The 2014 Boulder International Film Festival, held February 13-16, was a vehicle for 58 films both feature length and short, documentary and fiction. Try as I may, I couldn’t quite make it to all 58, (my avatar was in the shop) but here are my insights to this year’s BIFF bonanza. Over the course of the festival I saw 10 films and have sorted them into three chapters. Cause, you know, that’s just the cool way to do things.
No, this is not a sequel to “American Gigolo” and in fact Richard Gere is nowhere in sight. Additionally I suspect you may have a hard time with the cognitive dissonance produced by a movie with the word “gigolo” in the title which also stars Woody Allen. But fear not precious viewer – this is a sweet, funny diversion which probably won’t change your life but you won’t regret the 98 minutes you spent with it either. Starring John Turturro (who also wrote & directed) as well as Allen, Sophia Vergara, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber & Vanessa Paradis the film serves up some quirky but truly skilled performances especially by Paradis (who is almost unrecognizable) and Stone. It is Stone though who for me stole the spotlight as the classic sultry powerhouse she typically plays softened by a slow drip of vulnerability and humor. This is a story of desire, need but also projection: What is it about the tall silent male that allows for great passion rather than inciting it? Much like the incredible Chance in “Being There” (played so tenderly by Peter Sellers) passively inducing an absolute frenzy in Shirley Maclaine without so much as a word, Turturro provides a quiet and somewhat clueless canvas onto which an array of longing women can transfer all their desires. He comes, he stands, he dances a little and says, “here I am – do what you will with me” and they do, very very happily. The absurdity of Woody Allen’s “Murray” as his pimp is hilarious in and of itself. I admire that this film didn’t try to bite off too much, or cover all the bases (no pun intended) but wisely gave us a funny, sweet and better than expected time with some legitimate sexiness thrown in. Sharon Stone’s legs. All 8 feet of them, and Sophia Vergara in abbreviated outfits. Need I say more?
I dig Jim Broadbent and Jeff Goldblum. And I really dig Hanif Kureishi who wrote this screenplay. From Kureishi especially I expect good things as he is the force behind “My Beautiful Launderette,” “Venus” and “The Buddha of Suburbia” which was his fantastic novel made film. But that’s the thing – the rub so to speak – expectations can really mess with you. And this film did. In fact it made me downright cranky and pissed. Broadbent’s Nick, a brilliant but fading professor has brought his long suffering wife Meg to Paris to celebrate their anniversary and hopefully find some peace and renewal in their marriage. Yeah, good luck with that. Beyond the fact that the premise immediately tells you disaster looms close at hand, for these two even Paris cannot breathe passion or cushion the vitriolic routine which has come to characterize their daily life. They are a couple who has nothing if they do not have their snarky and downright cruel interplay. Meg, played by the fragile beauty Lindsay Duncan, is so consumed by rage and resentment for Nick that there’s not much else left of her. Her cruelty to him was frankly beyond my belief, but hey, maybe I’m just a softie. It made me squirm. And want out. BADLY. Nick also does his part to make their dynamic excruciating by having become a pathetic cowering pussy. While they careen ever closer to some ultimate relationship injury, with a deeply shocking public denouement at a dinner party hosted by the ever goofy, fawning, and increasingly reptilian looking Goldblum, I am left wondering what’s the point? Do we need to see so starkly that marriages with all their flaws and betrayals, ego and resentments, can go horribly tragically wrong? Don’t we already know that from – like – REAL LIFE? And if we do serve as a witness, then to what end? Throw me a bone Hanif! I know that some would consider this is black humor on a highly sophisticated level but I found no comedy here whatsoever. In the end there is resolution but for me it came too little too late. And that’s a grave disappointment.
Set in Poland in the 1960s. Anna, is a young woman on the verge of taking her vows as a nun when she is asked to leave the convent for a spell to visit her only living relative – an aunt – named Wanda. Having been raised an orphan, Anna is shown truths about her family and their past by Wanda which cast doubts on the only trajectory she has ever considered or known. The mere experience of watching “Ida” in black and white, its flat clothing, rooms, landscape, “noir” everything pared down to its essentials, places us squarely in the bleak emotionless existence of convent life and much of Poland during that time. It’s not a happy place. The secrets, the twist here, is so big – and arrives fairly quickly – that I strapped myself in for an emotional ride of catharsis which never really came, despite the promise it held. Agata Trzebuchowska who plays Anna, is quite lovely, and has mastered playing the almost silent novitiate so well that she is basically a projection screen for all those around her as well including the audience. She’s just a mirror even in the moments when we are screeching for her to break just a little. Anna is not so much a character in her own right as she is a skeleton onto which others play out their dramas and destinies. Both Dawid Ogrodnik (the musician) and Agata Kulesza (Aunt Wanda) do that exceedingly well. Kulesza specifically is the vortex here and she has layers upon layers which pull you in, drowning you in her bottomless pool. She’s a woman I would want to know, and would fear. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, whose last project was “The Woman in the Fifth,” “Ida” takes you right up to edge but then decides to put you back in your car-seat, buckle you in for safety and drive slowly away. I felt that same lack of delivery with “The Woman in the Fifth” – that I desperately wanted him to take me deeper, darker…somewhere worse. I wish in fact that “Ida” had left me scarred and shaken, but it didn’t and the story is worthy of that. I wondered if Anna’s scenario may have in fact occurred in post war Poland and it is a good question. But in the end I just moved onto the next screening. And a burrito.