To read Noel's Day Eight, click here.
Movie Of The Day:
Angel (dir. François Ozon): About half the films in Ozon’s prolific career—he seems capable, in quantity if not quality, of rivaling his hero Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s output—pay tongue-in-cheek, feature-length homage to other movies: See The Sea to Hitchcock, Sitcom to John Waters, Water Drops On Burning Rocks to Fassbinder, 8 Women to Technicolor musicals, etc. His latest, Angel, is a cheeky nod to the lavish David O. Selznick productions of the ‘30s and ‘40s—rich in color and period decadence, swelling with florid melodrama and romance, and concerned with the dreams of a plucky ingénue who goes from rags to riches. Only here, that ingénue is a garish monster, so consumed by diva-like egomania and narcissism that she achieves a sort of rapture simply by looking at her reflection in the mirror. And the thing that makes this strange, inspired, and fitfully hilarious film so winning is that Ozon mostly loves her for it.
Before the public screening today, Ozon’s leading lady, the wonderful Romola Garai (making a strong impression at the festival, with this and Atonement) called making film as “a real hoot,” and that’s a pretty apt description of the result, at least in the hysterical early going. Set in the early 20th century, the film stars Garai as a headstrong girl who lives with her mother above their humble grocery store; to escape the drudgery, she peers longingly at a local estate called Paradise and imagines the glamorous interiors and bodice-ripping affairs behind its wrought-iron gate. A publisher (Sam Neill) agrees to take a chance on the unproven newcomer and put out her first novel, but in the first indication of Garai’s scary self-possession, she storms out of the office when he makes a few minor editing suggestions.
Needless to say, the novels are a smashing success with female readers in much the way that Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts top bestseller lists today; these authors might go out of fashion eventually and certainly won’t stand the test of time, but for now, they’re a bonanza. At its deliriously campy best, Angel gets swept up in the young author’s fantasies as many of them start to come true—and when reality clogs things up, she either has a meltdown, enters a state of total denial, or simply forces everyone and everything to conform to her will. Though Garai’s rise to wealth and prominence is pure, candy-colored delight, the bubble bursts a little in the second half and drags the film to a close. Ozon had a perfectly good ironic ending about 95 minutes in, but Angel drags on for another 25, which does this once-brisk confection no favors. Still, it’s great fun while it lasts. (B)
Married Life (dir. Ira Sachs): Back when he was first tapped to play 007, I dismissed Pierce Brosnan as a straight-to-video James Bond, but his recent career has completely turned me around. Rather than preserve that suave Bond image, he’s been working hard to deconstruct his screen persona by exploiting it to diabolical (or, in the case of The Matador, downright pathetic) ends. His work as a committed bachelor who takes an interest in best friend Chris Cooper’s mistress (Rachel McAdams)—and the performances of the other actors in general, including Patricia Clarkson as Cooper’s long-suffering wife—give Sachs’ melodrama, set among people of privilege in post-war America, the precious distinction it needs. The only serious problem with the film is its familiarity: Every week on AMC, the excellent Mad Men covers much the same territory (marital discord behind a placid surface, devastating sexual duplicity, etc.) with greater insight. And it’s free! (B)
The Princess Of Nebraska (dir. Wayne Wang): A funny thing is happening to the so-called “Masters” section: With many of the exciting new filmmakers spread out among the Special Presentations and Visions sections, I’m finding that the “Masters” tends to fill up with aging auteurs who are either past their prime, egregiously overrated, or, in the case of Wayne Wang, never a master to begin with. Princess Of Nebraska (along with its festival companion, A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers) was touted in the program book as a back-to-basics return to independent filmmaking after a long losing streak in Hollywood (Maid In Manhattan, Because Of Winn-Dixie, Anywhere But Here). That may be true, but it’s certainly not a return to form. Wang’s convoluted tale of a young, pregnant Chinese woman in San Francisco immediately lost me and hammered home its point about her alienation in a foreign land. After a dinner table conversation that involved white people pelting her with crude assertions about her homeland, I’d had enough. (W/O)
Operation Filmmaker (dir. Nina Davenport): So here’s a heartwarming story: One night during pre-production for his directorial debut Everything Is Illuminated, the actor Liev Schreiber came upon an MTV special about Muthana Mohmen, an Iraqi student filmmaker in Baghdad who was passionate about making movies. Schreiber and his producers, inspired by Mohmen’s story and its connection to the film’s theme of cultural divide, made arrangements to fly him out to Prague to work as a Production Assistant on the movie. What they discovered is that the kid was kind of a screw-up—generally unreliable, resentful of the humiliating PA work that kept him away from set, and given to manipulative falsehoods to coax money, favors, and extra time overseas from his benefactors. (Mohmen’s attempt to cozy up to his liberal producer by praising President Bush and the war also backfires.) At the same time, the filmmakers come off as hopelessly naïve and patronizing; they thought it would be a nice idea to have Mohmen get some real experience, but they never considered what would happened after his visa had expired. Operation Filmmaker, much like My Kid Could Paint That, is one of those documentaries that were conceived one way and turned out much differently than anyone intended. Davenport does a nice job rolling with the punches. (B)