The recent selection of films at Filmfest Hamburg that were either made in America or by Americans reflects the reality that the United States remains a melting pot of cultures and ideas. Immigration is an important topic with two very different experiences portrayed in Amreeka, a film about Palestinians currently living in Illinois and Between Us, which looks back to the first generation of a Columbian family that moved to New York.
Americans can be big on soul searching but never as literally as in Cold Souls, a black comedy that won the Hamburg film critics’ award. Crime stories also continue to entertain and Nicholas Cage may be Oscar-bound with his performance as a quirky cop in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, filmed post-Katrina. Don McKay offers a high school romance rekindled after twenty years but what to do with the accidentally murdered husband?
A summer in Bombay, a wilderness writing camp, a movement for economic human rights and Woody Allen all contribute to a long list of ingredients for a melting pot of interesting films that screened this year. Why not sample a few?
Single mother Muna immigrates to the US with her teenage son Fadi from Palestine hoping for a safer and productive life. After losing all her cash through U.S. Customs, Muna starts at a White Castle hamburger joint, unable to find a professional job despite her vast banking experience. Fadi was so enthusiastic before the move but finds prejudice in their Illinois town so shortly after 9/11. As they struggle still against different demons, Muna is surprised by a bit of romance with the Jewish principal of Fadi’s school. Excellent performances by all with a bit of humor and gritty reality make a terrific movie.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Nicholas Cage delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the troubled hero in director Werner Herzog’s dark crime thriller which also faithfully captures the atmosphere of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Screenplay by William M. Finkelstein with an earlier version by Victor Argo. Also starring are Val Kilmer and Eva Mendes. (CG)
(See detailed review by JM)
Between Us (Entre nos)
As an extremely moving tribute to her mother, writer, director and actress Paola Mendoza portrays Mariana, based on her mother’s life story of immigrating to New York from Columbia. (See detailed review)
Director Joseph Mathew Varghese moved to the USA in 1994 but made his latest film in Bombay to look at the turmoil Indian traditions raise in modern times. At the center of his story is Geeta, a business woman who is having an affair with a struggling writer, Jadev. Geeta’s father does not believe Jadev is suitable for his daughter. To further complicate her relationships, Geeta is drawn to Madan, a young migrant who works as a commercial artist but also as a drug delivery man to make ends meet. The three share a friendship until boundaries are crossed. (MW)
(See detailed review by BS in section Prize Winners)
After twenty-five years, Don McKay (woodenly portrayed by Thomas Haden Church) gets a letter from his high school sweetheart Sonny, (lively Elizabeth Shue), who wants to see him before her impending death. Don dashes back to their hometown and is perplexed by Sonny’s behavior, especially after Don accidently kills her doctor Lance Pryce (James Rebhorn) and yet Sonny claims to consult with him daily on the phone. Sonny’s live-in nurse Marie (Melissa Leo is spot-on) is ominously peculiar, the townspeople standoffish; everyone seems to be other than how they appear. Suspense, black comedy, and with enough plot twists to keep us guessing until the end, writer/director Jake Goldberger’s debut thriller is entertaining. (MH)
In the working class neighborhoods of Philadelphia, four stories about life, love and survival in the city unfold. Babo is an intelligent seven year old with severe asthma who lives with his single mother. His young neighbor Demetri attires himself with glasses and books to attract a girl. A rich art student, Michelle, falls in love with her drug dealer Jacob. Kaleef and Jill have marriage trouble as they try to start a green grocer. Each character struggles with their own problems but in the end they all come together to support The Poor People’s Ecomonic Human Rights Campaign. A movie with a message directed by Mark Webber.
With his new movie Woody Allen is back in Manhattan after four years of filming in Europe. Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as the grumpy old man, Boris Yellnikoff, fits perfectly into the “Woody Allen role”. The film starts with his terrific monologue addressed at the audience. Boris, the snuffed genius and misanthrope, complains of being surrounded by ignorant “inch worms”, meaning the entire human race. An improbable story unfolds: The cantankerous Boris marries a homeless, pretty but naïve blonde from the South (Evan Rachel Wood). Her God-fearing mother (Patricia Clarkson) drops her prayers for sex plays. The father and family man (Ed Begley, Jr.) discovers he is gay and takes a lover. When sweet Melody falls in love with a handsome young man, Boris attempts his second suicide (first try was after his first marriage). He fails again and lands on top of his third wife-to-be. The happy ending is near when the extended family celebrates the New Year with fireworks over Manhattan. Even if the story is in parts predictable, the film is amusing, often silly but with hilarious moments and entertaining with typical – and topical – Woody Allen one-liners. (BS)