Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 6

Two more movies for Tuesday night.

First up, CONSTANTIN AND ELENA. The titular characters have been married for 54 years, they're funny, charming, occasionally befuddled (by things like a can of Pepsi), and they happen to be director Andrei Dascalescu's grandparents (more on that later). The movie is a year in the life of a simple and simply charming old couple. They smoke sausages, she weaves beautiful rugs, they sing folk songs and bake tons of desserts for the holidays. The joke about death with an practical air of dignity--not fearing death but sad that their time together is running out. The type of people anyone would be happy and proud to have as grandparents. In fact, this movie reminded me of how much I love my grandparents (they've been on my mind a lot lately, but that's a different story). While the director is their grandson, he studiously kept himself out of the movie, adhering to a strict observational style with long takes and a fixed camera that lets you look wherever you want--putting the onus of observation on the audience (which is something I really appreciated).

Okay, and I said there would be more on the director. Andrei Dascalescu didn't intend to be a documentary filmmaker. He was an assistant editor working for Walter Murch on Francis Ford Coppola's YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH. He told them all about his grandparents, and gave Murch, Coppola, and others gifts of rugs woven by his grandmother. At the last minute he decided it would be nice to show them who these people were so he filmed them a little bit, edited it together, and gave (at least Walter Murch) the footage as a going away present. Walter Murch (who was there for the screening and both introduced the film and did the Q&A with Andrei) told Andrei how much he liked the short movie about his grandparents. Andrei protested that it wasn't really a movie, just some stuff he shot, but Murch told him no, it really is a movie. And I guess when Walter Murch tells you what you've made is a movie, then you've made a movie. Well, then he shot more (for a year) and created what we saw at the festival.

So then, in a rather odd counterbalance, I saw Johnnie To's new action flick VENGEANCE. A couple (French wife, Chinese husband, and their two kids) are gunned down in an opening scene that is brutal and shocking. She survives--barely--and her father Francois Costello (Johnny Hallyday) visits her, gets what details he can, and vows to avenge her. He's a chef with a past that makes him plenty deadly. But he doesn't know Macau. Enter Johnnie To's stalwart Anthony Wong and his crew. Francois witnesses them carrying out a mob hit. So he follows them, and hires them to find his daughter's killer and help him get vengeance. The action scenes are plenty powerful (a climax with rolling cubes of garbage is pretty awesome), but Johnnie To has always really excelled in the moments between action. The easy camaraderie of the crew, the dark humor, questions of loyalty--especially when...no, I won't give away spoilers. Although I will call attention to a major plot twist where Francois loses his memory but the quest for vengeance continues (because, after all, Wong and his crew were hired for a job). Can vengeance exist without memory? Doesn't matter, because I don't want to (or think I can) forget this movie.

BTW, I've seen quite a few Johnnie To films (at least a half-dozen or so), but had no idea he was so prolific. I guess I've only scratched the surface of his filmography.

Total Running Time: 210 minutes
My Total Minutes: 182,867
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