@ the Ptown International Film Festival :: Six Films/Two Days
The scale and setting of the Provincetown International Film Festival, now in its fourteenth year, are most inviting. My first venture to the gay haven on the Cape was short but sweet- six films and one talk in two days. It was too chilly for the beach, but conditions were just right for cinema-going.
Chicken with Plums
Friday mid-morning it was off the fast ferry, in to the hostel on a hill, then to the Art House cinema to get things started with the Iranian "Chicken with Plums," Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s follow-up to the animated and Oscar-nominated "Persepolis." As soon as the camera descended on a quaint village-like scene labeled as Tehran circa 1950, the tone was set for an imaginative adult fairy tale of sorts. The story, based on the life of Satrapi’s musician uncle, tells of the torment befalling a passionate violinist when his rather maligned wife decimates his precious violin in a fit of frustration. He will never forgive her, he declares; and he will not live on if unable to replace it. This frenetic story of an embattled Francophile Persian elite is enlivened by a magic realist touch that peppers with surprises, such as the angel of Death, Azarel, that appears bedside.
The evening offered the first glimpse of Miss Popularity, Parker Posey, the feisty indie queen who won my heart when I was a teenager feasting on films such as "Party Girl," "Dazed and Confused," and "The House of Yes." She was present for the screening of her new film, "Price Check" - the debut by director Michael Walker. Walker was off shooting his follow-up, but Parker described it as a real no-budget indie production- an 18 day shoot in wintry Long Island that was endured not for money but for love of the project.
Susan is a great role for her because it allows her to reach a pitch of bitch that parallels that of her best-known roles. She storms into the office of the pricing and marketing department of a pathetically non-competitive Long Island grocery chain and whips her listless staff into shape. She does much more than that with the handsome Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius, "Ugly Betty"), who has a happy marriage but is discontent working in the grocery business instead of the music business. Susan has no qualms about using profane histrionics, seducing Pete on a business trip to LA, or demanding impregnation.
As Parker said, she is shallow, entitled, and out-of-control - an amusing character to play and to witness. But the film has more to offer than this imposing character. The flash-forward that ties everything up at the end is cliché and disappointing, but the bulk of the film is fresh and riotous.
The Queen of Versailles
Another woman corrupted by wealth and power is at the center of "The Queen of Versailles," the darkly comic documentary about a billionaire family whose financial prowess and perceived invincibility is undermined when the 2008 economic crisis hits. When documentarian Lauren Greenfield initiated her relationship with the Siegel clan, she simply wanted to document the construction of their new Orlando mansion, fashioned after the palace in Versailles and set to be the largest single family home in the United States. When life took an ugly turn for the Siegels, with patriarch David’s Westgate Resorts in trouble with the banks, the film turned into something entirely different.
It is a compassionate and fair portrayal. One doesn’t get the sense that Greenfield is chasing those derisive laughs at the gaudiness, arrogance, and cluelessness of the clan; but it is amazing how open the family members are in their inanity (there are also eight kids and numerous nannies and maids). David, who, over the course of the film, becomes hopelessly bitter and absorbed in his financial conundrum, plucked Jackie, his thirty-years- younger trophy wife from the Mrs. American pageant, an institution he speaks wistfully about. For her part Jackie learned to "love" him over time and presses on with her outward affection, seemingly unaffected by his insults and dismissals. David is a rather predictable character- a miserable one-percenter who is so easy to despise (as when he brags about being responsible for getting George Bush elected, eliciting hissing from this audience).
Jackie is a bit more engaging. She is as unsophisticated as she is big-breasted, choking down McDonald’s fries as she steps out of a limo by the grand entrance of her tacky palace; yet one can pity or perhaps sympathize with her as she deals with her addiction to shopping (after the crisis, she resorts to Wal-Mart, only to leave the store with four overflowing buggies of plastic goods) and being spurned by her hubby. I was an easy sell on this one, as I have a weakness for anything detailing the dissipation and disintegration of the uber-wealthy, but this doc truly horrifies and entertains in admirable measure throughout. "Schadenfreude" comes to mind.
28 Hotel Rooms
"28 Hotel Rooms" is not quite as acute in its portrayal of a relationship, but it nevertheless delivers enough punches to keep us invested as we watch an affair escalate and get complicated. The concept is clever enough: two business travelers (one married) stumble into each other in a hotel bar after having had what was intended to be a one-night stand. They then convene in a sequence of hotel rooms, gradually getting to know each other in between bouts beneath the sheets. The female player (played by Marin Ireland) is annoyingly reticent at the onset, as if she is determined not to get personal, and when she does begin to open up, she is too conventional to be really interesting.
The male player (Chris Messina) is cocksure, but his playfulness and volatility give him a bit more depth. In one explosive scene, which is a nice change from the sexual bonding and infidelity guilt, he rails at her after the revelation that the number-pushing she does is strictly in the service of accruing more wealth for the wealthy. His anti-bourgeois outrage makes for a dynamic scene, but then it is dropped as if the discord was inconsequential.
Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry
A conversation with honorees provided more time with Parker Posey, as well as with outspoken documentarian Kirby Dick (his film "The Invisible War" won the Festival’s Best Documentary award). That was followed with a screening of "Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry," which was well worth enduring the uncertainty of whether or not I’d be able to claim a seat in the tiny 50-seat cinema at Water’s Edge cinema. This portrait is about a truly renegade artist who takes on the formidable Chinese authorities as if it were nothing. I recommend this for artists or for anyone inspired by those who do not obey.