Four more movies on Wednesday, so let's jump right in with A CUBE OF SUGAR. It's a slice-of-life tale of the preparations for an Iranian wedding. Passand is getting married, and all the family is gathering at the house of her aged Uncle Ezzatolah (the house was built for the movie, and is a classic old-school compound meant to house an extended family.) Kids run wild, the elders (especially Uncle Ezzatolah) pass on their wisdom, and everyone prepares by gossiping over food preparation, or lights, or whatever. They deal with regular power blackouts and an extended family that doesn't seem to see each other often and sometimes doesn't get along. What plot there is (at least a big twist that changes everything) I won't reveal for spoiler etiquette. But it's a colorful and food-filled slice of life. I have many times echoed Hitchcock's pronouncement that I prefer my movies to be a slice of cake instead of slice of life. And that applies here (as it applies to a lot of Iranian cinema,) but if you're a fan of slice of life movies, this would probably interest you.
The next movie was definitely a slice of cake--grand, thrilling, visceral, darkly comic cake with a plethora of plot twists. HEADHUNTERS stars Aksel Hennie (probably Norway's most famous actor) as Roger Brown, an executive recruiter who overcompensates for his 5'6" height with money. He buys his wife Diana--who towers over him--a big house he can't afford and lots of beautiful jewelry. He can't pay for that just on a headhunter salary, but he has a second stream of income--art thief. He learns about a genuine Rubens painting worth possibly $100,000 (or was it Euros? I forget the currency, but worth enough to never worry about money again) and moves quickly. Too bad the owner is a former army tracker, and the former director of development at a GPS company, and can find him anywhere and take torturous revenge. It's graphic, it's occasionally disgusting, and Roger is essentially put through various stages of hell. This is apparently the first film adapted from a novel by author Jo Nesbø, with Martin Scorsese set to direct his SNOWMAN next. Apparently I now have a new author I should get acquainted with.
Next up, a bit of Caveh Zahedi provocation and button-pushing in THE SHEIK AND I. Caveh was approached to produce a film for the Sharjah Biennial, one of the biggest and most popular art exhibitions in the Middle East (Sharjah is one of the emirates of the UAE.) At first he was told there were no rules and the theme is about art as a subversive act. So he pushes them, and finds there really are three rules. First, no frontal nudity--he has no problem with that. Second, no demeaning the prophet Mohammad--he thinks about that for a bit, thinks of what happened in Denmark with the cartoonists or with director Theo Van Gogh, and decides he can avoid demeaning Mohammad. And finally, no making fun of the Sheik of Sharjah, Sheik Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi. This rule, he obsesses over. What would constitute "making fun?" Can he mention the Sheik at all? So with no idea what to do he decides to fly to Sharjah with his family and a small crew and make a movie about his attempt to make a movie in and about Sharjah. In a paranoid moment in the car ride from the airport, he dreams up a kidnapping plot, and starts making a film about his paranoid fantasy. But beyond that, he asks everyone he meets about the sheik, about Sharjah, about their customs. There are scenes of him learning to pray, then choreographing a group of Indian children (of guest workers) using the praying moves in a Bollywood-esque dance sequence (okay, even I could understand how that could upset people.) Mostly, he sort of flaunts his American ignorance and naivety, and uses it to hold up a mirror to their culture. I get the feeling that Caveh was invited because he has a Middle Eastern name (his parents are Iranian, but he is thoroughly American) and therefore would understand the culture and what he can and can't do instinctively. Ultimately, he doesn't turn in anything that could play at the Biennial, and he even had to fight for permission to show it elsewhere. And I, for one, am glad he did because the end result is pretty fantastic.
THE SHEIK AND I plays again April 28 at 9:00 at the Kabuki
And finally, my last screening was LAST SCREENING, a French horror film for cinephiles. Sylvain is a projectionist at the Empire Cinema, showing classics like FRENCH CANCAN and displaying posters for CAPTIVE and LAST DAYS. He loves the theater, he even lives below it, and has a secret room hidden behind his poster of PLAYTIME. He's also completely psycho. So when he learns the cinema is closing he goes on a bit of a killing spree. And keeps souvenirs in honor of famous Hollywood stars. And remembers a bit of trauma with his mother (did I mention he's PSYCHO?) Pascal Cervo is brilliant as Sylvain, who doesn't really talk much but has a wonderfully intense stare. It's a pretty odd way to fight against the demise of single-screen arthouse cinemas, but at least for an onscreen fantasy, I approve. Although I do have to say it wasn't exactly what I expected, and it took me a night of thinking about it to decide I really liked it. I was expecting more of a campy feel with gratuitous fake blood. But (despite what the festival photo looks like) it's really more interesting in the restraint of what it shows, leaving just the right amount to the imagination. Like how in PSYCHO you never see the knife penetrate skin in the shower scene, but everyone thinks they remember seeing just that. It's definitely not the style of modern horror films. So not only is it about a cinema of a bygone era, it's really for people who prefer that classic cinema that relies just as much on what's implied but unseen.
LAST SCREENING plays again April 28 at 10:00 at the Kabuki
Total Running Time: 411 minutes
My Total Minutes: 280,088