Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World (2008) directed by Chen WeijunWest Lake is the fabled lake set in the middle of Hangzhou, and finds a place in poems, stories and paintings due to its beauty. There is another West lake, but it is (ta-da) the biggest Chinese restaurant in the world, with a plaque to prove it. Located in Changsha, West Lake Restaurant is a megalosaurian beast. The restaurant, built to look like Qing Dynasty palace, can accommodate 5,000 people. The humble documentary profiles the owner and some of the staff as well as three groups having parties at the venue: a wedding party, a 70th birthday party, and a baby party. The food looked amazing, but I can tell you that PETA would probably have some issues with the preparations. Preparing the same dish that opened Help Me, Eros, chefs were timed on how fast they could cook "live fried fish." (And, yes, the point is that it is still alive when it hits the plate.) In many ways, Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World reiterates many of the things that documentaries have beaten to death: the Chinese love of money, the importance of family, the exotic nature of food in China, etc, etc. At best it is mildly interesting. Tonight was the last screening at MSPIFF. Take It or Leave It.
Rudo y Cursi (2008) directed by Carlos CauronIf you take a look at the production credits on Rudo y Cursi (which includes his brother Alfonso, as well as Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro), you understand why, when asked the inane question about his budget, Carlos Cauron would reply "I don't know." Contrary to the ad in the newspaper, which stated that "Top Mexican director Alfonso Cauron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) present for Rudo y Cursi," Carlos Cauron was present for a Q and A after the screening. Although the film has it's moments, I think Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna were probably having more fun than the audience. Everything is tongue-in-cheek and open for a gag: shower razing, gambling addictions, sibling rivalry and country bumpkins. Bernal, as Cursi, is especially brilliant as a terrible singer, patronized due to his fame as a football player. The charm of these two actors is undeniable, but the film would be a hollow shell without them. Rudo y Cursi is done at the Fest, but it will make it back to town in a few weeks. Take It or Leave It.
The Mermaid (2007) directed by Anna MelikyanI opted to see this Russian film rather than take another crack at Los Bastardos, and I'm glad I did. I would like to think I am not easily charmed, but this film was about as endearing as a film can get. Most of the credit goes to Masha Shalayeva as Alisa, who is like a Russian Franka Potente (instead of Lola red, we have Alisa green.) I know nothing about this Rusalka legend and am too lazy to look it up at this point, but the story has a very fairytale-like quality. High production values and some clever shots have left me with some of the most striking images I have seen in the Fest. At her family's seaside home, Alisa's Grandmother sits outside under a garish beach umbrella as the window into the house perfectly frames a lighthouse wall tapestry. The film is filed with such creative stills. Alisa sees through (or perhaps beyond) the misguided romanticized freedom in advertisements an hollow slogans. Lighthearted and enchanting, The Mermaid is completely adorable and unpredictable. No more screenings at the Fest. I wonder if this will make it back to town? Recommended.