By John Anderson
By Nick Schager
By Anna Dimond
By Chris Klimek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Ciara LaVelle
By Scott Foundas
I'll start with a disclaimer: The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festivalhas grown so gargantuan -- more than a hundred movies and related events -- that it would take an insanely ambitious writer (or one plied with massive doses of amphetamines) to cover it in its entirety. Even festival organizers seem unsure of their undertaking's scale: The 92-page festival program has the event running from October 18 through November 24, while the website (www.fliff.com) claims a more modest October 23 through November 10.
That said, I've once again tried to take in a representative sampling from the festival's sprawling schedule, or at least to see as much as possible of what was made available for advance screening. One of the year's most anticipated films, though, Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, a look at the dark side of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane, wasn't available.
Now in its 17th year, the festival lives up to the "International" that was added to its name along the way, when it began focusing less on American independents and more on world cinema. This year's lineup includes more than two dozen foreign-language films from 15 countries, including one from the forlorn Kurdistan region of Iraq.
The festival continues to emphasize the same sorts of niche films it has always championed. There are more than a dozen documentaries, more than two dozen short subjects, and a dozen works by Florida filmmakers. A few old chestnuts such as the campy sci-fi classic Barbarella and Forbidden Planet, a sci-fi reworking of Shakespeare's The Tempest, have also been thrown into the mix, and American independents are still a strong presence.
Perhaps most notably, the festival has finally reaffirmed its support of gay and lesbian cinema by officially designating a dozen pictures as the Arts United Gay & Lesbian Series. Some selections in this series overlap with other categories, including documentaries and short subjects.
Here's our first of three installments of what this year's festival has on tap:
Cavalcades/Get a Way
The festival program refers to it as Cavalcades, while the media materials and the print I saw opt for Get a Way. Whatever. Either way, it's a slight but amiable French romantic comedy about a young man and woman who "meet cute" in Paris -- they initially trick us into believing they're siblings -- then become friends who spend an unpredictable weekend together. We're fed little clues along the way that the scruffily handsome Didier (Maxime Desmons) is gay: A buddy asks him, "Did you finally write the letter to your dad?" and when his sister sees him with Anne (Agnès Roland), she sarcastically asks, "So, now it's girls that strike your fancy?" Both Didier and Anne are working through their own "issues," and in the tradition of so much French cinema, they spend a good bit of time philosophizing about their lives. In one key sequence, they visit Anne's parents, and the peculiar dynamic of family members who simultaneously love one another and drive one another up the wall is perfectly captured. There are also great throwaway bits: Didier's repeated, ironic use of the word "tragically," and a quirky encounter he and Anne have with a trio of gay men in a café. (Friday, October 25, 3 p.m., Mizner Park, Boca Raton; Wednesday, October 30, 5:20 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Friday, November 1, 5 p.m., Riverfront; Monday, November 4, 1:30 p.m., Riverfront; 88 minutes; in French with English subtitles)
God Is Great, I Am Not
The lovely and talented young French actress Audrey Tautou, star of last year's much-ballyhooed (and Oscar-nominated) Amélie, hits a rough spot early in her career with this self-indulgent film about a selfish, self-indulgent, self-described "top model." The story opens with a teary celebration of her 20th birthday -- teary because she broke up with her boyfriend the day before. This thoroughly unappealing spoiled brat of a character proceeds to spend the night with a decent man who tries to comfort her; attempt suicide; and further alienate her exasperated family with her childish antics. The movie then takes a sharp, unexpected turn when her involvement with a Jewish man makes her become obsessed to the point of absurdity with Judaism. A bonus irritation is that, from time to time and for no apparent reason, the screen goes black, often in the middle of scenes. (Friday, October 25, 3:30 p.m., Mizner; Sunday, October 27, 5 p.m., Mizner; Saturday, October 2, 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., Riverfront; 95 minutes; in French with English subtitles)
I Love You Baby
You'd have to go back to the 1970s to find a film as dishonest about its gay characters and their sexuality as this one -- specifically, to 1977, when Marcello Mastroianni played a gay man who falls in love with housewife Sophia Loren in A Special Day, and to 1978's A Different Story, in which a gay man played by Perry King and a lesbian played by Meg Foster fall for each other. Here, we're in contemporary Madrid, where the unassuming young country fellow Marcos (Jorga Sanz) comes to work at his aunt and uncle's restaurant/bar. Before long, he meets an aspiring actor, Daniel (Santiago Magill), who takes him to a gay disco, and the next thing you know, the two are in love and living together. Magill plays Daniel as a dreamer and a charmer with an irresistible smile and a personality to match, someone who can explain away the difference between his love of ballet and Marcos' preference for soccer with a perfect quip: "You know why ballet and soccer are the same? It's all about gorgeous legs." Things go horribly wrong -- for the movie, for the characters, and for the audience -- when one night at a karaoke bar, Daniel and Marcos team up for a duet of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," the Four Seasons classic that became a hit a second time when gay icons the Pet Shop Boys reinterpreted it. In midsong, a glittering disco ball crashes onto Marcos, who reawakens as a straight man. It's downhill from there. Daniel resorts to trying to pass himself off as a woman to win Marcos back, and the movie rapidly falls apart. Before it's over, however, Boy George is dragged into the picture, for no other reason than his own near-disastrous encounter with a disco ball. (Wednesday, October 30, 9:10 p.m., Riverfront; Sunday, November 3, 9 p.m., Riverfront; Tuesday, November 5, 9 p.m., Riverfront; Wednesday, November 6, 9 p.m., Riverfront; 111 minutes; in Spanish with English subtitles)
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