Clearly it's impossible to see everything, but here is a rundown of some of the films
that I saw at the Festival, many of which are certain to appear in Australian film
festivals in the coming year, or in commercial release.
B Monkey (Great Britain)
The long-awaited follow-up from British director Michael Radford (Il Postino) is a sure
fire masterpiece, a vividly dark comedy/drama about low-lifes, crime, sex and finding love
in unexpected ways. B, played with power by the alluring Asia Argento, is a wild and crazy
girl who is also a great thief, who mixes with London's nastier underworld types. She also
shares her life with Bohemian coke addict Paul (another tour-de-force performance by
Rupert Everett) and his unpredictable and violent lover Bruno (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). But
B wants to escape her criminal life, and finally finds a way out when she meets placid
school teacher and jazz aficionado Alan (Jared Harris). Love may conquer all, but will it
hide a murky and violent past? Featuring topnotch performances and Radford's imaginative
direction, B. Monkey is a compelling and seductive drama.
Max and the Kid (USA)
This is a prime example of American independent movie making that has its heart in the
right place, but seems like a work in progress. Made on an ultra low budget, pic is a
charming road movie about an old guy who leaves his nursing home to pursue a fifties car
he and his late buddy bought years ago. En route he is picked up by a feisty runaway
teenager. Clearly made on the cheap, Max and the Kid is one of those little films that may
pop up on the festival circuit but never reach commercial screens. Director Don Campbell's
script is full of holes and often contains puzzling gaps, with entire sequences never
explained. Films are made to be seen by an audience, not solely for the gratification of
the filmmaker, a lesson that Campbell, who has a good visual sense, ought to remember. But
it's a cute, amiable little film that, with some reworking, has strong potential.
Left Luggage (Netherlands)
Film Festivals often discover rare and exciting cinematic jewels: Left Luggage, directed
by and co-starring Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe, is such a jewel, a deeply moving and poetic
film that dazzles one with its sense of character and humanity. An unorthodox
free-spirited Jewish woman takes up the position of nanny to an ultra-Orthodox Hassidic
Jewish family. Her own attitude to her parents, sense of Jewishness and her father's
Holocaust past, all change through the relationship she forges with the youngest son in
this family. Featuring a stellar cast, including Maximillian Schell (magnificent as the
girl's father), Isabella Rossellini, a hypnotic newcomer in Laura Fraser as the young
girl, and the wonderful Chaim Topol, as a Jewish neighbour. Filled with wonderful humour,
combined with genuine pathos and dramatic power, Left Luggage is a truly mesmerising and
Vigo (United Kingdom)
This British melodrama revolving around the life and early death of famed French filmmaker
Jean Vigo, is a worthy, but deeply unsatisfying affair. In part a passionate love story
about Vigo and his beautiful wife Lydu, the film is pure mush, and its principal character
painted as such an egomaniac, that his death from TB comes as a relief not only for the
character, but we, the suffering audience. One also questions a film about such major
French character, told in such a British manner.
In the Naval of the Sea (Philippines)
Filipino cinema has come a long way, as two, very different portraits of Filipino life are
explored in films screened throughout this Festival. This is by far the better of the two.
Story revolves around Pepito who, growing up in a remote fishing village in the
Philippines, is destined to become the successor of his mother: The only midwife in the
whole district, a job given from generation to generation. As Pepito's widow mother Rosa
becomes pregnant she tries everything to abort the baby because of the shame this would
bring. This fails and she sees the only way to protect her son is to commit suicide. After
a while Pepito falls in love with a teacher from the capital, Mrs. Santiago. But this
relationship cannot have a future. Essentially, this is a haunting work about memory, as
the old Pepito narrates this tale of first love, sexual longing and maturation. It depicts
the religiousness of village life, and is sold with a simplistic honesty. Beautifully
shot, in the Naval of The Sea, is a deeply moving and wonderfully told work.
The Butcher (Italy)
Italian cinema was one of the major focuses of this year's Palm Springs Film Festival, but
this was one of the weaker offerings. The story of a conductor's wife who falls heavily in
lust with a neighbourhood butcher has some beautiful things going for it. Director Aurelio
Grimaldi certainly has a mastery of film language, shown in some of the film's quite
beautiful passages which are dialogue-free. The Butcher is a sexual and highly erotic
film, but it seems that it is eroticism for eroticism's sake, and there's little room for
delving deeper into the film's characters. Thus, as well intentioned as it might be, it's
a shallow work which doesn't really go anywhere.
Wilbur Falls (USA)
This is a funny, quirky little gem from first-time writer/director Juliane Glantz, who
shot her film in less than three weeks, on location in the small town in which she grew
up. 17-year old Renata is on her way to college. Her parents are a tad weird, including
ex-cop Phillip (Danny Aiello) and left-of-centre Roberta (Sally Kirkland). It would seem
from the opening sequence of the film, that Roberta was destined for great things, but an
accidental drowning and childhood-inspired revenge, may well put a damper on her plans.
There's a freshness and spontaneity to this wry look at small town America, nicely handled
by director Glantz. Though the film sporadically runs out of steam, it's still a
well-intentioned and highly auspicious debut.
Love from Ground Zero (USA)
Three strangers meet at The New York funeral of Henry, a mutual friend. The three -
Henry's Southern girl friend (Jacqueline McKenzie), his drifting ex-college and buddy
(Simon Baker-Denny), and his childhood friend (Pruitt Taylor-Vince) - join together at
Henry's request to drive his ashes to Montana to be scattered. The story follows the
pitfalls of strangers on a lengthy cross-country journey. There might well have been high
expectations from the US debut of Aussie actress Jacqueline McKenzie, but regrettably,
both the film and McKenzie don't quite work. Trapped by a strange, southern accent which
she's trying hard to deal with, gets in the way of performance and character, a character
that remains underdeveloped. Fellow Aussie Simon Baker-Denny fares better, giving a
naturalistic, well-balanced performance. The film itself, a personal road movie, suffers
from an awkward script and plodding direction, but looks quite beautiful.
An interesting failure, this silly melodrama about a married man coping with his wife's
dying, lesbian lover. Despite some unusually graphic sex scenes, the film's comment on
lesbianism is something of a cop out and terribly simplistic.
Marianna Ucria (Italy)
This stunning period drama, set in 18th century Sicily, tells of a beautiful mute girl
forced to marry at 13, and coming to terms with a dark past and a journey of
self-discovery. In the title role, Eva Grieco gives an extraordinary performance A
ravishing, beautifully executed and superbly crafted masterpiece.
The Magic (Tunisia)
This is one of the most unforgettable films screened at this festival and one deserving of
a major release. Film is the autobiographical story of an impoverished 10-year old boy in
a backward Tunisian village, left to mind his house while the rest of the family secures
work in Paris. The boy, Deanie, discovers the world of cinema, which he refers to as the
magic, and thus begins a most extraordinary tale of survival, friendship and love.
Exquisitely put together, this is an overpowering and emotionally resonant tale that
refuses to adopt a manipulative tone, and remains true to itself throughout. This is
indeed, an absolute gem.