2011 SLIFF Preview | Adrienne Jones

 

SLIFF smI’d like to be able to give you more of the story, but I swear there isn’t one. Lord Byron is as aimless a film as Byron is as a character.

AJ aurelieAfter watching a couple of handfuls of this year’s SLIFF offerings, an idea that’s been rattling around in my head about movies for decades finally crystallized: Good films are always interesting, but interesting films aren’t automatically good.

Two films that exemplify that theory happen p.m. to deal with young girls becoming young women. The better of the two, Aurelie LaFlamme’s Diary (11/20 Washington U. /Brown 3:30 p.m.), falters by erring on the side of safety. Aurelie, like many teens, feels alien and lost in the world. She has deliriously imaginative daydreams that should indicate she’s clearly living in her own realm. But the filmmakers don’t show us enough of her flights of fancy to drive home how out-of-place Aurelie feels, or why she feels that way. The result is a typical teen angst fest filled with disapproving teachers and fed-up mothers, and strained conversations with the opposite sex.

The second film, Corpo Celeste (11/17 Frontenac 4:30 p.m.; 11/18 Frontenac 6:45 p.m.), aims for a delicate character study but forgets one crucial ingredient: character. We only learn a few things about Marta during the course of the movie: she has heart, wants boobs, gets along with her mom, and doesn’t get along with her older sister. That’s not nearly enough to bring us fully into her life and make the long stretches of nothing that happen appealing. Add to that the fact that Marta barely speaks during the film, and you get a movie that could have been about anyone and is, in reality, about no one at all.

Angst, of course, belongs to no one age group, and Generation Y adults get fair treatment at the fest. All Those Yesterdays (11/14 Frontenac 9:30 p.m.) follows two exes who have met up for a day out after a chance meeting at a party, which comes after two years apart, and when each of them now has longstanding relationships with other people. They’re both unhappy with their current partners; she with a boorish boyfriend and he with a girlfriend he doesn’t even like that much. So, all the better to spend a slightly illicit day with your ex, and talk a lot about missed opportunities, expectations, and what really matters in life. The dynamic between the two leads, John Gregory Willard and Libby Bibb, is what really makes this drama sparkle. So much so that any time other actors are given too much to do the movie slips into an odd rhythm that makes you long for more moments between the protagonists. If the film had focused even more on the leads, it might have gone from above average to really good.

Here’s the Kicker (11/18 Tivoli 7:15 p.m.) takes twentysomething disenchantment and spins it into a (supposedly) wacky road trip tale. Simon and Brittany decide to leave their dead-end lives in Los Angeles behind to relocate to her tiny hometown in Texas, but the road back is less than smooth. Aside from the sudden tonal shifts that take us from slapstick moments to some serious stuff and back to comedy, the biggest problem here is that the characters are either bland or unlikeable. We’re supposed to like Simon’s slightly manic buddy, whom the couple pick up along the way, but seeing as how he ditches his wife and baby daughter to have a fling with the woman who’s been emailing him intimate photos, that’s kind of hard to do. Most irritatingly, Simon and Brittany aren’t the kind of characters who make movies sing. They don’t seem especially smart or curious about the new possibilities ahead, and manage to have zero conversations that echo any kind collective world-weariness. A sure way to kill your film is to hang everything on characters that bore the audience.

AJ shuffleShuffle (11/20 Tivoli 6:30 p.m.) can’t be called boring, even though it does start off too frenetically for its own good. When Lovell begins to experience moments of his life out of order he tries to piece together the how and why of what’s happening to him. The first 35 minutes are so fast paced that it’s a bit dizzying, but once the action slows down the storytelling hits a pleasant stride that keeps the mystery going while also developing the characters. It’s a true testament to the script and acting that they were able to keep me interested even though I figured out what was going on about an hour in. And, even if you manage to catch on to the mystery, there are some nice twists that make the resolution interesting.

Another mystery, but one that resists leaning on fantasy to drive the story, is the engaging Pig (11/13 Tivoli 1:30 p.m.). This is exactly the kind of (likely) hidden gem we visit film festivals to find. The story starts with a man waking up in the desert with his hands tied behind his back and a hood over his head. He has no memories of who he is or how he got there, but after following a faint trail of clues discovers that his experience isn’t as unusual as you’d think. The difficulties of crafting a film like this, where secrets unfold but final answers are kept at bay for as long as possible, can be seen in dozens of like-minded films that try and fail to hold the audience’s attention. Pig is unique in that it does such a good job of keeping solutions just out of reach while never feeling drawn out or becoming irritating by straining believability of the situation. I’ll probably get slammed for saying this, but Pig is one of the few small films I’ve seen where the acting is great across the board. Everyone’s performance, from the tiniest part to the lead, is completely on point. It was actually quite inspiring to see.

Not so inspiring was Lord Byron (11/20 Tivoli 4:00 p.m.). This tale of a Southern “ladies’ man” starts off odd and just gets weirder. It also makes an important point, albeit completely inadvertently: just because a movie is different doesn’t mean it will be good. Or watchable, even. Byron spends his considerable free time having sex with his various women, smoking weed, and writing in his journal. He doesn’t work and has spent the past two years living with his ex-wife, her kids and her parade of new boyfriends. I’d like to be able to give you more of the story, but I swear there isn’t one. Lord Byron is as aimless a film as Byron is as a character. Even when he makes noises about wanting change and something new, he just goes on doing the same thing. The story wanders from one peculiar conversation or incident to another with no clear through-line to hold things together. And the ending manages to simultaneously bore and boggle the mind. Byron is also surrounded by strange characters for whom I’m still straining to see reasons. They do a lot of talking without saying much of anything, and most of them have little or nothing to do with Byron’s life at all. Alas, problems with the script are only compounded by the look of the film. The director chose to use several techniques that actually detract from the already sparse story, and look like they belong in a bad music video from the early ’80s. In all, this was a tedious and confusing movie-watching experience. Lord Byron isn’t even endurable in a so-bad-it’s-good way.

AJ eleanorThankfully, I was able to round out my viewing with two films that had all the charm Byron lacked. Eleanor’s Secret (11/20 Washington U. /Brown 1:30 p.m.) is a delightful animated story about Nat, a boy who fears his inability to read even after being gifted with an entire library of his favorite books. Part of the beauty of this movie was in the way the filmmakers used the fantastical elements of the story as a jumping off point for teaching children to have faith in themselves and keep going when the going gets rough. I also liked the style of animation they used, and was especially fond of the way they chose to illustrate Nat’s fear of the written word as letters scramble and turn into nonsense on oversized pages that engulf him. Kids will likely enjoy it, and the adults who get them to the theater won’t feel lobotomized as they watch.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more surprised by a film’s oddball appeal than I was with Karaoke Man (11/19 Tivoli 4:00 p.m.). Louis is a semi-reclusive comic book artist who’s spending his first days in the big city. But when he falls in love at first sight with a karaoke bar waitress, he becomes determined to woo her in spite of his shyness. The movie does a great job of combining comedy with slightly more serious moments without the overall tone changing suddenly. There’s a consistently lopsided agreeableness that just makes Karaoke Man fun to watch. It feels a lot like something from an earlier, less cynical time without being at all cloying. A huge amount of that credit goes to star Brian Dietzen. Even though Louis has limited social knowledge, Dietzen was able to imbue him with just enough guts to make him seem like a real person. I don’t know if we can ask any more of an actor than that. | Adrienne Jones

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