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AFI FEST ’07 CRITICS NOTEBOOK | “Nailing” Vibrant Performances With a Mixed Bag of New Films

AFI FEST '07 CRITICS NOTEBOOK | "Nailing" Vibrant Performances With a Mixed Bag of New Films

As the chaos of the market begins to settle in Southern California, the second round of AFI Fest premieres starts to prove itself somewhat valuable with a mixed bag of solid performances and above competent direction. First up, writter/director Henry Bean, the mastermind behind 2001’s Jew turned neo-Nazi biopic “The Believer,” returns with his sophomore feature, “Noise,” starring Tim Robbins as David Owen, a frustrated New York City citizen who has decided to take the noise pollution of car alarms into his own hands.

After disconnecting several batteries, smashing in quite a few headlights and letting the air out of many tires, Owen’s life begins to fall apart due to his obsessive behavior and growing arrest record. Though Bean’s ludicrous script seems to box the production into the worst of corners, he and Robbins manage to dig themselves out pretty admirably. What should be laughable sections of dialog though end up showcasing the pair’s acting and directing skills.

Kan Lume and Loo Zihan‘s film “Solos” is the most recent addition in a series of Singaporean films shot with limited color and dialog focusing on basic human inability to communicate feelings. “Solos,” tells the quiet story of a boy, the older man he has been dating and is trying to leave, and his abandoned mother. The plot, which is strangely billed as being “based on true events” because of its “autobiographical” unfolding, could be carefully arresting if the interactions were better planned. Unfortunately, unlike films such as Eric Koo‘s “Be With Me,” “Solos” plods along at a painfully “real-time” pace, completely missing the hypnotic mark and going straight for the pretentious and uninspired. Though the visual sensibility is quite striking, the action itself is slow and tedious, making the characters’ motions seem as if they are underwater having graphic anal sex and crying behind closed doors.

Though “Solos” is somewhat exhausting in its process, nothing can compare to the bloated exercise that is Andrea Kreuzhage‘s “1000 Journals.” Definitely the runt of this premiere litter, “Journals” is not unlike a good majority of contemporary docs that assign feature length importance to what is seemingly suited for a paragraph long item on the back page of the New York Times Arts & Leisure section. The film tracks the creation of a series of collaborative art journals. Started by an artist in San Francisco who sent the journals out all over the world with the aim of tracking their progress through a website, the ultimate goal was to have them returned full of art created by strangers. The only problem is, how much material is there really to go with in warranting a feature film? Ultimately, the film runs along with a string of redundant interviews.

A scene from Michael James Rowland “Lucky Miles.” Image provided AFI Fest

On the lighter side, Michael James Rowland‘s “Lucky Miles” is a charming comedic treat that reminds viewers of the early days of independent cinema. Mayhem ensues when an Indonesian fishing boat abandons an Iraqi structural engineer and two Cambodian men on the Australian coast. Tracked by a sophomorish army reservist unit, the three men find themselves admist a series of misadvenutres on a quest through the hot desert in search of a bus to take them to civilization. Though the film doesn’t make as strong a statement as it could, the vintage politeness of its politics are admirable. Comparisons to Jamie Uys‘ “The Gods Must Be Crazy” would not be a stretch, making the distant political allegory more endearing than anything else.

The real crowning jewel for the second half of the week is Jonas Cuaron‘s “Year of the Nail,” the simple love story of a Mexican teenager and an older American woman. The unusual construction of the film is comprised entirely of Cuaron’s own life photographs, ordered to make an entirely fictional story narrated through voiceovers. The result is a bizarre hybrid of Chris Marker‘s “La Jetee” and a Disneyland ride.

Performances in “Nail” are more vibrant and alive than any other film in the festival, proving Cuaron, son of Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men“) and nephew of Carlos Cuaron (screenwriter, “Y Tu Mama Tambien“), the most talented family member for characterization. Without ever seeing a talking face on the screen, the characters come alive through the voices of actors Eireann Harper and Diego Catana in performances that would do the best Pixar movie proud. “Nail” is the piece of the fest worth waiting for, the one that showcases a first-time director’s pure excitement for independent cinema.

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