Finally! Through some finagling, I’ve gotten to take a couple days of hooky from the “real” job so that I can instead sit inside a theater on a sunny day and see three movies in a row, all before I would even have left my desk on a normal day! Hoorah for being able to attend press screenings!

Today was a mixed bag, filled with thrills, wonder, and a bit of a head-scratcher. My first film of the day was the curious Russian film Live and Remember (Zhivi i pomni) (3/8). The story took place in wintery Siberia, which was a bonus point in my book (check!) and during an interesting time period (WWII, after the horrific battle of Stalingrad… check!). In a tiny village on a frozen river, the villagers wait for news of their young men. Young Nastasia lives with her in-laws, and they all wait to hear of their beloved Andrei, a soldier on the front. One day, Andrei sneaks back into town, surprises his young wife with a rather, um, physical greeting, then scampers off to an abandoned shack where he hides out. See, he’s a deserter, and Nastasia is the only one who has seen him. The authorities stop by and question the family and in the meantime, she brings Andrei food and gets pregnant (no one seems to notice!!!). Anyways, you know all hell is going to break loose, and things will end tragically, but in the meantime, you get to enjoy (or not) the weird story of a completely charmless man who is basically feral (eating twigs off trees, moaning and grunting one moment and speaking normally and cohesively the next) while his devoted wife acts like a teenager in love. Oh, and his bedside manner leaves a LOT to be desired. Um. Ew. I overheard a woman in the restroom after the film sigh and say, “I wanted them both to die in the first ten minutes, then the movie would have been over!” Kinda harsh, but well…

Luckily, as the day went on, the films got much better. Garbage Dreams (6/8) is a fascinating documentary about modernization coming to a certain aspect of Cairo, Egypt, a metropolis of 18 million that didn’t have a modern garbage collection system until recently. VERY recently. Instead, this aspect of the city hummed along just fine due to the ages-old system of a group of poor people called the Zaballeen, who picked up the city’s garbage (from people’s doorsteps, no less), brought them to their garbage-filled outskirts of the city, and made a business of recycling 80% (yes, freakin’ EIGHTY PERCENT) of the city’s waste and reselling it to foreign companies (among other customers). Astonishing! But recently, foreign waste collection companies have come into Cairo, stealing their generations-old businesses in the city, and pushing these people further into poverty. In the meantime, the foreign garbage collectors only recycle 20% of the waste. If this story isn’t screaming a important lesson that is slipping through the cracks, I don’t know what is. The story of Garbage Dreams is told from the viewpoints of three teenage boys who were born as Zaballeen, but may be forced out of their lifestyle (which may be both good and bad). Fascinating. I’d love to see younger viewers watch this film and get inspired to action.

As interesting as the city of Cairo looks, first, however, I’d like to be put on a plane to Switzerland. My final film of the day North Face (Nordwand) (7/8) is a crazily thrilling mountaineering flick that literally had me on the edge of my seat for the last half hour or so. Based a true story, two Germans and two Austrians attempt to scale the Eiger North Face in the Alps in 1936, one of the last unconquered feats which would be the jewel in the crown for the Germans if they could do it in time for the Olympics. The German boyhood best friends are obviously the more skilled climbers, but they get saddled by their competitors who shadow their climb, and end up getting all involved in a whole heap of dangerous trouble. And all of this is watched by tourists who gaze through their binoculars from the deck of the Swiss Hotel while they drink champagne and have fancy dinners. The contrast between what happens on the mountain and the comfort of the folks in the hotel adds tension, as well as for the fact that one woman journalist is the childhood friend of the Germans. Romance! Adventure! Danger! Death! And even some Nazis! North Face is a thrilling true-tale adventure, and will be playing at the Cinerama the final weekend. It is bound to look fantastic, and is an exciting tale for armchair adventurers and fans of stories like Touching the Void and Into Thin Air.

(BUZZ: There seems to be universal bafflement regarding the Indonesian film Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, which apparently had numerous walkouts, with the remaining audience muttering in confusion. And right now, my bets are on the Oscar-winning Japanese film Departures to win the Golden Space Needle, due to the amount of swooning I’ve overheard from many SIFFers who saw the movie early in the fest.)


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