AFI Fest 2011: Day Seven (Thursday)

And this completes the festival for another year. All told, I saw 21 features and about the same number of shorts, which is probably my highest festival total ever. A few of them will likely be on my best-of year lists, a few are hovering way down at the bottom of my Flickchart lists, and that’s the way a festival should be. Overall, I judge it a major success, and I’m already looking forward to the next time I can gorge on films to the point of exhaustion (likely to be April’s TCM Classic Film Festival). Until then, I return to the ranks of ordinary cinemagoer.

The Kid with a Bike

I’ve never seen a film from the Dardenne brothers before, but I know them by reputation, and they seem to often do stories that deal with unwanted or unwelcome children. In this case, the main character is an eleven-year-old kid whose dad puts him in an orphanage (“temporarily”) but then ends up abandoning him totally. A kind neighbor takes him in, despite a rather inauspicious meeting, but they’ve got several bumps in the road left to go, not least of them the kid’s temptation to fall in with a bad crowd. It’s a bit on the sweet side, but doesn’t stray too far into saccharine territory – really good turns from Doret and De France help a lot, making an unlikely relationship realistic and meaningful. There’s not enough in the film to really push it over the edge into “loved” territory for me, but it’s solid for what it is. Reaction: REALLY LIKED.
2011 Belgium. Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This is one I went into with really no quality expectations whatsoever. I chose it because I’d never seen a Turkish film, and because I like slow burn procedural films – to a point. I was a bit concerned that this would go past that point, because it is very long and I was perfectly prepared to be bored stiff. But even though it is very slow, it is never boring, and I ended up liking the film a whole lot more than I thought I would. A caravan of police and army officers are escorting a pair of suspects in the middle of nowhere, trying to find a body that one suspect says is out there, but can’t remember exactly where. This odyssey takes all night, and along the way, different groupings of the police and suspects talk. The topics of conversation are as mundane as anything, but over time, this mundanity becomes the real focus, and takes on in importance even greater than the body they seek. It’s a narrative subversion that only works because of a really solid script and believable acting turns by the whole cast, and it’s a welcome one – by the end, you care more about these people’s individual lives than the mystery itself. There’s a lot more dry humor in it than I expected, too, which actually made the nearly three-hour runtime go by rather quickly. Reaction: REALLY LIKED.
2011 Turkey. Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel.

The Loneliest Planet

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this film, even after having had a few weeks to think about it. It’s an extremely slowly-paced film, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – unless it’s 10pm the last day of an exhausting festival, which, oh wait, it was. It was difficult to stay awake in the film, but again, that’s not the film’s fault, and though I struggled while watching it, thinking back about it has made me appreciate a lot of what it was doing more. Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal play a couple about to be married who are vacationing in the mountains of Georgia (the country, not the state), backpacking and camping along with a mountain guide. A lot of the film is just them walking around, maybe taking a few minutes to wander around an abandoned house or interacting with village locals before heading out into the wilds. They converse some, trying to learn about their guide (who is actually played by one of the premier mountaineers in the world) and practicing bits of Spanish, but a lot of it is also wordless. Somewhere in the middle a traumatizing event causes Furstenberg’s character to start distrusting Bernal’s, which leads to some darker places in the rest of the film. A lot of this is pretty subtle, and I was frankly too sleepy to catch all the acting nuances all the time, but the Q&A and thinking over the film in the subsequent days has definitely made me want a rewatch at some point. Reaction: LIKED.
2011 Germany/USA. Director: Julia Loktev. Starring: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze.