And the winner of most underrated SBIFF event goes to … the Variety Artisans Awards evening at the Lobero. This is the night, a happy tradition now four years deep, that casts a deserved spotlight on “tech” and “artisan” workers, composers, cinematographers, editors, production and costume designers, and more and delves into the all-important inner workings and machinery of the film art.
Americans can be obsessed with surfaces and shiny objects and window dressing of pop culture. But, as Gary Oldman made a point to mention in his acceptance speech for his Maltin Modern Master Award at the Arlington, he credits his success to “good fortune” and to all those in the supportive role of the cinematic world, in this sight-and-sound world.
Among the honorees on Monday night, all bearing Oscar nominations, were two from Guillermo del Toro’s fantabulous The Shape of Water — production designer Paul Austerberry and seasoned composer Alexandre Desplat, whose contributions were certainly prizeworthy. Austerberry explained the gradual evolution of del Toro’s dream project, originally identified as “untitled fish story,” which expanded from the intended black-and-white film to its ultimate and ultimately “color-centric” extravaganza.
Makeup artist Arjen Tuiten was rightly tapped for his stunning work in Wonder, in which the 9-year-old star Jacob Tremblay endured an hour and a half makeover each day of shooting, but with stunning, realistic results.
It is also no surprise that kudos and Oscar nom status has been extended to Mark Bridges, costume designer for the most couture-conscious American film of the year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s truly masterful Phantom Thread, with Daniel Day-Lewis as an eccentric fashion designer in the elegant ’50s fashion scene in London. According to Bridges, who has worked with the great director Anderson for 20-ish years, “he loves the research process, and it’s quite juicy.”
Anderson’s latest is a glorious and dreamlike film in which a ruling force is the power of texture itself — the texture of textiles, narrative flow, music, and atmosphere. But he couldn’t do it alone. Enter the artisans.
Films to See: There’s something about Edie that conjures up an easy parallel to Alexander Payne’s brilliant About Schmidt, except for some key circumstances. Schmidt was Jack Nicholson, an Omaha-an (naturally, for a Payne flick) retiree searching for meaning; in Simon Hunter’s enjoyable film, Edie is an eightysomething British woman-turned-widow, grousing about her unfulfilled life and making a great escape to climb a mountain in Inverness, Scotland. Humor, intimations of mortality, and life-affirming emotional qualities ensue, in a bittersweet heart-warmer of a flick.
Part-documentary, part-socio-philosophical treatise, and animation, director-animator Cam Christensen’s Wall follows its own heart and perplexed mind in a unique examination of the controversial wall closing in and closing off the West Bank from Israel. British playwright David (Hurly Burly) Hare, who has written about the Middle East on many occasions, wrote the script based on his personal visits and conversations with friends on both sides — Israeli and Palestinian — in trying to understand the massive, $4 billion wall, which is four times longer than the Berlin Wall and is euphemistically called a “separation fence” by the Israelis, and a “segregation wall” by the Palestinians. The animation form, sometimes distracting via the grotesque, revivified faces of our tour guides, also allows for a critical visual flexibility as it depicts the cruel installation of the wall, culminating in a dazzling montage of its graffiti come to life.
Wall qualifies as one of those films that, despite any shortcomings or limitations on cinematic terms, serves to educate and elucidate us on obscure corners of world history we may not have previously known much about. That description also fits the Finnish director Anttti-Jussi Annila’s film The Eternal Road, a painfully poignant and true story taking place in the all little-known historical phenom of American Finns who relocated to the then-promising Soviet Union just after the onset of the Great Depression, seeking a “promised land” in a country trumpeting the power of workers and the proletariat. A Finnish farmer, deemed a communist, is forced across the border, where he ostensibly searches for “American spies” and is subject to the harrowing cruelty of Stalin’s death machine.
On a light note, or series of notes…meanwhile, over at this morning’s convening of the ever-popular “Breakfast Club” screenings, some nuns were up to some mischief, for fun and cinema’s sake. Spanish directors Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo’s giddy-spicy Holy Camp! deals with a nun-run camp where two restless and beautiful young campers are grounded from a trip after their nightclubbing adventure.
All the female characters are prone to break into song, emotional mini-breakdowns, and comic backflips. One sees God in the form of a suave crooner who sings Whitney Houston power ballads. It’s that kind of a movie. Though over-long and sometimes overly-emo, Holy Camp! is also good left-of-center and campy fun.
Final thumbs-up: There have been plenty of films about youthful sexual awakening, and from many angles. Something different this way comes with the Swedish film Star Boys, in which pre-sexual youngsters in Northern Finland are kept awake by the sex of their parents — not only the noisy creaking and groaning of the activity in the next bedroom, but by the drunken dalliances and free-loving excesses of adults less controlled than the boys would like, or like to admit. Director Visa Koiso-Kanttila’s film is a freewheeling saga of young adolescents — one on a straighter path, the other more angst-y — grappling with the usual demons and the business of trying to make sense of the world.
At one point, the boys plot a Baltic escape from their errant parents, and yell cathartically into the blue sky “sex maniacs! Whore asses! Harry asses!” Yes, there is also humor in the wings of this Nordic teen angst tale.