I'm going to slog through these before my memory escapes me, so bare with me.
The Misfortunates (2009) Felix Van Groeningen - Take It or Leave It
The title of this film is like a set up: it is almost asking to be used against itself. Fortunately, the film is not overall misfortunate, just sort of. Gunther is a 13-year-old boy who has a higher maturity level than his father and three uncles who all debauch and raise havoc all under the same roof. Parental guidance for Gunther is a misnomer, only finding kindness from his grandmother who patiently cleans up after her adult sons. Like a gang of mongrels, the Strobbes are reviled and regarded in town for their antics. Gunther's life is at a crossroads where he is either fated to inherit the deadbeat lifestyle of his father and uncles or is able to beat the odds before everyone drowns himself in liquor. There are incredibly funny moments in The Misfortunates, but they are overshadowed by the reality of alcoholism in a young persons life: waking up your dad with vomit dripping out of his mouth or becoming the victim of bender induced rage is nothing to laugh about. The film's biggest achievement is constructing these mullet men who you can almost smell from your theater seat into completely likable but totally repugnant men. Our unfulfilled desire to find either a hero or a villain is similar to young Gunther's schizophrenic emotional tugs of love and disappointment from his various father figures. The Misfortunates honesty is a very bitter pill. The story is told in flashback, giving us small glimpses into Gunther's dysfunctional adult life. The present tense tries too hard to correlate with the past and even does a little unwanted social commentary on free will. The Misfortunates is about as fun as waking up on a sticky barroom floor.
Zero (2009) Pawel Borowski - Recommended
My favorite thing about the film fest is being able to walk into a theater with no expectations and be pleasantly surprised. I knew Zero was from Poland and I knew it was just under 2 hours. Although I was prepared to see a bad movie, Zero was far more entertaining and clever than I had anticipated. In his directorial debut, Pawel Borowski exploits the familiar territory paved with large casts and the gimmick of six degrees (or less) of separation. You're introduced to the businessman who calls the surveillance man who spies on a woman who is having an affair with a man who is threatened by a thug who makes pornos with a woman who...well, you get the idea. I thought I had a pretty good idea where this film was going and how it would get there, but 45 minutes into the movie we are still being introduced to new characters. I would liken the film's form to that of a Ferris wheel where the characters stay on for about three revolutions and then move on. Zero maintains this formula for the entire film eventually ending where it started. Sort of. The litany of characters stay interesting, but, for obvious reasons, are never very engaging. The story moves on before we can get very attached to anyone, but it hardly matters. These are more than just mere sketches; Zero is about as polished as a film can get. Perfectly paced with high production values, Borowski makes the ride completely painless.
Ward No. 6 (2009) Karen Shakhnazarov and Aleksandr Gornovsky - Recommended
All I have to say is that slotting a dialog heavy Russian film based on story by Chekov at 10:00pm is like a very cruel joke on someone who has already worked eight hours and seen two movies. The merits of this film were definitely there, but let's just say I missed most of them.