During the 1st hr, I wasn't sure where the film was heading, & I liked that it kept me guessing. At the midpoint, things kicked into a higher (& stranger) gear. I thought it'd taken a turn towards horror or thriller territory, but I was wrong. Still, it put a scare into me. The film has the same sort of "vibe" as Safe (whereby the scariest elements of the story are those that are suggested & not anything that's actually shown), & I can see why some have been turned off by it (an usher assured me that reactions have been mixed).
Certainly doesn't go out of its way to be likeable, but I was surprisingly moved by the ending. Not at all the black comedy I was expecting after Ms. Otto's quirky turn in Love Serenade (she looks & acts quite different here, altho' I suspect she's much older than the childlike characters she tends to play). All in all, her part is so damned showy, & she makes so much of it, that offers are probably already pouring in from the U.S. (a la Russell Crowe after Proof and Romper Stomper). But I think Pamela Rabe (Hester) really steals the show. It's a truly bizarre, but effective, performance.
The story begins in Israel, spends a great deal of time in England (particularly Dover, i.e. "The White Cliffs of Dover") & flits thru L.A. &, most especially, Paris. Co-writer Victoria Foyt ("Dana") & Stephen Dillane ("Sean") are excellent, and the supporting cast adds a lot of humor to the equation. One of the many bonuses is an appearance from both Vanessa Redgrave & her mother, Rachel Kempson (whom she resembles greatly). Of course, they're cast as mother & daughter, & their scene together definitely rings true. Lots of laughs for a romantic film, but not quite a "romantic comedy" (a genre I usually hate). Some of the stuff about "fate" & "destiny" is sure to make more hardhearted, less sentimental members of the audience giggle, but I thought the director & co-writer, Henry Jaglom, made those concepts seem less silly & more meaningful than they usually do in this context. I also liked the way he took so many hoary old romantic clichés & made them seem fresh again. There's the pseudo-clairvoyant Mystery Woman, for example, whom Dana meets in Israel while on business. She spends the rest of the film trying to track the woman down. Then there's the Symbolic Piece of Jewelry (a la "The Heart of the Ocean") the woman gives to Dana, telling her that the matching piece belongs to a man she fell in love with--& lost--during WWII. And plenty more where that came from. The clues & coincidences keep building on top of each other until a final revelation finally brings it all home to Dana--why she feels more connected to Sean, who she's only just met, than to anyone she's ever known before (including her fiancé, Alex...). A deeply, unabashedly romantic film.The Opposite of Sex: I liked it. Martin Donovan & Lisa Kudrow are particularly good (it was refreshing to see Kudrow in a decidedly un-Phoebe role). Christina Ricca is fairly overbearing in the beginning (she provides voiceover thruout), but I liked her character better once she started to open up a little. Johnny Galecki (David on Roseanne) is pretty irritating, but his appearance is kept to a minimum. The script is as fair to the gay characters as it is to the straight & bisexual. I thought that was cool. Don Roos wrote Single White Female & Boys on the Side. This was his directorial debut. He's got a knack for it, near as I can tell.
I went to The Kitchen Party, which was entertaining, but nothing spectacular. Kind of like a low budget cross btwn Risky Business & The Ice Storm. Made in Canada, but w/out much of a regional flavor (unlike last yr's Hard Core Logo). It's set in a generic suburb called Amberdale, where the adults gossip & drink too much. Meanwhile, the kids gossip & drink too much. The two worlds collide & panic ensues. It could have been set anywhere (& at just about anytime); even the "aboots" sounded more like "abowts"...Director Gary Burns will be at the 5/28 screening.
Heard there were a few walkouts during The Black Mask, a last-minute substitution for Un Air de Famille. "Too violent" said 1 of the walkoutees.
Word from the box office as of 5/20: advance tix to both screenings of Smoke Signals are sold out, advance tix to the Opening Night Gala (Firelight) are sold out, & all Secret Film Fest passes are gone. Tickets for Smoke Signals & Firelight will be available 30 minutes before the box office opens for those films, but I have no idea how many.
P.S. These are some of the guests expected to make it for the fest: Cristina Ricci, James L. Brooks, Noah Baumbach, Eric Stolz, Don Roos, & Vincent Gallo. You can find more info in The Stranger, The Weekly, & at http://www.seattlefilm.com.
P.P.S. Got to set Nancy Guppy up w/a Full Series Pass. She was very cool. Also that guy who does all those car commercials, the 1 who used to be on The Young & The Restless (Chester Colby).
In case anyone's interested, these are my preliminary picks. Most of the info comes from Sight & Sound (esp. European features), Film Comment, Daily Variety (esp. Sundance/Cannes features), & SIFF programmers. My biases: documentaries, black comedies, & crime dramas. Not particularly fond of comedies or historical epics. Favorite film regions: France, England, Ireland, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, Russia, Australia, Japan, & Hong Kong (non-action fare). Expect Buffalo 66, Kingdom II, Tranceformer, & Wilde to sell out quickly. I worked at the box office on Sat. At that time, the 5/30 screening of Smoke Signals was sold out. Passes were still available to the Secret Fest, but don't expect that situation to last long. Also note that James L. Brooks will be coming to town in conjunction with the Filmmaker's Forum.
In Alphabetical Order
Un Air de Famille (From the director of When the Cat's Away)
The Brandon Teena Story (Well received at Sundance)
Buffalo 66 (Well received at Sundance; cool cast)
Cloud Capped Star (Don't know a thing about this Indian feature; great title)
Deja Vu (Siskel & Ebert proclaim this Henry Jaglom's best)
Frat House (Well received at Sundance)
Funny Games (Should be the talk of the fest; The Stranger predicts walkouts)
Genealogies of a Crime (Raoul Ruiz! Catherine Deneuve! I'm there)
Girl with Hyacinths (Swedish classic; never heard of it)
God Said Ha! (Julia Sweeney's 1-woman show; good buzz)
Gods & Monsters (Ian McKellan gives his usual astounding performance)
Henry Fool (Hal Hartley--I'm there; hope it's better than Flirt...)
High Art (Ally Sheedy redeems her wasted career)
Hold You Tight (1 of Stanley Kwan's weaker, more confusing efforts; still, I can't resist)
How the War Started on My Island (Another black comedy from the former Yugoslavia!)
I Married a Strange Person (Full-length Bill Plympton!)
I Went Down (Irish crime drama; well received in the UK)
Jour de Fete (Jacques Tati comedy classic)
The Kingdom II (What more need be said? Udo Kier is back as the baby w/a man's head)
Nights of Cabiria (Fellini classic w/restored footage)
Nosferatu (German Expressionist classic feat. cinema's ugliest vampire)
The Opposite of Sex (Christina Ricci! Martin Donovan! Ms. Ricci owns the fest--she's in at least 3 films)
Post Coitum (Well received in France)
Pusher (Incredibly well received in Denmark)
Rashomon (Much-imitated Kurosawa classic--starring Toshiro Mifune!)
Stella Does Tricks (Well received in the UK)
Thief (Acclaimed Oscar nominee)
Tranceformer (Documentary about Lars von Trier!)
Under the Skin (Incredibly well received in the UK; amazing performance from Samantha Morton)
Voyage to the Beginning of the World (Marcello Mastroianni's last feature)
Waco: The Rules of Engagement (Siskel & Ebert proclaim this a well deserved Oscar nominee)
The Well (Well received at Cannes)
White Witch Doctor (Robert Mitchum! Dumb title!)
Wilde (The Weekly claims Stephen Frye "channels" Oscar Wilde--this I have to see!)
Xiu Xiu-The Sent Down Girl (Joan Chen's directorial debut; s'posed to be pretty good)