Film Reviews

USA Film Festival

Page 7 of 8

7:15 p.m.
My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports. "Remember" is the operative verb in the recent spate of Holocaust documentaries, and the way it's used, it's clearly intended to be an action verb. The two documentary Oscar winners this year--the feature Anne Frank Remembered and the short One Survivor Remembers, and even the recent after-school special, Children Remember the Holocaust, join this film, subtitled Remembering the Kindertransports, in reminding us, "Shame on you for not thinking of the Holocaust today!" There's nothing wrong with remembering that tragedy, of course, but the constant barrage of documentaries on the subject presents some interesting dilemmas for a film critic: How do you criticize elderly former refugees recounting the horrors of concentration-camp survival or, in the case of the kindertransports, small children (now grown) telling of how they escaped the Nazi regime by abandoning their parents in favor of political asylum in Great Britain? Is it wrong to say the movie was a bit too long to fully sustain my interest, or that the facts and statistics director Melissa Hacker recounts--while relevant and sometimes astonishing--have long since become old hat? Am I some kind of monster for feeling the slightest bit of indifference to this movie? (AWJ) Director Melissa Hacker in attendance.

9 p.m.
* Mouth to Mouth (Boca a Boca). This farcical comedy from Spain, about a male phone-sex operator (Javier Bardem) and the intrigue that follows him, goes right in every place that Spike Lee's recent fiasco Girl 6 went wrong. The similarities in the setup for both films are remarkable: An aspiring actor in need of money accepts the job of talking dirty to closet perverts, and convinces him/herself this is just another role to perform; complications ensue. But where Girl 6 was pompous and preachy--as well as stylistically bankrupt--Mouth to Mouth revels in a serious wackiness. Bardem, whose sexy performance in Jamon Jamon was the best thing about that film, plays the lead with aggressive passivity. He's pretty much a dupe in the classic film-noir vein, a likable loser so easily manipulated by women smarter than he that the clue to his real charm lies not in his cleverness, but in his fearsome resilience. Bardem looks like a cross between Raul Julia, Antonio Banderas, and Dean Cain, and the look is intentional. Director Manuel Gomez Pereira spends a good deal of time spoofing early Pedro Almodovar films, especially those in which Banderas played a dull, sexually ambiguous cypher. Pereira alternates the tone of the film between thoughtful drama, perceptive satire, and screwball comedy--it's the kind of film that Almodovar used to make. It's one of the most fun foreign films to come around in a while. (AWJ)

9:10 p.m.
* Notes From Underground. Praise the heavens writer-director Gary Walkow chose not to muddle Dostoevsky's hilarious, bleak short novel with a lot of technical tricks. He remains acidly true to the source, even lifting whole paragraphs and conversations from the text, in this tale of a city employee (Henry Czerny) obsessed with his own, mostly unrealized potential for cruelty and his tentative relationship with a needy prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Walkow pays tribute to a warped classic, finding stark, simple visual equivalents to an already compelling narrative. (JF) Gary Walkow in attendance.

9:15 p.m.
* Short Stuff II. The best reason to see the second part of the short-film collection is good enough to recommend the entire program: the documentary Breathing Lessons, by Jessica Yu. The subject of Yu's film is Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist from Berkeley, California, who also happens to be confined permanently to an iron lung, having contracted polio 40 years ago. O'Brien looks like little more than a disembodied head floating at the end of a giant metal tube, and his faint, dreamy voice cuts through the air like a dull hum. But the beauty and pristine economy of his words, revealed in the story of his life and poetry steeped in painful truths, trumps his physical limitations quickly. His story transforms you: It's a pure "cinema moment," and maybe the best 35 minutes you'll enjoy during the Festival. (AWJ) Jessica Yu in attendance.

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