Film festivals are peculiar institutions in my experience. The problem isn’t the films, it’s the festival. To jam so many films and too many people in so few days guarantees a kind of gridlock. Often the screenings seem closer to rush hour on the subway than a theatrical experience. Too often the venues pressed into service also have poor screens or projection and terrible sound.
Add to that relatively high ticket prices and a crap shoot regarding quality. With so many foreign films and indie pictures with relatively unknown actors and directors you can bump into an unheralded masterwork or a laughably amateurish atrocity. No way to predict.
The only excuse for putting up with all this is love of movies for their own sake and the adoption of what might be called a Klondike mentality. That is, being willing to put up with a lot of dross in the hopes or the occasional gleam of gold.
Last week at RiverRun in North Carolina, six films in four days, the panning turned up a surprisingly high percentage of nuggets. In ascending order of watchablity, today and tomorrow I’ll give you a look at what I saw. No crowds and no tickets required.
We begin with Tanta Agua, a forlorn comedy from Uruguay. It concerns a plump divorced father who takes his resentful children on an ill-fated vacation where everything goes wrong beginning with the abundant water of the title. It rains and rains. The concept could produce amusement and the players are adequate, but too little has been done by writer and director to bring it to life. As Edmund Kean supposedly said, “Dying is
easy, comedy is hard.”
Two Autumns, Three Winters from France traces the rocky progress of a romance between a hapless schlub who also narrates and the sleek girl he clumsily courts. They meet cute by literally running into each other and the method of the story-telling, a sort of collage or mosaic of scenes, is clever. But again the project is sunk by writing that is too thin to make any character other than the narrator three dimensional.
At first blush the Canadian film, Sarah Prefers to Run, seems to suffer from similar defects. Sarah is an actual runner and a good one who wins a place at McGill University. But attending may be beyond her means and her mother is opposed for reasons that are unclear. A co-worker at her part-time restaurant job says he too wants to head for the big city and offers to share the cost of lodging. She accepts and they are off.
Soon he broaches the scheme of getting married to win a government subsidy only available to married students. She goes along, only to learn he is actually in love with her. But she only wants to run despite a heart arrhythmia of unclear seriousness, which may explain her mother’s opposition to the move and the athletics.
Sophie Desmarais as Sarah is such a recessive personality that it is impossible to know what is going on in her head and the film at first seems little better than an anecdote. Yet its effect lingers and in retrospect it is clear that we have been given a glimpse of the kind of monomania needed to compete at a high level in spite of the damage it can do to one’s heart – literally and figuratively.