Woodard Wraps: Film Fest, Day Nine

Tommy Lee Jones, French Cinema, Animation, and vast Brazilian drama

There was no more haunting scene in American cinema last year than the end of No Country for Old Men, a surprisingly lyrical, contemplative finale to a film not shy of violence or Coen Bros. brand irony. It’s more like a reflective coda, really, than a tidy conclusion, and nobody could possibly have delivered it with the drawling bravado and wisdom of Tommy Lee Jones. A kind of hush fell over the Arlington Theatre last night as Jones-being paid tribute here–discussed the now infamous ending, as if his very timbre took us back to that drawling place of reverie in the film.

Jones, never one to suffer fools or give in to excess idle gab, let alone self-analysis, summed up the film and its ending thusly, in slow, steady, Texan tones: “It’s a contemplation about morality, but it’s not simple and it’s very subtle. He talks about his father and a dream he had about his father. He dreamed that the world is going to be a better place. If you just keep riding on through the dark and through the desert and through the freezing cold long enough, you’ll have a fire waiting for you. It’s a very kind of comforting thought. The last phrase of the movie is ‘but then I woke up.’ He refers to that as a dream. You’re left with a further contemplation. Is there any reason for optimism? Is it only a dream, and if it’s a dream, is it real. I think that’s kind of what it’s about.

“This movie is not about answers, it’s about really good questions.”

Jones’ tribute night was capped off by an award given by Andrew Davis, who directed Jones in Under Siege, The Package, and The Fugitive. And the evening came as a neat bookend to Monday night’s tribute to Javier Bardem, the other cool, mystical character in No Country. This-is-your-life style tribute evenings at the festival can be trying, for those in the spotlight and in the house, but there is something comforting about being in the room for a casual, ostensibly conversational presence with great artists, like Jones, Bardem and-last Saturday’s subject/victim, Cate Blanchett.

One expects a very different vibe, not to mention paparazzi density, at tonight Angelina encounter.

THE FRENCH ARE COMING: French films have been conspicuous by their absence, until yesterday, that is. Three have arrived in time for the festival’s final weekend, starting yesterday afternoon with Roman de Gare, Hitchcock-worshipping director Claude Lelouch’s latest tautly-crafted crime and punishment saga. Last night, we arrived too late to get into the traditional token French Froth of the fest, Priceless, but ducked into director Hiner Saleem’s Sous les toits de Paris (Beneath the Rooftops of Paris), a disarming moving film full of sweetness, poignancy, and refreshingly minimal reliance on dialogue. Visuals and acting do the talking, along with sparingly applied Parisian music, in another of this festival’s sensitive and creative tales of an elderly person’s reality (alongside Time to Die and Alexandra, both excellent senior-focused films).

DON’T CALL ‘EM CARTOONS: The fine art of animation has a notable status in SBIFF 2008, the year that Pixar magnate Brad Bird is paid tribute to on the heels of the brilliant all-ages favorite Ratatouille. A program of animated shorts at the Lobero on Friday morning inspired in multiple directions, reminding us that animation is a medium of great variety, from piece to piece, in terms of form, content and image-making technique. In animation, the very look and means by which that looks is achieved becomes part of the art, at the most fundamental creative level.

Among the many intriguing shorts seen in the program were NYU student Zeth Willie’s computer animated The Needful Head, the effectively enigmatic mosquito’s eye-view piece Blood by Tell by Andrew McPhillip, from Toronto (Canada is a longtime wealth of animation vision), and Canadian George Schmizgebel’s Jeu, in which numbers, letters, shapes and real world situations rapidly morph, to the tune of a perpetual mobile movement of a Prokofiev Piano Concerto. Josh Raskin’s dazzling I Met the Walrus comes from yet another corner of its own devising; drawing on a clandestine tape of a conversation with John Lennon in a hotel room in 1969, with peace as the leitmotif, illustrated by Terry Gilliam-like free associational animations. It’s a weird hoot.

BRAZIL, MANY SIDES THEREOF: Of the countries represented in the Latin American Cinemedia section of the festival, it seems that Brazil is represented by the widest variety of fare, if only that this huge country is one of many facets. Bittersweet emotionality and intriguing storytelling give Phillipe Barcinski’s Not by Chance its distinctive and rueful charm.

A fascinating documentary, Serra da Desordem (Hills of Disorder), from Andrea Tonacci, tells the tale of an indigenous Amazonian Indian who spent 10 years living alone in the jungle after being displace from his land. The film follows the man’s “reentry,” into quasi-gentrified villages, the urban landscape of Brasilia and finally back to his tribe, all with an intriguing mix of cinema verite, as newscasters replace the intrusive role of a narrator and implied themes of civilizations ravages in a nation where tribal cultures still exist, if uneasily.

And then, from a different corner of Brazil and the cinematic spectrum, there is this year’s edgiest film, Bog of Beasts, touching sexual brutality, the surrendering of a teenage girl’s innocence, and sexual double standards in a rural sugar cane town. Director Claudio Assis adopts a neo-realist approach in his film, an unflinching and unsentimentalized depiction of life beyond a moral compass or balance. The graphic scenes and gnarly carnal sadism would seem gratuitous were it not for the power of the filmmaker’s vision, bolstered by strong visuals-i.e. the burning cane fields mirroring brewing sexual anger–remarkable and sometimes scary performances, and the admirable resistance to easy resolution. We left the theater drained and psychically battered, perhaps, but also with the feeling of having gone through a highly filmic experience.

TOP TEN LIST IN TRAINING: In rough order of artistic interest, here’s a top ten list of films, still in progress:

The Edge of Heaven

You the Living


The Mourning Forest

Takva: A Man’s Fear of God

Time to Die

The Band’s Visit

Short Circuits


Garbage Warrior


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