by Rebecca M. Alvin
It’s film festival time, and as in years past, there are way too many great movies to choose from. The festival highlights certain selections by designating them the Opening Night and Closing Night selections. This year, those honors go to Rob Epstein’s and Jeffrey Friedman’s Lovelace, a dramatic feature about legendary porn star/victim Linda Lovelace, and the dark comedy Emanuel and the Truth About the Fishes, starring Alfred Molina and Jessica Biel, respectively. You can also guess which films the festival is particular amped up about by looking at which ones are screening at Town Hall (the largest venue) at key times like Friday night and Saturday night, but there are more than a handful of interesting films in the festival. What follows is a list of four films (in no particular order) that should be on your list to see at this year’s festival.
Director Margarethe von Trotta brings us this dramatized portrait of a woman who dared to write and speak about totalitarianism and the notion of freedom after World War II without reducing the Holocaust to a simplistic tale of good versus evil. The controversial political philosopher and teacher had herself been detained in Camp Gurs, (a French refugee
camp for dissidents during the early years of World War II), but she escaped to the U.S., where she was able to write and teach her political philosophies at The New School for Social Research, Wesleyan University, and Princeton. The film focuses primarily on her coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial, which she did for The New Yorker. Her writings on the trial caused a swell of controversy as other Jews called her a “self-hating Jew” because of her nuanced approach to writing about Eichmann–not as some evil monster, but as an ordinary human being. Hannah Arendt will have you thirsting for more about this provocative 20th-century political theorist. Von Trotta, herself an accomplished German filmmaker of the New German Cinema, often takes on feminist or proto-feminist subjects (such as in her 1986 film Rosa Luxemburg), and here she does a great job of exploring a great thinker whose ideas are not simple to grasp. Barbara Sukowa is excellent as Arendt, endowing her with both a core intellectual strength and a personal warmth that might be missing in another actress’ hands.
By Way of Home
It is rare to see a movie filmed entirely on Cape Cod, so when one comes along it is natural to be interested. In this film, directed by Isaak James and shot entirely on the Cape, we get an excellent portrait of life on the Cape in the winter, from the perspective of people growing up here. While writers, artists, and those of us fleeing the confines of a concrete jungle such as New York, may find the winters here pleasingly isolated and perfect for reflection, it is a different story for young people who have yet to leave and make their marks elsewhere. By Way of Home looks at the plight of an intelligent young woman shackled to her family’s home and restaurant business by the economic downturn. When a childhood friend returns for a visit, she is forced to confront what appears to be the slow death of her dreams. Shot in an unfussy manner, with available light and naturalistic performances, By Way of Home is a distinctly New England story, although it calls to mind other films about young people overcoming their environments, such as the brilliant Winter’s Bone. If you want to understand the people of Cape Cod–beyond country clubs, sand dunes, and arts festivals–this is the film to see.
Cutie and the Boxer
There are two things movies always get wrong: portraying the life of an artist and the complexities of a long-term marriage. In this film, director Zachary Heinzerling takes as his subject Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, two artists living the bohemian lifestyle in New York City. Although Ushio is the more known of the two, we quickly find that this film is really about Noriko and her struggles with poverty, motherhood, and most importantly, the difficult balance between love and art in her life. It’s often asked, “why are there so few great women artists?” In this portrait of a marriage, we see at least one answer. When two artists get together, one has to reject their artistic sense of freedom in favor of being the responsible one. Often, it is the woman who does this, as it is in this case. Cutie and the Boxer is the perfect antidote to the romantic notions that run rampant in our society when it comes both to being in love and living the artist’s life. As deep as this film goes into the complexities of their marriage and their life together as artists on the fringe, and as heartbreaking as some of it is, ultimately, the film is a testament to love–the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’m So Excited
Pedro Almodovar has been successful in recent years for his increasingly dark dramas. Films like Talk to Her and Volver have garnered major awards and critical as well as popular success. But it was his comedies that first drew me to his work and which I have been missing over the past decade or so. Although I was not able to preview I’m So Excited, I am really excited to see Almodovar’s return to comedy. His breakout success worldwide was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1998), but even funnier than that was his brilliant Dark Habits (1983) about heroin-addicted Spanish nuns, and What Have I Done to Deserve This?(1984), a film that features transvestites, hookers, and a drug-addicted cleaning lady. On a recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Almodovar explained his departure from comedy as being motivated by the desire to be taken seriously as a filmmaker. He advised, only half joking, if you want to make films that gets awards, make them serious and as dark as possible. Almodovar is heir to Fellini’s title as master of the absurd. This latest film is about what happens when a plane to Mexico City is going to crash: his trademark dark humor is clearly on display in the clips I’ve seen. Purely on the strength of the wonderful comedies he made in the 1980s and 90s, the East Coast premiere of I’m So Excited is a must-see at this year’s festival.
The Provincetown International Film Festival happens in the towns of Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet Wednesday, June 19 through Sunday, June 23 in various venues. For tickets and complete festival information, visit the box office in the Whalers Wharf mall, 237 Commercial St., Provincetown, or visit them online at ptownfilmfest.org.