JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Palm Springs International Film Festival: Quick Takes 1 (Directors: Jean-Louis Guillermou, Paul Mazursky, Mel Chionglo) - January 12, 2007

Palm Springs International Film Festival: Quick Takes 1

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Reviewed at the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Red Priest astonishingly unmusical

Antonio Vivaldi: A Prince in Venice
Jean-Louis Guillermou
France 2006, 95 minutes
One star

Antonio Vivaldi’s music is not strong enough to endure the uneven performances (Israel Chamber Orchestra) or writer/director Jean-Louis Guillermou’s ill-conceived script. In his hands, the life and times of the Italian master comes across as painfully melodramatic (Stefano Dionisi as the composer is laughable in his stuttering conducting gestures and 100 decibels trop forte in his outrage scenes), overflowing with one-dimensional characterizations (Michel Serrault draws laughs as Vivaldi’s Bishop/employer that clearly demonstrate him to be ill-suited for either role), and consistently unsympathetic (never near “lovingly”) reproduction/depiction of some of the world’s finest scores. Worst of the many offences comes when the music has most certainly ended, yet the screen is filled with bows still drawing tone. A close second is the chamber maid’s Amazon feat of single-handedly dragging the family trunk into the “temporary” Viennese digs. Turn the sound off and enjoy the lavish costumes and magnificent locations.

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the Ukraine

Paul Mazursky
U.S. 2006, 74 minutes
Four and one-half stars

Yippee! It’s a movie

Jew and gentile alike will enjoy Paul Mazursky’s trek to Uman, Ukraine for a Hassidim celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The veteran (happily self-described as “famous”) director pours out his heart, soul, and Schwartz/Cohen shtick into every frame. But lurking just below the surface is the filmmaker’s personal sense of what is right and wrong in our contemporary world, even as shared traditions fight amongst themselves and with each other in too many theatres of deadly conflict. (The exuberant sidebar: layover excursion to Oktoberfest in Munich sets the Oman stage brilliantly.) Magnificent is the ironic image of 25,000 devout Jewish men singing and dancing with joy on the same terrain where thousands of their ancestors were slaughtered. The revered Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810) chose to be buried near the site of the “Gonta” Massacre (1768) as a symbolic way of demonstrating his faith and ability to “move on,” while always approaching God in prayer with joy (even though He is the “only one man should fear”). Mazursky has done his Russian-refugee grandfather proud by reinforcing the notion of the infectious marvel of common cause. Now, if only the women were permitted to attend …

A male stripper dances in his briefs

Twilight Dancers
Mel Chionglo
Philippines 2006, 112 minutes
One and one-half star

All undressed with nowhere to go

Mel Chionglo’s study of men who earn their living from dancing (Dwight, Tyron Perez—voted Mr. Big in the “best of show” competition—a straight male stripper whose sexy gyrations lead him to a “Dance of Death” and into the bed of fun-loving arms smuggler, Madame Loca, Cherry Pie Picache—who shoots her own pistol to announce to the humping helper when his mission’s accomplished; Alfred, Allen Dizon—a divorced, reformed peeler who becomes a ballroom instructor when the “value-added” balling from his lecherous admirers becomes to much to, er, bare) starts promisingly on the runway but can’t find its narrative path to a remotely satisfying finish. (Ricardo Lee attempted the script.) There’s eye candy (sweet, tasty, an ounce of drag—the corrupt Mayor’s birthday-bash solo with boa is one of the few funny/memorable moments—furry and hard) galore, but when the sub-threads of gangsterism, strike breaking, violence against women, the plight of orphans and unrequited love (to name a few!) rear their plot-pointy heads, the proceedings implode. Adding insult to injury are the wobbly camera, murky print, and worst dialogue recording of the year (the techno tracks are fine). Nonetheless, if the club scenes were complied and released on their own (don’t miss the two-snake sequence, the python had better be queer!) sales would be brisk to all of those who enjoy in-shape men flaunting their privates in public. JWR

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