Khargosh – 2

I think something didn’t make it across the cultural divide here. From my Western perspective, this movie socred low on cinematography, acting, characters, plot, credibility and score (there wasn’t any). So far as I could tell, this was merely a love story without any romance.

Bluebeard – 8

[MSPFF] A Renaissance jewel of a film from French director Catherine Breillat. Almost every shot could be a museum still, and every character had a charming face that, Clouet-like, filled the screen. The dialogue and pacing were perfect for the fairy tale portrayed and the postmodern addition of two young girls from the 1950s added humor, intrigue, tragedy and puzzlement. I am still trying to understand how their story related to that of their counterparts in the time of Bluebeard. To me (see Essay), this is much greater “video art” than anything by Matthew Barney or Doug Aitken.

Alamar – 6.5

[MSPFF] Perfectly lovely Mexican portrait of a grandfather-father-and-son living off and learning about the sea – a gentle sea over a coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico. The ruggedly handsome looks of the father and the way they caught fish and lobster made the movie fun to watch. The characters’ hermetic existence – “At night, I drink coffee and watch the stars” – made it seem more fiction than documentary; and the film’s renunciation of drama and plot surprised the audience but, once we caught on, gradually won us over.

Harlan – the Jew Suss – 3

[MSPIFF] A repetitive and poorly edited documentary about a movie director in Nazi Germany, the anti-Semitic film he made and the current views of his descendants. There was no coherent point and we didn’t even get a very good sense of the underlying film. Just the same talking heads over and over, with nothing surprising to say.

Summer Pasture – 5

[MSPIFF] I have yet to see a film about Tibetan (or Mongolian) nomads that wasn’t overwhelmingly beautiful, and this was no exception. Unfortunately, there was no story or drama, except for two minutes when the yaks went missing. When committing to film a summer in the life of a nomad family, the documentary filmmakers need some luck to have something interesting happen. This time there wasn’t any.

Women Without Men – 8

Far and away the most beautiful movie I have seen, or probably will see, this year, Shirin Neshat’s study of Iran in 1953 packed a social and political wallop as well. The liner notes and the director’s dialogue explained much that I would have missed, notably America’s role in overthrowing democracy in Iran 50 years before we purport to be demanding it there, and the analogy between the man’s role in the family and the dictator’s role in the country. Of the women without men, two existed in the real world, two in a world of magic realism, but their experiences were similar and taken together they encompassed a large swath of Iranian society, from the prostitute to the aristocrat, from traditional to cosmopolitan. This was a movie to think about, and talk about, after the screening, and Neshat’s images, especially the woman Musin on the rooftop, are indelible.

Red Riding 1974, 1980, 1983 – 6.8

Long on style, short on sense, these three made-for-TV crime dramas had a Twin Peaks flavor to them, with suspenseful music and an overriding sensation of never knowing exactly what was going on. Partly this was due to the Yorkshire accent, which begged for subtitling, but mostly it was due to the misdirection, which withheld key items of information and threw in red herrings instead. Who killed whom in the Karachi Club after Eddie Dunford took his revenge? Why? What happened to the shopping mall? What happened to the corrupt cops? To Helen Marshall? Why did she have a relationship with Rev. Laws? Why did Peter Hunter’s wife keep calling him? So many of the characters and situations seemed familiar from Prime Suspect and other shows of that ilk, most of which I preferred. It does seem that the scriptwriters in London have a pretty low opinion of what goes on out in the English boondocks. Red Riding (what does that mean?) did offer one novel twist: the three episodes had a common bad guy but a different hero, each of whom was suitably engaging.

The Runaways – 5

On my list of rock’n’roll biopics, this would come in at #27. Every well-worn element was present: dysfunctional family, rebellious teens, Svengali producer, drugs, clashing egos, band breakup, good (not great) soundtrack. On the other hand, I would be happy watching Kristen Stewart read the phonebook, so seeing her play hard-rocking Joan Jett was a treat. Dakota Fanning, not so much.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – 6

No criticisms, but the movie seemed rather ho-hum and superficial in comparison with the book. It kept me engaged, but mostly to see how the next plot development would be handled – what would be skipped, what elided.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – 7.5

Totally over-the-top performance by Nicolas Cage, one of my favorite ott actors, in film by Werner Herzog, my favorite ott director. Corrupt on the outside, with great police instincts on the inside, our lieutenant with the consuming drug addiction found new ways to be hysterical in every scene and somehow made me root for his amoral ride through life. The happy ending was a neat bit of legerdemain. An interesting film to compare with Crazy Heart.