JWR Articles: Preview - Palm Springs International Film Festival - Preview (Programmers: Carl Spence, Helen du Toit) - January 6, 2009
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Palm Springs International Film Festival - Preview

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Couples of all persuasions permeate the two-decade celebration

For its twentieth annual edition, the Palm Springs International Film Festival presents a wide-ranging array of one-to-one relationships that will amaze in their intimacy and dazzle in their global hues and tones.

Last Chance Harvey, the Opening Night Gala feature, sets the pace as veterans Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson try to find some shared magic in their disparate lives. Ten days later, an ensemble cast (notably Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger) weave Guillermo Arriaga’s multigenerational tale into The Burning Plain as the 2009 closer.

From the World Cinema Now series comes couples of a totally different sort. Deepa Mehta’s darkly disturbing Heaven on Earth, chronicles an extended family who willingly turn a blind eye and ear to spousal abuse. Incest rears its ugly head in Hungarian director/writer Kornél Mundruczó’s Delta where favourite son turns his lurid attention to a seemingly powerless half-sister. A looked-over priest and determined political prisoner are the centrepiece of Steve McQueen’s magnificent tale of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles.” Hunger’s brutal realism may be difficult for some, but its impact is undeniable.

Nothing better than John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) highlights the Archival Treasures selections. A much younger Hoffman and first-timer Jon Voight courageously push the sexual bar to a previously forbidden mainstream level. Filmmakers from Derek Jarman to Ang Lee are in their collective debt.

Pairings of the musical persuasion are explored in Yojiro Takita’s Departures. Here, a cellist is suddenly abandoned by the demise of his Tokyo orchestra and must reinvent himself in small-town Japan. At the opposite end of equally fickle orchestral love affairs is Thomas Grube’s A Trip to Asia: The Quest for Harmony. Sir Simon Rattle leads the mighty Berlin Philharmonic through a whirlwind tour yet behind the fine music is the documented pressure of a trio of players on probation trying to win approval from the whole family, one concert at a time.

A world-renowned photographer (Eddie Adams) and his infamous subject (General Nguyen Nygoc Loan—famously caught executing a defenceless Vietcong) are at the heart of Susan Morgan Cooper’s An Unlikely Weapon. Also from the True Stories group are For my Wife (the death of a lesbian partner fuels the fire in a battle for LGBT equality legislation in Washington state) and Suddenly, Last Winter (two long-time Italian men fight against the government’s pursuit of civil unions to replace already sanctioned ‘til-death-do-you-part relationships).

New Voices/New Visions offers fresh approaches to young love (Among the Clouds, Iran), father/daughter simultaneously in search of romance (Grown Ups, France), a—literally—rundown prostitute coming between a suddenly startled duo (Hooked, Romania), a young woman’s quest to finally meet her mother (Rain, The Bahamas) and two culturally diverse women exploring then truly realizing their inner commonality (The Wedding Song, Tunisia).

With well over 200 films, star-studded awards, special events and parties galore, there’s no two ways about it: From now until January 19th, Palm Springs will be the destination of choice for partners and their admirers on both sides of the silver screen. JWR

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Programmers - Carl Spence, Helen du Toit
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