All’s fair in love and filmmaking: Letz

By By Danny Letz

By Danny Letz

So, I’ve said enough so far about the “what” (Sundance) and the “who” (those out-of-town modern aristocrats that everyone loves so dearly) hanging about Park City this week, so perhaps we should get to the “why”–the films themselves.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: There are three chances to guess what “Driving With My Wife’s Lover” (“DWMWL”) is about, and the first two don’t count.

Set in Korea, “DWMWL” chronicles a 30-something Korean man who hails a cab from Seoul to his home on the outskirts of the country. Only, you guessed it, the cabbie he has selected is none other than the man making kim-chi with his wife behind his back.

Although the film follows several of the successful formulas for comedy (two people of different personalities placed in a car for a long period of time?hilarity ensues), the meaningful and insightful moments of the film are its strongest. As when the rogue-ish cabbie explains to the client, “There is no adultery, just love,” the meaning and depth of the situation come forward, but sporadically so and not nearly enough to carry the film.

And with the turn at the end of the second act, the film becomes a demonstration that speaking a philosophy and living by it are two separate things.

Which brings us to “Blame It On Fidel,” a French film chronicling a young girl’s forced acceptance of her parents’ radical political ideologies and the changes these philosophical stances take on her life as a bourgeois Catholic schoolgirl.

Spanning the late ’60s and early ’70s, young Anna’s parents become increasingly involved in both the election of Chilean President Salvador Allende and French abortion rights, at the cost of Anna’s home and childhood nanny (a Cuban woman who tells Anna about the dangers of Fidel Castro and the communists who drove her from her country, thus teaching Anna to “blame” her problems on Fidel).

Having Anna caught between a pair of highly liberal parents (the kind who take their unwilling children to a protest rally to demonstrate “group solidarity”) and a highly conservative set of grandparents (ones that mourn the loss of Charles De Gaulle) allows filmmaker Julie Gavras to explore what happens when a child is forced to deal with concepts such as wealth redistribution, class separation and sacrifice, which comes at the expense of Anna’s relationship with her parents and the bourgeois lifestyle she has become acclimated to.

Subtle and with an honest sense of heartfelt connection, “Blame It On Fidel” is one of the better movies I’ve seen at this year’s festival.

Then there’s “Teeth.” I know Chris Bellamy has already spoken on the B-level quality of the movie, but I just had to mention how weird it is to walk into a theater and ask the person next to you, “What’s this movie about?” and have them respond, “It’s the vagina-with-teeth movie,” with a straight face.

Very weird.

By the time I made it into the screening for the documentary “A Very British Gangster,” I realized that I’ve seen almost every movie with a title forged from the “obvious” hammer.

No, “A Very British Gangster” isn’t about an innocent puppy dog, though the filmmakers attempt to portray the film’s subject, Manchester gang lord Dominic Noonan, as such.

Maybe there’s just something about glorifying the exploits of a crime lord who all but admits (with a wink and a smile) to killing dozens of people in his native Manchester that doesn’t sit right.

It’s obvious the filmmaker has a loving crush on Noonan, demonstrated by the excessive use of cool, slow-motion cinematography set to a soundtrack of predominantly Oasis tracks, plus the fact that there’s no “other side” to contrast Noonan’s exploits: just Noonan looking cool.

The shallow attempt to “complicate” Noonan’s character by displaying that he and his followers are loyal to one another and that Noonan himself is openly gay doesn’t excuse his unremorseful behavior.

Eventually, one begins to notice the excessive amount of crane shots used to end the separate segments and has to wonder, “Hmm, how accurate can a documentary be when it has so many perfect crane shots to end its separate segments? Did they just happen to have the crane out for such an occasion? Would they do another take if the camera guy screwed up?”

The use of these highly produced and synthetic techniques comes to a head when, during his brother’s funeral, there are a series of sweeping, circular shots of Noonan looking pensively into the distance.

“Mr. Noonan, just stand still, we’re going to walk around you several times while filming so you look really, really cool. Trust me.”

Who does that? The answer: a charismatic murderer with an overfed ego, provided in part by the filmmakers themselves.

I’ll stroke my own ego and feel less filthy about it, thanks.

A sharp contrast comes with the Shorts Program I, a showcase of some of the best shorts at Sundance this year. The importance of seeing this particular Shorts Program in theaters (aside from its being really good)? Half aren’t available for viewing online.

So get up off your corpus sedatus and get to a theater to see some of the most inventive (and I say “inventive” in the best of ways) films you’ll see anywhere. Do so especially if you’re tentative about the idea of watching “shorts,” perhaps one of film’s most under-appreciated art forms.

And so, as the Bard says, that’s the rub.

Danny Letz