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Report From the 16th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival

24 April 2007

I can’t decide what’s the better approach for a film festival to take: to carefully select a small quantity of films, or grab as many films as they can get, and let audiences sort through the rubble for gems. The 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival’s approach strikes me as somewhere between the two. They certainly showed a lot of films this year, so building the right schedule, around the responsibilities of daily life, did sometimes seem a struggle. They definitely have curators with specific viewpoints on cinema, on what’s most noteworthy to show, but that is most evident in specialized categories, like with the “Danger After Dark” series of horror, action, etc. films.

In any case, this year the films included many that I was interested in seeing, but those daily-life considerations made me end up seeing just 8 films. For this summary I’ll focus on the ones I found interesting, but first quickly cast aside the three that impressed me least: the usually suspense-generating French director CLAUDE CHABROL’s rather dull Comedy of Power; the fairly entertaining but still fairly generic Japanese crowd-pleaser Hula Girls; and the very low-budget, but mostly ordinary and clichéd, romantic comedy The Little Things.

The better ones were as follows (alphabetically):

Crazy Love: Straightforward but fascinating documentary telling an atypical (I hope) love story, with many ups and downs, about an obsessed man and the woman he loves, attacks, and still loves.

Day Night Day Night: The most surprising, and certainly most innovative, film I saw at the festival was this first fiction film from director JULIA LOKTEV, which addresses the acts of terrorists in a visceral way, and leaves so many intriguing questions behind. As we watch a potential suicide bomber go through preparations, we hear and see everything in a closer, louder, more powerful way than in most films (due in no small part to the lack of score and the real-sounds-amplified sound-design). By the time our protagonist arrives in NYC, we’re right there with her, experiencing her feelings even if we’re not quite sure of her intentions.

Fay Grim: A fake political-intrigue thriller, much in the same way that his last film A Girl From Monday was fake sci-fi; HAL HARTLEY takes his Henry Fool characters and runs them through a playful satiric take on our post-9/11 world, with Henry Fool himself serving as a Zelig-type cipher through which our war-on-terror times can be viewed.

Once: A charming Dublin-set slice-of-life story about struggling street musicians, starring GLEN HANSARD (of THE FRAMES), and his songs. It’s a romanticized version of life as a struggling musician, but it doesn’t ignore the pain beneath the surface, either. Most of all its theme is how music communicates when words don’t, or even can’t.

The Woman on the Beach: Introduced at the festival as HONG SANG-SOO’s most accessible film, this film actually struck me as the opposite, as his most mysterious one. But deceptively mysterious, as we’re seeing the romantic endeavors of a jaded filmmaker play out straightforwardly, and in often quite comic ones. But there’s so many weird things going on – from the dog that gets abandoned to the basic premise of the director trading one lover for who he takes to be her look-alike – and what does it all add up to? I’m still deciding.

 

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