Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Last Mistress

Today kicked off press screenings for the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival, although I didn't see much in the way of press. The audience was mostly composed of the same die-hard pass holders you see from year to year. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the first two films, but the third on today's docket was a French release from 2007 entitled "The Last Mistress" (or by it's French name, "Une Vieille Maîtresse").

To begin with, the retitling of the movies confuses me, as the original title of a foreign language film often makes more sense than its re-marketed counterpart. For example, there was a film at last year's festival originally entitled "La Vie Promise", but the subtitles had it billed as "Ghost River". Yes, there was a river in the film. No, the word "Ghost" made little sense. Perhaps I'm just not good at interpreting the symbolism of some works, but the title "The Last Mistress" had me wondering: "Is it about the last mistress he'll ever have? or maybe, Is she the most recent in a series of mistresses?"

But, back to the film itself. Set in Paris of the 1830's, Catherine Breillat's adaptation did not move me. It felt like an outline, of a book I have not read. The acting was not bad, and it was not brilliant, it was...dreamy? If there was a musical score, I missed it. The sex scenes were plausible and perhaps enlightening as to the characters' personalities, but I left feeling like I'd just watched an R-rated episode of Masterpiece. There wasn't enough suspense or explanation--I would very much liked to have seen more exploration of the 10 years Ryno de Marigny spent with Vellini. As films go at a festival, it wasn't bad.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Band's Visit

The middle-east peace process is lost on me, because I don't understand the history or its players. In the same vein, I don't really understand the American Oscars very well. Until last year, I was operating under the assumption that the foreign language category of the Academy Awards simply required films to originate from a foreign country.


But that's only one of the requirements, the others being:

  • Each country can submit only one film for consideration
  • Host country must demonstrate it had artisic control over the making of the film
  • English cannot be the predominant language spoken in the film
The Band's Visit was one of those films that didn't meet the requirements. Even though the movie is filmed in Israel, a substantial portion of its dialog is English. The English is not gratuitous however, it provides a communications bridge for the primarily Arabic and Hebrew speaking characters. As long as the English content is appropriate for its context (e.g. isn't injected for the sole purpose of avoiding subtitles), I'd like to see it allowed.

The film is worth seeing, but may not be for everyone. Its slow pace and subtle humor are often without dialog altogether--Much of the story is told through the characters' movements and facial expressions, which is refreshing. And there is a rather eclectic mix of supporting music.

Venue: Varsity Theatre (I think)
Mood: Awkward
Art/Entertainment: 51% / 49%
Country: Israel
Language: English, Arabic and Hebrew
Genre: Drama comedy
Rating: 3.5/5

The Band's Visit (official site)
When Good Foreign Films Miss the Oscars (NPR story)
Special Rules for the Best Foreign Language Film