FilmFestDC — Day 1 capsules
SILENT WEDDING (Horatiu Malaele, Romania) — 8
The current World Cinema “It”-Country now has a representative comedy to go with all the grim dramas it’s been turning out. SILENT WEDDING starts in current-day Romania with a TV crew taking a trip to a deserted factory (“the Communists destroyed a [traditional] village to build a factory, and now the capitalists are destroying the factory to build a [retro] village”) though some uncanny moments flash in, as if the site were haunted by ghosts — which it is. The film flashes back to the main events, which take place at a time we later learn is 1953 but could have been virtually any time — Romania as the home of the vampire legend makes a short cameo. It mostly about village daily life among the peasants, most prominently a young courting couple not exactly waiting for the wedding night, which causes quarreling and joking and drinking.
Balkan-peasant humor seems to be virtually the opposite of the Polish-Czech dry mordant humor — full of oompah-pah-pah overstatement, broad clowning, midgets, wild tone shifts, magic realism and crude cruelty. The best moment was a sex scene in which the young lovers are copulating in a vat of corn, the depth of which becomes a measure of their excitement. Still, I can’t say I was overwhelmed by much of SILENT WEDDING as it was unspooling — it was fairly amusing but large parts of it reminded me of the one Emir Kusturica film I’ve seen (TIME OF THE GYPSIES, which I didn’t care for). A little of that goes a long way with me, but this film was comfortably humming along at a 5-6 clip. Until …
Let’s just say I was sore after watching the scene from which the film derives its title — one of the best comedy sequences I have ever seen, featuring (among much else) the funniest on-screen fart in movie history (no, I’m not forgetting BLAZING SADDLES). For complicated reasons, the villagers put on a wedding feast in which everybody has to remain silent (think the sect members’ pact in the banquet at BABETTE’S FEAST). The sequence is so filled with big laughs that it even retroactively recoded some of the earlier less-amusing broadness and loudness. Part of the reason THIS is so funny is that we’ve already seen how this Zorba the Romanian village normally is — which makes the increasingly elaborate sham so painful for them. And then …
the final tone shift. And it’s not what we’ve been expecting even though, as a film set in Romania in 1953 and watching in 2010, you probably should have seen it coming. It takes a special film to pull off this many tone shifts and choosing the right ones at the right time.
FAREWELL (Christian Carion, France) — 6
Like the other directors scheduled to appear here, Christian Carion was kept away by the Icelandic volcano’s effects on trans-Atlantic travel. But in a note read before the screening, he said he admired “Anglo-Saxon cinema” for its “willingness to make films about political reality” and cited as examples influencing him THE QUEEN and JFK. That description can be read either as an invitation or as a STFA (“stay away”: one more detail: actors imitate Reagan and Mitterand).
Honestly, while I take that (reasonably fair) critical cross-reference as an invitation, FAREWELL is more a film I admire in concept — an old-school pro-Western Cold War espionage film a la TOPAZ, and from France no less — than in execution. I wouldn’t have wanted a BOURNE-esque action film, but FAREWELL never really manages to be terribly exciting or filled with suspenseful set-pieces (a wait by the Finnish border near the end is as close as it gets).
But FAREWELL is very well done in every small way and in the characterizing touches that European films do tend to do better. Weary Slav Emir Kusturica in particular is very strong as the KGB colonel who feeds information to a dorky Frenchman (Guillaume Canet, also cast well) whom he knows is too amateurish for the Commies to suspect. Kusturica’s first appearance is a sudden leap-into-the-throat that also acknowledges cinematically the first appearance of Harry Lime. The relationship between the two men and their parallel (actually more inverse) marriage-espionage woes really is the heart of the film more than thriller-genre elements. And the last reveal would have been even better without the repeated references to a certain John Ford classic. It sounds cliche, but honestly, my heart breaks at the thought of what Hitchcock could have done with this material. Or how much tighter and more exciting any competent Hollywood craftsman of today would have.
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