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Cinequest 2007

Last week I attended Cinequest, the 17th annual San José Film Festival. None of the seven shows I watched were amazing, but I enjoy having so many international movies to chose from.

Overall, the best ones were Batad and The Owl and the Sparrow, which while not outstanding, were still very good.

Batad (Batad Sa Paang Palay). Directed by Benji Garcia, Philippines 2006. A sweet (but not mawkish) story about a young man at odds with the Ifugao traditions and modern, upwardly mobile trends. The cinematography goes between gorgeous green and orange palettes, reflecting the lush and dry seasons of the Banauae rice terraces in this endangered Philippine region. Excellent acting, especially by Gina Alajar who played the quiet, supportive mother.

Fresh Air (Friss Levegö). Directed by Ágnes Kocsis and Andrea Roberti, Hungary 2006. A sad story of how a woman and her college aged daughter slowly trudge through life. Intriguing images of ugly, oppressive Soviet-era city architecture.

Maskot. Directed by Robin Moran, Indonesia 2006. About a young man’s adventure to find the rooster mascot for his family’s soy sauce company. It sounds wacky, and there are a couple scenes where the rooster (computer enhanced) stole the scene. But overall the characters are disappointingly hackneyed. Heavy-handed dialog that pounds the audience over the head makes me weary: Wham See the bad guy with my exaggerated simper and sneer. Wham Isn’t sooo funny when the characters stumble about and stammer sooo endearingly? Meh.

Mirror, Mirror: Shorts Program 1. Short film anthologies are often a mixed bag. There’ve been times where I enjoyed only one film out of a dozen. Mirror, Mirror was a worthwhile collection of nine films, where reflection served as the common theme. The shortest, Birthday, gorgeously shot in a desolate desert, was my favorite. The worst, I felt, was the overwrought, incongruous Water Moccasin. The rest are interesting, including 4 1/4, about a man’s obsession with women with a nod to Fellini, and Regarding Sarah, where an Alzheimer’s victim bravely faced (literally) her memory loss with cameras.

Owl and the Sparrow (Cú Va Chim Se Se). Directed by Stephane Gauger, Vietnam 2007. A lovely (and loving) integration of three people’s unhappy lives in Saigon: a beautiful, depressed airline stewardess; a broken hearted zookeeper; and a rejected, neglected runaway girl. Humanity seems to seethe from everywhere in this film, but there are threads of compassion and friendship to be found.

Rail Yard Blues (Jeste ziju s vesákem, cepicí a plácackou). Directed by Pavel Göbl and Roman Švejda, Czech Republic 2006. This was a somewhat amusing slice of life story about a small town train station. Things become a bit more lively when the transport inspector makes a supposedly unannounced visit —when the workers attempt to hide what (little) dirty laundry they have laying about. Nicely filmed, though.

Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness. Directed by Melody Gilbert, United States 2006. The documentary interviews and follows those hike through abandoned castles, sanitariums, sewers and mausoleums. The concept appeals, but the sporadic shaky camera style got on my nerves, as it tripped my motion sickness sensors. Yes, the Blair Witch Project both nauseated and irritated me. This film was certainly better than BWP, fortunately. Some of the stills taken by the urban explorers were amazing. For the most part, attending a gallery with such photography would’ve been more satisfying.

Go view the Cinequest 2007 program guide, which lists all of the movies.

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