The last days of the Montclair Film Festival took me from Denmark and Belgium to Mexico, by way of England. Actually I was just sitting in one of Montclair’s three theaters, but that’s where the films were from. Here are some short reviews from the second half of the sixth annual festival.
Lost in Paris
Fiona is an awkward young Canadian woman from some desolate hamlet in the frozen north. She heads to Paris at the behest of her 88-year old aunt Martha who is being stalked by a woman in a nurse’s uniform who wants to move her to a nursing home. Once in Paris, Fiona falls into the Seine, gets her nose caught in an elevator and is presented the ashes of a different old woman named Martha. The title Lost in Paris might make you think you’re in for some existential study of ennui. Nope. This is screwball comedy. There’s a third character, a homeless guy who lives in a tent on the river bank, who separately ends up having a relationship with both women. The title is to be taken literally as all three are more or less lost. This is a Belgian movie, set in Paris and mostly in English. Light and fun. I left the theater wondering if there really is such a thing as a biodegradable urn so you can toss your loved one’s ashes into the river without doing any damage to the environment. If so, throw me into the Great Falls.
This is a fictional narrative movie that was made to look like a documentary. In fact, had I not listened to the comments of screenwriter Andrew Keatley, who was at the screening, I might well still think I had seen a documentary. Keatley also plays Ben, the main character in the movie. And the guy who plays the director in the ‘documentary’ is in fact the director of the movie. Have I lost you yet? The movie is about a man who sets out to find his biological parents. The search takes him to Dungeness, which honestly looks like the end of the earth. The movie drags us into the suspense of finding Ben’s real family. In the end what he finds is a different definition of what a real family is. I hesitate to say much else because spoilers will truly spoil this one. The title “For Grace” refers to Ben’s baby. The baby is played by a baby whose real name is Grace and the actress who plays the baby’s mother is really the baby’s mother. One member of the audience said after watching the film she felt “emotionally manipulated.” The rest of us just felt we’d watched a really good movie.
Nobody killed anybody and nobody committed suicide. But when a middle-aged Danish couple with a teenage daughter decided, after inheriting a house that was too big for just them, to start a commune, no one really lived happily ever after. It’s Europe and I think it’s the 60’s based on what was on the TV newscasts, so everybody smoked. I think the commune turned them all into chain smokers. People started sleeping with people they shouldn’t have been sleeping with, someone lost their job because they couldn’t deal with the drama in the house, and not everybody marked off the beers that they consumed the way they were supposed to. It especially sucked for the teenage girl. About the best adjusted commune member was the guy who picked everything up that his housemates left on the floor and burned it all. No room for clutter in a commune. This is a movie that makes you just agonize over the life choices that the main characters make. Will someone come to their senses? No, not really. This one was far from my favorite of all the films I watched this week.
Brimstone & Glory
Think the running of the bulls is insane? You should see the burning of the bulls. The place is Tultepec, Mexico, a place where just about everybody with a job is busy making fireworks. A place where the candle on a kid’s confirmation cake turns out to be a sparkler that shoots up to the ceiling. It is on the day of the festival of San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of fireworks makers, that the bulls are rolled out They appear to be made of some sort of plaster or paper mache attached to a wooden frame. They’re the size of garbage trucks, brightly and intricately painted and stuffed with fireworks. The guys at the controls, and they appear to be all guys, light the fireworks and push and pull the bull through the main street with the rockets’ red glare shooting out in every direction. Did I mention that the streets are packed with people, seemingly with someone standing on every square foot of space? It apparently is some sort of badge of honor to come home with a scar or two. The combat scenes from most Hollywood war movies don’t look as scary as this. The filmmakers even show the army of EMTs getting they’re last minute instructions. “Drunks and shouters go last.” And there is an uncomfortable sight or two at the first aid tent. My guess is that as a short documentary feature (67 minutes) it will be hard to catch this one on a big screen except at a film festival. But a big screen is a must because the glory is in the sights and sounds.
See more reviews of Monclair Film Festival screening here.