What We’re Watching – SIFF 2012 Edition
The Mexican Suitcase: In the late 1930s, photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David “Chim” Seymour traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Three boxes—known as the “Mexican Suitcase”—of their work went missing, only to resurface seventy years later in Mexico. The Mexican Suitcase, directed by Trisha Ziff, tells the story of the missing photographs, and explains the importance of the images to the history of war photography, the country of Spain, and the lives of the three photographers.
On its most basic level, this film delves into the lives and work of the three photographers, acknowledging that scholars often attribute the work of Taro and Chim to the more famous Capa. The content of the boxes is fairly equally divided between the three artists, and the differences between their styles and content are addressed. They were among the earliest of the modern war photographers who traveled to the site of the battle and took pictures during the fighting, and their work shows the ramifications of war on both soldiers and civilians. Even more interesting is how the recovery of the photos affected the Spanish people. The Spanish civil war was a traumatic period where the Republican forces fought against Franco’s fascist army and lost. This period was so painful that many older Spaniards never discussed their experiences with their children or grandchildren, and a whole generation grew up with a giant gap in their familial history. The discovery of the Mexican Suitcase has encouraged those young people to seek out the missing years in their country’s past, and this film documents the hope and pain with which they do so.
Final Grade: A- (The Mexican Suitcase screens at AMC Pacific Place on June 3rd.)
Earthbound: Joe Norman (Rafe Spall) is your average guy—albeit a bit awkward and shy—and is waiting, like many people, for something important to happen in his life. He’s actually expecting that important thing to happen soon, because he is the lost hope of Zalaxon, a planet many light years away. The people of Zalaxon have been fighting a war against the tyrant Xalador, and when they are finally victorious, they will signal Joe that it is safe for him to go back home. He has been preparing for this for most of his life, but his plans get complicated when he falls in love with Maria (Jenn Murray). He feels obligated to tell her the truth about his origins, which—unsurprisingly—she does not believe. Maria tries to help Joe see that his fantasies are coping mechanisms that he developed in order to deal with his father’s death and the idea of being alone in the world. Joe attempts to convince her of the reality of his situation, but when things don’t work as planned, he begins to have doubts himself.
If you like your science fiction and romance very light, than you will enjoy Earthbound. It’s got a fun plot, but the execution was a little too flimsy for my taste. The romance, while being central to the film, is nothing special, and the effects were not done well enough to help me suspend disbelief. That being said, a lot of people seemed to have fun at the screening I went to. It’s a sweet and amiable picture that would have benefited from a little bigger budget and a smarter script, but it’s not awful, and would be appropriate to take a younger family member to.
Final Grade: C+ (Earthboud screens June 2nd and 7th at AMC Pacific Place and June 3rd at SIFF Cinema Uptown.)
The British Guide to Showing Off: Since 1972, artist Andrew Logan has put on the Alternative Miss World pageant. (It doesn’t happen every year. From what I can tell, he puts on a new one when he pays off the debt for the last one.) It’s kind of hard to describe Alternative Miss World, except to say that this may be the most awesome thing I have ever seen in my life. There are three areas of competition: day, evening, and swimwear. But the outfits are not your usual beauty pageant fare, nor are the contestants. Anyone—regardless of age, gender, and species—is allowed to enter (although Logan and his crew narrow the list down to around 15 – 20 contestants) and the costumes must be extraordinary to even be considered. (And by “extraordinary,” I mean “batshit crazy.”) This event is a celebration of creativity, gender bending, and the extremes of good and bad taste. Logan’s friends and family fill the ranks of contestants and judges, but such luminaries as Derek Jarman, Divine, Richard O’Brien and Ruby Wax have participated in this most incredible of spectacles.
Directed by Jes Benstock, The British Guide to Showing Off does a very good job of showing the raw energy of this event, without making Andrew Logan look like a nutbag. He follows his own path in life, and one purpose of Alternative Miss World is to encourage others to do the same. If I have any quibble with this film, it’s that I question the effectiveness of some of the stylistic devices used. Bentstock uses a scrapbook format to give us Logan’s history and frames certain sections of the film. (I mean that literally. It’s like when you use a Hello Kitty photo booth and they put a silly frame around your picture.) Because of the flamboyant nature of Logan and this event, I feel that a more traditional format would have been less distracting. But the subject matter is handled really well, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Final Grade: B+ (The British Guide to Showing Off screens May 31st at the Egyptian, June 3rd at SIFF Cinema Uptown, and June 8th at the Kirkland Performance Center.)
Rent-A-Cat: Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa) is an unusual young woman with a strange job. Cats have always been attracted to her, and, if they are otherwise unoccupied, follow her home. She is viewed by many in her town as a variant of the crazy cat lady, which is fairly justified because she lives alone with a crapload of cats. Every day, she fills her cart with a few of her pets and walks the streets, trying to rent them out to lonely people. This film is not a straightforward narrative, but is comprised of four vignettes: she meets an older woman who is afraid to buy a new cat in case she dies, a man who is separated from his family because of work, a lonely rent-a-car counter woman, and an old schoolmate who used to tease her. Each section is self-contained, and yet related to the rest of the movie through similarity of structure and themes.
Rent-A-Cat, directed by Naoko Ogigami, is a gentle meditation on loneliness and the healing powers of cat ownership. I am not a cat person; I laugh when my daughter tells me her cats are my grandkitties, and I do not get why my husband buys them Christmas presents. (Really, Darin?) But, I was charmed by the quiet humor and sweetness of this film. Sayoko marches to her own drummer, and it is a pleasure just to meander along with the film and watch her go about her business. Nothing important is resolved, but it is a relaxing and contemplative journey that I enjoyed very much.
Final Grade: B+ (Rent-a-Cat screens May 30th at the Harvard Exit, June 2nd at the Kirkland Performance Center, and June 4th at the Egyptian Theatre.)
Golden Slumbers: The first film in Cambodia was shot around 1960, and before the end of 1975, another 400 pictures had been made. The same small group of actors, directors, and producers were responsible for these movies, mixing and matching their talents as the situation required. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, and all films were banned; the filmmakers were deemed “enemies of the people” and, for the most part, were killed or driven out of the country. Golden Slumbers, directed by Davy Chou, tells this story about the rise and fall of the Cambodian film industry. Unfortunately, few, if any, of the movies survive, and those that did not are represented here with songs and posters, their plots retold by directors and fans.
This film works best when it allows the filmmakers to tell their stories. A handful of directors, including Li Bun Yim and Yvon Hem, and actress Dy Saveth are interviewed, and their tales are riveting. The pain with which they discuss the past is palpable, as is their sorrow at the loss of their work. This is an important film that documents a period in history for which there are few physical artifacts. Unfortunately, a full one-third of this movie is dead boring. There are a lot of long interstitial moments where nothing happens and the camera just pans slowly across the scenery. This kind of works when they are playing a song from one of the lost movies, but it is unbearable when nothing else is going on. (I actually had to get up and eat some chocolate to keep me going through the whole thing.) It’s shame, because this is a story that should be told; I just wish it had conveyed more information and spent less time being artsy.
Final Grade: C+ (Golden Slumbers screens May 30th and 31st at Siff Cinema Uptown.)