The Friday-night opening screening of Andy Garcia's Modigliani at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts sold out so fast that a second showing was added at the Regal Cinema in South Beach for the next afternoon. And so it goes all over town, from the Cosford in the Gables to Little Havana's Tower Theater and the Sunrise Intracoastal in North Miami Beach. Now in its second year under the direction of Miami Dade College, the Miami International Film Festival (beginning February 4 and concluding February 14) boasts the biggest lineup in its history. Tickets are moving furiously for 118 pictures from 47 countries, including a slew of world premieres and U.S. premieres as well as special events that range from the fabulous to the bizarre, from the deadly serious to the seriously giddy.
The 2005 MIFF is eclectic by any standards as well as pointedly appropriate for South Florida. It's not just that a renowned Cuban-American Miami Dade College alumnus stars in the festival's opening salvo. It is also that the categories abound with surprises and rediscoveries, with distinctive competition categories in IberoAmerican Cinema and World Cinema, both in dramatic and in documentary features.
"You know, they don't give these films to just anybody," MDC President Eduardo J. Padron says. "We have been able to do what we do because we have a lot of people with the passion, with the commitment, to make things happen. And of course, we have a director of incredible vision."
That would be MIFF director Nicole Guillemet. In addition to what amounts to several minifestivals within the overall program, Guillemet, an alumnus of the Sundance Festival, has scheduled a touching Liv Ullmann Career Achievement Tribute, and she has resurrected Bob Rafelson's iconic 1970 Five Easy Pieces as the centerpiece of "Classic Films: Movies That Transcend Time and Imagination."
"The film is such an event," Guillemet laughs. "I watched it again -- what an incredible story. So we invited Bob Rafelson to be on our jury, and we started to create an event. Karen Black agreed to come too. We are all totally part of a wonderful generation. So much happened. This is a tribute to those times."
For more recent times, there is, among others, a pair of films boasting a breakout star of last year's festival: Daniel Bruehl. After the bittersweet German comedy Goodbye Lenin, the young actor is represented at this year's MIFF with The Edukators and with a lovely piece called The Ladies in Lavender. "He is really a young actor to watch," Guillemet says.
The opportunities to discover international talent are among the festival's sweetest pleasures. "You just look around and see which films address the big issues of our time," Guillemet says.
Modigliani -- The big event, Mick Davis' over-the-top, chutzpah-fueled biopic starring Miami's own Andy Garcia as the soulful, tortured, Modernist icon. The art direction alone would make this picture a must-see, and Garcia's intense and disarmingly exposed performance as Modigliani is already cooking up controversy and a healthy buzz about the underrated Cuban actor. (February 4 at Gusman, followed by a glitzy, opening-night bash).
Liv Ullmann -- The Norwegian goddess is honored not just once but three times at the MIFF. Sure to be the most touching is a Career Achievement Tribute (February 8 at Gusman) where the actress, director, and human rights champion will be on hand for an evening of clips and chat about her brilliant career. As a bonus, the festival is scheduling a special tribute screening of Ingmar Berman's 2003 Saraband, which will give local film buffs a rare chance to experience this devastating sequel to the epic Scenes from a Marriage reuniting Ullmann and Erland Josephson (February 8 at Gusman, after the tribute).
Ladies in Lavender (February 10 at Gusman) and The Edukators (February 8 and 12 at the Regal South Beach, February 10 at the Intracoastal) -- These two pictures from different countries have little in common except for that both star Daniel Bruehl, who charmed audiences at last year's festival with Goodbye Lenin and is now well on the way to international stardom. An entry in the World Cinema Competition, Hans Weintgartner's The Edukators is a fascinating glimpse at alienated youth in today's Berlin, observed with almost cruel clarity and boasting beautifully calibrated performances. In the tender Ladies in Lavender, beloved British actor Charles Dance changes hats and directs his first feature, with Bruehl as a young Jewish violinist fleeing the Nazis and finding shelter in the Cornwall seaside in 1936. Did I mention who takes him in? The formidable Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith play the ladies in the title, their lives upset, their sexual desires rekindled, and their political consciousness (almost) raised by the handsome intruder in their midst.
Red Dust (February 6 at the Intracoastal; February 10 and 12 at the Regal South Beach). Hilary Swank hangs up her boxing gloves and dons a basic black dress to play a lawyer in Tom Hooper's feature debut, based on Gillian Slovo's murder thriller set against the unsettling backdrop of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Tribunal.
Ibero-American Cinema Competition -- Perhaps the most daring feature of the MIFF, with a chance to discover and baker's dozen of first and second features by directors from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. Live-in Maid, with Jorge Gaggero at the helm, brings together Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina in a heartfelt tale of nostalgia, class confusion, and love in a brutally changing Buenos Aires climate. There are two saucy fantasies from Spain, Alicia's Names (February 7, 10, and 11 at the Regal South Beach), about an even more peculiar live-in maid, this one in a Spanish coastal town; and Body Confusion, a post-Almodóvar bit of madness that pays tribute to Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo while taking apart the pretensions of films and filmmakers. From Helena Solberg, who gave us the impossibly adorable Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business, comes the new Diary of a Provincial Girl, her adaptation of a Brazilian classic novel.
Five Easy Pieces (February 10 at the Regal South Beach) may well be the big surprise among the festival's Classic Films Series, which also includes the cinemascope über-Western Bad Day at Black Rock by John Sturges (February 12 at Cosford) and Anthony Mann's Man of the West (February 13 at Cosford), both in Cinemascope. Can it really be 35 years since the world first saw a hot Jack Nicholson and a mad Karen Black in Bob Rafelson's unlikely American masterpiece?