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)
Interview with the Assassin
The presence of reliable character actor Raymond J. Barry as ex-Marine Walter Ohlinger is a big plus for this American independent film about an unemployed TV news cameraman who discovers that one of his neighbors (Ohlinger) claims to have been the second gunman in the assassination of JFK. We see things from the cameraman's point of view as he embarks on a documentary with the alleged assassin that takes them back to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, as well as on a visit to Ohlinger's former Marine commander, who supposedly orchestrated the assassination, with Lee Harvey Oswald merely "a patsy." Barry is bone-dry and matter-of-fact as the killer recounts the events of November 22, 1963, and writer-director Neil Burger makes good use of some period footage and footage that re-creates the era. He even works in a credible explanation for the unrepentant Ohlinger's sudden candor after nearly four decades -- he's dying of cancer -- and makes a big show of having the bullet casing Ohlinger turns over to him tested by a forensics expert who confirms it's the real thing. The movie is as drenched in paranoia as anything from the feverish imagination of Oliver Stone, although it eventually loses steam and begins to unravel near the end, and the handheld camerawork occasionally gets tiresome. (Saturday, October 26, 7:30 p.m., Mizner; Wednesday, October 30, 7:20 p.m., Riverfront; Thursday, October 31, 9:10 p.m., Riverfront; Friday, November 1, 5:20 p.m., Riverfront; 88 minutes)
This heartbreaking story focuses on the aftermath of March 16, 1988, when Saddam Hussein's army attacked Halabja, a city of 70,000 in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan, with chemical and biological weapons. It's hard to imagine more politically charged material in a more politically charged time. But fortunately, filmmaker Jano Rosebiani is less interested in political propaganda than in putting a human face on the plight of the Kurds. The specific face is that of the title character, a 10-year-old girl orphaned by the attacks and left with burn scars on much of her face. This solemn child glides through the movie like a ghost, as little by little, we learn the extent of the suffering inflicted on her people. "When I look at us, I yearn for Hiroshima and Nagasaki," one character says mournfully. "Are there chemical attacks in America?" Jiyan matter-of-factly asks the Kurdish-American man who returns to his homeland to start an orphanage. The images of destruction in this already barren, desolate place, coupled with the mangled bodies we see at every turn, become almost unbearable. The stab at a faintly happy ending feels forced, but what has preceded it is so powerful that it doesn't matter. (Thursday, October 24, 5:30 p.m.; Mizner; Sunday, October 27, 3 p.m., Mizner; Thursday, November 7, 7:10 p.m., Riverfront; Friday, November 8, 1:10 and 7:40 p.m., Riverfront; 94 minutes; in Kurdish with English subtitles)