Most anthology films present a handful of directors doing less than their best work, but Tickets—a three-way collaboration between Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Ken Loach—not only contains some fine filmmaking, it works as a unified piece. Tickets' three parts take place on the same train on the same day. Veteran Italian neo-realist Olmi tracks a professor who's having trouble enjoying the meal in his first-class dining car because he's preoccupied by thoughts of his beautiful personal assistant, and by a poor refugee family he can see just beyond the glass coach door. Kiarostami follows Olmi with a sketch of the strange relationship between a domineering older woman and the handsome young man who reluctantly looks after her. And Loach brings up the rear with the most plot-driven film, about three Scottish soccer fans who encounter Olmi's refugee family and have to make a decision about whether they can help.
All three films focus on how small gestures get magnified in a cramped, noisy space. If someone loses a ticket or won't stop crying, the hassle grows exponentially. Taken as a complete film, Tickets uses a traveler's discomfort as a metaphor for how Europe is dealing with its immigration problem. To refugees, their plight is the single most important thing happening. To everyone else, they're an inconvenience, spoiling an otherwise pleasant trip.
More vital than Tickets' theme is how each filmmaker approaches it. Loach goes after it head-on, dropping his trio of well-meaning working-class knuckleheads into a naturalistic film heavy on improvised dialogue and tense yelling matches. Olmi tackles the theme more artfully, in a beautifully lit, elegantly structured film that flashes backward and forward to show how one man's consciousness wanders, unable to hold one thought. But Kiarostami's film is the most remarkable, mainly for how it breaks free of the fixed-camera experiments he's been dabbling with lately, and uses a style that could almost pass for conventional, if not for the long, hypnotic shots of clouds and rolling countryside reflected off multiple windows. As for Kiarostami's story, it's about an obnoxious, overweight woman who sits where she wants and bickers with everyone, and the wonder of the film is that she equally represents old-world Europe and its changing face.
Key features: A fly-on-the-wall 50-minute documentary follows the making of Tickets from concept to completion.