Wide Awake, which details Alan Berliner's struggle with insomnia, made me realize that it's normal to have a drop in energy after lunch.

July 6, 2006 16:14
3 minute read.
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hannah brown 88. (photo credit: )


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At the critics' preview screenings for the Jerusalem Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last week, I learned from Alan Berliner's documentary Wide Awake, which details his struggle with insomnia, that it's normal to have a drop in energy after lunch. That may be why so many audience members (myself included) napped through parts of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times. I was looking forward to this film by the acclaimed Chinese director (whose films are set in Taiwan) and I knew that his films are often slow paced, but this was a little too slow for me, and, apparently, for a few other critics. The premise is promising: three separate films about lovers in different time periods (1911, 1966 and the present) played by the same great-looking actors, but there was so little plot and dialogue that there was little drama during the 130-minute running time. The final story, the contemporary one, about a lesbian in Taipei involved with a motorcycle-riding male photographer, had the most energy and all three stories were beautiful to look at, in different ways. Asian directors seem to pay the most attention to cinematography these days. In a way, it doesn't make sense to place too much significance on the films chosen for the preview weekend, but, on the other hand, they do provide our first glimpse into what's behind the 300-plus page festival program. Berliner's documentary was a lot of fun, as he took a subject that should have been of no interest to anyone outside his family - his sleep problems - and made it into a witty film that anyone (at least anyone who's ever had trouble falling asleep) can relate to. Berliner will be a guest this year and the subject of a tribute, "Cine-moi: Negotiating the Public and Private in Personal Storytelling." One of the films from the Sarajevo Film Festival, Gravehopping, was included in the previews. It's a Slovenian film and I have to admit that I had never seen a film from that country before. For what it's worth, its tone and style reminded me of some other films I've seen from the former Yugoslavia in recent years. For the first two-thirds or so it was a gentle and charming comedy about Pero, a sad sack who ekes out a living delivering eulogies at strangers' funerals. His morose outlook on life is both funny and sad and the plot about his depressed father and other family members and friends is diverting. Toward the end, though, the tone shifts abruptly and there are scenes of rape, torture, sado-masochism and murder that will upset and bewilder the most jaded viewer. This jarring shift into seemingly inexplicable violence seems to be a hallmark of festival films. I remember seeing David Mackenzie's The Last Great Wilderness at the festival a couple of years ago and I was lulled into thinking it was a low-key comedy when the two main characters went on the run from a mobster and landed at a Scottish hunting lodge full of eccentrics. In the end, one of the main characters had spikes driven through his eyes in close-up.Tip for aspiring directors: I can't think of a film that was improved by having likable characters impaled and mutilated. So while I have reservations about recommending Gravehopping, I will say that you will never see another movie in which a traditional Eastern European band plays "I Will Survive" and "Sex Bomb" at funerals. You may get the impression that there are not a lot of laughs at film festivals and that is certainly true. At the critics' screenings, movies play simultaneously in both auditoriums, so when I had a choice between Madeinusa, an intriguing-sounding Peruvian film about a girl actually named Madeinusa (which, according to the program, is a common name in some regions of Latin America), who is abused by her father, I went for an American indie romantic comedy, Flannel Pajamas, directed by Jeff Lipsky, instead. Mistake. Although it stars the appealing Justin Kirk, who plays the slacker brother-in-law on Weeds and Julianne Nicholson, who plays attorney Jenny Shaw on Ally McBeal, it was monotonous and derivative. The truth is that the saddest documentary on oppressed Third World workers - if it's a well-made film - is far less depressing than a wasted opportunity such as Flannel Pajamas. Keep that in mind as you flip through the hundreds of pages of film summaries.

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