LA Film Fest 2011: Day 8 (Friday)

Friday’s screenings didn’t start quite so early as Wednesday’s and Thursday’s had, so I was able to sleep a little bit more before heading to work. Not sure if that extra half-hour or so made that much different, or if my body managed to adjust to four hours of sleep, but I was much less tired all day on Friday, and didn’t really have any issues with being sleepy during films. I figured it would get worse throughout the week, not better. Interesting. The reason I’m so fascinated with this aspect is that this is by far my most ambitious film festival schedule. I had twenty-five films plus a shorts program scheduled, running from 4pm to midnight almost every weekday and 1pm to midnight for two weekends. That’s basically full-time job hours on top of my full-time job, so I was actually expecting to fade toward the end of the week and have to start skipping screenings, but it didn’t happen. I made it to everything I had planned, and though I did fade in and out of some of the later films, it was far more minimal than I expected.

The festival was running a special sidebar of films from or focusing on Cuba, and I wanted to make it to one of those at least to fill out my fest experience. I chose Suite Habana, a film from 2003, both for scheduling reasons and because it sounded like a Havana-set version of Berlin: Symphony of a City or Man With a Movie Camera, a sort of documentary-esque tone poem focusing on a specific city. And that’s exactly what it is – it follows a group of people around their daily lives in Havana for a twenty-four hour period. We see a man and his nine-year-old son, a construction worker who dances ballet at night, an old woman who sells peanuts, a drag queen performer, and many others. At the time, Cuba was still suffering greatly from the blockade of the US and the loss of economic support from the Soviet Union, and that shows in every frame, and yet the people go on, pursuing their dreams and taking care of their families with hope. The whole film is lovely and sometimes sad, with a great score to underscore the basically wordless action. The very end is extremely effective, introducing us to each of the people we’ve been watching with their name, their job, and their dream, after we’ve already gotten to know them a bit just by watching them. The cinematographer of the film was there answering questions, and it was great to hear that a lot of them are having their dreams fulfilled – the ballet dancer is with the national Cuban ballet company, and was actually in LA last week performing with them. Originally there was meant to be several films to go along with Suite Habana, with different directors showing their home cities for a 24-hour period, but funding fell through and Suite Habana was the only one completed. I’d love to see more “city” films like this – I find them quite fascinating.

It seems like I put very few straight dramas on my schedule – almost everything is a genre film of some sort or a comedy, or a black comedy. But Kawasaki’s Rose is one, and an extremely good one. I was first drawn to it because it’s Czech, and I’m kind of fascinated by the Czech Republic and its history, and then I discovered it’s the same director (Jan Hrebejk) who did Divided We Fall back in 2001, a film that just bowled me over when I saw it. Like Divided We Fall, Kawasaki’s Rose deals with the issue of collaborators and dissidents during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, but from the other side. Main character Pavel (well, it’s a pretty solid ensemble cast, so after seeing it, it’s difficult to pin anyone as the main character) is about to receive an award for his outspoken dissident efforts, but as a pair of documentarians (one of them his son-in-law, the other his son-in-law’s mistress – yeah, it’s complicated) work on the story, they discover that at one time, he had collaborated with the KGB. There are a ton of plot threads in this film, of Pavel and his wife Jana, who may or may not have known about his activity; their daughter Lucie, who not only has a straying husband, but a kid who’s a bit of a punk and a rare medical condition; Jana’s former lover Borek, a dissident who fled Prague not long before Jana and Pavel married, and Borek’s Japanese expat buddy Kawasaki, and more. But they all manage to find their way back to the center, unveiling layers like the origami rose Kawasaki paints which gives the film its title. It could get soapy, but it doesn’t – it has a lot of depth to it, stemming both from the characters and the historical background. I’m not sure it’s quite as amazing as Divided We Fall was when I first saw that, but together they make a darn good double feature about the Czech experience.

A horror-thriller about a barista in Silver Lake, with what seemed like a stalker angle? Sign me…up? Heh, I’m always curious about indie horror films, even though there are a lot of them, that seem to take more of a thoughtful point of view on the genre rather than just going for the whole slasher thing. Funnily enough, the filmmakers’ working title for Entrance was “Slasher,” but it certainly isn’t a typical one. Most of the film is, in fact, a straight drama, with the main character Suzie (played by Suziey Block, who is also a barista in Silver Lake) getting pretty lonely and disaffected, soon deciding she wants to leave LA entirely. This sounds like a dozen other films, because disaffected Angeleno stories are fairly easy things for low-budget LA filmmakers to write and film. But it actually pretty much works on that level, even leaving aside the horror stuff – it’s not particularly distinguished at it, but it’s decent, for which most of the credit goes to Block, who is quite personable and imminently believable. Throughout, an odd undercurrent runs, though, as she wakes to hear footsteps she can’t quite track down, her dog goes missing, her garage doors are randomly open, etc. When the climax comes, it’s quite well done, with a lot of smart choices on the part of the writers and directors; it did get a little drawn out toward the end, though, and I thought that could’ve been tightened up a fair bit. But I still enjoyed myself with it (and didn’t get too scared to move to the Silver Lake area, which I’m still hoping to do EVENTUALLY), and so did most of the rest of the audience – many of whom were there supporting friends in the cast or crew. It was the world premiere of the film, and it’s fun to be in that friendly an audience for that.