Sunday, July 22, 2007

Film festival: short reviews

This year few choices at the film festival excited me. I have been focusing on catching the documentaries because I know they won't be coming back. So far, most of my picks have been successful.

I Have Never Forgotten You
This documentary about famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal is so moving, from the harrowing images of walking skeletons at the beginning of the film to Wiesenthal's own humility and optimism at the end. Despite having over 80 members of his own family killed by the Nazis, he says that he still believes in the goodness of people - no one is born a criminal. Wiesenthal was responsible for bringing the likes of Eichmann and Dr Mengele to justice. However, when he was honored towards the end of his life at about age 90 (still sprightly and active), he got up to say, "Please don't call me a hero. I don't feel like a hero. I have always seen myself as a survivor. And for that, I have to thank you, you don't thank me." Amazing.

Rescue Dawn
My man Werner Herzog's latest offering doesn't disappoint, even though it is his most mainstream film so far. The blurb in the festival booklet says that Christian Bale channels Klaus Kinski in this film but I didn't get that at all. However, Bale puts in a brave and likeable performance here. A standout performance also comes from Steve Kahn who is usually typecast in American movies as a blonde dumb loser. You will recognize him when you see him, one of those guys who play minor roles in lots of movies. In this film, he makes you believe his suffering instead of laughing at it. Rescue Dawn is also based on a true story which Herzog had earlier explored in his doco Little Dieter Needs To Fly. Roger Ebert in his review makes interesting comparisons between Herzog's doco and the latest film based on the same subject, showing how Herzog continually blurs the lines between fact and fiction.

Con Man Confidential
This one features surprisingly open and frank interviews with real-life conmen - and their victims. The material is good but isn't presented that well because it's mostly long unedited takes of talking heads. I thought it was interesting how these conmen held disdain for their victims for being too greedy and stupid. In fact, some points were so interesting that I am thinking of doing a writeup about it.

Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man
Okay, this is not a doco about the man himself. Not quite. The film is centered around a show held in Sydney in 2005 to celebrate Cohen's 70th birthday. It has the likes of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton and U2 singing Cohen songs and being interviewed. Interspersed the performances are clips of Cohen talking about the songs and his life which, of course, are the most interesting bits. Ah, he's such a beautiful man. It's high time for someone to make another documentary featuring Cohen a lot more! As for the performances onstage, frankly none of them except Rufus Wainwright's were good. The thing about Cohen's songs is that they are best sung flat, or ironically. I just think you spoil them if you take them too seriously when you sing. That's just my opinion. Rufus - maybe Jarvis and Nick Cave, too - took it to the right pitch.

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