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SIFF: Take 2

Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic


Image We are just over a week into the 34th Seattle International Film Festival and there have already been some really good films on display. The best thing about a film festival is that you get to discover some real gems that haven’t been seen by many others just yet. That being said, I have as usual bitten off more than I can chew; it’s a tough balance trying to decide how many films to see in any given day when there’s writing to be done as well. I’m going to start churning these reviews out as often as possible, so without further adieu here’s the second batch of films from this fantastic festival! 

Captain Ahab          Recommended

(France/Sweden, 2007)

Director: Philippe Ramos                                                

 

Philippe Ramos’ Captain Ahab is one of the more original films you are likely to see this year. Ramos has very loosely based his film on the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, with the emphasis on the word “loosely.” He has envisioned Ahab’s life growing up as a child through five chapters, each one being told from the point of view of the person who is the closest to him at the time. It’s not until we get to the fourth chapter that Ahab is an adult, and even then his screenplay skips Ahab’s entire time as the bold, daring whaler. The first chapter is told by his salty, sometimes abusive father, the second chapter by the aunt who looks after him for a brief period, the third chapter by Mulligan, the man who takes him in after he runs away, the fourth chapter by Anna, the woman who cares for him after the injury that claims his leg, and finally the fifth chapter by his first mate Starbuck who would have to endure his obsessive quest to find Moby Dick.

Ramos’ style is highly artistic, there are even several scenes that are shot as though we are looking through a “port hole” and while at first this may seem pretentious it actually becomes more poignant as the film moves along. Ahab as a boy (played by Virgile Leclaire) is a tough kid who moves around a lot, never able to find his place in life. The adult Ahab is played by veteran French actor Denis Lavant and he’s a perfect choice with his haggard and austere appearance, we can believe this man has spent his life in the ocean. Never having been able to settle down, Ahab seemed destined to travel the seas in search of an elusive demon, and Ramos with his beautifully shot and even poetic film has given us a unique vision of an often told story. It’s at sea that Ahab may have finally found his peace.

 

Lakshmi and Me       Recommended

(India/Denmark/Finland/USA, 2007)

Director: Nishtha Jain

 

This is a fascinating documentary about a filmmaker who decides to film her housemaid as she does her chores. Lakshmi is the housemaid and Nishtha Jain is the filmmaker. Jain tells us at the beginning of the film that her mother was a domestic worker but she wanted to be independent and as soon as she was she hired her own maid. After years of not getting personal with Lakshmi she wanted to “cross the line” and get closer. We watch as Lakshmi does her job, in fact she has six homes that she cleans while barely making a living. Soon enough Lakshmi gets tired of having a camera in her face as she does her mundane chores so Jain decides to follow her home and shoot her there. Over the course of over a year we see Lakshmi contract tuberculosis, get pregnant, and separate from her family who does not approve of her husband.

As Jain continues to film her housemaid she can’t help but get closer to her. When Lakshmi gets sick before giving birth it’s Jain who helps her find a hospital, and once she gives birth she begins helping her with her baby girl. With Lakshmi and Me Jain doesn’t try to make any grand statements, what she does is question the role of employer and employee and in this case depicts how the role of being a woman in India has changed yet also stayed the same through time. It’s also fascinating how her filming Lakshmi automatically helps break down any barriers that might have been between them. What we get is not only an examination of the relationship between filmmaker and subject but also a look at how the “caste” system is broken down and rendered obsolete once that relationship is allowed to flourish.

 

 

Breakfast with Scot         Recommended

(Canada, 2007)

Director: Laurie Lynd

 

Having never read the novel that Breakfast with Scot is based on I can’t say if it delves deeper into the issues of homophobia in sports than the film does, but it’s fairly certain that it wasn’t written as a sitcom. The film version plays very much like a weekly sit-com; in fact it wouldn’t be surprising if it was turned into one soon, at least in Canada, where the film takes place. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially if it allows it to be seen by a larger audience than would otherwise be the case.

Tom Cavanagh plays Sam, a former hockey star for the Toronto Maple Leafs and current commentator on a sports network. His boyfriend Ed (Ben Shenkman) is a lawyer for his former team and the two have been together since Sam’s retirement. Being a former athlete Sam isn’t out to most people and Ed resents that fact while also understanding it. Ed’s nephew Scot (Noah Bernett) comes to live with them for a short period while Ed’s immature brother tries to deal with the fact that he has to take responsibility for Scot whose mother died from an accidental overdose. Scot is an 11 year old who loves to sing Broadway tunes and dress up in extremely flamboyant clothes. This makes Sam very uncomfortable as he not only fears for the boy’s well-being but is also afraid it may out him as well.

Breakfast with Scot while being fairly predictable is also daring in its examination of sexual identity and the roles we play in society. Making young Scot the effeminate one while Sam is butch and closeted is more than just a humorous role reversal it also allows Sam to comes to terms with his inner child or self, if you will, and Cavanagh is surprisingly good here. Shenkman as usual is solid as the less closeted Ed, who wishes he could hold Sam’s hand when they walk down the street. Noah Bernett is a real find, making Scot both eccentric and accessible. While Sam has never liked kids it’s no surprise that he’ll warm up to Scot especially when the boy wants to learn hockey, it’s also no surprise that Sam will eventually come out of the closet, yet when it happens and Sam tells Scot how he’d love to watch the boy grow up, it’s moving because it feels genuine.

Those expecting a deep, non-commercial look at the issues that Breakfast with Scot deals with will probably be disappointed but if you like really good sit-coms that take chances and aren’t afraid to shine a light on some controversial matters then Breakfast with Scot will hit the spot.

 

Mother of Tears      Not Recommended

(Italy/USA, 2007)

Director: Dario Argento

It seems as though Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears is actually the third installment in a trilogy. While this may be news to most it probably won’t be to “B” horror movie fans or fans of Argento. There is indeed some sort of plot here but it’s not important because it’s secondary to what Argento is really interested in- gore and over acting. There are plenty of both in Mother of Tears and there’s even his daughter, Asia Argento as the star. The superfluous plot involves good witches, bad witches, and some kind of spell which is making the people of Rome go insane. Argento enthusiasts will no doubt understand it perfectly. The rest of us will see a convoluted mess that contains some laugh out loud scenes of “horror” that are so cheesy that we know Argento just has to be winking behind the camera.

Argento as always does the best he can with a very limited budget. Shot entirely in Rome, Mother of Tears requires Asia Argento to run frantically around the city, trying desperately to avoid a group of crazed women who look like they just came from a bad fashion show. She also has some psychic abilities that have been passed down from her mother who killed one of the other two mothers that came before the mother of tears.

If you are an Argento fan there’s no doubt that the scenes of gorged eyes, human entrails, and gushing blood will excite you, for everyone else Mother of Tears will probably bore you to tears. One has to give Argento credit though as nothing is taboo in his world, even babies are thrown off bridges, and sacrificed. All of this must run in the family as poor Asia is put through the ringer, whether it’s having to deal with a psychotic monkey, or having to run through catacombs while mud is poured on her, she gives her all for dad. These Argento’s are a rare breed, thank goodness!

Author: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic

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