Our streak of wildly good fortune at this year’s TIFF continued, beginning with this morning’s film, The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World (7/8), a documentary whose subject may not have been a surprise, but whose subject matter ended up surprising me very much.
Clearly, this movie was initially attractive to Dan because it’s like “NPR presents…” (and as it turns out, the film has also taken the form of a four-part BBC series, which is close enough), and that’s exactly how it played. After drawing us in with practical aspects of running what is essentially an extremely theatrical factory, the film delves deeper into the lives of Chinese families who choose to hold their banquets at T.B.C.R.I.T.W., painting a vivid portrait of modern Chinese life and values.
Most compelling is the story of a young waitress at T.B.C.R.I.T.W., who left home at 15 years old to earn money so her twin sister can go to medical school. Because their family is extremely poor and the father is unable to work, and although both daughters dreamed of becoming doctors, only one of them will ever get to study while the other toils for what amounts to spare change. What makes this sacrifice so heartbreaking is the total lack of resentment on either of their parts, and although neither girl can help weeping through their interviews, it is firmly understood that the good of their family comes first.
T.B.C.R.I.T.W. is also jam-packed with footage that (1) reminds you that American Chinese food is barely related to actual Chinese food, and (2) makes you never want to eat Chinese food again. Sorry, but after witnessing a live snake become an entrée in less than 2 minutes, and the severed chunks of meat are still wiggling and contracting on the plate, I’ll have to take a break from even the most bastardized Chinese food.
Our second film, Patrik 1,5 (8/8) was already whispered to be a festival fave, and I was THRILLED that we got tickets to this one. It’s a Swedish film about a gay couple trying to adopt a baby, and though a clerical error, instead of receiving a Patrik aged 1 1/2, end up with a surly 15-year-old with a criminal record and a whole lot of homo-hatred. Yes, it’s a comedy, but it also dealt with weighty issues so gracefully that much of the theater was sniffling joyfully through the credits.
I’ve seen lots of good and great movies at film festivals, but you can tell it’s a special screening when 99% of the audience sticks around for the Q&A (usually, even in very good screenings, at least half the audience bails ASAP just ‘cause). Patrik 1,5 features two pitch-perfect performances at its center: Gustaf Skarsgård as Göran, one of the dads, and Thomas Ljungman as Patrik. Göran’s husband, Sven (Torkel Petersson) objects to Patrik so much that he moves out, leaving the two of them to develop an unlikely bond that is totally earned by the end of the movie.
It actually feels like a small miracle to have experienced a gay movie that doesn’t suck ass — maybe Patrik 1,5 is so special because it bypasses the whole notion of a “gay movie” in favor of telling a story about gay people. (No surprise that Patrik 1,5 comes from Sweden!) For that matter, it is nice to see that the “misunderstanding forces two disparate souls to learn from each other” plot device still holds water — it’s just lazily abused in so many American movies.
All in all, another fantastic day for movies and a very special couple of screenings with entertaining, informative Q&As!
Celebrity sighting: Ellen Burstyn coming down the escalator at the AMC food court. She had done a Q&A for the screening Vickie just attended (Lovely, Still), but I like to pretend homegirl was aching for some Caribbean Queen or Subway. Even Oscar winners gotta eat.