I came back to Madison for the 13th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival and, oh, what an impressive festival it was. Over two hundred films were offered up over the five-day cinephile affair and I saw eight of them. It was tough to choose when faced with so many interesting, diverse options, but I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a disappointing screening in my, albeit, small bunch.
Here’s the first group of my whether-you-want-them-or-not reviews…
A Somewhat Gentle Man: I took Executive Producer Dad to this one with me. It’s a Norwegian film that stars Stellan Skarsgard as a recently released convict who is trying to piece his life back together. I’ve always admired Skarsgard (not to mention his GORGEOUS son Alexander, currently seen on True Blood) so he was the draw for me in checking out this dark comedy. And his performance does not disappoint. Also, director Hans Petter Moland captures the perfect balance between the bleakness and the humor of the lead character’s post-prison life…with a teeny bit of heart thrown in. Why is it foreign films straddle this type of delicate line far more successfully than most American films? Plus, A Somewhat Gentle Man features one of the most cringe-inducing-yet-hilarious sex scenes that I’ve ever witnessed on screen.
Bill Cunningham New York: Mom joined me for this one. It’s a documentary about maverick photographer Bill Cunningham who’s been a staple at the New York Times for decades. He’s known for photographing up-and-coming clothing crazes on the streets of NYC (think denim dresses, low-hanging pants, randy hats, etc.) and his pictures have had a significant influence on subsequent style trends in the world of high fashion. Beyond that, the eighty-year-old Cunningham is a charming, inspiring subject – his passion for his work may be called obsessive, but his accomplishments have been achieved on his own terms. Mom gives the film a big thumbs up, too. (And if you know Marcia, you know how much weight an endorsement from her carries!)
Sasha: My sister Alicia stayed up late on a school night to check out this German feature with me. It’s about a just-coming-out-of-the-closet young man who is in love with his piano teacher who is about to take a better post in Vienna. As Sasha struggles with his unrequited feelings, he must also deal with the high expectations placed upon him by his Montenegro-born parents. Like most foreign films, I appreciated Sasha for the subtlety of its storytelling as well as the strong performances offered by actors cast for their talent rather than pretty, botoxed faces. Go, foreign films, go!
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff: This is a documentary film for film lovers. Born in the UK, Jack Cardiff was a Cinematographer who worked on classics like The African Queen, The Red Shoes, and, yes, even Rambo. He’s considered to be one of the best in his field and this thoughtful film illuminates why – thank goodness the filmmakers were able to interview Cardiff before his passing in 2009. He shares a number of entertaining and insightful stories about old-school Hollywood (example: the only two who didn’t suffer dysentery on the set of The African Queen were director John Huston and star Humphrey Bogart because they favored whiskey over water) and he emerges as a genuine artist whose study of painting and light created some of our most powerful and memorable cinematic portraits.
NEXT UP: But Wait! There’s More! WIFF: Part Two.