SIFF 2010: Older and wiser women, and pretty smart young ones, too

Our Rating

The hot Friday night ticket was the recent Sundance winner (Grand Jury Prize-Narrative) Winter’s Bone, so I decided to catch the film right before it, since I was right there in the ‘hood.

The Owls (3/8) is a curious film that, though written, directed, produced and starring Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), it also trumpets itself as the debut film of The Parliament Film Collective. From their Facebook page: “The Parliament Film Collective re-explores the possibility for enjoying the collective/lesbian creative processes and queer community, and making art together outside the mainstream.” Well, that’s all fine and good. It’s just too bad that the experiment of this fractured and short film (only about an hour long) doesn’t quite work. Four “older wiser lesbians” (owls) who all have tangled romantic pasts together (that have now led to all-around bitterness), are flipping out over an accidental murder of a young woman at one of their houses. The story unfolds via flashbacks, confessional interviews with the characters (this part probably works the best), and confessionals from the actors talking about their characters. Hm. This all sounds more interesting written up than it plays out on screen, as the tension from the murder getting discovered becomes secondary to sexual tensions as a mysterious stranger shows up at the house. Still, there is a curiosity factor for fans of the 90s queer film Go Fish. It’s like revisiting Titanic‘s Kate and Leo fighting on Revolutionary Road as we see Guinevere Turner and V.S. Brodie at the tail end of their character’s long, tumultuous and destructive relationship.

The theater was packed for Winter’s Bone (6/8), a very gritty and very bleak tale from the poorest of the poor parts of Missouri’s Ozarks. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is a tough-as-nails 17-year-old taking care of her little brother and sister as well as their unresponsive mom. One day the law comes knocking on their cabin’s door looking for their “crank-cooking” absent dad who just jumped bail. The problem is, if he isn’t found, they will lose their home and land. So Ree trudges from far-off neighbor/relation to far-off neighbor/relation, asking the hard questions that no one wants to answer. The further she digs for information about her missing father’s whereabouts, the more dangerous the situation becomes. Wait until you see the fabulous performance by Dale Dickey, whose weathered face is like a split shoe (as my mom would say). You think the guys are trouble, watch out for the women! Lawrence is getting all the fuss for this film (and she does carry the narrative well), but for me the standout performance was John Hawkes as Ree’s super-creepy uncle Teardrop. He completely gave me the heebie-jeebies, so that I kept expecting the worst. The film has a fantastic establishment of place, and makes you feel like pulling your jacket close around your shoulders. But it is chilly (in more ways than one) and is a hard film to cozy up to despite all the fantastic performances.

So to thaw out, I got to see the comparatively warm and sunny romance Cairo Time (7/8) starring the fabulous Patricia Clarkson. The film is a gorgeously shot love letter to the city of Cairo, and has a languid stranger-in-a-strange-land pace that totally worked for me (restless folks need not apply). Clarkson plays Juliette, a woman who has traveled to the city to meet her UN-worker husband. But alas, he is delayed in joining her because of trouble in Gaza, so instead she meets up with his friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who volunteers to be her local guide. This is no bodice-ripping romance, by any means, but there is a sweet building tension as these two people meet between their two cultures to find a pleasing and equal match. I liked that it wasn’t implied that Juliette was unhappy, or that she needed to find herself. She is just a strong, smart woman who is adapting to a new culture and situation, and being completely open. Clarkson is lovely and radiant, and Siddig is a charming guide. I wouldn’t have minded hanging out with these two a little longer.

Finally, on Saturday night I caught the Centerpiece film Farewell (L’Affaire Farewell) (5/8) which is about a fascinating part of modern history: the end of the Cold War. In 1981 Moscow, KGB spy Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) begins handing off top secret documents to French engineer Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), who works in Moscow. Via Froment’s boss, the information goes straight to the top, to Reagan and Mitterand, and has the power to collapse the Soviet Union. The information divulged exposes just how deep KGB spies have infiltrated into the U.S. government, and, more importantly, names names. As they meet on park benches and in cars, the two men seem to be barely knowing what they are doing, plus there is the pressure of keeping secrets from their wives and families. Each time, the stakes are raised, and of course the tension builds in the process. But there seemed to be something missing from the film. It just never caught fire for me. It was one of those cases where I intellectualized the story while watching it… like, “Wow, this is an interesting story that I’d like to Google when I get home.” But Kusturica’s performance does make it worthwhile to watch. I’ve always thought he has such and interesting face (even though he is mostly behind the camera as a director), and he does a fine job of portraying strength based entirely on the belief that what he is doing will change the world. And it did.


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