I stayed out late Saturday for the late show, and yet I was still back at the Kabuki bright and early for the member's screening. That turned out to be BUCK, the Sundance Audience Award winning documentary about Buck Brannaman, the 'real' horse whisperer. It's a well made and compelling piece of hero worship, and Buck's a pretty convincing hero. A soft-spoken, gentle man who doesn't 'break' horses, he 'starts' them. He's also a very funny man who jokes that after working as a consultant and Robert Redford's double in THE HORSE WHISPERER (confession, I haven't seen that movie) that he (Redford) was getting pretty good and if the acting thing doesn't pay off he could make a living as a cowboy. Underneath it all, and pulled out very slowly, is that he had a horrible childhood. He and his brother were child stars doing rope tricks blindfolded. But for all their fame (including a national commercial), their father beat them mercilessly. Much later in life, he can pontificate about how he can feel for the horses because he understands the cruelty and fear in traditional horse 'breaking.' But to the movie's credit, it balances well the pain in his past with the peace and contentment in his present, and celebrates the man he has become rather than obsessing about the abused boy he was.
Next up, a pairing of French animated children's programs starting with the short SPECKY FOUR EYES. Arnaud has awful eyesight, but with his imagination he sees more in the blurry shapes than people with 20/20 vision. Too bad his parents force him to wear thick glasses and act like an adult.
That led into the feature film A CAT IN PARIS. Leave it to the French to make a hero of a cat burglar, but the fact is nimble Nico is actually quite the gentleman. His faithful companion during his night raids is an actual cat, Dino. But during the day, Dino is the pet of Zoe, a little girl who is too shy to say a word. Her mom is the police commissioner, and she has no time for Zoe because she works too hard trying to catch mob boss Costa. But when Costa's gang kidnaps Zoe, Nico becomes the hero using his cat burglar skills to rescue and protect her. A charming little movie that shows traditional hand drawn animation doesn't need 3D or fancy computer graphics to have a lot of heart.
Next up, THE DISH AND THE SPOON, a wonderfully acted two-person story of a woman breaking down after her husband betrays her, and about the new friend she meets. The movie opens with Rose (Greta Gerwig) driving through gray, wintry Delaware, wiping the tears from her face. She stops, goes into a convenience store and with the last of her money buys a pack of donuts and 5/6 of a pack of beer (provided by Dogfish Head Brewery). Her plan is to go to an abandoned lighthouse and eat donuts and drink beer. But that's interrupted when she finds a wild-haired English boy (Olly Alexander) huddling in the lighthouse. He's clearly been through his own trauma, and looks a bit sick so Rose carries him to her car and tries to take him to the hospital. But instead, they end up at an empty beach house (I think it was Rose's relative's summer house? The important thing is it's empty at the moment). There the commiserate and plan revenge on her husband and especially the little bitch he cheated on her with. Meanwhile there might just be a new romance brewing between them--or they might just be play-acting to cover their recent pains.
I left the movie thinking it was wonderfully acted, well made, and "quirky." I'm glad I talked to a couple of women in the lounge who assured me the odd behavior is perfectly realistic. Yes, they do odd things (like dress in drag or pretend they're married), but I was assured this quirky behavior is entirely in keeping with the actions of a betrayed woman.
I'll also add that Gerwig's rants on the phone were excellent, and her explication of Thanksgiving (that while the relationship between the white settlers and the Native Americans didn't really work out well, but we still celebrate the time they ate together) really stuck with me.
Oh, so I mentioned I went to the lounge. Yay, free drinks! The benefits of being press. But I feel like I should go to cinema confession and admit I had a chance to squeeze in an extra movie (even an outside chance of getting to the Castro for Serge Bromberg's program) but chose to drink for an hour and a half instead. I know I'm weak, but I ended up only seeing 4 movies on Sunday.
And that fourth movie was a doozy, Takashi Miike's celebration of battle 13 ASSASSINS (oddly, it was in line for this movie that I learned Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Interesting coincidence). Anyway, I won't swear to the historical accuracy of any of this, but here's the story: In the waning decades of the Shogun era, it was a time of peace (as opposed to the famed time of war of earlier generations). Lord Naritsuga, a well protected relative of the Shogun, is exceedingly--even comically--cruel. One scene--showing a woman he delimbed and used as a plaything before he grew tired and cast her aside--showcases the trademark Miike extreme abusive absurdity. But other than that he plays it comparatively straight (for him), showing the lords conspiring against Naritsuga and hiring famed samurai Shinzaemon to assassinate him. Of course, Shinzaemon needs help, and he recruits another dozen samurai to fill out the group. Okay, one isn't a samurai but a total kickass mountain man who provides excellent comic relief, but still think of it as nearly doubling up Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. They set their trap and prepare for a bloody battle against Naritsuga and hundreds of his soldiers, knowing full well that almost no one will survive. And that final battle is a non-stop 45 minutes of action. Traps, walls collapsing, explosives, swordfights, gunfights, fistfights... It's just amazingly staged and executed, and I would say exhausting but I was actually more amped up at the end then at the beginning. I suppose you could argue it's little more than an expertly crafted glorification of battle, but there's still something convincing and compelling in that glory. And on a night when America celebrates the end of the battle against public enemy #1, I find it hard to complain that a movie (especially a Miike movie) glorifies killing a truly evil guy.
And that's the end of the second weekend at SFIFF. We're really on the home stretch now.
Total Running Time: 380 minutes
My Total Minutes: 234,628