From Romania to Canada

Revolutions, Favorites, and Alzheimers

12:08 East of Bucharest

Three Romanian men, from middle-aged to Santa Claus-ian, sit around talking on a charmingly cheap television set. The subject of this talk show: the town’s response to the Bucharest revolution of 1989, on its anniversary sixteen years later. The men — and their caustic callers — dive into minutiae, accusations, character mauling, and sneak attack dry, high comedy. This is eastern European talk show culture at its humblest, and cinema at its most delightful quirky and absurd, with shades of the great old talk show satire Fernwood Tonight (with Martin Mull and Fred Willard) and Eugene Ionesco.

In short, director Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08, East of Bucharest, one of the oddball charmers of SBIFF ‘007, is a classic example of the idea that some of the high points of this festival sneak in through a side door, and from an unexpected niche of the world cinema scene. There are long stretches where it appears nothing is happening, but the provincial warmth and Eastern Euro-slacker humor are always humming beneath the surface. The film itself also has moments of disarming beauty, as in the sweet, symmetrical framing device of omniscient shots of the city’s lights as they shut off at dawn and on again at dusk. It’s a day in the life of a post-iron curtain city, and of a little corner of planet earth.

(12:08, East of Bucharest will screen again on, Thursday, February 1 at 4:30 p.m. and February 3 at 1:15 p.m.)


From Spain, we caught DarkBlueAlmostBlack, from newcomer director Daniel Sanchez Arevalo. (It’s one of those films over which festival director Roger Durling violates his policy to avoid the “f” word—as in one of his “favorites.”) darkbluealmostblack_iw.jpg It is charming and in ways entirely different and more in-your-face than 12:08, wriggling its way towards an Almodovar-ish mixture of kinkiness and sentimentality. The film doesn’t get to that exalted state, and maybe it’s unfair to make the comparison, but Almodovar has raised a high bar in Spanish cinema and beyond. It’s hard to stay out of his shadow when dealing with matters of the Spanish heart and groin.

(DarkBlueAlmost Black screens again today, January 30, at 4:30 p.m., January 31 at 1:30 p.m., and February 2 at 4:30 p.m.)

Away from Her

Often in the complex, collaborative medium of film, an overall work may be flawed, but is rescued by some element or another. That’s certainly the case with the Sarah Polley-directed Canadian film Away from Her, a sometimes poignant, sometimes prosaic and education film-ish tale about a couple’s slide into Alzheimer’s cruel sunset. away_from_her.jpg But the film is mostly recommended for the luminous and calibrated performance by one Julie Christie. She’s got glowing, elderly beauty in check, and a subtle range of emotional connections, complicated by the crossed wires and foggy pockets of her condition. Early in the film, she distractedly muses “I think I may be starting to disappear.” The ensuing performance fleshes out that very notion of a human disappearing act, but with regular flashes of insight and emotional epiphanies along the way.

Hers may be the finest performance of SBIFF ‘007. The next few days will tell.

(Away From Her screens tonight, January 30, at 7:30 p.m.)

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