Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #9

Dir. Jared Drake
North American Cinema Program
World Premiere

This is exactly the reason I don't see the premieres at SIFF. Letting Go of God was an exception as being the film presentation of Julia Sweeney's monologue, I was fairly certain it would be enjoyable. Well, I talked myself into taking a chance on Visioneers, an US independent film by a first time director, because of the cast. Silly me thought that a movie starring the comedian Zach Galifianakis would end up with some of his comedy liberally sprinkled throughout. Sigh. I was very wrong. Zach was there, but his comedy stayed home.

George Washington Winsterhammerman (Zach Galifinakis) is part of level three Visioneers in the Jeffers Corporation. He works to keep productivity up in his group of 4 as people in the world around them begin to explode. These explosions are preceded by common symptoms, which George is also experiencing. As coworkers continue to explode, George's brother, Julieen (James LeGros), moves into his guest house after discovering his true calling, pole vaulting, which he practices in George's back yard.

I think there was a potential for this futuristic, dystopia based on the hopeless outlook of corporate office employees, but sadly, Visioneers failed as a cynical satire and even worse, it failed as a comedy. I don't think I managed an involuntary lip twitch during this snooze-fest. All I did was feel bad for the actors in the movie, and then feel utter amazement when the screenwriter and director had the audacity to compare their movie to Brazil.

Dir. Alan Ball
Contemporary World Cinema

After Visioneers, I needed to see something that wouldn't crush what was left of my soul. Thankfully, we did back to back screenings and so we immediately re-entered The Egyptian to see Alan Ball's feature directorial debut, Towelhead. The film was based on the novel of the same title by Alicia Erian and Allan Ball was in attendance. On one hand, this is a daring debut feature as it deals with a Arab-teenager in American during the first gulf war. However, being the creator of Six Feet Under, Alan Ball has demonstrated that he isn't at all adverse to stirring up a bit of controversy with his work. And this may do exactly that if the right-wing leaning reviews are any indication.

Jasira is 13 and is living with her Lebanese father as punishment by her mother, after she finds her live-in boyfriend shaving her daughters pubic hair. Her father is very strict and unpredictable, slapping her when she wears something unapropriate and often has no idea how to deal with a daughter undergoing puberty. In this new life with her father, Jasira likes the attention she receives from Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), for whom she baby sits his son. Towelhead confronts numerous unsettling subjects like racism, child abuse, menstruation, masturbation and molestation. I find it amazing that Towelhead comes across as a wonderful coming of age story that deals with real issues, while never feeling heavy. This movie remains light and comic, but still treats the subjects with respect.

At times, Towelhead is a very funny film thanks to the performance of Peter Macdissi as Jasira's father. He is not a very good dad, really and at times, an abusive father. But this film never demonizes his actions. Instead of being portrayed as a bad man, or un-redeemable, he is played as young and naive. Someone who has simply never raised a child and seriously doesn't have a clue how. Similarly, the neighbor played by Aaron Eckhart also does horrific things, but again is placed in a context that doesn't turn him into a monster, something that would be easy to do with Eckhart in the role. And Jasira is given an uncommon power. It is rare to see female sexuality on screen, that isn't punished or destroyed. This is a surprisingly pro-woman, sex positive movie.

Towelhead has found North American distributorship and will receive a limited release in the fall.

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