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May 16th, 2019 - Rounding up the Usual Suspects — LiveJournal
Steve's Livejournal

SIFF's capsule summary: "A young Strasbourg hustler is content to transgress many social norms--though he never stops seeking tenderness and affection--in this graphic and provocative, moody, and intimate character study." (France, 2018, 99 minutes)
SIFF link: Sauvage / Wild

A 22-year-old man, Léo (Félix Maritaud), works as a prostitute, does a lot of drugs, and has an on-and-off romance with Ahd (Éric Bernard), one of the other male prostitutes.

3 Poor Although this is a bad film, it has some good features. The score is very good, building tension that the on-screen events almost never actually deliver on. The music in the night club scenes is excellent. The acting is good to very good. The cinematography is good.

The place where the film falls flat is the story. Léo shows no character development, though his on-and-off romance partner shows a little. Léo is more pitiful than sympathetic. It's hard to judge whether the directing or editing are good, because the story leaves so little to work with.

The film has a lot of explicit male nudity, though no erect penises. There's a lot of sex between two (and sometimes three) men, fairly strongly simulated, and a single mildly depicted sex scene between a man and a woman. The sexual content isn't the problem; in fact, it's fairly appropriate for a film about a drug-abusing street prostitute. The problem is that the film just doesn't tell more than a wisp of a story, and the story isn't all that interesting.

Overall, I rate the film poor.

Revised opinion (written June 3, after two weeks of intermittent contemplation):
6 Almost Good I don't think I've ever adjusted my opinion of a film so much upon further consideration, up or down, as I have with this one. My re-evaluation was initially inspired by the opinion of "KR", a Fool Serious "Fool", who defended it briefly. "J" expanded on KR's defense of the film, and after thinking about it quite a bit, I was sold.

My main complaint, above, was that Léo showed no character development. Before I go on, I should point out that this may amount to spoilers, unless the viewer sees things that I saw as character stagnation as inevitable to the character.
[Spoiler warning! Click at your own risk.] But upon reading KR's defense and hearing J's defense, I recognize that his failure to develop was the central truth of the character. Léo had been so traumatized, both in the film's back-story and during some of the events of the film, that he believed the people who told him that he was worthless. He bought into that feeling of worthlessness so much that even when the Canadian showed care for him, he eventually reverted to his self-abandonment.

Another point, not a spoiler, is that the scene where Léo visits the woman health care worker, he breaks down in a way that reveals something not previously visible about him. That scene is quite powerful.

A weakness of the film is something that any film that deals with traumatic events has to deal with:
      How does a film-maker depict terrible trauma inflicted on a character without traumatizing the audience too?
Other films this festival that dealt with that challenge are The Nightingale (which went way past the line, in my opinion), Them That Follow (which was right on the edge), and Ms Purple (which handled the challenge very deftly). For much of the audience, I think this film crossed that line for much of the audience, particularly in a scene involving a sex toy. Failing to keep on the Ms Purple side of the line is one weakness of the film that I have not reconsidered.

Still, the things that I admired about the film are worth admiration. The acting is good to very good. The cinematography (by Jacques Girault) is good, often in difficult lighting situations. The score (by Romain Trouillet) builds tension well, and in this reconsideration I think that what I initially regarded as a failure to deliver on the tension may instead be meant to show that Léo was often in turmoil, even if his fears didn't pan out. The night club music is excellent.

One additional shortcoming that I saw – possibly a contributor to the audience distress issue – is that it seemed to have a bit too much of a bad thing. A few more scenes of apparent optimism might have improved the feeling that the film was at times repetitious in all the bad things that happened to Léo. I'm not sure whether to attribute that to the story, the directing (both by Camille Vidal-Naquet), or the editing (by Elif Uluengin).

Upon reconsideration of everything, I'm upgrading my rating to almost good. Discounting the matter of distress to the audience, I'd rate it good.

Languages: French, with English subtitles.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but it would almost certainly rate an "NC-17", for explicit male nudity, strong sexual content, drug abuse, language, and the general squeamishness of US ratings about any kind of LGBT content.

Screening: 2 pm, Pacific Place (room 4).
Audience: a typical SIFF press screening crowd, around 100, about 285 seats (estimated capacity).

Snacks: none.

Ads and announcements: no ads at press screenings; SIFF volunteer "J" provided announcements.

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While I have this index set as a sticky message, I'll hide the bulk of the message behind a cut.

Note that due to a quirk in <lj-cut>, some browsers may render a large block of white space before getting to the actual index.

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SIFF's capsule summary: "In local filmmaker Lynn Shelton's latest, two women (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) attempt to unload an inherited Civil War sword onto a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner (Marc Maron) and reluctantly enter a world of conspiracy theory and Southern disillusionment." (US, 2019, 89 minutes)
SIFF link: Sword of Trust

Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) visit Alabama, and learn that Cynthia has inherited a Civil War sword from her grandfather. They try to sell it to pawn shop owner Mel (Marc Maron), while Mel's slacker employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) observes. But there's something special about the sword, which leads them to artifact collector "Kingpin" (David Bakkedahl).

7 Good The story, by Lynn Shelton and Mike O’Brien, is a rather silly, but makes an excellent framework for comedy improvisation. A story revision based on a script note added a nice touch of respect for southerners. Shelton does a very good job of directing. The main cast all deliver excellent comedy and good dramatic performances; Shelton herself is very good in a small dramatic role. Maron provides very good music.

Overall, I rate the film good.

Languages: English.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but I'd guess it would rate a "R", for language.

Screening: 7 pm, McCaw Hall.
Audience: mostly full crowd, 2963 seats (advertised capacity).

Snacks: limited party food.

Party: The post-film party was in the Fisher Pavillion. As is often the case, the music was too loud indoors. And unfortunately, there was a misty rain outside, so there wasn't a lot of space to hide from the loudness outdoors. We did find refuge from the mist under the eaves, with various friends we already know, but there wasn't as much opportunity for mingling with new people.

Ads and announcements:

  • Numerous presentations that I missed due to traffic.
  • Mayor Durkan — Seattle's mayor appeared to join the opening presentation.
  • a local producer — A man who produced several local films received a special SIFF award.
  • Beth Barrett — SIFF artistic director.
  • Lynn Shelton and Mark Maron — The director and top-billed star of the film introduce it briefly.
  • cinematographer, art director, Mark Maron, Lynn Shelton, and Beth Barrett — Four people involved in the film talk with SIFF's artistic director after the film.

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Today was a busy day. "J" and I started with the 10 am press screening of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, which is the best documentary I've seen in several years. It's about a woman who was the first person to scientifically study wild animals in the wild (with the exception of someone who had studied red deer in Europe), and she was a woman in her 20s, on her own in Africa. Because she's so little known outside the giraffe science community (where she's a celebrity), the story is unknown, which offers plenty of drama. The film-makers did everything right. Outstanding!

The noon press screening was Brittany Runs a Marathon, a very funny light comedy with a hint of social commentary (mainly about body image). Very good.

The 2 pm press screening was Sauvage / Wild, which is probably this year's SIFF walk-out champion. My initial reaction was strongly negative, but upon further consideration I've upgraded my opinion to rate it good, but difficult to watch for a lot of people.

Logistics became complicated, because "T" needed a ride home between the press screenings and the evening events. I gave him a ride from school to home, where he had a visitor, his good friend "T".

The evening film was the SIFF opener, Sword of Trust. Because of traffic, I missed most of the ceremonies that preceded the film, but I caught the entire film. It was good, local, and accessible to a broad audience, which made it a suitable choice for an opener that screens at a venue that seats nearly 3000 people. It's funny, and for a film set in Alabama, with Confederate Lost Cause believers as a theme, it's impressively sensitive to the existence of reasonable people in the South.

After the film, we went to the SIFF Opening Night party. It was too noisy inside the venue, and there was a light misty rain outside, so there wasn't much place to party. Fortunately, we managed to find a spot under the eaves of the building, and had a pleasant evening hanging out with friends.

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