Saturday, June 26, 12 noon. Penultimate day of the Moscow International Film Festival, penultimate in-competition press screening, and we’ve got a first: the lights go up instead of down and “special presentation” music (the theme from The Phantom of the Opera, if you must know) heralds two people to the stage. First to the mike is producer Bonnie Curtis, who wastes all of five words before mentioning that she’s an associate of Steven Spielberg. She then mentions that her co-producer on the film we’re about to see, Lawrence Bender, is an associate of Quentin Tarantino. She pauses for applause both times. Then she introduces the director, Arie Posin, who makes a show of speaking in Russian and introducing his Russian mother who’s sitting over there in the front row – stand up mom – it’s her first trip back to the motherland since fleeing back in the sixties. Posin goes back to speaking English so that he can better explain how his first film, The Chumscrubber, explores the true American suburbia, showing, “the world you see and the world underneath.” Oil in water promo act exits stage left, the lights finally go down, and so begins the worst film I have ever seen.
Dan Aykroyd’s atrocious Nothing But Trouble pops to mind as a worthy foe, but many years have passed, I kind of miss having Chevy Chase to kick around, and Aykroyd didn’t exploit his lineage to land it in a foreign festival. The Chumscrubber proves just how eco-friendly Hollywood can be, because not only is every frame recycled material, it’s source material wasn’t very fresh to begin with (if The Chumbsrubber is the thinnest one-ply bathroom tissue, and American Beauty a chafing, newspaper-like public school ply, then Pleasantville is a softer but too-easily torn weave, The Graduate a nice, sturdy, two or three-ply, and the stories of John Cheever are like a fucking cotton field); furthermore, screen time is found for embarrassing cameos by past-their-prime Hollywood talent, whose thrill at working on an “independent project” is as infectious as an agency roster purge. Why have I seen more than one Rita Wilson performance in my life? When did Glenn Close become Joan Crawford? (I feel I’m late to this realization.) Who owes the Culkin family this many favors, and when can we expect a concluding payment?
Star power (if Lauren Holly really qualifies) and that native language intro worked a certain magic on some in the audience (ostensibly press), as I heard shouts of “bravo!” and, “as good as Dreaming of Space!” – the actual Russian film in competition – when The Chumscrubber mercifully expired. It was confusing to hear that response, as limited as it was, and it distracted me, briefly, from my national affiliation mortificatoin. For some – and certainly for whoever decided to accept the film for the competition – a bad movie by a well-mannered son of Russian emigres, starring Glenn Close and Ralph Fiennes, was a coup for the MIFF, eager as it is to raise its international profile. And acceptance at the festival was certainly a coup for Bonnie Curtis and other folks responsible for redeeming this fertilizer. I can’t decide which Moscow film fest phenomena is more cringe-worthy, the petty nationalism or the worshipping of foreign celebrity. The Posin and Curtis duet may have made my flesh crawl, but they knew exactly what and how to play.