Sunday, 6 February 2011


Becoming Chaz, dir. Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

   (Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Jennifer Elia, Chaz Bono at the premiere screening at the Prospector Theatre)

Becoming Chaz is a perfect example of how a film festival's high reputation can overhype rather mediocre filmmaking and even less impressive story telling. The premise of the film is quite obvious to whomever knows anything about Cher and her daughter Chastity who few months ago began her testosterone therapy in order to change sex. The film was very warmly welcomed at Sundance; the LGBT issues are always given a special spot in the festival line up and attract hordes of people who see these films as the main pillar of independent filmmaking. Oprah Winfrey helped to produce the film and Rosie O'Donnell came down to Sundance to make a brief introduction. But it was the one person that was absent at the premiere who was the real talk of the after movie discussions - Cher. The directors try to present a reliable and heart warming image of Chaz Bono, but very soon after the movie starts we realise that it is Chaz who really conducts the story development and the way his persona is portrayed on the screen. He selects the aspects of his life to which he allows the audience to enter. It seems that the directors who don't want to appear ungrateful to Chaz for letting them to be involved in the documentary don't exhibit any desire to seek the truth beyond the surface of Chaz's life. Chaz's relationship with his mother is the most interesting part of the film and unfortunately the most unsatisfactory. Cher's resentment to her daughter changing sex is unresolved and the only hint of what is going on between her and Chaz is presented after the credits end. Cher briefly meets Chaz after the premiere of her latest film Burlesque and tries to avoid the uncomfortable confrontation. But then, the film is not supposed to be about Chaz and Cher, it is meant to tell the story of Chastity becoming Chaz. However, as Chaz is left in charge of his own portrait he is unable to assess his doings in an investigatory fashion and so the final product ends up being superficial and disappointing.


The Green Wave, dir. Ali Samadi Ahadi

The Green Wave is just a taste of what documentary filmmaking might become in the era of social networking. The film is a collage of real life footage and animation, based entirely on blog posts that were written by a number of anonymous Iranians who experienced the aftermath of the election chaos in Tehran. Aesthetically there are certain parallels that can be drawn between The Green Wave and another political animation film, Waltz with Bashir. But unlike Wlatz With Bashir, The Green Wave uses its animation segments not to make intellectual statements on the terrors of war, but to fill in holes between the personal stories of showcased bloggers and the footage that the director of the film managed to access over the internet. The narrative is powered by the blog updates in a very un-cinematic way and so the images are merely the illustrations of the terror the Iranians had to embrace.

The collection of different personal takes on the political situation in Iran although not quite imaginative in its use of cinematic language, is definitely needed and was certainly appreciated by the audiences at Sundance. The bravery of the people who agreed to show their faces on the screen and make clear statements against the Ahmadinejad's regime are admirable; Ali Samadi Ahadi uses the means of social networking as a crucial tool in obtaining information about the abuse caused to the Iranian people during the unfair election of 2009 and does it very poignantly and with heart. He proves that even such atrocious regime as the one conducted by Ahmadinejad cannot withhold the truth completely in the era of facebook and Google. Most importantly though, Ahadi shows that as the means of communication change rapidly so does the language of cinema and so the political filmmaking must remember to reach for new sources of information and look for new forms of expression.   


Another Earth, dir. Mike Cahill

(Mike Cahill, William Mapother and Brit Marling after a screening at the Eccles Theatre)

Another Earth is a combination of irritating predictability of storytelling and imaginative genre hybridisation which makes big promises but fails to fully deliver. The director, Mike Cahill, uses a car crash as a central plot device and right after start falls into a major cliché which was so tirelessly exploited in the past by directors like Alfonso Gonzales Innaritu who based 2 of his films on a very similar idea. The young girl, who causes a car accident and kills the main character's family, seeks redemption and forgiveness and slowly falls in love with the man. But who can blame her? Both characters have their demons but are so likeable we all feel that they deserve to achieve what they set out for. The man should get his family back and the girl should be finally forgiven - which all fulfils in the end. What saves the drama from being a complete overkill is the science-fiction plot line that runs parallel to dramatic struggle of the couple of protagonists. At the moment of the accident scientists make a discovery of another Earth that appears in the distance. 

The discovery echoes hope that the other world might still have the lives of the loved ones that the main character lost in the beginning of the film. The scene when a governor communicates with the exact same copy of herself living on the other planet is one of the most intriguing of the entire film. It elevates a somewhat lame story to a whole new level of possible outcomes, asking questions about the meaning of life and escaping ones destiny. Sadly, the director articulates these philosophical matters very softly and fills his story with unnecessary love tale and ends with a cliff-hanger which makes us go 'What the hell?' rather than 'Wow!’

Still, as Another Earth is Cahill's first feature film, he should be given a bit of credit for making a wholesome, solid plot. Hopefully in his feature he will take risks more courageously as there is a lot of potential in the way he ties indie film with the school of existentialism.   


Take Shelter, dir. Jeff Nichols

(Jeff Nichols with his cast and crew at the Eccles)


Take Shelter could be easily renamed to something like Anxieties of living in the 21st Century Western Country. It showcases a rich pallet of phobias, from fear of financial instability, job loss, to anxiety about upcoming environmental apocalypse. Curtis (flawlessly played by Michael Shannon) begins having dreams and visions of bad things happening to him and his family and so he decides to build a huge shelter in his backyard where they can all seek refuge in case any of his dreams were to come true. But following his instincts comes at a price – he loses his job, takes out unstable loan from a bank and destroys his deaf daughter’s only chance to undergo a surgery to restore her hearing. The dreams drive Curtis into insanity as he mirrors his behaviour with what once happened to his mother, a victim of schizophrenia.

The moment Curtis admits to himself and to others that he might be going insane, the apocalypse does arrive and so everyone else is forced to agree that something bad was on its way all along. Take Shelter is a very contemporary drama, which would not have been made, let’s say, ten years ago. The problems the film presents are mostly influenced by the recession, political divide in nowadays America and environmental problems caused by global warming. The director Jeff Nichols finds a perfect balance between building up the multitude of his main character’s anxieties and presenting Curtis’s struggle in a believable way. He escapes preaching about the presented issues and makes the sole existence of the problems uncertain up until the very last moment. What is most admirable though is that Nichols avoids religious aspects of his apocalypse and keeps it very close to life, making forces of nature the most vengeful and destructive.

Take Shelter was a rare jewel among the films presented at Sundance. It was beautifully executed (besides the outstanding performances from the cast, music and pictures are also note-worthy) and felt fresh and exciting. 



Gun Hill Road, dir. Rashaad Ernesto Green:  C-
Martha Marcy May Marlene, dir. Sean Durkin: D+
Conected: An Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology, dir. Tiffany Shlain: C
We Were Here, dir. David Weissman: C
All Your Dead Ones, dir. Carlos Moreno: B
Lost Kisses, dir. Roberta Torre: E-
Tyrannosaur, dir. Paddy Considine: C+
Vampire, dir. Iwai Shunji: D
Salvation Boulevard, dir. George Ratliff: D-
In a Better World, dir. Susanne Bier: C+
Incendies, dir. Denis Villeneuve: A-
The Catechism Cataclysm, dir. Todd Rohal: C-
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, dir. Madeleine Olnek: B
The Woman, dir. Lucky McKee: F
Circumstance, dir. Maryam Keshavarz: B+

No comments:

Post a Comment