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Sonoma Film Festival Day Three: Food, Wine and Taboo Subjects on Film

Sonoma Film Festival Day Three: Food, Wine and Taboo Subjects on Film

Today’s Sonoma Film Festival theme: subjects once considered taboo explored on film.

First up, “A Teacher,” a brisk 75-minute first
film written and directed by Hannah Fidell, well-received at Sundance,
about a high school teacher’s reckless affair with one of her AP English
students — he’s in it for playful and casual sex, while she becomes
obsessed and self-destructive. I see it in one of the festival’s
jerry-rigged screening rooms, in the charming 1916 Craftsman bungalow
that houses the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club, with tables and chairs.

Alas, there’s a serious light leak from the back of the house — a
velvet curtain has been hung that only screens half of the glass doors
at the back of the room. It’s worst during dark scenes, and, hey,
there are lots of dark scenes in a movie that features people sneaking
around to have sex. Just to improve things, they’re re-surfacing the
parking lot next door, with loud equipment that often seems to threaten
to enter the room.  The cherry on the sundae is that only one of the
speakers seems to be working. If I was the director (happily not in
attendance), I’d slit my wrists.

glasses of Storm pinot noir are being handed out at the 12:15 screening
of “Spinning Plates,” in honor of the opening 9-minute short “Storm,”
about South African winemaker Ernst Storm, now of Santa Barbara County,
and his philosophies of terroir —  charming and slight, perfect to be
viewed, say, in his on-site tasting room. I’m a sucker for a good
restaurant documentary, and “Spinning Plates” is one. (Clip below.)

It tells the stories of three seemingly wildly different
American restaurants and owners: Grant Achatz’s Alinea, in Chicago,
world-famous home of molecular gastronomy and $210-$265 tasting menus;
the 150-year-old home-cooking restaurant Breitbach’s Country Dining,
anchor of Balltown, Iowa, whose Mother’s Day buffet runs $13.95; and a
young, inexpensive Mexican family-run place in Tucson, La Cocina de
Gabby.  Director Joseph Levy skillfully assembles his footage to
emphasize the similarities rather than difficulties: family feeling,
restaurants as communities, overcoming adversity.  The epilogue for two
of the three places is upbeat, but the writing is on the wall for the
third, alas — and the date of November 2011 quoted makes the film seem
slightly out of date.  

I really want right now is a plate of Breitbach’s fried chicken and
mashed potatoes,m followed by a slice of their raspberry pie, but
instead I trot off to another temporary screening room in the glamorous
MacArthur Place hotel and spa, to see “Laurence Anyways,”
with Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement in Xavier Dolan’s 168-minute
examination of the ten-year on-and-off relationship of a couple’s
struggles when the male partner announces that he wants to become the
woman he always has felt he is — which is news to his girlfriend. I
find the shooting style over-the-top and occasionally pretentious; I
feel I can see Clement acting, and the usually dependable Poupaud seems
singularly unconvincing and uncommitted as a transgendered female (not
to mention oddly badly dressed). I’m then confounded by the last scene
of the movie, a flashback to their first meeting, which is totally
believable and quite moving.
I stick around to see a 6 p.m. screening of “I Do,” a passion project by Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler of  Out in the Vineyard  starring screenwriter/actor David W. Ross as a hunky British
photographer’s assistant who has to choose between a sham green card
marriage or leaving the U.S. permanently to live with his lover in
Spain. The attractive cast includes Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Ross’s lesbian
best friend and Alicia Witt as his sister-in-law, and, in a delightful
surprise for me, my friend Mickey Cottrell in a star turn as Ross’s wise
older pal. As I leave, I tell Saperstein and Vogler that it’s a pity
that the budget couldn’t stretch to include shirts for its leading man.
I wander over to the Sebastiani Theater, the most comfortable and
venerable screening venue, for “Mia,” a first film written and
directed by a young Argentinian actor, Javier van de Couter, with the
120,000 euro prize he won in a screenwriting competition. I
wish there were more people there, because it’s the discovery of the
festival for me so far: a transgender woman who lives in the endangered
Pink Zone, a squatter’s slum largely inhabited by other transgendered
women, who stumbles across a journal written by the dead Mia of the
title while picking up cardboard to sell at the recyclers, and becomes
entwined with Mia’s young daughter and widower.

The film is delicate
yet compelling, well-acted, convincingly sentimental without being
maudlin. I’m especially taken with the two lead actresses, Camilla Sosa
Villada, as the transgender Ale, and Maite Linate as the young Julia. 
Camilla Sosa Villada manages to incarnate both
Julie-Andrews-as-Mary-Poppins-the-ideal-nanny and Audrey-Hepburn-as-Eliza-Doolittle-transformed
without being saccharine.  When she dresses up, near the end of the
film, she looks so good that I thought of Dustin Hoffman’s sadness when
he realized that he could never look as good as the character Tootsie as
he wanted to; Sosa Villada, a real transgender, found after van de
Couter auditioned a hundred transgendered performers, can.  Maite
Linate, conversely, was the second kid actress he auditioned.  As soon
as I get home, close to midnight, I email a number of friends to look
out for it in their festival rounds.  And that’s why we keep going to
the movies, kids!

SPINNING PLATES – Alinea clip from Spinning Plates on Vimeo.

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