I attended the AFI film festival this year and it was fantastic. Audi bought out all the tickets and all the films were free. Seats were sold out on-line within minutes. But because there was a glitch in the system and the website kept saying everything was sold out (when in reality there were seats available at the time of the film), this worked out great for me since I only live a few blocks away from the venue at Grauman’s. I would stroll over and had no problem getting in. People soon caught on and all the shows tended to fill up, but it worked out perfectly for someone like me who basically has no life and fills his empty hours going to the movies.

Now as to what I saw. I generally avoided any movies I knew had distributors or I thought were bound to open and kept to the lesser known films. These will be snapshot reviews.

CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH: Devastating. A fictional dramatization of the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese after they invaded China in 1937. Words cannot describe the horrors that were visited upon the citizens of this capitol city. The director and writer (Chuan Lu) tells an epic story clearly and succinctly. The beautiful (if such a word should be used) black and white cinematography is by Yu Cao. The acting is strong with perhaps the most memorable scene being the execution of a Chinese national who was the assistant to the German owner of a local corporation; after managing to get his wife safely out of the country, he tells his captors that his wife was pregnant; no matter what they did to him, he had a son they could do nothing to. Apparently the film was first supported by the Chinese government (and was the mainland Chinese entry in the Oscar race) until it was deemed that the Japanese soldiers were treated with too much humanity and all support was withdrawn.

POLICE AJECTIVE: From the new wave of Romanian films comes this dark comedy about a policeman trying not to arrest a teenager for using drugs because he doesn’t see the point, moral or practical, of it. When the characters talk (screenplay and direction by Corneliu, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Porumboiu), they have these wonderfully bizarre comic conversations that sound like they’re out of Pinter of Karka. But almost half the film is devoted to the central character tailing and watching other characters. For this part, the tedium finally gets a bit too tedious and the film falls a bit flat. It’s half a good movie and also introduces the audience to a new sport: foot tennis, played on a tennis court with a tennis net in which the two sides kick a soccer ball to each other using only their feet. If the movie doesn’t come to a theater near you, the sport may come to a park just around the corner.

VINCERE: Marco (Fists in the Pocket) Bellochio’s new film about Mussolini’s first wife, Ida Dalser, with whom he had an illegitimate son and whom he later denied. I call it the Italian version of “he’s just not that into you”. Both Dalser and her son ended up in an insane asylum and it’s not hard to see why. Though there’s some implication that you are supposed to empathize with Ida, she comes across as such a whack job, one actually feels sorry for Mussolini. This is the love affair from hell, the one night stand who just won’t take no for an answer. In this movie, though Bellochio may not intend it, Ida seems first cousin to Jessica (Play Misty For Me) Walter and Glenn (Fatal Attraction) Close. It’s often a beautiful film to look at, but it doesn’t really work.

SOMETHING’S GONNA LIVE: A documentary about a few of the art directors and story board artists still alive (at least at the time this documentary was made, most have died since) who worked under the studio system. The audience loved it. I found it a bit dull, possibly because I thought it was going to be about these characters’ work, when it wasn’t. Instead it’s about growing old. That sounds cold of me, I know. And there are some moving moments as one has to focus on the mortality of life. But at the same time, one kept expecting something more, which never seemed to arrive. The most interesting parts are when Robert Boyle (who at the ripe young age of 100 received an honorary Oscar for his body of work) and Harold Michelson return to Bodega Bay where much of The Birds was filmed to see what it was now like (Boyle did the production design and Michelson did the storyboards for the Hitchcock film) and they get all old man curmudgeonly about the changes in the area. All in all, it’s an okay film, but didn’t really do much for me.

So tell me what you think.

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