JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Palm Springs International Film Festival: Quick Takes 2 (Directors: Daniel Gruener, Jeffrey Jeturian, John Boorman) - January 15, 2007
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Palm Springs International Film Festival: Quick Takes 2

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Reviewed at the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival
The Trouble with Uncle

Never on a Sunday (Morirse en domingo)
Daniel Gruener
Mexico 2006, 125 minutes
Four stars

The phrase “brotherly love” takes on new meaning in Daniel Gruener’s second feature. Carlos’ (Humberto Busto) recently expired uncle manages to miss his date in the yellow-pages recommended crematorium (never die on a Sunday—the men are all drinking Coronas and watching soccer), turns up as an unwilling participant at a medical anatomy class, has a never-used grave dug for him by his loving nephew (who gets shot in the ear lobe for his troubles) and serves as collateral in numerous body-snatching-selling schemes undertaken by his ever-practical brother, Quino (Silverio Palacios). The trick is to send the grieving relative on his way before lighting the inferno, then cook up a couple of dogs in heat, top up the personally-inscribed urn with some crushed rock and before you can say “Bob’s not your Uncle,” deliver the fake-and-shake remains in time for the memorial. It’s a dog’s life, indeed. The film’s a marvellous mix of the bizarre (first-sex in a closed casket), hilarious coincidence (the second unexpected return of the corpse is a body-bag delight) and poignant family drama (Quino and his Zombie daughter Ana—deliciously brought to petulant life by Maya Zapata—finally start talking after her call-for-your-dead dad’s near-suicide in the post-life incinerator). The wide-ranging score from Gabriel Gonzalez Melendez reinforces the action at every turn (the orchestra-tuning “A” works beautifully to mark the major narrative shifts). Incredibly, much of this dark tale is true and serves to underline a moral for all who may become responsible for the last remains of loved ones: “It’s not a bad idea to accompany them all the way to the grave.”


Take a chance 'til you win

Thoughtful portrait of grief (13) and death (29)

The Bet Collector (Kubrador)
Jeffrey Jeturian
Philippines 2006, 98 minutes
Three stars

Like working poor societies everywhere, Manila’s seeks both diversion from tedium and the hope for a big payoff (here the credo of the many desperate gamblers is “Don’t stop ‘til you win.”) In Jeffrey Jeturian’s seventh feature, the camera shows us the world of Amy (heroically played by veteran Gina Pareño). Many will find the pace too slow (the race through the back alleys and rooftops in the early going sets the stage of deceit and despair brilliantly, but that frantic tempo never returns), yet that only serves to reinforce Amy’s quest for a winning combination. Her gameshow-loving husband, minds the family storefront business while his cigarette-smoking spouse goes about hers. Despite praying not to be caught, she’s soon faced with making bail at the police station only to end up taking a couple of “anonymous bets” from her captors. That brief sequence and the occasional newspaper headlines and news broadcasts, remind all that Jueteng, although illegal, touches the lives and fills the pockets from the perpetually broke to the presidential palace. As All Saints Day nears, Amy reveals her compassion (she’s hit upon by the local priest to collect alms for the young pedestrian crushed to death by a wayward car), despair (lost and dazed on her route) and illness (an unstoppable cough and a burning fever, which is magically erased by a vision in army fatigues), anyone who has suffered horrific loss is drawn to her indefatigable character. Even as a road-rage bullet merely grazes her shoulder (its target not so lucky) we’re left with the hopeful notion that some guardian angel is nearby at critical junctures in her wretched life. Those moments, effectively underscored with Jerrold Tarog’s score, are the finest in this thoughtful production.


Will the real husband please stand up?

Be careful what you wish for

The Tiger's Tail
John Boorman
Ireland 2006, 103 minutes
Two stars

John Boorman’s self-indulgent “moral fable” has promise in the premise, but like the dueling entrepreneurs who populate one strand of the narrative, delivers more sizzle than steak. Brendan Gleeson gets the double assignment of portraying Liam O’Leary, a successful developer who bets the farm on bringing world-class soccer to Dublin, and “X,” his destitute twin brother who manages to steal his long-lost sibling’s identity, passionately drives his neglected wife (stoically rendered by Kim Cattrall) into sexual frenzy (the ultimate revenge fuck) that saves their chilling marriage. X’s goal is nothing short of pillorying the wealth that should have been his, had his 15-year-old mother decided to keep the “sickly” child. Gleeson’s evil-twin persona is compelling, but not enough to carry the film. Also languishing for affection is only son Connor (Briain Gleeson), the semi-radical young man who preaches the glories of Marxist doctrine even as he pines for a sailing lesson on his bourgeois father’s boat. Beyond the numerous demands on credibility (are a knockoff haircut and a scratchy throat enough to convince family and trusted business associates that the impostor is the real thing?), the back-stories of all participants (from a ruthless competitor’s sexual proclivities to the hero’s failure to issue a big-enough bribe), the morality theme can’t find a mooring from which to shine its light. As promised by Boorman in his remarks at the North American première, there were “some jokes” (the late-frame Cuba reference is especially apt) but the social-fabric subtext of this beautifully crafted film (Stephen McKeon’s string-rich score a treasure in itself) most certainly left the tale wagging the tiger. JWR

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