A review of the Starz drama "The Girlfriend Experience" with Riley Keough, Kate Lyn Sheil and Paul Sparks.
The days dwindle down to a precious few. At 6 p.m.on Friday, Cannes is oddly silent. The tumult on the streets a week ago today is forgotten. There are empty seats at some screenings. The locals of Cannes know this is the time to stand in the ticket lines. The daily editions of Varsity and Hollywood Reporter ceased Thursday. Friends are in Paris, or London, or home. Some few diehards stay for the award ceremony Sunday night.
One of the year's most subtly extraordinary movies opens in Chicago today: Ramin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart." (See Roger Ebert's review here). As readers of this blog know, I first encountered it at Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in May and my experience with it was like falling in love, and not fully realizing it until the final credits were rolling. And that's exactly what's great about it: I never felt like I knew where it would go, or that it was straining to fit a traditional narrative structure; I just became absorbed in the daily (and nightly) struggles of this one human life, an almost invisible man in New York City. Roger sees in it "the very soul of Italian Neo-Realism"; I see the purity and minimalism of Bresson and Ozu. We're both right.
Here's part of what I filed from the Overlooked: Alfred Hitchcock supposedly said that while most movies are a slice of life, his were a slice of cake. He's right about the last part, although most movies are not slices of anything resembling life as most of us experience it. But "Man Push Cart," the film by Ramin Bahrani, a director born in Iran and raised in North Carolina, is not only an exquisitely realized slice of life but a slice of filmmaking perfection. I didn't know, as I became absorbed in this portrait of a New York City street vendor whose life is slowly slipping from his grasp (like his heavy pushcart on one occasion), that it would become one of my favorite movies of recent years until moments after its inexplicably magnificent ending.
All I can tell you is that when the moment came, a thought flashed through my mind: "Wow, I would just end the movie right here -- wouldn't that be great?" And then, one more shot, and the movie was over. So, yes, I felt absolutely in synch with the vision of the filmmaker (whose manifest influences include some of my favorite directors: Robert Bresson and Lodge Kerrigan -- not to mention Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus"), but the film also had me so completely in its spell that it subtly prepared me for arrival at this ending (which, in formulaic conventional movies, would hardly be considered a conclusion at all). It just felt absolutely, ideally right. (Hitchcock also liked to say he played the audience like an organ; "Man Push Cart" is no less masterful, but its method and effects are not the bravura manipulations of Hitchcock but the subtle, underplayed shadings of Bresson or Yasujiro Ozu.)
On the most prosaic level, the story of Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi, a former restauranteur who'd never acted before), a Pakistani-American who pushes (or pulls) his breakfast cart to 54th and Madison every day, could be seen as something of a downer. But, as Roger Ebert is fond of saying, no good movie is ever depressing -- because the experience of being in the presence of such artistry is elevating. (A friend and I, in the grips of a paralyzing mutual depression, once made a pilgrimage to "GoodFellas" and the experience -- though it's hardly an upper of a movie -- temporarily, at least, lifted us out of our low-seratonin stupor because it was just so exhilarating to watch something so beautifully composed and performed.) "Man Push Cart" is that kind of movie. I posted an Opening Shot Project entry for "Man Push Cart" here. Please come back after you've seen the film and let me know your impressions. It may be my favorite movie of the year.
"Junebug" director (and still photographer!) Phil Morrison at the Overlooked. (Photo by Jim Emerson)
At several moments during the Eighth Overlooked Film Festival, I thought I had been transported to a time in which the greatest artists of the movies were not only familiar to all, but properly and enthusiastically appreciated and revered. That such a time would be in the spring of 2006 kind of threw me for a loop, but this was a festival in which (I swear) the two most commonly (and reverently) invoked cinematic influences were not Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino but Robert Bresson ("Pickpocket," "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Lancelot du Lac," "L'Argent") and Yasujiro Ozu ("Tokyo Story," "Late Spring," "Early Spring," "Floating Weeds"). Not that any of the young filmmakers at the Overlooked were trying to claim their work was on par with these cinematic masters, but you could tell from their films that Ozu and Bresson really mean something to these guys, their influences genuinely and thoroughly absorbed into the cinematic sensibilities of another generation. It gave me hope for the future of movies as something more than a commodity.
Ramin Bahrani and Ahmad Razvi after the screening of "Man Push Cart" at the Overlooked Film Festival.
"Man Push Cart": Alfred Hitchcock supposedly said that while most movies are a slice of life, his were a slice of cake. He's right about the last part, although most movies are not slices of anything resembling life as most of us experience it. But "Man Push Cart," the film by Ramin Bahrani, a director born in Iran and raised in North Carolina, is not only an exquisitely realized slice of life but a slice of filmmaking perfection. I didn't know, as I became absorbed in this portrait of a New York City street vendor whose life is slowly slipping from his grasp (like his heavy pushcart on one occasion), that it would become one of my favorite movies of recent years until moments after its inexplicably magnificent ending.
Some films are born overlooked. Others have it thrust upon them. Among this year's festival entries, "Ripley's Game" has never had a theatrical release in the United States, and "Duane Hopwood" had a release so spotty it seemed designed to hide the film. Yet these are the kinds of films a movie critic views with joy: Films that are a meeting of craft and art. Being able to share them is an incalculable pleasure; everybody should have their own Overlooked Film Festival in the glorious Virginia Theater, all the year around. You have no idea how much fun it is.
A sampling of movies from the Toronto International Film Festival from the editor of RogerEbert.com, who was celebrating his fifth TIFF.
TELLURIDE, Colo. -- The most remarkable discovery at this year's Telluride Film Festival is "Overlord," an elegiac 1975 film that follows the journey of one young British soldier to the beaches of Normandy. The film, directed by Stuart Cooper, won the Silver Bear at Berlin -- but sank quickly from view after a limited release and was all but forgotten until this Telluride revival.
TORONTO -- The program for the Toronto Film Festival falls with the thud of the Yellow Pages. This year, more than 300 films from 53 countries will be shown at the largest and most important film festival in North America, which opened Thursday, and as usual, the crowds will be lining up for everything - literally everything. If your movie can't fill a theater at this festival, you might as well cut it up and use it to floss with.