Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Film Comment Selects: The Wedding Director, 13 Lakes, Ten Skies

The Wedding Director (2006)
Last year I was introduced to Marco Bellochio with two stateside releases, of My Mother's Smile (a.k.a. The Religion Hour) (2002) and Good Morning, Night (2003). I preferred the former, a conspiratorial look into the process of Catholic canonization, as Sergio Castellito skeptically confronts his mother's impending sainthood. A moody piece about airbrushing the fatal flaws of deceased loved ones, it created a suffocating atmosphere where cute school teachers are Catholic spies and the only man Castellito can trust is his half-crazed murderer of a brother. Good Morning, Night was a nuanced drama re-enacting the 1978 kidnapping and murder by the Red Brigades of Aldo Moro, president of Italy's center-left Christian-Democratic party.

The Wedding Director is decidedly a lesser accomplishment, although it has its pleasures. An absurdist comedy with shades of 8 1/2, it follows Castellito's famed film director after he runs off to Naples following an accusation of sexual molestation at an audition from one of his actresses. Once there, he stumbles his way into a job; that of filming the wedding of a princess, and a rather enigmatic one at that. She speaks in flirtatious whispers and coy glances before running off without explanation. It goes without saying that it's an arranged and unwanted marriage, and that Castellito falls rapturously in love.... The director is thrust into a florid melodrama of his own making, and the self-reflexive jokes come fast and obvious. The rest of the film becomes a descent into Castellito's and Bellochio's fanciful imagination, a variety of surreally comic vignettes strung together without really cohering, the quality of each varying wildly. One peak is the story of another director who fakes his own death in order to win a year-end award; another is the opening wedding sequence, where the bride's train becomes a death trap of snapped heels and bruised knees.

It's a failure, but a rather enchanting one.

13 Lakes
(2004) and Ten Skies (2004)
James Benning's two avant-garde nature films hold as much tension and mystery as any mass market potboiler. The films consist of 13 and 10 ten-minute static takes of their respective subjects, with the sound recorded on site (although it is not necessarily synchronous). The images shift and shudder in unexpected ways, as the eye traces the exhaust from a microscopic jet plane or the subtle undulations of ice on Lake Superior. This is not to say one's attention is riveted throughout - they are made to let the mind wander - one can take them in leisurely or rigorously, but they always manage to arrest your gaze in the end. Anyway, you should read Michael Anderson on these, he's thought longer and deeper about these works. Here he is on 13 Lakes at Senses of Cinema, and on 10 Skies at Tativille.

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