International structure in terms of dramatic tension and the sense of the sublime and the supernatural was an inherent theme in many of the films of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this year.
Maracaibo The texture of lives lost through arrogance or perhaps even lack of compassion or foresight in this Argentinean drama. Here a doctor is unable to process the death of his son but the personality trait that divided them. His life becomes undone because the notion of masculinity and understanding has changed in modern society yet old school values or perceptions especially in old world countries remain. While inherently melodramatic, the eventual resolution shows that there was no divide per se just misunderstanding. The role of the mother/wife definitely takes on an inherent device since her desires versus her idea of how her husband can and should react take on particular resonance in one kitchen scenes. An inherent psychological portrait without too many reveals or revelations yet serviceable.
Scary Mother This film out of Georgia in the Russian arena is an interesting perception of societal norms and intents against a seemingly Cold War backdrop even though it is modern time. A mother is in some circles an underground sensation with her obscene but profound writing. But her process by which to intercede her life and then makes it a build of darkness for her creativity is an interesting one. She is willing ti sacrifice her family to find that balance. Her use of her relationship with her father in terms of both his expectation and dominance is interesting since he almost paints the portrait of why the writing speaks to inherent ego, especially when he believes it is a man writing the prose. Her family provides an interesting funnel of maturity especially the daughter who looks at life in a tecture more practical than her mother while the reflexity of smart phones and how apps can make you look older seems to shun the mother almost as if she were reflecting as Medusa to her reflection. She speaks of mythological creatures and her writing space is bathed in red suggesting an almost purgatory. There are some interesting ideas in this tome, many of which don’t come to fruition while others linger with the audience.
Grand Cur The essence of Burgundy, where a close friend still owns a old house in the middle of town, is steeped in old world traditions. This documentary follows a man of wine who came over from Montreal and because one of the most renown winemakers in the region. The documentary observes the politics that intercede but alsoexplores the climate problems in a very matter of fact way that shows how unseen hail and a freeze on the vineyards completely can change the perspective of what the land can produce. The science, again in an unassuming way, is explored to show why that land creates such wine but also how any change of it can cause problems because the land value is so high, even compared to California. Ultimately it is a tale of trying to find art purely through the dirt but the details like the fact that this transferred wine maker is not of the country and the essence of the supreme value of the soil and how it has been built or maintained throughout the millennia gives the narrative due resonance.
The Mist & The Maiden This crime thriller from Spain set on the canary islands is part of festival’s crime subsection this year. The way it intersects intellect and lust interplays some of the best constructs in the genre, both Hollywood & otherwise. There is an uncanny beauty to the women and an inherent masculinity to the men so it harks to almost a different time. The very essence of Veronica Echequi as Ruth oozes both sensuality, practicality and ultimately a sense of manipulation, compassion and opportunity. It is her presence that both grounds and elevates the film. The necessity of not explaining everything and indeed laying certain elements of blame on the system works but inherently the essence of greed and human nature plays in. One specific scene on the deck between two investigators laid bare shows a texture of play and strategy that brings to mind the more edgy moments of “Basic Instinct”. No one is spared yet the lesson of consequence looms tragically in the sense of cause and effect or more effectively silence and hiding in plain sight.
By Tim Wassberg
Continuing on with the films experienced at Santa Barbara International Film Festival, international structure continues with a sense of character’s notion of purpose and the ideal of conscience versus survival of both the psyche and the physical in the modern world.
Holy Camp! The two ends of this sardonic and, at times, farcical musical balances the ideas of a changing world. In a way many musicals don’t it reflects the push and pull of young people in modern society, pretty or not, but especially the pretty ones…that sense of expectation but following other people’s intentions. This is true of all the characters but especially the two young women, troublemakers in their minds and others, as they are stuck at a religious camp over the summer. Now while the construct in flimsy, certain elements plain through. Now God singing Whitney Houston to this young girl who doesn’t understand English is an interesting paradox. Now while some people have certain connections to the songs, one that connects this writer is the song “I Have Nothing” which works here in the context of the story but I (as an extra) saw Whitney lip syncing it on the set of The Bodyguard at the Fountainbleu during an intimate theater scene more than 25 years ago. That day she was having some issues in terms of performing and Kevin Costner (one of the biggest movie stars at that time) talked to some of us and kept the mood up. In movie it is when Whitney is wearing what looks like blue tinsel in her hair. Since her death and obviously the underlying religious tones of some of her songs, it does have resonance. However in terms of this story, interestingly enough it is a nun who is questioning her commitment that connects the idea of God and the young girls through a coupling that bridges the scenes. The final redemption although campy as the title suggested is a hopeful one, albeit one a bit too cheery maybe for American audiences.
The Line [Ciara] Continuing the aspect of the crime sidebar, this entry from Slovakia/Ukraine angles more for the dark than the seductive. The idea of honor and “an eye for an eye” populates this idea of a mid level crime head who wants both the best for his family and maintaining the status quo without selling out in his mind. He runs tobacco over the border in what used to be the Communist Balkan States before the border was open. Everyone is seen as corrupt with various motivations informing their decisions whether it be a daughter getting pregnant with a boy that the father doesn’t approve of or a son being incarcerated for what would be considered a minimal offense. The story has working class “Godfather” underpinings but also with a matriarchal twist. Ultimately the triggered idea has to do more with the balance of loyalty, trust and fair play winning out over backhanded dealings which is ultimately true to life because one cannot maintain an empire unless there is a sense of order behind it in some way shape or form. The lead Adam as played by Tomas Mastalir has the right essence of darkness and compassion that both scars and redeems his leader despite setbacks with either comdemning or condoning his actions.
The White Orchid Having met both writer/director Steve Anderson and actress Olivia Thirlby at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo, Florida when they were about to shoot this gives a better understanding of what an accomplishment this is. Bogart, as an artist, always keyed into these types of noirs and his son Stephen, whose mother was Lauren Bacall, understood this element as well. The movie is made underneath the element of Santana Films (Bogie’s company) along with Anderson. From what I remember, the texture is that it was in the style of Bogie’s films but not necessarily off a previous script. But if it was, the translation and structural set up works well. Thirlby’s transformation in the film is quite riveting but keeps with the old school ideas while understanding the new school liberalism of today’s movies. The film feels like an old film yet still very modern. It is very sexy but also without revealing too much of the characters but just enough. The backdrop of San Luis Obispo is an unusual one but harks to films like “Basic Instinct” but without the necessity of too much gore or nudity. The inherent psyche of Thirlby’s character moves back and forth in rhythm though at times her actual motivations are a bit muddled which is likely a conscious motion of the plot, especially when the reveal begins. The White Orchid remains a mystery while her impact continues. Much like Bogie’s legacy.
By Tim Wassberg