By Mike Caccioppoli
Leo’s Room (Uruguay/Argentina 2009)
Directed by Enrique Buchichio
Leo is having trouble coming out of the closet. In fact most of the film takes place in his room where he surfs the internet looking for boys. It takes Leo several attempts before he’s actually able to go through with a hookup and even then he’s a nervous wreck. When he tells his therapist “I just don’t want to disappoint” he’s talking about his homosexuality and how people will react to it. The therapist quickly responds “Disappointment would be if we were still doing this in 20 years without you telling me what’s really going on with you.”
When it focuses on Leo’s troubles with his identity, Leo’s Room is totally engaging mostly due to the fact that lead actor Martin Rodriguez makes Leo’s crisis so real and vital. But I think the film didn’t have enough confidence in this story line carrying the film so it throws in a sub-plot involving a female childhood friend of Leo’s who is having an emotional crisis of her own. The problem is that is distracts from the real story and seems to belong in a totally different film.
Waste Land (United Kingdom/Brazil, 2010)
Directed by Lucy Walker
This is truly an amazing documentary about New York artist Vik Munoz known for his photographs of portraits made from an assortment of materials. Munoz traveled to his native Brazil to photograph the world’s largest landfill..the Jardim Gramacho. There he befriends a group of garbage pickers who end up helping him create the art that he wants to bring to London to auction off. He wants to give the money to them so they can improve their way of life. Never did he expect to develop such personal relationships with these people.
One of the many wonderful things about Waste Land is the way director Lucy Walker lets her film take its natural course.. never knowing exactly where it will go. Going into this project with an open mind allows that to happen as I don’t think Munoz knew what the result was going to be either. The people we meet are “the working poor” as they put in long, tough hours while having to live in rat infested “apartments.” Because they are able to take part in the art work makes them feel responsible for something beautiful for once in their lives. The result is both cathartic and deeply moving. One of the best films of the festival.
Life During Wartime (USA, 2009)
Directed by Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz’ films are very difficult to describe and I don’t think he would have it any other way. I personally am a fan of his work, many people are not. That holds true for his latest film Life During Wartime, which can only be described as a kind of sequel to his 1998 film Happiness. Hopefully that means something to you. We once again follow the Jordan sisters but they are now played by different actors. They are now living or at least attempting to live in Miami. They are either looking for love, or trying to get over a suicide (or two) of a lover. The film contains those trademark Solondz scenes where the characters talk about things that should probably remain in their own heads and never be talked about. Such as when Allison Janney talks to her 11 year old son about her latest date and let’s just say that her intimate details would make a 30 year old blush.
The dialog is often so absurd yet perfectly delivered that it’s downright hilarious. Well hilarious and uncomfortable at the same time. Solondz needed a grounding force in the middle of all of his lunacy and he finds that in Ciaran Hinds (brilliant and frightening as usual) as a father who molested his son and has just been released from prison. Solondz’ great talent is the ability to follow one over the top scene with a sobering one and so on and so forth. Never has that talent been more on display than with this film. He seems to be saying something important about America and post 9/11 paranoia, exactly what Imust admit alludes me. No matter though because with Life During Wartime a genuine and eccentric talent is once again on display. Solondz hasn’t changed a bit, and there is a lot to be said about that.
Marwencol (USA, 2010)
Directed by Jeff Malmberg
When Mark Hogancamp was brutally beaten outside a bar in his hometown of Kingston, N.Y. he was literally left for dead. He survived however and after having to relearn almost everything because of the severe brain damage he suffered he began to build the town of Marwencol in his back yard. Using G.I Joe and Barbie dolls he built an entire fictional town straight out of a WWII movie, Nazis and all. We see that he did this for many reasons most importantly though it was a way for him to deal with the attack, much of which he doesn’t remember.
Mark uses the Nazis to take out a lot of his pent up anger around the group of teen boys that put him into a coma. When the “good guys” in his town beat up some nasty Nazi soldiers who want to take over the town we see how that is really Mark getting some revenge on his attackers. Marwencol is an extraordinary film because it really takes us into the unique mind of a man who has rebuilt his entire life. An alcoholic before the attack Mark doesn’t even care to look at a liquor bottle now. As his town becomes more popular (a local artist discovers Mark as does a magazine) he has to decide if he wants to open up his work to a larger audience (he is offered a show of his photographs at a New York gallery). The mind truly is an amazing and mysterious place, and after watching Marwencol the adjective “beautiful” could be added as well.
The String (France/Belgium/Tunisia, 2010)
Directed by Mehdi Ben Attia
After the death of his father, Malik returns to Tunisia in order to spend some time with his mother. When he looks at the family’s handyman Bilal, he gets turned on. The problem is that his domineering mom can’t deal with the fact that her son is gay. Malik has an odd complex, when he gets anxious he seems to get entangled by a string that is attached to his body. That string is a Bunuel like device that the film uses to signal the attachment that Mark has to his mother, and that when he’s able to overcome his fears the string goes away. At least that’s my interpretation of it.
Nothing that happens in the film is groundbreaking in fact much of it (sans string) is stuff we’ve seen before. However the performances are solid and the chemistry between Malik and Bilal is palpable. The setting is also unique as Tunisian films are rare to begin with, throw in the homosexuality theme and it makes it even more rare. The beaches and small towns of the Northern African country are also stunningly shot.