Art House Round Up: Tears of the Black Tiger, Glastonbury and Avenue Montaigne
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Getting sick the week that the San Diego Latino Film Festival is coming to a close and Landmark Theaters is opening four films is not a good thing. But heres a round up of three of the latest art house releases: the audacious Thai melodramaTears of the Black Tiger
; the British rock documentaryGlastonbury
; and the French romantic comedyAvenue Montaigne
. Now theres diversity for you.
Thailand's Tears of the Black Tiger
Tears of the Black Tiger is like a fever dream dripping with overripe romantic melodrama. Imagine Douglas Sirk directing a spaghetti western. Then add in religious iconography and an audacious gay sensibility, and youll have an inkling of the subversive artistic pleasures bubbling within Tears of the Black Tiger . Thai cinema enjoys an excess of style even if it doesnt produce a huge number of films. It favors genre fareromance, melodrama, horror. But Tears tackles genre traditions with such bold innovation and reckless abandon that its likely to make you giddy.
The story involves two people who befriend each other as children from opposite sides of the social spectrum. Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), a young peasant boy, falls in love with Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), the daughter of a wealthy family. They vow that, whatever happens, they will one day be together. They plan to meet and run off together but fate has something else in mind for them. They are pulled apart: Dums made to live like an outlaw and Rumpoey becomes a bird in a gilded cage pining away for her lost love. Will fate allow the lovers to reunite or will tragedy continue to keep them apart?
Writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng was responsible for one of the most delightful films at last years San Diego Asian Film Festival, Citizen Dog . He was also writer of Nang Nak , a classic Thai horror flick. For Tears, he returns to the romantic tone of Citizen Dog but trades in the contempo feel of that film for a lush retro sensibility. The film takes genre clichs to radical extremes as images are oversaturated to the point that they seem about to bleed off the screen. The story takes every imaginable melodramatic twist and sucks you in against all reason. This is a film you surrender to walk away from in disgust. I recommend surrender.
The rock documentary Glastonbury
Glastonbury tries to be Britains answerboth in filmic and music event termsto Woodstock . As an event it succeeds in rivaling Woodstock at least in tone and scope if not in the kind of seminal performances by the musicians and groups. But as a film it falls far short of the 1970 documentary (on which Martin Scorsese was an editor) of the 60s rock fest.
The Glastonbury event is promoted as the best known, longest running and most pre-eminent music festival in the world. Former music maker Julian Temple now celebrates thirty years of the festival with his film Glastonbury .
Inspired by the 1969 Woodstock event in upstate New York, a young British farmer named Michael Eavis decided in 1970 to open his 150-acre farm to some 1,500 people who paid one pound each to watch pop and folk stars perform over the weekend. And with that the Glastonbury Festival was born. The event grew in both the number of people it attracted and the talent performing. Temple spent years collecting footage from every year of the Glastonbury Festivals thirty. The footage spanned outtakes from Nicolas Roeg to home videos from the attendees themselves. The result is a ramshackle documentary that captures the energy and feel of the event. Temple seems to want his film to reflect the freewheeling spirit of the festival so he lets footage flow back and forth in time. This means that you often have to guess whos performing and what year it might be. Occasionally performers and songs are highlighted, and every now and then theres a date burned into the corner of a home video but for the most part you are left adrift amongst the memories.
Temple has made one of the best rock docs of all time, The Filth and the Fury about the notorious Sex Pistols. But with Glastonbury he seems to have fallen in love with the wealth of diverse footage, and seems reluctant to impose any structure on it. The result feels overlong and might be best projected on the wall at a party where people can filter in and out, paying attention intermittently. Performers include David Bowie, Bjork, Morrissey, Radiohead and more. Its a fun trip down memory lane but too unfocused and uneventful to be memorable in and of itself.
The French romantic comedy Avenue Montaigne
The most conventional of the three Landmark films is Avenue Montaigne (also known as Opera Seats ). This lightweight romantic comedy feels warmer and less shrill in French than it might in English (or should I say translated into the language of contemporary Hollywood romantic comedy). The tale involves a young woman (Cecil de France) who takes on a job at a popular bistro in order to make enough money to bring her beloved grandmother out for a night on the townincluding a fancy hotel and a show. Along the way she meets couples in various stages of relationships. Some are breaking up, some deep in love and some just getting by. The actors are a charming lot (a nice cameo by Dani who was memorable in Truffauts Day for Night ) and they make the film pleasantly appealing. Valerie Lemercier delivers a wonderfully funny performance as an actress in search of a satisfying part.
Director Danielle Thompson keeps the tone breezy but fails to fill the familiar romantic terrain with any fresh sights. Alain Resnais Same Old Song recent musical pastiche captured romance and Paris in a far more innovative and charming manner.
Companion viewing for Tears of the Black Tiger: Citizen Dog; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Magnificent Obsession
Companion viewing for Glastonbury: Woodstock, The Filth and the Fury, This is Spinal Tap
Companion viewing for Avenue Montaigne: Haute Tension, Day for Night, Same Old Song