From East Germany to Mexico City to Kurismaki
You know it’s film festival time in Santa Barbara when, on a cold and soggy Sunday, you can map out the dopest route between several films moviefone has never heard of. From late morning to midnight, the dogged festivalgoer could take in The Lives of Others, a newly-Oscar nominated German film about Stasi, the secret police force; a cool and arty Mexican documentary, In the Pit, about a bridge construction in Mexico City (as much a profile of the working class as the project); the dazzlingly, mock-doc reconstructed Inuit-meets-Danish explorer tale of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen; and the happy story-crossing atmospheric French froth of Avenue Montaigne.
Oh, and most impressive of all (for those in tune with the director’s unique vision), we got a look-see at the latest from director Aki (Man without a Past) Kaurismaki, Finland’s Jim Jarmusch. Like Jarmusch, Kaurismaki knows about the imperative of the well-composed, unhurried shot and the potential expressive power of gently-broken rules and expectations in cinema. His new one, Lights in the Dusk, about a hapless loner for whom fate has a pocket full of woe in store, is full of his own brand of neo-Finnish-noir. Color and lighting are worth the price of admission, as is the hypnotic and formal pace and texture. Even this glum and tawdry femme fatale tale in Helsinki feels like a zestier version of a Robert Bresson film.
Generally, Sunday’s crop represent the kinds of films which the expanding universe of film festivals (reportedly now up to 1,400 worldwide) is ideally suited. Which among them can we expect to find in regular release over the next year? The Lives of Others, an engaging and poignant history lesson about East Berlin in the last gasping years before the Wall fell, stands a strong shot at the arthouse circuit. (A trailer from that film is below.) Avenue Montaigne is a feelgoody tapestry, probably headed for an arthouse near you/us.
Alas, Kaurismaki’s new one — not as strong as Man Without a Past, but stunning nonethelees — may not make that public screening grade. But he’s one of those acquired tastes and festival icons well worth seeking out, coming soon to a DVD outlet or Netflix near you.