November 25, 2009

SDFF 2009 - Three more films


Martin Zandvliet - 2009
Nordisk Film 35mm film

Applause is primarily a showcase for actress Paprika Steen. The story of an actress names Thea, the film alternates between her life on stage and off. An alcoholic divorcee, Thea is struggling with sobriety, and proving herself worthy of being with her two elementary school aged sons. The boys live with their father, now married to a psychologist. Thea is currently performing in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfas Martha, the alcoholic wife in a volatile relationship with her husband. There is an overlap between art and life that occasionally confuses Thea.

Even with her pre-show drinking, Thea remains in control on stage. Off stage, Thea finds herself constantly frustrated, if not angry, with other people who do not play the roles she imagines they should, including store clerk with no idea of what toys are appropriate for young boys, or a visiting stranger who imagines himself to be the lover that Thea is looking for. The film is somewhat roughly made, call it "Dogme Lite", with Thea finally emerging with a greater sense of self-realization.

john hickenlooper.jpg

'Hick" Tow
George Hickenlooper - 2009
Actual Reality Pictures

'Hick" Town is actually designed to be seen as a series of television episodes. What was presented as a work in progress, according to director George Hickenlooper. Aside from some obvious sound synchronization issues, I hope someone reverses the superimposed titles that mislabel Graham Nash and David Crosby (Are there actually people on this production who did not notice this goof or forget that Crosby is the chunky guy with the long hair?).

I was hoping for a documentary as entertaining as Hickenlooper's portrait of legendary disc jockey, Rodney Bingenheimer, The Mayor of Sunset Strip. In his own way, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, George's cousin, is almost as endearing. Not only does the mayor love his city, but he has a genuine love and concern for the citizens, even when their interests may not be his own. The six episodes comprising this film have frequent repetitions in the formatting, and by the third time John Hickenlooper compares running a city to running a restaurant, the television format gets tiresome.

Filmed during the days preceding and during the Democratic convention of 2008, George Hickenlooper's film offers some of the same events as A.J. Schnack's Convention from a different perspective. Perhaps George Hickenlooper's film plays better in segments on a small screen, but I could not imagine this film generating much more than local interest.


Yang Yang
Cheng Yu-chieh - 2009

I don't know the full extent of Ang Lee's involvement with Yang Yang, but I wish he told Cheng Yu-chieh and cinematographer Jake Pollock to get a tripod, or if they just had to shoot an entire feature with a hand held camera, use one with some kind of image stabilizing device. This Taiwanese coming of age story probably should not have been seen on the same day as Applause. In Cheng's film, a young woman of French and Taiwanese heritage, apparently abandoned by her father many years ago, is an actress in a film playing a young woman also half French and half Taiwanese, in search of her father. It's almost as if there a difficulty in imagining a story about women confronting their particular inner demons unless they happen to be artists. Instead of making the slender story more immediate or more "real", the shaky cam distracts from Yang Yang's virtues.

Yang yang is the intimate name of the high school girl who feels out of place. Her mother has married the man who is also her track coach. Her step sister is also a rival runner. Yang yang has a one night stand with Shawn, her step sister's boyfriend. Being Eurasian proves to be both a curse and an advantage. A talent scout convinces Yang yang that she can be a model. After perhaps deliberately sabotaging herself by taking steroids before a track meet, which causes her to be disqualified from running, Yang yang leaves home and puts herself in the hands of Ming-ren, the talent scout. As it turns out, Ming-ren actually is able to develop Yang yang as a model and actress, even though she still does things to undermine herself, such as refuse to learn French for a part. Ming-ren also acts as her protector at times. Sandrine Pinna won a Best Actress award at the Taipei Film Festival last June. I am sure that she will be heard from in the future, but I would hope to see her in a film where the filmmakers are confident enough in their story without resorting to distracting technique.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 25, 2009 12:15 AM