Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 2

Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 10-14, 2010

Some more quick notes I jotted down after Amy and I returned home from this four-day film festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware...and which I'm only just getting to because of work and my ADD...

DAY TWO: Friday, November 12

A Matter of Size
(Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, Israel, 2009)

My Movie Scorecard: A+
Awards: Nominated for 13 Israeli Academy Awards, winner of three; Audience Award, Karlovy Vary International Film festival; Audience Award, DC Jewish Film Festival
Life Lessons Learned from This Film: Fat men can lead happy, healthy, and honorable lives if they stop eating salads, take up sumo wrestling, and gorge on chankonabe; some can even score a hefty hearted girlfriend in the bargain

This was the first film both Amy and I picked when we first thumbed through the film program because...Who woulda thunk it - an Israeli comedy about sumo wrestling! Fed up with their fruitless attempts to lose weight, four fat friends are at the bursting point. Especially Herzl (Itzik Cohen). A 340-pound chef living at home with his overbearing mother (Levana Finklestein, whose performance won her the Israeli Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) - perhaps the only Jewish mother in screen history who doesn't tell her son "Eat something, you'll waste away!" - he struggles to keep up with his diet workshop group and gets fired from a salad bar restaurant because of his "unpresentable" image. But when Herzl gets a lowly dishwasher job at a Japanese restaurant, the Pound Posse decide to give up their tortuous diets and try their luck in the girth-friendly arena of sumo wrestling. Led by Japanese restaurant owner Kitano (Togo Igawa), a former sumo referee, Herzl and his pals discover that there are places in the world where oversized waistlines are appreciated and happiness can be found in Living Large.

Watch the "A Matter of Size" trailer.

Herzl even finds the woman of his dreams in Zehava (Irit Kaplan, whose role won her the Israeli Academy Award for Best Actress), despite his mother's initial objections ("Your girlfriend's fat; I was hoping at least for thin grandchildren!"). In fact, the romantic scenes between Herzl and Zehava really set the tone for A Matter of Size; unlike a Fellini film, in which fat would be played for farce, the love-making scenes between these two lovers are always handled with dignity. (Not that the director avoids laughing at weighty subjects, like the hilarious - and totally unexpected - scene where Herzl recalls his father's spoilers here, you must see this for yourselves!) That's why this funny, heartfelt, and romantic comedy is almost a perfect film! Or, as Amy said, paraphrasing her favorite line from The Hangover: "They funny 'cause they fat!"

Just as Herzl was literally a "big fish out of water" at his Japanese sushi bar, so were we at this sold-out screening, as Amy and I speculated that we were probably the only goyem in attendance for this boisterous, fun-filled crowd-pleaser. The theater was so packed, we had plop down in the front row where, sitting a mere six feet away from the screen, the big actors looked even more gargantuan. Which was fine until we realized that we were wedged between a jittery pistachio nut shelling-and-chomping yenta on one side (next to me) and a garrulous gay guy (next to Amy) whose non-stop chatter was either a result of cluelessness, nervousness, or a desire to impress his date. (Perhaps all three.) This man seemed to specialize in gutteral utterances, emitting a non-stop stream of sounds like Curly Howard of The Three Stooges (e.g., "Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!" "Gack!" "Huzzah!") in response to any- and everything happening onscreen. The woman next to me also had an open soda which she had trouble securing in the cup holder (tapping it trial-and-error style around the hole like Helen Keller), so I grimaced at her every sip, awaiting the inevitable spill onto my lap; Amy resigned herself to rolling her eyes at every onomatopoeic utterance from her right hand man. Thankfully, the movie had enough laughs to wash out the ambient audience noise.

Synchronicity: Looking through the program guide afterwards, we discovered that Freakononics (2010), a documentary (based on the best-selling book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) that was playing the next night, featured a segment by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi To the Dark Side) on sumo wrestling; we made it a point to see it. This was one of three new films directed by the prolific Alex Gibney that were playing at this year's festival; the others were Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spizter (2010) and Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010) - the latter which I had missed earlier that year at the Maryland Film Festival. For my money, Gibney's the best American documentarian working today, bar none. He sets the bar.


Mesrine: Killer Instinct
(Jean-Francois Richet, France, 2008)

My Movie Scorecard: B+
Life Lessons Learned From This Film: The Algerian War served as young Jacques Mesrine's Career Counselor.
Awards: Nominated for 13 Cesars (French Oscars), winner of three (including Best Actor - Vincent Cassal and Best Director - Jean-Francois Richot); Cassal also won Best Actor awards from the Tokyo International Film Festival, Lumiere Awards, and Etoiles d'Or

Just a week before the festival, I was told that I needed to see this film by several Francophones whose opinions I respect. Actually, like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Mesrine was actually two films, an epic crime-action narrative based on real-life '60s and '70s French gangster Jacques Mesrine that was split into two separate 2008 releases - Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'Instinct de Mort) and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (L'ennemi Public No. 1) - by director Jean-Francois Richet (best know stateside for 2005's Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne action film Assault on Precinct 13 - a remake of John Carpenter's 1976 original). Both were playing at the festival, but like last year's 3-hour-long Japanese Red Army film that we wanted to see there, neither Amy nor I had the patience/stamina/bladder control required to invest in the full slog, so we opted to see part one; that way, if we liked it enough, we'd seek out the sequel on NetFlix eventually.

Watch the official "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" trailer.

We liked it more than enough. Even though it adds nothing new to the crime-action-gangster film genre - and suffers a few narrative jump cuts (like the jarring one that moves right from Mesrine planning a bank robbery to him sitting behind bars in the robbery's cocked-up aftermath, eliciting a joint response from Amy and I of "WTF?") - it's distinctively stylish (especially the opening credits sequence), entertaining (filled with lots of sex and violence), and well-acted.

Killer Instinct: Mesrine's larger-than-life story boasted a star-studded, larger-than-life cast

It didn't hurt that it starred the charismatic Vincent Cassal, who is sometimes called the French DeNiro, and who I will see in just about anything. It also starred the French Brando (or the French Orson Welles, depending how much Girth Gravitas you attribute to him), Gerard Depardieu, whom one cannot avoid seeing in just about everything from France (it must be a Franco-American trade law or something - not only is the increasingly obese Depardieu seemingly in every French film, but now his children are appearing in everything as well!). (Don't get me wrong - he's a great actor. There's just too much of him; he defines the term over exposure - or as Dan Hicks once sang, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?")

When he's not robbing banks, escaping from prisons, knee-capping street thugs, or torturing kidnapped millionaire cripples, Mesrine gets down with the ladies, be they doe-eyed hookers like Sara (Florence Thomassin) or Spanish virgins like Sofia (the drop-dead gorgeous Elena Anaya of Sex and Lucia and Van Helsing fame) that he eventually marries and gets with child. But the one who really hooks him turns out to be Jeanne Schneider, played by Cecile De France (of Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, and Avenue Montaigne, High Tension, Russian Dolls, L'auberge Espangole), with whom his "equal opportunity" criminal exploits take on a sexy, Bonnie and Clyde vibe. In her brunette wig and spectacles guise here, De France bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Demi Moore, back when she played Jackie on General Hospital. (As if that's not enough babe-age for Cassal to paw over, Ludivine Sagnier also gets thrown into the mix, but not as a featured protagonist until the second film, Public Enemy No. 1.)

Une Liason Dangereuse: Jeanne & Jacques in their Bonnie & Clyde Courtship Phase

One thing's for sure - Cassal's a lot better looking than the real Mesrine who, sign of his times, sported atrocious mutton-chop sideburns (as shown below) like some Brooklyn indie rocker.

Hey Jacques - Jimmy Page called to say he wants his sideburns back!

But this Mesrine dude was no laid-back hipster; the film suggests this French Scarface gangsta's hot-tempered violent streak - and his loathing of Arabs - stemmed from his experience in the Algerian War, kind of like a post-traumatic psycho Vietnam Vet thing going on. In fact, Roger Ebert picks up on this connection when he observes: "Jacques Mesrine was born in a stable middle-class home, well-educated, then sent to Algeria as a paratrooper who soon became a torturer and executioner and found he liked the work."

I had never heard of Mesrine (pronounced "Merrine") - he penned an autobiography (L'Instinct du Mort, on which this film is based) but it's only available in French and the lone English book written about him is out of print - but there's an excellent article about the outlaw odyssey of the Man of a Thousand Faces who fancied himself a modern Robin Hood and came to be known as French "Public Enemy No. 1" in The Independent: "Jacques Mesrine: Le Grand Gangster." The short version? Jacques Mesrine killed perhaps 40 people, kidnapped people in France and Quebec, escaped from four prisons (including from La Sante prison - he remains the only man ever to escape from this maximum security facility in Paris), "stuck up banks the way other people use ATM machines" (in Ebert's description), made a little love, drank a little wine, and died in a hail of bullets as any good legendary villain (who aspires to be remembered as a romantic rogue) should.

The story of Jacques Mesrine is strikingly similar to that of our own John Dillinger, the infamous 1930s gangster who robbed banks, escaped from prisons and was shot dead in public by police when leaving a Chicago theatre on 22 July 1934. (Dillinger was also rumored to have an enormous penis; not sure how frere Jacques measured up, but he seemed to do OK with the ladies.) And Mesrine met his own end in similar fashion, being gunned down by Parisien police in August 1979. Dillinger's life story was also made into a film with a similar name, Public Enemies, in 2009.

Andre Genoves' "Mesrine" (1984)

Mesrine's story had been brought to the screen previously in Andre Genoves' 1984 film Mesrine, with Nicoles Silberg in the title role. Genoves' film begins with Mesrine's escape May 1978 from La Sante prison and follows his final 18 months on the run with Sylvia Jeanjacquot.

OK, ADD's kicking in...more film reviews later!

Stay tuned for:
"My Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Day 3."

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