If you love movies, then it would probably be a dream come true for you to get a pass to a film festival. What could be better than watching movies all day and night, seeing premieres and catching glimpses of celebrities?
Well, it depends.
First: The Films
First, you must know that sitting in a darkened room with a bunch of people watching a movie together is — so — retro. At the 32nd annual Denver International Film Festival, this is reinforced by a trailer before each program that announces that now film fans can catch festival fare on their computers, cell phones, and other media. Will convenience kill the urge to merge?
Then, let’s remember that a film festival is for grownups. The use of film to create original, complex works of art is still a joke to most people, who prefer to slurp from the trough of popular culture. Yeah, sure, DIFF throws in a couple of cheesy delights such as Troll 2 and Zombies of Mass Destruction, but this is by and large serious business.
Don’t confuse that last assertion with the equation of mature culture as synonymous with boredom and incomprehensibility. The thing to remember is, just like anything else, about 85 percent of movies out there suck butt and the rest aren’t. It’s a crap shoot.
You need a certain set of tools to survive a film festival: good vision that can absorb hours of moving images at a time, comfortable shoes for standing in line, an ass that can take trucker-sized chunks of time in a chair, and bladder control out the wazoo.
It took me two hours to make the 25-mile drive to the festival on Monday night. I was fighting rush hour, a snowstorm and an inflowing crowd headed to the Nuggets/Lakers game next to the film venue. I spent the idle time in the car going over the film program like a racetrack tout over a tip sheet. You have to trust that the festival folks won’t book complete dogs. Most of the time, this faith is rewarded with pleasant surprises.
You have to handicap your chances of getting into any given showing. I usually line up first, second and third choices for every given wave of start times. If I can’t get into any of them, I will go into whatever’s open. I wander the foyer with my marked-up, scribbled-on program all week long, figuring the odds and jumping in and out of line. It’s fun.
That night, most people were crowding into “An Evening with Ed Harris” a few blocks away at another theater. I avoid big events such as this like the plague. I love the actor, but I am less interested in how he does his job than I am in learning how a carpenter uses a miter box (a mystery that still eludes me). I want to see movies!
That night, the crush was tremendous. Lines extended outside into the cold. Inside, where VIPs, journalists and other freeloaders get their tickets, the tension was high. Everything was starting late. Folks with tickets in their hands couldn’t get in. There was anger, argument. I saw one young blogger, shaking, burst into tears.
Fortunately, Susan was there. She has been serving these slaves of entitlement at every festival for as far back as I’ve been going, and somehow she manages to do it with aplomb, firmness and fairness. I expressed some words of sympathy to her while I and various others stood waiting in a corner of the lobby for 35 minutes to get into our showings.
She cocked an eyebrow at me. “It is what it is,” she declared, and went back to stemming yet another crisis.
Here’s what I saw that night:
2009, Dir: Andrzej Wajda
I finally caught a spot in the front row of the theater. Not a problem — although that’s the row I saw Raging Bull in, and it scarred me for life. A stocky, professorial Polish man was addressing the crowd. I sat impatiently, nodding and smiling with Midwestern correctness, as the gentleman insisted on reading the titles of all of the director’s 37 films — in English and Polish. He also took the opportunity to tell us that only a Pole could understand some of the nuances in the film we were about to see.
Denver Film Festival (32)
The drink holders of every seat were occupied with bottles of brightly colored juice/energy drinks provided by a festival sponsor. As the movie began, the snap and crackle of unsealed aluminum caps filled the auditorium, with clanks and glugs following. Not the best product placement.
Anyway, Wajda (pronounced Why-da) is one of my film heroes — a champion of challenging cinema in a time when political repression ruled the Soviet satellite state. Wajda’s beautifully crafted films varied from overtly commercial fare to intensely personal projects, sending messages past the censors to the audience’s hearts.
He’s best known for his World War II trilogy, A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds but for other remarkable works such as Man of Marble, Without Anesthesia and Katyn. Poland’s liberation from Communist control didn’t alter his output or blunt his sharp observations.
Sweet Rush is based on a short story by one of Wajda’s favorite authors, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. He is reunited with his long-time collaborator, Polish film star Krystyna Janda. She plays a terminally ill woman married to a workaholic doctor, who will not reveal her condition to her. She mourns their dead sons, slain in the Resistance movement during World War II, and finds herself attracted to a young man in their small town.
The period piece is framed by Janda’s own story — she is mourning the death of her husband, Wajda’s longtime cinematographer Edward Klosinski. Her grieving monologue punctuates and illuminates the fictional structure within.
Wajda’s style was never flashy, and this latest work is the epitome of quiet observance. Its respect for its characters, performers and subject gives it an absorbing and fascinating dignity.
My Dear Enemy
2009, Dir: Yoon-ki Lee
Then I saw My Dear Enemy. The lobby storm had passed; the show times were back on track. “Enemy” is Lee’s fourth film, and one of the two protagonists is played by Do-yeon Jeon, a star in South Korea noted for her versatility, unjustly unknown here.
In this film, billed as a romantic comedy but so quiet and subdued that it registers almost as a surreptitious documentary, she plays a mysterious and tight-lipped young woman who seeks the return of a $3,500 loan from her former boyfriend, played loose-limbed and obliviously upbeat by Jung-woo Ha.
The duo trek through Seoul as Ha’s character hits up friends from every walk of life for odds and ends of money to pay Jeon’s character. As the day progresses, Lee’s gently unfolding scenario opens up the characters to each other and fills in the missing blanks, leading to a graceful and satisfying conclusion that doesn’t slip into sentimentality. It’s a sweet little gem that rewards patient viewing.
Not too bad for the first full night of viewing. More updates to come.