PRETTY BUT MIGHTY: There may be no more stark disparity between what we read and see in the papers – the subspecies of the tabloids that is – and the actual story than the case of Angelina Jolie. She pops up in our sightlines at grocery store checkouts on a regular basis, as manufactured news and idle speculation, titillating fabrications and scuttlebutt swirl about this woman. But to her great credit, Jolie rises above the scurrilous din with an uncommon dignity.
As seen with this year’s A Mighty Heart, she’s got real depth and range as an actress, even if she rarely gets a chance to show it. And not at all as an afterthought or token gesture, Jolie’s concern for the real world and its affliction can be infectious. She’s a shining example of a mondo-show biz celebrity with a brain and heart intact. Both of those qualities were in the house at the Arlington on Saturday night, as a packed and adoring crowd listened to her turn for a this-is-your-life session.
An “Outstanding Performance of the Year” was given to her by Clint Eastwood, in whose upcoming film, The Changeling, Jolie stars. Naturally, sometime-local boy Brad Pitt was in the throng as well (Pitt, incidentally, had his own recent work represented in this film festival, with the screening of the hypnotically fine film The Assassination of Jesse James).
As anyone with even cursory access to media – even on that fleeting grocery store line basis – knows, Jolie met her man on the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith, about a couple of assassins. Looking back on that film, Jolie said, “It’s one of those films that both Brad and I tried to get out of. A friend of mine read it and said, ‘If ever you were to do an action comedy, this is the one you should try to do. It seems like you’d have a great time doing it.’ Obviously, I’m very glad I did it, because it changed my life.“
She was speaking, of course, about the Pitt factor, not some aesthetic epiphany.
Speaking of Eastwood, Jolie commented, “He’s just so nice and so cool. Everybody on the set is so happy and respected, and many on the crew have worked as a team with him on several films. We all left that film thinking, ‘When are we ever going to have this kind of experience again?’ He’s brilliant, and decisive. You’d be surprised at how many directors aren’t decisive.”
But the main subject at hand at this moment is Jolie’s critically-acclaimed performance as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, about the execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, at the outset of the post-9/11 middle morass we’re in now.
“The most important message of this film, and (Mariane Pearl’s) book and the message of Danny and Marianne, is to take all of that terror and that horror and to rise above it, remain loving, remain tolerant, remain optimistic, and they continue to do that,” said Jolie at her most poignant on Saturday night. “I think that is the message. We do need to face these very serious threats, things that scare us and things that are true, that there is a lot of aggression out there. But also, we have to take a deep breath and learn how to confront it and not just by spitting back hate.”
FROM DAY ONE TO FIVE MINUTES AGO: There are many regular faces one finds drifting through the obsessive community of festival goers each year, clutching dog-eared programs and looking perhaps frazzled in the furtive effort to not miss any of the good stuff. One such familiar figure over many years has a deep connection to this festival and its advancing legacy: Phyllis DePicciotto was there at the beginning, 23 years ago, bravely birthing the festival, and was its director for 13 years.
Stopping outside the Metro Four to talk a bit about the formative, pre-teen years of the festival, DePicciotto spoke of the festival’s early days. Then, with headquarters based upstairs in the Granada Theatre, the film festival was a brave experiment, at a time when there were a few dozen film festivals around the world, versus the hundreds now in existence. In the beginning was the fueled by city money geared by interest in expanding off-season tourism, but the city council was fairly baffled about just what a film festival was and who and how the benefits
Starting in the beginning, DePicciotto created the basic festival model, which continues today, if on a much larger and more solid operational scale. She brought notable tribute subjects, including Jimmy Stewart and Robert Mitchum, and stirred in lots of fine foreign films in among the admittedly uneven American fare. The U.S. Premiere of Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Launderette (with its standout performance from a young Daniel Day Lewis) ruffled some feathers and drew some angered responses, offended by its gay scenes and theme. That was then, this is now.
She sees the festival’s current status, ranking ever higher in the international circuit of festivals, as the “fulfillment of a dream.” That wasn’t just idle lip service. We would have continued talking, but there were films to be seen and seats to be staked out.
FROTH DEPT.: It seems like each festival brings out a token French froth title, coming in handy for those who seek out the lighter fare and as comic relief for serious (hopeless?) festival-goers who have bathed in angst and artful darkness in the rest of the program. Priceless, director Pierre Salvadori’s new vehicle for Audry (Amelie) Tatou, was this year’s model, predictably drawing capacity crowds. As a comedic lark, the film mostly suits its purpose beautifully, but wears out its welcome. With its cheery story of shameless gold diggers lusting after money and the accoutrements of wealth, the film is like bubbly which eventually goes stale.
ALSO SEENS: The Israeli film The Debt spins a suspense story, cutting across decades, about a Massad agent and her elusive quarry, the Nazi “surgeon of Birkenau.” Epitaph , a visually elegant Korean ghost story, is one of the better entries in the East x West sidebar, which was surprisingly weak this year.
HANDICAPPING THE FINAL DAY: SBIFF draws to a close and some of us will soon rejoin the real, physical world, already in progress. Looking at the Sunday program, here are some recommended fare: The Edge of Heaven, the latest from German director Faith Akin, is the best film of this festival, engaging and subtly edgy; Alexandra, from director Alexander Sokurov, is a filmically inventive, disarmingly meditative story of an old woman who visits her Russian soldier grandson at his base in Chechnya.
Rumor and buzz have it that Small Gods is reportedly a semi-experimental project from Belgium. The Pixar Story caps off a visit this year from Brad (Ratatouille) Bird, and prospects are strong that the closing night film, Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Unknown Woman is a winner, albeit much darker and more graphic than his beloved Cinema Paradiso.