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Giovanni Marchini Camia: International mishmash

Giovanni checked out five films from four continents today, finding one absolute delight, one utter travesty, and a lot in between.

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

First up in today’s Competition section was the French/Senegalese film Aujourd’hui (Today) by Alain Gomis, which asks the familiar question: ‘What would you do if today was the last day of your life?’ Its answer: nothing much.

Considering the great cinematic treatments such a premise has leant itself to (Ikiru comes to mind), Aujourd’hui takes little to no advantage of its philosophical potential. The protagonist, Satché (Saul Williams), wakes up one morning knowing he will die. He isn’t ill or old, he won’t be killed, but when he goes to sleep that night, it will be for the last time.

Satché walks around his Senegalese hometown meeting relatives, friends and acquaintances. He barely utters a word throughout and what little is said is of little import. Neither his permanently bewildered expression nor the hectic handheld camerawork make up for what’s left unsaid and though there are hints to social commentary, these are subtle to the point of being rendered insignificant.

Then came Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I have to admit to a certain level of masochism in going to see this one – I thought Jonathan Safran Foer’s eponymous book was god-awful and aside from Paul Greengrass’ excellent United 93, I have yet to come across an appropriate artistic consideration of 9/11.

Well, it certainly lived up to expectations.

Resorting to such a ridiculously contrived plot and grossly saccharine rendering in addressing a tragedy of this magnitude is to belittle it, immensely. The film’s primary intent is to make the audience cry and the manipulative extent it goes to is astounding. If it has a saving grace, it’s Max von Sydow’s wonderful performance as Oskar’s (Thomas Horn) grandfather, and the film’s sole genuinely heart-breaking aspect is that the great Bergmanian actor is reduced to appearing in such garbage.

The highlight of today’s Competition offerings (but still not my fave) was France’s entry: A moi seule (Coming Home) by Frédéric Videau. Something of a companion film to Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, it is the fictional story of Gaëlle (Agathe Bonitzer), kidnapped at the age of 10 and held captive in a basement for eight years. The film jumps back and forth, depicting Gaëlle’s time with her kidnapper Vincent (Reda Kateb) and her life immediately after her escape.

While the film does dare to delve into the psychology of its characters it does so tactfully and never slips into exploitive territory. The small cast is outstanding, successfully bestowing on the characters the nuance without which the film would flounder. By inviting reflection rather than supplying easy answers, A moi seule manages to provide an apposite exploration of such a delicate topic.

For me, today’s best film was not to be found in Competition, but in the Forum, namely La demora (The Delay) by Rodrigo Piá. This Uruguayan film is an excellent example of the social realism typical of Latin America and when compared to Extremely Loud, it’s a great reminder of how human emotions can be powerfully stirred without needing to rely on strained narratives smothered in cheap melodrama. My full-length review can be found here.

Another Forum entry, Ann-Kristin Reyels’ Formentera, was less successful.

How to describe Formentera? Think of that timeless masterpiece, Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Now add colour, replace the angsty bourgeois with arch-obnoxious, pseudo-hippie ones, resolve the enigma of the missing girl, throw in a happy ending for the central couple, eliminate all artistic merit, and you’ve got a rough idea.

One German stormed out after the screening, ranting: “What the hell?! That film was just an excuse for that cast to have themselves a great holiday – paid for with my taxes!!” As much as I hate those “my tax dollars” diatribes, I kinda had to give it to him on that one…