CIFF: Two-Day Recap

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Tuesday morning and I’m taking the day off to give my eyes the opportunity to readjust to daylight. Although the festival began slowly, for me, it certainly picked up in the last few days. Started Sunday with Bonus Round of short films. And my favorites are A Knock on My Door, Choreography for Plastic Army Men, and Les Vies Dansent (very loosely translated as “All It Takes Is a Second”).

“Knock On My Door” is an animated tale of a father/son relationship with an unexpected and hilarious ending. I hadn’t expected to like “Plastic Army Men,” but was charmed by its creativity and the accompanying soundtrack by Pink Martini. But “Les Vies Dansent,” a French love story, captured my heart completely.

The Painting is a beautifully animated film about intolerance, forbidden love, and the importance of completing a project once started—in this instance, a painting. Three castes of figures exist in an unfinished painting. Ramo (an Alldun), Lola (a Halfie), and a Sketchie escape the canvas in search of The Painter to complete the “tableau” and end the harassment by the Alldunns. The film, though gorgeously animated, falls a bit flat in the end. I still gave it an A-.

Renoir, perhaps the most beautifully filmed festival entry (so far, this year), takes time to unfold the story. Auguste Renoir is crippled by arthritis, mourning the death of his wife, worrying about his two elder sons fighting and wounded at Vosges, and ignoring his youngest son at home. Into this landscape comes Andrée, the fiery redhead who becomes the painter’s model. She invigorates the old master, upsets the all-female household, and falls in love with Jean who has returned home to convalesce before re-enlisting. The film is a moving portrait of Renoir near the end of his life and an inspiration to revisit Jean Renoir’s “La Grande Illusion.” A solid A for “Renoir.”

In La Demora Maria is raising three children, caring for her ailing father, and earning what she can as a garment worker. Stretched to the limit and rejected by social services for her father’s placement in an eldercare facility, she abandons him in a public park, hoping he will be found and taken to a shelter. Overcome with guilt hours later, Maria goes out into the dark, freezing night to search for him. Well done, but with a warning: Don’t grow old and sick without a lot of money! A- for “La Demora” (The Delay).

I went to see Lost Town hoping to learn more about the small town in the Ukraine where my father lived as a boy. But Trochenbrod, the town in this film, was actually a planned community for Jews who agreed to farm the land. This town, like my father’s village of Tolna, was ultimately destroyed by the Nazis, but that’s where the similarity ends. From my father’s stories, Tolna was more like the fictional Anatevka in Sholem Aleichem’s stories. “Lost Town” is a Holocaust movie with its harrowing stories of escape and survival, but somewhat repetitious in its presentation. B for this one.

We ended the day with The Guardian, a film from Georgia (the one in the Caucasus region of Eurasia). From the opening scene of a triple killing, the film takes an unexpected turn. Released after 16 years in prison, Gogliko comes home to Tbilisi to find his parents and most of his friends dead and a new regime in power. Unable to navigate the new terrain, he focuses his attention on Luka, his godchild and the son of his deceased best friend, Gio. Trying to ease Luka’s way through life and love, Gogliko comes face to face with his former enemy. An A- for “The Guardian.”

Filling some time between feature films, I watched three shorts from Program 4. Two are worth mentioning: The Little Team and Cold Warrior.

“Little Team” features a group of 6-7 year old boys and girls (judging from their missing baby teeth and the new ones growing in) playing their first season of soccer (football in Spain). Though they scored only a single goal during the season—against 271 scored by the rival teams—they had a ton of fun, and according to their fathers learned the game along the way.

“Cold Warrior” tells the grim story about the abusive methods—specifically abortion doping—that were used on some Eastern European female gymnasts to enhance their performance in competition. An eye-opener!

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