SIFF 2010: Epic journeys, epic drama, and a sweet little romance

Our Rating

Wow. The ‘Pie had some technical difficulties the last couple days, but finally we got it cleared up, and the site is back live! So we’ve got a little bit of catching up to do from the last couple days…

So my day started out the day with a movie about, yes, my people! Patagonia (5/8) is about a historical connection that I knew nothing about: Welsh immigration to Argentina. The story alternates between two unrelated storylines. Gwen and Rhys are a Welsh couple that goes to the high desert in Argentina’s Patagonia region so he can photograph the “heroic” abandoned Welsh churches in the harsh countryside. The problem is (problem for him, not a problem for Gwen) is that their pickup-truck driving guide looks like an Argentinean Gerard Butler. The other story involves a young man taking his elder friend on a pilgrimage from Argentina to Wales to find the village where she was born. Both stories are basically of the rambling road trip sort, and the backdrop are the completely opposite gorgeous landscapes of Wales (lush, green, drizzly) and Patagonia (dry, dusty, deserty). If the film seemed to ramble a bit, it was still engaging enough to be interesting to those of us who are armchair travelers.

My next flick was about as opposite from the intimate Patagonia as you could get. Agora (4/8) has big budget historical epic written all over it. Taking place in 4th century Alexandria (at that time in the Roman Empire, and now Egypt), the film is so over-the-top epic that I felt like I was watching The Ten Commandments or other such religious extravaganza from 1950s Hollywood. The always-lovely Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia, a woman philosopher in a man’s world, who teaches male intellectuals of all religious backgrounds, and spends her free time drawing circles in the sand, trying to figure out the relation of the Earth to the Sun. In the meantime, her slave Davus (Max Minghella) is crushing hard on Hypatia, and absorbing her lectures as well, not to mention the teachings of the local Christian street preachers. Then everything goes all to hell as the traditional multi-god pagans clash with the Jews and the upstart Christians for control of the city. So much for living in harmony as bloodshed rules. It was fascinating to see a cinematic depiction of the infamous burning of the Alexandria Library, plus the costumes and backdrops were of course exquisite. But the movie oozes a director (in this case Alejandro Amenábar) who is in over his head with a massive production. Amenábar has proven himself with character-driven dramas (The Sea Inside, The Others), but something on this scope should be left to a Ridley Scott-type. I’m just sayin’. The bit of true, heartbreaking emotion at the end couldn’t make up for a kind of weakly-scripted drama that seemed more focused on looking good… which, to its credit, it did very well.

One thing I love about SIFF is choosing a movie completely at random (in this case simply by time and location) and coming out with a real gem. Spain’s Me Too (Yo, también) (7/8) was a wonderfully touching romantic comedy/drama with an iffy subject that could have gone very wrong. Daniel (Pablo Pineda) is a 34-year-old man with Down Syndrome. But he is also a college graduate and is starting his first real job at a social services office. He immediately becomes smitten with co-worker Laura (Lola Dueñas) who is kind of the wild child of the office, with her revealing outfits, bleach-blonde hair, and penchant for partying all night and having one night stands with strangers. But she talks to Daniel like he is “normal” and they become fast friends. Me Too is a wonderfully sweet tale of friendship and crushes, and you are never sure what is going to happen. Daniel’s family is protective of him, knowing that he stands very little chance of a relationship with a woman “with 46 chromosomes”. But he still pines, and Laura is never anything but completely honest and protective of him. The movie also never flinches at discussing the sexuality of folks with Down Syndrome, and there is a touching side plot of a couple of 20-somethings with Down’s having a relationship against the girl’s mother’s wishes. All the actors in the film are fantastic, and Daniel and Laura are wonderful and believable characters. Me Too was a total surprise for me, and quickly became one of my faves of the fest!


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