In the last three days, I visited Colombia, Chad, China, Germany, Israel, Italy, San Francisco, Cleveland, and an unidentified small town in the American heartland. And what a trip it’s been!
From my vantage point—in or near the reserved section, center left—I’m here to report on The Piano in a Factory, We Were Here, A Screaming Man, Vincent Wants to Sea, and The Human Resources Manager.
Set in northeast China in the early 1990s, this quirky film tells the story of laid-off workers who come together to build a piano for Chen’s young daughter. Chen fears he will lose the girl to his soon-to-be ex-wife unless he can provide the child with a piano. Building a piano is a complex undertaking, building one without enough usable wood seems impossible. But most of these men are former steelworkers . . . (For a worthwhile companion film, see Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037, available through Netflix).
I found Piano in a Factory to be a little bit Bollywood, with exuberant Russian folk music. Though a few scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor, I still found the film enormously entertaining.
And now for something completely different—an exceptional documentary chronicling the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Described as a war zone, but without bombs or grenades, the city was definitely under siege during the 1970s and ‘80s. The film is told from the perspective of five people who were on the “front lines’—nurse, counselor, activist, florist, and artist. Their intensely personal stories connect the film’s larger theme of a community coming together to defend and comfort the stricken.
An ironic title, considering that the man in question says very little—all the screaming is within. The film is set in Chad, sometime after independence (1958), during the three decades of continual warfare that left Chad one of the poorest countries in the world. Adam, a middle-aged former swimming champion has been working as a pool attendant for the 30 years—the pool is his life. A victim of downsizing, Adam is humiliated, especially after his 20-year-old son, Abdel, is given his job.
Jealous of his son and unable to donate money to the anti-rebel cause, Adam watches as his son is forcibly “drafted” by army troops. Immediately remorseful, he begins to question his faith in God, and decides to rescue Abdel from the army barracks.
One of the best things about this film—unhurried in its telling—is the slow pace with which the tale unfolds. As a close-up shot gradually becomes an extreme close-up, the viewer can to live in the moment with the character.
A lovely little ode to love, beautifully filmed in the streets of Rome. According to legend a westerly breeze, called the ponentino, gives courage to timid lovers. In this case, the lovers are all looking in the wrong places and missing all the obvious opportunities.
The focal point is a failing vintage shop, where most of the characters are employed. Francesca (Franki) is in pursuit of Jude Law; Matteo is still in love with Giovanna, who left him for Gertrud; and Camilla is in love with Matteo. The film is a delicious diversion, the ending came as a surprise me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
Described in the film guide as a “charming comedy,” this German film has a lot more going for it. Vincent is 27 and suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. His mother has just died and his politician father (remarried) drops him off at a residential clinic. Cut to the chase—Vincent; his OCD roommate, Alex; and the anorexic Marie steal Dr. Rose’s car for a journey to the sea, where Vincent intends to scatter his mother’s ashes.
Soon, however, Vincent’s father and Dr. Rose are in hot pursuit. The acting is good, especially so is the actor who plays Vincent. All the characters grow and change, mostly for the better, and the cinematography is gorgeous!
An Eastern European immigrant working in the largest bakery in Jerusalem is killed in a suicide bombing, yet she is still on the bakery’s payroll. The HR manager is told to investigate, and soon finds himself taking an unwanted journey to take her coffin home. The trip becomes exceedingly complicated when he learns that the woman is divorced and her teenage son is too young to sign for her burial. The trip is extended as they strap the coffin onto the consular representative’s rickety van for the 1,000 km. trip, through a blizzard, to the woman’s hometown.
Guilty for time unspent with his own family, the HR manager begins to understand that this journey is more than an inconvenience, it becomes his redemption.
If you’ve missed any of these films, check the CIFF website for updates (http://www.clevelandfilm.org/). Additional screenings are sometimes arranged for popular films. Also, look for them at the Cinematheque and the Cedar Lee, where they may turn up. Happy Viewing!