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November 10, 2010

Starz Denver Film Festival 2010 - The Smell of Lemon

smell of lemon 1.jpg

Profumo di Lumia
Joel Stangle - 2010

At the very least, I have to give young Joel Stangle credit for his sense of adventure. Basically showing up in Sicily with a video camera, some rudimentary knowledge of Italian, a script that was the basis for improvisation, and a cast of non-professional actors, Stangle has made a feature that indicates promise. Just the idea of a young American making a film in another country where he doesn't really speak the language seems like a recipe for disaster. That The Smell of Lemon played in a film festival in Naples should be an indication of how well Stangle succeeded.

Taking place during one summer in the small town of Scillichenti, thirteen year old Gioele hangs out with two friends, swimming, goofing off, and talking about girls. Gioele also dreams about finding a legendary stone that his young mother tell him will cause women to say yes to the man who finds that stone. By chance Gioele meets the girl of his own imagination, the somewhat older Ale, only to have her disappear when they part. Taking matters into his own hands, Gioele goes on a journey beyond his small town in search of the stone that he hopes will cause the two to be reunited.

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The strength of this film is primarily visual. Stangle has close-ups of flowers, a turtle, a small lizard, a drop of water slowly dripping down the leg of a girl. There are dream images, such as four girls, wrapped together in green cloth, posing as a kind of fruit tree. There is also the wonderful shot of a turtle nipping away at a rose. Several times, Stangle gives way to the soundtrack, Sicilian folk songs performed by Matilde Politi.

The basic story made me think of the films by Giuseppe Tornatore, primarily the worst aspects of such films as Cinema Paradiso and Malena. Between the coming-of-age story, and the excessive hand gestures of the actors, I sometimes felt like I was watching a second-hand version of a cliched concept of an Italian movie. Still, should Joel Stangle make another feature, I will be interested in seeing what he does next. What makes The Smell of Lemon memorable is when the images speak for themselves.

(Viewed as a DVD screener)

Posted by peter at November 10, 2010 04:03 PM

Comments

Just watched this film today at the Denver Film Festival and I was very impressed.

In my adventures into filmmaking the most difficult things have been getting the actors to act and developing a story that truly shows depth of character. On both counts Joel Stangle does a wonderful job.
Yes, the children ham it up a little, but seriously, we're talking about a one man team with a bunch of children and no budget. What Joel did with those children is nothing short of amazing, and I believe are the tell tale signs of a great future career.
I loved the homage to Garcia Lorca, which as a fellow Spaniard was very gratifying, and very appropriate given the emphasis on color.
"Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Bajo la luna gitana,
las cosas le están mirando
y ella no puede mirarlas. "

In a few spots, the Smell of Lemon becomes a little too self-indulgent, a little too self-consciously artsy, so that it starts to lose the rhythm of the story.

I am grateful for Joel's courage in making this film and am so happy that film for the sake of beauty is alive and well in my generation.

I will be watching Joel closely.

Posted by: Gualberto at November 14, 2010 10:00 PM