SITA SINGS THE BLUES: One of the most delightful, cleverest and original animated features I’ve ever seen. It’s the Hindu legend of Sita, who was the bride of Rama until he did her wrong. The story is paralleled with the more modern story of the writer/director Nina Paley’s relationship with her own boyfriend who also did her wrong after he moved to India and didn’t break up with her until she moved to be with him. The animators use all sorts of styles, including, perhaps most delightfully, three shadow puppets of three people who tell the story of Sita, often arguing over the details and the meaning. It’s the universal tale of women who are treated badly (though what Rama did to Sita was far worse than what Nina’s boyfriend did to her). The theme is supported by Annette Hanshaw who sings, through Sita, a number of torch and blues songs (though perhaps one or two too many). A must see, though one wonders what Nina’s ex now thinks since no matter what he did to her, Nina got the final word.
FISH TANK: One of those coming of age stories of kids rebelling against their parental figures and losing their virginity. But don’t let they stop you from seeing this sharp and moving tale of teenage angst by the writer/director Andrea Arnold who also made one of my favorite films of 2006, Red Road. The lead character is 15 year old Mia played with ferocious non-stop fury by newcomer Katie Jarvis. Katie is angry, but it’s unclear why; she’s just angry, almost existentially so. She doesn’t get along with her mother or her sister or her friends (actually, she has no friends). She finds herself physically attracted to her mother’s most recent lover Connor, played by a sexually charged Michael Fassbender whose first entrance is in jeans with such a low rise one keeps expecting them to fall to the floor (or does one hope they will fall to the floor). Her only dream is dancing and an appointment she has made to audition for a dance troupe. Her hopes are constantly dashed. She has hot sex with Fassbender, who then tells her they can’t do it again. He turns out to be married and has a child and breaks Mia’s mother’s heart when he ups and leaves with no reason given. And the dance audition turns out to be for a strip club. But that doesn’t stop her from taking control of her life and going off with a boy a bit closer to her own age; it may seem like a downer ending, but it’s really not. The story itself gets a little off center when Mia discovers Connor is married; the author doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do next and fills the plotline with one red herring after another. But other than that, a coming of age film that rises above the others.
AJAMI: The Israeli entry in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars and a first rate film noir. The subject matter may make one a little queasy: it’s an Israeli film about Palestinians living in Israel in which the characters do nothing but engage in illegal activities and treat each other like dirt for much of the proceedings. At the same time, the story is not inherent to its ethnic background and could easily take place in New York, Paris, Los Angeles—and often has. It’s a thriller with one of those non-linear plots (script and directing by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani) that became really popular after Tarrentino’s Pulp Fiction. It’s divided into chapters and though it might be a little difficult to fully understand how the first chapter affects the others (perhaps something got lost in the transition), it’s a suspenseful puzzle film that is very satisfying.
I KILLED MY MOTHER: I don’t want to talk about it. I Killed My Mother is the Canadian entry in the Oscar foreign film category (it takes place in Quebec and everybody speaks French), but it’s written, directed and stars a 19 year old in his film debut. That would be all right if the movie wasn’t any good. But it is and it’s just not fair and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s all about a high school kid’s troubling relationship with his mother, which often makes no sense, but is none the less fascinating and convincing. She’s often a monster, but he’s often an annoying little prick; but since she has all the power, she wins. It’s obviously a first film. Xavier Dolan, the writer/director (who couldn’t attend the screening at the AFI fest because he’s already working on his next feature, the asshole), sometimes loses track of what he’s saying or why there’s trouble in this non-paradise. At times it seems like it’s fury for fury’s sake, which at the age of 19, fury often is. But it’s an astonishing debut. I wish him well. I really do. No, really, I do. The bastard.