When I knew I was coming to Morelia for the second time this year, I entertained a fantasy of perhaps skipping a movie or two and spending some time exploring the beautiful colonial city. It is to laugh. Today I barely see the sky – not only am I inside the Cinepolis multiplex for seven programs in a row, for the last five, from about 3 p.m. to well after midnight, I’m seated in the same theater, #4 – which happily has the largest screen. I’m even more grateful to Daniela Michel for taking me and Olivier Assayas on an impromptu walking tour day before yesterday.
The day starts with “Augustine,” by young French director Alice Winocour, part of the films selected for Morelia by Cannes’ Critic’s Week. (Two previous films co-written by Winocour, “Ordinary People,” directed by Vladimir Persed, and “Home,” by Ursula Meier, showed in Cannes at Critic’s Week.) It’s the kind of serious-but-sexy movie that the French do so well: in 1885, doctor Vincent Lindon seeks support from the French academy for his work with female patients suffering from hysteria, pinning his hopes on demonstrating seizures from his patient Augustine (Soko). It covers some of the same material that Tanya Wexler’s 2011 romantic comedy “Hysteria” did, to extremely different effect. Gregoire Colin is glimpsed, only, in a tiny role as a photographer. Sticking around for the credits reveals that the enigmatic one-named star, Soko, sang the haunting vocals that run under them.
Afterwards I sample part of the Mexican short films competition, which offers 6 different programs, containing six to eight films each. I watch the first few movies of program 3, and am favorably impressed by “New Year’s Eve,” by Luz Maria Rodriguez Perez, about a young couple who learn not to spend the holiday apart; Arcadi Palerm-Artis’ “Bao el sol,” about a bad seed child who does the unthinkable; “Reverse 3 and a half Somersaults in the Tick Position,” by Carlos Lenin, in which sex and competition merge; and the very disturbing “Dentro,” by Emiliano Richa Minter, in which art turns deadly.
I’m intrigued by signs that have popped up all over the multiplex, advertising a previously unannounced special event featuring honored guest Abbas Kiorastami and Seifollah Samadian. The special event turns out to be two rare videos. The first is a short, poetic half-hour documentary called “Roads of Kiorastami,” a montage of evocative black-and-white images of roads, tracks, highways, and trails that Kiorastami has shot over decades of taking photographs, with additional footage of Kiorastami as he continues to photograph in snowy fields and on the road.
The second is a record of a master class in film that Kiorastami taught to young American and international aspiring directors in Marrakech in 2005, with special guest Martin Scorsese, who was in Marrakech to give Kiorastami a lifetime achievement award. The film was introduced by Peter Scarlet, who at the time was director of the Tribeca Film Festival, and conceived of the directing workshop in concert with the director of the Marrakech International Film Festival. Kiorastami and co-director of the documentary, Samadian, are present for the films, but we’re told they won’t do a Q and A.
The films are longer than the time slot permits, so for the rest of the day, which I spend in the same theater, all the programs are running behind. The room fills up, however, for the next screening, of “Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen,” the 84-minute compilation montage film drawn from 500 Golden Age movies (and a few TV shows!) that was the final film shown at this year’s Cannes festival. I join Geoff Andrews, Dieter Kosslick, Nick James, and Lynda Myles.
I’m happy to see “Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen” on a huge screen, after being dazzled by it a couple of months ago on Telluride’s smallest screen. I find it almost more overwhelming on second viewing, as I see my misspent youth flash before me on the screen – the hundreds of movies I have seen, the hundreds of movies I haven’t. Kosslick is glum because he didn’t program the film for Berlin after being offered it – it was pre-screened by another member of his staff, who didn’t pass it on to him (he found it both enjoyable and overwhelming).
Imediately afterwards I see two new Mexican feaure films in a row: disturbing “Halley,” by Sebastian Hoffman, about a security guard who’s dying from a mysterious flesh-eating disease, and has to leave his job at a gym (source of contrasting images of healthy people obsessed with their body image), where a friendly female colleague attempts to get to know him better. It’s the film’s premiere, and two dozen members of the crew take the stage afterwards, to riotous applause.
It’s followed by Carlos Bolado’s “Tlatelolco, summer of 68,” a Romeo-and-Juliet story set during the student demonstrations in Mexico City in 1968, put down by government forces who didn’t want the world to be distracted from the PR opportunities of the imminent Olympic Games held in the city. The movie’s heart is in the right place, and much care has been taken with research – there’s an excellent attention paid to replicating the artwork of the posters, 60s fashions and décor, and the impassioned rhetoric of the movement – but ultimately it feels a bit too slick and TV-movie-esque. The actress who plays the Chanel-suited, conservative, beehived-haired mother of the “Juliet” character shows up with her long hair down and wearing the miniskirted op-art MEXICO 68 dress that we see in the film adorning the Olympics hostesses – just so we know she’s a babe.
The last film of the day (the eleventh, if you count each short film separately, and why the hell wouldn’t you?) is to be “Gespenter” (“Ghosts”) by Christian Petzold, starting only a bit after its announced 10:45 p.m. slot. It's in German with Spanish subtitles, as all the films in his tribute have been except for the latest, “Barbara,” which I saw in Karlovy Vary this summer. (And the very worn and dirty prints remind me that seeing movies on film instead of DCP has its disadvantages, especially since Morelia’s projectionists are very casual about checking focus during a film.)
I’m about to leave when I realize that I understand what one of the main characters is saying – she and her husband are conversing in French. I can also follow most of what I read in the subtitles, so I stick around and quite enjoy the 2005 movie, about a woman who thinks she’s discovered the child, now a young woman, who was kidnapped from her as a baby. I only have trouble understanding one scene, in which the young woman auditions alongside her new and troubled best friend in front of a director and tells him a long story that I can’t quite follow. Oddly I find a fifteen-minute-long fan-created montage about “Ghosts” on Youtube that includes that very scene, helpfully subtitled in English. Oh the wonders of the Internet! Oh the wonders of Morelia, where I feel like I begin to understand Spanish while watching a German movie.