The marathon is coming to an end. When I call SIFF an endurance sport, I’m only half-kidding. Seriously. At three-and-a-half weeks long, the festival goes on forever… long enough for me to fall into the swoon of first love, then slowly get into a comfortable groove, then loose enthusiasm from hanging out too much (“I just want to see other people! Like, oh, I don’t know… The Goonies!”), to panicking as the fest comes to a close, and running back into its embrace. Sigh.
So, as usual, the last weekend I get into panic mode. And too bad for SIFF, this last weekend was the first time during the fest (and all season, for that matter) that sun decided to show up. But lucky for SIFF, people bought their tickets in advance and crept into the dark theaters nonetheless, despite the first stupendously gorgeous weather in weeks.
I was curious about Cargo (5/8), partly because it was one of the few sci-fi films in this year’s fest, and partly because it was, well, Swiss sci-fi. Have you ever seen a Swiss science-fiction film? Well, no, neither have I.
Cargo certainly looks great, as the cargo ship of the title leaves a rotating space port, replete with advertising. The Earth is wasted, and humans have fled to basically ghettos in space, with the promise of a new planet named Rhea. Unfortunately, to get the honor of moving to Rhea, you have to win a lottery. Rhea is where Laura’s sister lives, and she dreams of visiting her. But in the meantime, Laura has taken a job on a cargo ship that is en route to the distant Station 42 to deliver its load. But during the long 4-year journey, the crew is awakened from cryogenic freeze because, well, things just ain’t right on the ship. Cargo has a mix of Alien-like tension (and you are strung along by the fear of the unknown… is it a stowaway? An alien? Something worse?), and it certainly looks fantastic for a supposedly low budget. The mystery is intriguing, but the characters never sparked for me. Laura is kind of wishy washy, and a bit of a wimp, and the other characters aren’t given much depth either. It was pretty, but kind of empty. Like space.
The sole screening of the Allen Ginsberg biopic was packed. Actually, calling Howl (6/8) a biopic is a bit of a stretch, as the film swirls more specifically around Ginsberg’s most famous poem “Howl”. Going from a re-enacted interview with the poet, to the obscenity trial, to a 1955 reading in front of a San Francisco beatnik audience, to animations of the poem, Howl is certainly engaging, but leaves you wanting to know more. James Franco, who sure seems to be coming into his own the last few years with wonderful performances in Milk and Pineapple Express is endearing as Ginsberg, but the film covers such a small slice of the whole story that I ended up wanting to know more. Still, it was enjoyable for what it was.
Finally, I spent a couple hours in a Room in Rome (4/8), an intimate film of a one-night encounter between two women in, well, a room in Rome. Director Julio Medem’s film Sex and Lucia won the Golden Space Needle for Best Director in 2002, so I knew to expect something erotic. And indeed, the two lovely actresses (Elena Anaya and Natasha Yarovenko) spent the majority of the film naked (I hope the room was heated). As they explore each other sexually and emotionally through the course of one night, there is sex, talking, crying, talking, sex again, talking, more crying, etc, etc. In fact, within their one night together, they seem to follow the course of a full lesbian relationship—which includes all the annoying parts of a lesbian relationship. Plus there was a weird tendency for the characters to run to a laptop and surf the Net to offer visualizations of what they were talking about. Talk about a huge product placement for Microsoft’s Bing! Seriously. For all I know that movie was funded by Microsoft. Anyways, it’s the type of movie where the same emotive pop song (something called “Random Strangers”) is played over and over throughout the film, until you want to poke your eyes out. The sex scenes weren’t hot enough, and the dialogue wasn’t absorbing enough to keep me interested.