The European Union Film Festival opens at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, March 1st and runs through the month of March. 61 films will be presented, and I’ll be reviewing as many as I can throughout the month.
The Last Time I Saw Macau (A Última Vez Que Vi Macau) (Portugal, 0212) has four or five really nice ideas going on, and a few of them pan out nicely. But even though the film is a compact ninety minutes, directors João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Matait have trouble fully flushing out those ideas across the entire length of the movie, and, unfortunately, it becomes a bit of a slog.
The film opens with a lip-synced drag queen performance of ‘You Kill Me,’ one of Jane Russell’s night-club chantoozie songs from the Howard Hughes / Von Sternberg film Macao, a cultural touchstone that will be visited frequently here. The performer is Candy (Cindy Scrash), a club girl who has summoned a trusted friend of hers from Lisbon to Please Visit Me – I’m In Danger. The man arrives in Macao, reminiscing about his own childhood there when it was still a Portuguese colony. (Macao became a full Chinese territory in 1999, after over 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule; it’s essentially an island off the coast of Hong Kong.) Candy proves to be harder to pin down than he might have initially imagined, and her infrequent phone calls are matched by a mysterious male caller malevolently suggesting that he forget about this little trip of his and head back to Lisbon. Drawn in further by the mystery of Candy and her plight, whatever that may be, he wanders the city in a noir travelogue, relating, verbally and visually, what the city is now and what is has meant to him in memory.
Much of this is simply a filmed essay on the city, and a very good one. Rodrigues and Guerra da Matait use grainy but well-employed digital video to show us an extraordinary variety of places, activities, internal cultures and moods – traditional Chinese talismans and decoration, Moorish architecture, corporate towers, neon-bathed casinos, freeways, residential streets of rickety wooden shanties, chain-link fence and stray dogs. It’s told exclusively from the man’s perspective – we never see him, and the directors keep that viewpoint consistently, even when we’re shown things that the man is not there to witness. The atmosphere ends up informing the story, rather than the story being a framing device for the intriguing travelogue; in some ways, The Mystery of Candy becomes a slightly tiresome device, but it’s hard to see the film standing on its own otherwise. The narrator’s own youthful reminiscence adds to the flavor as well, but the recipe of The Dangerous Mystery, My Childhood, The Colonized City Before-And-After, and references to stylized Hollywood make-believe just doesn't gel into the cohesive, enveloping experience that the directors clearly had in mind. It’s a film rich in exotic atmosphere – that may be enough for many – but I can’t honestly recommend it.
‘The Last Time I Saw Macao’ screens on Friday, March 8th at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 9th at 5:15 p.m.
Flicker (Flimmer) (Sweden, 2012) is a very nice little eccentric comedy that owes a great deal to the mixed-tone humor of the Coen brothers and the dry graciousness of Roy Andersson’s comedies. The narrative occurs in and around Unicom, a power and telecom company that’s about to introduce 4G wireless service to their little corner of Sweden. We meet Kenneth (Jacob Nordenson), the browbeaten and unlucky company accountant (who’s not too far removed from Office Space’s beleaguered Milton) and his frantic attempts to finish an important financial report while doing battle with Unicom’s IT department (and the vagaries of the online dating world); Birgitta (Anki Larsson), a woman who’s part of the custodial crew and has a phobic aversion to spiders; Roland (Jimmy Lindström) and Jörgen (Olle Sarri), two of the company’s electrical technicians who experience a disturbing but oddly transformative incident, and Tord (Kjell Bergqvist), the exuberant, unflappable and almost completely conscience-free CEO. These characters intertwine with a host of others to tell a number of smaller stories within this larger context, but basically it’s what I like to call a Comedy of Earnestness – an assemblage of unique characters who are so passionately committed to being True to Themselves that they veer, completely un-self-aware, into absurdity. Of course, that guilelessness is also a great deal of their charm, and writer / director Patrik Eklund shows a sure hand in orchestrating the various degrees of genuine humanity and oddball craziness that range across his story. To describe much more would spoil some very entertaining surprises; some of it turns a little too silly, some of it seems weirdly unfunny, but Eklund sets a high degree of difficulty with the dynamics here, and his success rate for laughs, empathy and some dark satire is high. I enjoyed this film a lot.
‘Flicker’ screens on Saturday, March 9th at 7:00 p.m. and Monday, March 11th at 6:00 p.m.