Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 5:35 pm 
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Dorota Kedzierzawska: I Am (Poland, 2005). 100 minutes. No US distributor. Shown at the New York Film Festival, Lincoln Center, September 27, 2005.

Visual poem about an outsider child, almost too pretty, but lovely to watch

An eleven-year-old (Piotr Jagielski) escapes from an orphanage and returns to his hometown where the other kids call him "Mongrel" and his young alcoholic mother (Edyta Jungowska) kicks him out again. Undaunted, he sets up quarters of his own in an abandoned barge. "Mongrel's" survival stratagems and day-to-day encounters show he's not only resourceful but a fundamentally good person. He and an unhappy girl his age (Agnieszka Nagorzycka) from a posh house nearby discover a sense of affection and love in each other's company. "Mongrel" forages, sells scrap metal, and deals with some of the adults in town. Dreaming of being a poet some day, he avoids the bad kids who chase him and sniff glue and doesn't drink or smoke. Prize-winning cinematographer Arthur Reinhardt used systems of bungee cords to stay close to the young actors and eschewed steadicams and hand-held cameras. Panovision Polska actually donated funds and equipment. The resulting gorgeous soft-colored sepia-toned wide-screen images make this quiet film beautiful to behold, and the director has an extraordinary way with child actors. Composer Michael Nyman (who did the scores for five Peter Greenaway films as well as The Piano, Gattaca, and The End of the Affair) has provided music that's both sweeping and intimate. This is no Ratcatcher or 400 Blows: this boy is marginal and independent enough to create his own wholly separate world -- at least for a while. It's unlikely this would attract a wide audience, and the images are almost too pretty and tend to highlight a certain Polyannaish spunkyness that at times infringes on the true secrets of childhood with adult philosophizing. At the press screening however, Kedzierzawska explained that the main character was based on a real child she met who lived in the woods and dreamed of being a poet.

Bodhan Slama, Something Like Happiness. (Czech Reppublic 2005). 102 min.

Unruly, soulful working-class drama

Moni (Tatiana Vilhelmova) is torn between her boyfriend who¹s gone to work in America and the soulful Tonik (Pavel Liska) who hasn¹t much ambition but is adorable and helps her care for crazy Dasha¹s (Ana Glislerova¹s) two little kids at his auntie¹s big beat-up farmhouse on the edge of an encroaching chemical factory near some unspecified small Czech industrial city. Auntie dies. Moni comes back from the USA looking for Tonik, and he¹s gone. End of story. Slama excels at showing the texture of these working class people¹s lives -- the puke, the molding refrigerator contents, the goats assembling by the new Jacuzzi. Few films feel as lived in as this one. And he¹s got some theatrical moments too, particularly when Dasha¹s acting up, which is every time she¹s onscreen. This is like visiting some Czech urban version of a late-Sixties Oregon seacoast commune. The trouble is the whole is a bit less than the sum of the parts, but the funkily endearing Tonik reminds one of Amalric, and hence of Duplechin¹s Rois et reine, and if you see this as a down-market Slavic version of Duplechin¹s rich kind of excess (edited down to a trim but chock-full hour and forty minutes), you may like it. Nothing seems faked, including Dasha¹s kids¹ wailing misery when chastised or the little boy¹s dumbstruck awe when told the driftwood limbs outside a rowboat are the fingers of a troll. But Slama is the kind of artist who¹s so in love with his materials they overwhelm his work.

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