I was going to try to go through these by type or theme or something clever (ha)... but I figure the best strategy now is to just work my way through the fest chronologically, making at least a brief comment about each film I saw. Here goes:
This was a strange little film from The Netherlands destined not to come to a multiplex near you. I did find it interesting, though. Sad story about a young, strange girl who is neglected and taken for granted by her prostitute mother and beautiful older sister who's slipping into a life of prostitution herself. The main character, who doesn't get named until the final scene, takes the nurturing archetype character to the extreme, basically running the entire household, although she's the youngest. She idolizes her sister (Katia) and starts up inappropriate relationships with other people in an attempt to be more like her sister. Very different sort of coming of age story and a look at the life of Russian immigrants in Holland.
Wendy and Lucy
This was one of the films this year there was a lot of "buzz" about and I expect it will get distribution, at least to art house type theatres. It stars Michelle Williams who always impresses me. I've seen her in quite a few small independent films and she's always good. Ultimately, this is a very sad story. I cried. Wendy is traveling with her dog Lucy, trying to get up to Alaska for a high paying job in a fish packing plant, when her car breaks down in Oregon. She's carefully budgeted every penny she has for the trip (without any luxuries like motels -- she and Lucy sleep in the car -- or much food for herself -- Williams was skinnier than I've ever seen her) so the extra expense of needing anything done on her car is terrifying and there's no work to be had in this depressed Oregon town. In a moment of desperation, she steals a can of dog food, is caught by a holier than thou shop clerk, and during the 6 or 7 hours she's detained by the police, Lucy disappears. I don't want to say much more about what happens, but it's a real and sad look at living on the edge of pennilessness and shows both the best and worst sides of human nature in terms of the people she encounters while trying to find her dog and get back on the road. Ultimately, it's a story of sacrifice and quite beautiful.
But it's a very quiet film... During the intro, the director called out someone who she'd seen come in with nachos. Her words were something like: they ask you to turn off your phones, but apparently it's okay to chomp on a huge tray of nachos. I didn't hear any chomping, so perhaps that viewer was shamed into saving them until after the film. (An aside... Generally film fest goers do not eat during films. Between films to be sure. One has to eat. But usually the every-seat-filled theatres are completely silent during the screenings. Especially the "quiet" films. People are really respectful of the films and other film goers.)
Is There Anybody There?
I didn't originally find the premise of this one that engaging, because it sounded too sentimental. But I saw the film Boy A during the week we had to make our festival selections this year and was so impressed by that film that I had to see this one by the same filmmaker. Interestingly, during the intro, the filmmaker said that Boy A was a film he did to fill time while waiting to get the funding and cast together for this one. But I really liked Boy A better, although this film certainly has more commercial appeal. It's the story of a young boy who lives in an old-folks home run by his parents and is obsessed with the supernatural and the question of whether there is life after death. A retired magician, played by Michael Caine, moves into the house and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship ultimately helping each other. Sounds schmaltzy, right? But it's actually not as sentimental as it sounds (although I think it is more sentimental than the director thinks it is) and has some truly funny and touching moments and a twist I didn't see coming. Michael Caine, who plays a character at least ten years older than he is in real life, received a standing ovation both before and after the screening, and it was well deserved. The young boy, Bill Milner, who was so amazing in last year's Son of Rambow, wasn't at the screening because, as the director said, he's a victim of his own success and couldn't leave the set of the film he's currently making.