Palm Springs International Film Festival 2016

Palm Springs International Film Festival (2015)

The Search
Mirage
I Can Quit Whenever I Want
Patrick's Day
A Girl At My Door

So there I was, searching for information to add to my site’s festival calendar, and I happened upon the Palm Springs International Film Festival. A mere two hours drive away, and held during the month of January, which meant I wouldn’t be battling the awful desert temperatures.

It’s also pretty affordable. This year, a 6-pack of movie tickets only cost $60, and due to the off-peak season, I was able to find a respectable resort hotel for only $90 a night just a few miles from the handful of theaters showing the movies.

Here’s a quick rundown of 5 international films I saw during a nice long weekend in Palm Springs (the one documentary I watched, 1971, is not covered here – but is recommended.)

The Search

The Search 2014Country: France

Genre: Drama

Directed By: Michel Hazanavicius

Written By: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Annette Bening, Maxim Emelianov, Abdul-Khalim, Mamatsuiev Zukhra Duishvili

The Search, set during the 2nd Chechen War which kicked off in 1999, explores the conflict from the point of view of a 9-year-old Chechen boy, and a young Russian teenager. The boy, Hagji (Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev), witnesses the murder of his family at the hands of Russian soldiers, and manages to escape with his infant brother. The Russian teenager, Kolia (Maksim Emelyanov) is arrested for a minor offense and is co-opted into military service instead of going to jail.

Out of all the films I saw at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, this was my favorite. At a little over 2 hours long, this film accomplishes a lot in a relatively short period of time. At its core, are two heartbreaking performances from Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev and Maksim Emelyanov, as well as great supporting turns by Annette Bening and Bérénice Bejo.

Beyond that, writer director Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) successfully delivers a broad view of this conflict, and while the story clearly blames the Russian government for the hostilities, it doesn’t lazily opt for a black and white interpretation of the situation. This story is painted in shades of gun-metal gray, and manages to deliver an extremely effective message about human nature, and the cyclical nature of war and violence.

Mirage

Mirage 2014

Original Title: Délibáb

Country: Hungary, Slovakia

Genre: Action, Drama

Directed By: Szabolcs Hajdu

Written By: Szabolcs Hajdu, Jim Stark, Nándor Lovas

Starring: Isaach de Bankolé, Razvan Vasilescu, Orsolya Török-Illyés, Dragos Bucur, Tamás Polgár

If I take away anything from the experience of watching the film Mirage it’s this; I’ve seen a Hungarian western. Other than that, I found very little to enjoy here. For starters, the initial setup of the movie’s bleak universe is announced with a couple of blink and you’ll miss them title cards. Following that, people show up, walk around, stare at each other, say very little and occasionally hallucinate.

When these underdeveloped characters do say something, it’s designed to make an already bizarre narrative, even more ambiguous. As far as I could tell, this ‘story’ followed the classic western plot; stranger rides into town, walks into a tavern, meets the local bad guy in charge of everything and everybody, drama and (in this film) poorly staged action ensue! And in Mirage, all of that is given and ‘art house’ spin (sometimes literally), as director Szabolcs Hajdu dishes up some beautiful visuals at the expense of a coherent plot and characters you can relate to.

I Can Quit Whenever I Want

I Can Quit Whenever I Want 2014

Original Title: Smetto quando voglio

Country: Italy

Genre: Black Comedy

Directed By: Szabolcs Hajdu

Written By: Szabolcs Hajdu, Jim Stark, Nándor Lovas

Starring: Isaach de Bankolé, Razvan Vasilescu, Orsolya Török-Illyés, Dragos Bucur, Tamás Polgár

The third film I caught at the Palm Springs International Film Festival took me to Italy, for a caper movie that was a cross between the Breaking Bad TV show, and Guy Ritchie’s, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. So yes, it was a touch derivative, but thankfully very self-aware, as characters would often ask ‘just like in American movies, yes?’

The plot is pretty simple, in that a group of science geeks, fed up being the best educated, underemployed people in their town, decide to form a gang and produce and sell a potent (yet legal due to a loophole in European drug laws) street drug. Obviously, as the group become more successful and wealthy, this movie gets really predictable . Success breeds excess, which then leads to trouble with girlfriends, each other and the police. Despite its predictable derivative story line however, I Can Quit Whenever I Want, is a lot of fun. It moves along at a cracking pace, the script is loaded with great humor, and it’s well played by all involved.

Patrick’s Day

Patrick's Day 2014Country: Ireland

Genre: Drama, Romance

Directed By: Terry McMahon

Written By: Terry McMahon

Starring: Moe Dunford, Kerry Fox, Catherine Walker, Philip Jackson

Patrick’s Day was the most frustrating film I saw at the festival. In that it was a wasted opportunity to deliver a poignant look at mental health, amidst a potentially touching love story between a suicidal flight attendant, Karen (Catherine Walker), and a young man suffering from mental heath issues called Patrick (Moe Dunford). Writer director Terry McMahon, opts instead to tell this story of fledgling love and an overprotective mother, as a series of slick dreamy extreme close-ups, and blurry artsy visuals. An experience weirdly akin to having a someone invade your personal space for extended periods of time.

Which was a shame, because at the heart of Patrick’s Day, was a must-see performance from relative newcomer, Moe Dunford, and great supporting turns from Kerry Fox, Philip Jackson and Catherine Walker. Alas however, the movie focuses more on the mother son relationship, abandons the interesting love story angle, and lazily rushes its conclusion with another bout of showy visuals.

A Girl At My Door

A Girl At My Door 2014Country: South Korea

Genre: Drama

Directed By: July Jung

Written By: Lee Changdong, Lee Joondong

Starring: Doona Bae, Kim Sae Ron, Song Sae Byuk

A Girl at my Door is a remarkable little film since its subject matter meant its funding had to come via the Korean Film Council, and its leads, who turn in great performances, did so for free. It tells the story of a young police officer, Lee Young-nam (Bae Doona) who gets transferred from Seoul to a quiet and remote seaside town called Yeosu, following a personal scandal.

Once there she tries to keep a low profile, but ends up embroiled in a situation involving a fourteen year old girl, Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron), and her abusive father and grandmother. What follows is a slow-moving, but effective tale about a pair of outcasts finding each other. One, physically abused by her family and friends, the other emotionally oppressed by a system that doesn’t understand or accept homosexuality. Both doing what they can to survive in a world they can’t seem to relate to, even if that means playing the system to get what they want. The performances from Bae Doona and Kim Sae-ron are really effective, and director July Jung treats the controversial (in South Korea) subject of homosexuality with a great deal of sensitivity and restraint so as not to preach to the choir, or offend those it’s trying to reach.

 

3 comments

  1. I have viewed PATRICKS DAY a number of times—I have always been very moved ( almost to tears ) on every occasion. I have also been astounded every time by the audience reaction to the movie. PATRICKS DAY is one of those ‘special’ movies that gets it’s message ‘bang on’. I believe the cinematography and use of lighting / out of focus shots / imagery etc., are outstanding. I am not the only person to think this as the person responsible for same, Michael Lavelle, won recognition and awards from the ‘best of the best’ in this field. His amazing camera work portrays to the viewer the confusion and turmoil that Patrick ( Moe Dunford ) is encountering. Going back 2.000 years, and more, we have tried to understand the workings of the mind—-to no great success. Psychiatrists today still rely heavily on the ‘ medical model’,
    prescribing medications to their patients ‘willy nilly’ in an attempt to subdue rather than support. There are exceptional medical professionals, such as Prof. IVOR BROWNE or Dr. TERRY LYNCH who attach as much importance to the ‘ talking therapies ‘ as they do to the use of medication. CARL ROGERS was also an advocate of this approach—the person centered approach.
    The use of diffused lighting coupled with the brilliant camera-work tries, successfully, to portray the chaotic thinking that those who suffer from poor mental health have ( or can have from time to time, or all of the time ).
    It would be unfair of me to choose one actor over another, as I believe all the lead actors were superb in whatever role each one played.
    As a registered psychotherapist I consider PATRICKS DAY to be ‘ up there’ with the likes of THE LOST WEEK-END / ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S nest. IT IS iconic.

  2. Stewart

    Thanks for taking the time to write a great comment about Patrick’s Day. I understood what the artsy visuals were trying to do, and they were occasionally successful in my opinion. I just felt Terry McMahon relied too much on that methodology, when he could have made better use of his great cast, especially Moe Dunford. I also thought it was odd that we got introduced to Catherine Walker’s character, who clearly had some mental health issues of her own (depression), only to not really explore that further. If she was only included to challenge the mother-son relationship, then why make her suicidal? I think if the film explored that angle more in addition to the challenges it creates between Patrick and his mother. And Terry McMahon gave his cast more scripted time and relied less on the flashy visuals; Patrick’s Day could have been something really special.

  3. I saw Patrick’s Day at the 63rd International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg in November.
    I agree that this film is difficult to watch (in more ways than one), and I saw a number of films at the festival that I enjoyed more. But I do not think I can agree with your over-all assessment.

    What you describe as dreamy extreme close-ups and blurry artsy visuals are, in my opinion, often chosen to create a visual equivalent of Patrick’s confused state of mind.
    And as for the mother-son relationship, it is the central relationship of the story. The mother’s habit of caring for her son and doing what she thinks is best for him (for better or worse) is portrayed in all its facets as she stands symbolically for the state/government and its treatment of mentally ill people. The government also wants to “protect” mentally ill people but at the same time robs them of their autonomy. That topic has health-related, psychological, social, philosophical, political, and legal aspects. The writer/director has himself worked in a rural mental-health institution in Ireland and is highly critical of the way patients are treated, which is why this topic is close to his heart.

    The story of fledgling love, as you call it, is mainly a relationship that develops in competition to the mother-son relationship – a challenge to the mother’s absolute authority. It is also important, as Patrick’s strong feelings are enough to lead him into open rebellion and they survive a number of his mother’s schemes. But I do not think that the love story itself would have had what it takes to be the main story of this film.

    While I agree that a number of things could have been done differently in this film, I do still think this is a solid and well-done film (remember we are talking about a first-time director).
    And I would easily rate it at 6.0 or 6.5 out of 10.

    I agree, by the way, with your emphasis of the excellent achievements of the cast.

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