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SIFF diary, part 8

Clean and Heights

The festival is over and I still have seven films to write about, but I haven't been feeling at all inspired to sit and write about film, plus there just hasn't been much time between screenings. But overall, the festival was amazing. We saw many more good movies than bad, although on Saturday, we had the misfortune of sitting through the worst film that I have seen at the festival, but that one will likely require a post all to itself, as there was just so much that was wrong about 4.

But first, I'll try to say a few words about the mid-week films that kept me out late and made me very sleepy at work during the week, and it was very worth it.


Clean was written and directed by Maggie Cheung's ex, Olivier Assayas. Emily Wang (Cheung) struggles with addiction, the desire to create music, and her need to be a mother for her son, Jay, who is in the custody of Lee's parents (Nick Nolte and Martha Henry). After spending six months in jail for drug possession after her husband Lee's death, she heads back to Paris in an attempt to her life back together. And with the possibility of being able to part of her son's life, she does seem to make progress in turning things around.

The main problem with this film is the music. For a film about people in the music industry, the music is very weak as is Maggie Cheung's singing voice. Otherwise, her performance was strong and she was a runner up for the Best Actress Golden Needle Award. The other problem I had with the film was that it never felt totally genuine as a film about addiction or rock and roll and I had a hard time believing Emily Wong's transformation from heroine addict to responsible adult, due to the love and acceptance of her son after spending a short time together. Maybe I am just a bit too cynical about the transformative powers of motherhood or maybe I am reading this film wrong. I did enjoy many things about this film and it was worth the time just to watch Maggie Cheung act in three languages. Nick Nolte also gave a very strong performance as Jay's guardian that gives Emily a second chance at getting to know her child, when everyone else has given up on her abilities to ever be a mother.

So there was plenty to like about Clean, but I have to admit that it didn't really work for me. This was not a story that resonated with my tastes and experiences.


Heights spans one day in the life of a whole host of characters in New York City. The story centers around Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), a photographer who is preparing to marry Jonathan (James Marsden). Jonathan is attempting to conceal a secret about his past that is about to be made public due to a big art opening. Diana (Glenn Close) is Isabel's very successful and highly respected actress mother whose husband is having a very public affair and making Diana question their open relationship. The plot at first appears very convoluted and needlessly complex, but the revelations reached at the end concerning life and love are genuine and very satisfying.

One is tempted to draw parallels to other recent films that ponder the interconnectedness of human lives for dramatic affect, like Short Cuts or the recent Crash, but Heights doesn't share tone or outlook with these films. Heights opens with a scene from Macbeth where Alice corrects the actor's portrayal of Lady Macbeth, reminding us that Shakespeare's characters were truly impassioned by their circumstances and that today true passion is much more rare, even in the face of real trauma or tragedy. We fail to react and just continue on with our lives without letting things really impact us. Heights explores life’s passions by taking a journey through one day that is catalytic for many intersecting lives. And the result is that carefully constructed lies are shattered and as a result, some of these people can move on to live a life that is more honest and ultimately more satisfying.

Heights was a film that I personally connected with and definitely agreed with the gaze of this film. I was charmed by this film and found it to be a thought provoking and delightful film.


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