By Mike Caccioppoli
Going South (France, 2009)
Directed by Sebastien Lifshitz
Going South is about a man in search of answers from his troubled childhood. It’s also about four beautiful young people who travel the French countryside on their way south. Both stories are worth telling and director Lifshitz makes sure to populate his film with beautiful bodies and a sexually charged atmosphere to go along with them. Sammy is the guy who drives his friends south before heading the Spain to find those answers that have to do with the death of his father. Before getting there he and his friends hit the beach where they explore their sexual desires and find new romances. I wish the film had found a way to make both of these story lines come together but it really doesn’t. The result is a pretty good film instead of a possibly great one.
Hipsters (Russia, 2009)
Directed by Valery Todorovsky
Hipsters is a joyous, good spirited film packed with memorable musical numbers and an impressive set design. It takes place in Moscow in 1955 when the country’s Soviet ideology was in full force. A group of young rebels known as “Hipsters” were challenging convention by dressing in bold, wild costumes, with pompadour hairstyles while they “boogie-woogie” the night away. The film centers around 20 year old Mel, who goes from a “square” who harasses the hipsters to actually becoming one of them after falling in love with one of the hipster girls.
There are so many pleasures in Hipsters that I can’t begin to talk about all of them. From the bravura musical sequences (a saxophone number the begins in Mel’s dreary bedroom is magically transported to a building high atop New York’s Times Square, a convention of “squares” turns into a highly charged Stalin rally, the past and present meet in a march through the streets of Moscow) to the intimate, personal story of a young man’s coming of age, Hipsters never hits a false note. Director Todorovsky isn’t interested in preaching about Western values vs. Communism, as one former hipster tells Mel,”There aren’t any hipsters in New York, if we tried dressing this way there they would put us in a mental hospital.” Instead his film is ultimately about “group think” vs. individuality. Happily the latter wins out both in his story as well as with his own dazzling artistic achievement.
William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (USA, 2009)
Directed by Yony Leyser
A great doc about the famous beat generation writer, and drug addict. While I knew some things about Burroughs, I didn’t know that he had a fascination with snakes, loved his cats, dabbled in “shot gun art” and struggled mightily with his relationships (and I’m not just talking about the bizarre killing of his wife). Director Leyser uncovers so much intimate and personal information about Burroughs that a man who was always somewhat of a mystery instantly becomes a living, breathing human being that was even more complex than we previously thought. Would Burroughs be happy about a film that finally humanizes him? His final words in his journal give us a hint that he would be.
I Am (Russia, 2009)
Directed by Igor Voloshin
This autobiographical film about a drug addict who checks into a psychiatric institution in order to avoid going into the army is a real “director’s” film. It’s hallucinatory style will impress some people and turn off others. Count me as the former. While we mostly can’t tell what’s reality and what’s dreamed up through the protagonists drugged out imagination, it doesn’t really matter. As flashbacks from childhood interact with grisly and disturbing images from a poorly run mental hospital, we can’t seem to look away no matter how much we might want to. If this is indeed director Voloshin’s life story it’s a miracle that he’s still around to tell it.
The Two Horses of Genghis Khan (Germany, 2009)
Directed by Byambasuren Davaa
Mongolia is the setting for this poetic and heartbreaking film about a woman who is in search for a lost song of Genghis Khan. She made a promise to her grandmother that she would repair her horse-head violin and find the song that was partially inscribed on the violin’s neck. As she travels through outer Mongolia in search of anyone who can help her she encounters several people who try to remember the song but most cannot. This film is about much more than the search for a song, it’s about the past leaving its mark on the present, and it’s about a woman trying to reconnect with her roots. It envelops you like no film I’ve seen in a very long time. Sit back and allow it to work its magic, as before you know it the story hits home and everything comes together like a finely tuned symphony such as the one the violin gets to perform in at films end.
Father’s Acre (Hungary, 2009)
Directed by Viktor Oszkar Nagy
A father returns from prison and his son gives him a chilly reception. The father decides to buy an acre of land to plant a vineyard and he wants his son to help him in order to reconnect with each other. The son wants no part of the vineyard or his father. The tension between the two is at the heart of Father’s Acre, a film that uses very little dialogue and long takes to tell its story. It’s easy to tell a story with lots of words but what this film does is much more difficult. It conveys hatred, love, frustration and ultimately some sort of mutual understanding through expressive performances, rich cinematography and a soulful score.
Disco and Atomic War (Estonia/Finland, 2010)
Directed by Jaak Kilmi
There was a huge cultural war between Soviet Estonia and Finland that went on for many years and I didn’t know a thing about it until seeing this film. The war was not fought with weapons but with television signals. While people in Finland were watching all of the American television shows including Dallas, the Estonians were subject to drab state run shows that weren’t very entertaining. Of course the Estonian government didn’t want the people being “brainwashed” by those evil shows from the West. Playful and entertaining, this documentary uses archival footage as well as dramatic recreation (which is shot with deadpan hilarity) to show the Soviet’s paranoia which was trumped by the Estonians downright brilliant resourcefulness when it came to watching those television shows.
8: The Mormon Proposition (USA, 2009)
Directed by Reed Cowan & Steven Greenstreet
When it came down to making sure California’s Prop 8 was passed, the Mormon church held no prisoners. They funneled in millions of dollars to run television ads and get the word out. When I say “the word” I talk about the lies that were told (gay marriage would be the end of mankind) in order to further the Mormon church’s anti-gay agenda. This film will make you very angry when you see how one organization (that is tax exempt because they aren’t supposed to be “political” or pushing an “agenda”) was able to take rights away from millions of gay men and women. Delving deeper and deeper into the church’s dark past, the film is at once able to expose the church’s hatred and homophobia while also putting a human face to an issue that hurt so many people and divided families in the process.