Saturday, November 24, 2012

My 2012 Rehoboth Beach Film Festival Journal

2012 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
November 7-11, 2012

2012 Country Spotlight: Italy

2012 Audience Award Winners:
Come as You Are
(click here)
Best Feature
Time to Spare
(click here)
 Best Debut Feature
Searching for Sugarman
(click here)
Best Documentary
(click here)
Best Short


Thank you Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival - thanks for helping me get my film groove back!

After a summer of assorted medical maladies that included suffering some vision loss (a long story), I realized that I had stopped watching movies. This had never happened to me before, because I was the "film guy." Captain Video. The Tom in ATOMIC TV! Since my eyes were so bad, I didn't want to frustrate myself straining to watch fuzzy things, and had started reading instead (knocking off 10 of Andrea Camilleri's "Inspector Montalbano" mysteries in October alone!). (Oh irony of ironies, here I was a card-carrying librarian - a man surrounded by books every day - who finally rediscovered the joys of reading the printed word!)

The Crosswinds Motel
But the RBIFF has become an annual vacation getaway tradition for me and my long-suffering girlfriend Amy, one we look forward to - especially since we stay right next door to the Dogfish Head Brewpub at the Crosswinds Motel. (This year, the entire motel was booked for a wedding next door at the Dogfish Head Brewpub during the festival - except for our room, which beautiful-and-charming Crosswinds manager Rita Norwood had saved in advance for us; this is why we, and Trip Advisor - which awarded the motel its highest recommendation - love Rita and Crosswinds!)

After carefully prepping for our drive to Rehoboth - which, in years past, had always been plagued by some serendipitous mishap (a Nor'easter, a dead car battery, leaving my suitcase behind, leaving my front door open, etc., etc.) - we were pleasantly surprised to have a sunny day with which to enjoy our commute to the beach. We even outfoxed our GPS so that it directed us up-and-over on I-95 instead of going over the Bay Bridge and through the bucolic-but-boring long drive through the Eastern Shore.

Day 1: Thursday, November 8

Amy and I always skip the opening day of the festival and shoot for Thursday through Sunday screenings, so for us Day 1 is actually the second day of the festival.

Written and directed by Carlos Sorin
(Argentina, 2011, 90 minutes)

Did curiosity kill the cat? Or someone?

Our first film of the festival was this stylish psychological drama by Argentine writer-director Carlos Sorin that was billed in the festival guide as a "Hitchcockian thriller." Now that's an almost cliche term these days for any thriller that makes viewers think instead of just queuing up endless car chases and explosions on the big screen for the open-mouthed enjoyment of the audience, but it was enough to hook us and fairly accurate - specifically referencing the psychologically playful Hitchcock of Spellbound and Suspicion. I had never heard of the director, but it turns out my local library has three of his earlier works (Bombon: El Perro, Intimate Stories and The Window), which I plan to watch now because...well, this story of a lost cat is a real cinematic find. (I subsequently saw Bombon: El Perro - a dog's tale with legs - and am now an official Carlos Sorin fan!)

The cat, named Donatello (yes, just like the Italian Renaissance painter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle), is a mere "MacGuffin" (once again Hitch's name is invoked, for this was Hitchcock's term for any convenient plot device that piques an audience's interest and moves a film along - even if they forget what it was by film's end!) for what is basically a story of paranoia and mistrust. Luis (Luis Luque) is a middle-aged university professor who has just been released the hospital after having violently assaulted a colleague he thought was stealing his research. His wife Beatriz (Beatriz Spelzini) cautiously hopes for the best but still has her doubts that Luis is fully recovered.
Watch the trailer for "The Cat Vanishes."

This film has cinematic style written all over it, from the playfully melodramatic 1950s soundtrack (probably a nod to Douglas Sirk's Hollywood films and used to great comic/ironic effect during idyllic interludes such as Beatriz getting her hair done or planning a holiday getaway) by the director's son Nicolas Sorin to the claustrophobic close-ups (you can almost see up the actors' nostrils!) and noirish night scenes that add dramatic tension to a film already walking the tightrope of mounting anxiety. (And I'm pretty sure that was a real blood-covered giant rat in Beatriz's nightmare - it certainly jolted me out of my seat with sudden memories of Coffin Joe movies!) The film was beautifully photographed by veteran cinematographer Julian Apezteguia (Carancho, Bolivia), who worked with Sorin on 2008's The Window and the upcoming Gone Fishing (slated for a December 26, 2012 release).

Something smells fishy: "Here, kitty kitty! I made sushi!"

As I researched the director, I found a revealing profile at that suggested The Cat Vanishes was a thematic change of focus for Sorin, who had previously concentrated on making films about economically challenged Argentines - people who might be called society's "losers."
“I couldn’t make a film about a successful man with a charming family, a prosperous business, and who plays tennis on the weekend. Within the losers the unemployed are the best of all. Because aside from the theme of economic urgency and survival, there is a much greater conflict – feeling detached from the world.” - Carlos Sorin
This certainly was his perspective in Bombon: El Perro, the story of an unemployed Patagonian mechanic (non-professional actor Juan Villegas) trying to make ends meet until he is given a Dogo Argentino dog (a beautiful hunting animal strikingly similar to a pitbull or mastiff) as payment for a good deed and subsequently tries his hand at dog training; he ends up finding a soulmate in the canine.

Best in Show: "Bombon El Perro"

But in The Cat Vanishes, Sorin turns his attention away from economy to psychology in the comfortable setting of a successful middle-class family in Buenos Aires. But the loss of dignity - in this case, a respected professional in the midst of a mid-life identity crisis, is still a concern. As's review continues:

And where that uncertainty and sense of loss of dignity and identity play out is on the human face in Sorin’s films. He considers the face the landscape of the soul. “My characters are not characterized by memorable dialogue but by their faces, gestures, even silences.”

This makes for deceptively simple films. And yet the perceptive audience member will have to work. “I want to create films which require the viewer to determine what is happening to the characters without being given that information explicitly. I am interested in those human dramas which are expressed through filmic moments, through images and not words. People often express themselves more clearly through what they don’t say. In real life most people don’t go around saying clever things; they talk about banal things, but those banalities enclose and hide certain important things that transpire within the person.” 

What's the matter, Beatriz? Cat got your tongue?

We certainly see this in the face of Beatriz, as Sorin playfully calls the wife's sanity into question, as well. Is Luis truly unhinged or are Beatriz's fears merely her own paranoia and psychological breakdown? For his part, Luis looks alternately batty and calm - though the way he cooly brandishes a sharp blade while preparing sushi makes us wonder if his palatte extends to feline dishes. And did Donatello disappear because he recognized not his master but a stranger in the house? Hmmmmm...the director plays it straight, right up until the end (Sorin even opens with a pre-film title card asking the audience not to give away the ending to their friends!).

Variety accurately described the film as playing with '40s-era Hitchcock "as a cat toys with a mouse." And after being toyed with for 90 minutes, we were pleasantly satisfied by this cat-and-mouse style thriller's climax. We think most audiences will be, too.

Now, having seen Sorin's canine and feline tales, we're set to check out his other movies.

Related Links:
My 2012 Rehoboth Beach Film Festival Journal, Part 2 (Coming soon!)
The Cat Vanishes (IMDB)

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home