VIFF 2011 Reviews: Bombay Beach; Alan Bennett and the Habit of Art; Lost Bohemia; Michael; Outside Satan; El Velador; Kill List


Saturday Oct 1.

Sorry about any typos. Fatigue rules.

Summary of the last six flicks.

See: Bombay Beach, Alan Bennett and the Habit of Art, Michael

Ho-hum: El Velador

Avoid: Outside Satan, Kill List

Bombay Beach. US, 76 min.

Summary: See this if you get the chance.

An unexpected treasure of a documentary. Bombay Beach is a deserted resort town on the shore of California’s Salton Sea, a desert lake wildly popular as a holiday spot a half century ago. But in the dilapidated remains of the houses and cabins dwell people whose lack of money is more than offset by a surfeit of spirit. An ancient geezer supplements his pension by buying tax-free cigarettes from the local reservation and selling them at a profit to white folks. A mother recently out of jail devotes hours helping her children master school work. A black youth, a refugee from gang warfare in Los Angeles, becomes an academic and athletic star at a nearby high school.

Alan Bennett and the Habit of Art. UK, 53 minutes.

If you know Bennett, you don’t need to be told to see this.

It is quite impossible to point a camera at writer and Beyond the Fringe veteran Alan Bennett and to produce boredom. This film focuses on the production of Bennett’s play The Habit of Art, which dramatizes the stormy relationship between the martini-swilling poet W.H. Auden and the austere composer Benjamin Britten. Every moment sparkles with wit. Accompanied by a 45 minute TV production about Bennett.

Lost Bohemia. USA, 79 min.

A gem of a film.

In the late 1800s, Andrew Carnegie built a large apartment complex atop his Carnegie Hall in New York City. The aim was to provide permanent and temporary housing for artists, writers and musicians — a sort of live-in university. Over the years, personalities as disparate as Mark Twain, Enrico Caruso and Marlon Brando have lived there. But now, the Carnegie administration wants to evict the current tenants so it can turn the complex into office space. Film-maker (and resident) Josef “Birdman” Astor pokes his camera into the apartments revealing the rich lives of the residents, some of whom have lived in the Carnegie apartments for more than fifty years.

Michael. Austria, 96 min.

The topic may make you squirm, but see this one anyway.

Director Markus Schleinzer’s camera quietly tracks the life of Michael, a single 30-something insurance executive on the way up. Michael lives in a comfortable but modest home, drives a comfortable but modest car, takes modest ski outings with his male friends and enjoys sex with a 10-year-old boy he keeps in his basement apartment. Michael’s crime is so understated that the viewer, caught up in the mundane routines of life, begins to wonder how Schleinzer can possibly construct a dramatic end to the film. He does. The the last five minutes (which mainly depict the folding of clothes) will have you squirming.

Note. There is no explicit sex and little violence in this film.

Outside Satan. France, many minutes.

Avoid.

If the director’s name (Bruno Dumont) means nothing to you, then avoid this film. When I saw it, technical problems had forced the staff to use a CD that displayed a digital time register at the top of the screen. Watching the seconds flick by was more interesting than the film. The clock had just passed 40 minutes when I left.

El Velador, Mexico.

Missing this will not leave a yawning gap in your life.

Kill List. UK.

This is not Down Terrace.

Viewers expecting director Ben Wheatley to reprise the success of Down Terrace will be  disappointed by this. The irony that masked Down Terrace‘s violence is gone; the violence remains.

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About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
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