Alamar (2009) Pedro González-Rubio - Highly Recommended
I am going to deem Alamar the best film I have seen at the fest so far, knocking Looking for Eric out of that top slot. I was completely taken away by the beauty and simplicity of this film. Natan is the young son born to an Italian mother and Mexican father. When his mother decides she is going to leave the jungle and move back to Italy with her son, Natan goes on a final farewell visit with his father and grandfather on the island of Quintana Roo, 30 miles off coast in the Caribbean Sea. The three of them spend their time fishing, cooking, napping and playing as if none of it was their duty but was simply their pleasure. Diving for lobster and snappers among the reef with only the aid of a snorkel and a spear; fishing for barracuda with a spool of fishing line and a baited hook; taming a visiting egret by feeding it roaches; and cleaning and preparing the catch of the day—all are the unconscious endeavors far from the modern world. Director Pedro González-Rubio's oft quoted response to whether Alamar is a feature film or a documentary film is the evasive answer that "It is a film." What is clear about the the film is that no one is acting beyond what is natural. The father and son have a natural bond that you never question. But Alamar also exists in an idealistic realm beyond 'realism'. The elegant narrative plays out like a Greek myth with the father as the Greek god and his son the cherub that someday will have great power. It seems only natural for people to wonder if this myth is true. The finale shot, with Natan in Rome with his mother, seems to exist on another planet.
(Alamar is playing at the Best of the Fest, Sunday, May 2 at 9:30pm.)
The Oath (2010) Laura Poitras - Highly Recommended
From the award winning documentary filmmaker of My Country, My Country, Laura Poitras, The Oath is yet another very thoughtful documentary about the effects of the war in Iraq. Concerned with our misguided efforts of capturing and imprisoning enemy combatants, the film spends much of its time interviewing Abu Jandal, a high level al Qaeda operative and Osama bin Laden's bodyguard who now drives a cab in Yemen. Jandal was one of the U.S.'s first key informants after 9-11. In a Yemeni jail at the time, Jandal was an example of how the FBI's tactics of compassion, not the CIA's of torture, are more productive in interrogation. By taking part in a progressive program called the Dialogue Project, Jandal has pledged his life to non-violence after being released from prison. Jadal's life as a free man is contrasted with his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan. Hamdam, wanted for being bin Laden's driver, was captured, most likely tortured and left to languish in prison at Guantanamo Bay. Despite the fact that Jandal carried the gun, and Hamdam sat behind the wheel, Jandal is the success story. Hamdam was the first to be tried under the dodgy laws set up for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and was subsequently acquitted and released. Hamdam refused to take part in the film, but his words, read via letter, resonate. These two stories are delicately woven together and presented to the audience with little bias. The account that Jandal gives regarding how he learned about 9-11, and the fact that it was carried out by people he knew, is completely arresting.
(The Oath will be released in NYC on May 7.)
Air Doll (2009) Hirokazu Kore-eda - Undecided!
If I had never heard of Hirokazu Kore-eda, my feelings for Air Doll would be much different. As it is, I'm a fan of his films and admire his subtle style, and that is why I can not completely condemn this disappointing film. As the title implies, this film is about a blow up doll. Nozomi is owned by a lonely bachelor who has obviously given up on living women in favor of his docile and obedient doll. Treating her as his inanimate wife, he talks to her, baths her and of course has sex with her. Nozomi is not you average blow-up doll. She is far more modeled and realistic than the ones that you buy at the corner sex shop. One day, however, Nozomi animates. She gets a job in a video store (owned by a man who loves Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor & Humanity) and falls in love with her shy co-worker played by Kore-eda regular, Arata. Nozomi is, however, still an air doll who doesn't age and is susceptible to punctures. It's an absurd premise that almost works under Kore-eda's gentle guide. The mix of comedy, drama and the macabre I can take, but its horrendous slides into cheesy melodrama are unforgivable. I stuck with the film until that very last all-the-lonely-people montage where it completely lost me. I'm grateful that MSPIFF showed this film, because I have been eying the $45 Japanese DVD for about a month now. Boy am I glad I didn't buy that!