Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day One - "That wound up being the bear they found Tim in..."

Day: 229
Film total today: 5
Films seen so far this year: 194 (35 to go)

Crashing out at 9pm last night was definitely the right thing to do. Normally my eyes start to close during the slowest film of the day, but that didn't happen today.

Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

Robert Carlyle stars as a recently widowed man who finds a new lease of life when a stranger directs him to Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

Co-written and directed by Randy Miller, based on a short film he made 15 years ago - now that's tenacity for you. This is a sweet film with a terrific cast. Carlyle stars as a recently widowed baker, trying to get over his loss by going to a self-help group that includes David Paymer, Adam Arkin and Sean Astin. Unfortunately, it isn't really helping, but when he witnesses a car crash on a lonely road, he gets talking to the victim (John Goodman) and discovers that he had been rushing to complete a date he had made over 40 years ago. Intending to speak to the woman Goodman had wanted to meet, he attends Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School and finds more than he had been looking for, particularly when he falls for one of the students (Marisa Tomei). The cast are wonderful - Mary Steenburgen is particularly good as the weirdly mannered Marienne Hotchkiss (Marilyn's daughter) and Donnie Wahlberg is superb as the class's best dancer. It's also intriguingly structured - Miller's original short story appears in the film as a series of flashbacks narrated by Goodman and starring Eldon Henson (who also appears, 15 years later, as one of Carlyle's colleagues). All in all, this is 10 times better than the recent Shall We Dance remake with Richard Gere. Three stars.

Gamblers (Les Mauvais Joueurs)

French film about a group of Armenian and Chinese people living and working together in Paris.

Average film, really. There's not much of a plot beyond the fact that one of the Chinese teenagers is a bit rowdy and gets into trouble when he attacks his sister's employer. It does have a fantastic foot chase at the end though, as well as a few surprises. I doubt this will get a theatrical release. Two stars.

Grizzly Man

Documentary by Werner Herzog, about a man who dedicated his life to living amongst Alaskan bears

I liked it when the bear ate the guy.

Easily the best film of the day - I'd wanted to see this since reading about it during Cannes. Herzog's strange film tells the tale of Timothy Treadwell, a young man whose obsession with living amongst bears led to the untimely deaths of both himself and his girlfriend. Herzog seems to have, rather ghoulishly, become involved after the fact - he's edited the film together from over 100 hours of videotape shot by Treadwell himself. The thing is, by the end of the film, you're kind of glad the bears ate him. Most people seem to regard Treadwell as some kind of nutter - the film certainly presents a fair sample of opinions about what he was doing. It's suggested that in some way, he actually wanted to be eaten by bears. As the film goes on, lots of weird things come to the surface - such as the fact that Treadwell would often go to 'The Grizzly Maze' with girlfriends, but insisted that they never appeared on the video footage - and not only that, but he also delivers many monologues on how alone he feels. It also turns out that he originally went to California to become an actor (Treadwell isn't his real name) and that he was allegedly depressed after losing out on the part of Woody in Cheers to Woody Harrelson. At times it's fairly clear that Treadwell was insane - at one point (during a particularly barking on-camera rant), Herzog astutely points out that "the actor has taken over from the film-maker". His relationship with the camera is at least as interesting as his relationship with the bears - sometimes he's trying to make political statements, sometimes he's running around filming an action movie (that's all in his head) and sometimes he uses it as a bizarre confessional - during one scene he's filming himself while hiking and suddenly goes off on a bizarre tangent about how he wished he'd been gay "because gay people can just get sex in truck stops..." There are several great scenes - highlights include: friendly foxes stealing his cap; Treadwell praying for rain ("Come on, Jesus Boy! Christ Man! We need some rain! Melissa is eating her babies!"); and the coroner describing, in detail, the audio recording of Tim and Amy's final few minutes. Four stars.


Spanish drama starring Nancho Novo as a recovering heroin addict who takes in a homeless girl

Funniest out-of-context-line-of-the-day: "A sailboat!"

Enjoyable Spanish drama, stylishly directed and well acted by its two leads. There are lots of weird touches in the film, such as the Python-esque animated inserts that illustrate Daniel's (Novo) own personal ten-step programme. Three stars.


Richard E. Grant's directorial debut, about his childhood in Swaziland.

Strange choice to open the festival with, really, as it's pretty downbeat stuff. Grant (renamed Ralph Compton) is played by two kids, one of whom is the kid from About A Boy, who has shot up to around twice the size. I can see him breaking a few hearts in the future. Anyway, the basic story is: Ralph sees his mother (Miranda Richardson) shagging one of his dad's (Gabriel Byrne) friends in the front seat of his car, she leaves, his dad becomes an alcoholic. Ralph develops a nasty facial tic. He goes to boarding school - when he returns he finds his dad has married Ruby (Emily Watson) a pretty American air hostess he has known for 6 weeks. Ralph doesn't want to like her but they soon bond. His father's alcoholism gets so bad that at one point he chases Ralph with a loaded gun. His mother comes back, then leaves again. Not many laughs, really. The scenery is gorgeous though and the performances make up for the occasionally lacklustre script. Good support from Celia Imrie, Julie Walters and Fenella Woolgar, who's bizarrely sexy in one particular scene.

Opening night party

Bit dull really. REG, Emily Watson and Gabriel Byrne had all left by the time I arrived, plus I'd missed the food and the free beer was about to run out. I did, however, have a nice conversation with Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kas (see below), who's here with a film called Mork.


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Whoever is the guy in the pic? Should I know him?

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