11 November 2006

3rff: Notes from a Festival 2

Delwende
(S. Pierre Yameogo, NR, 90 min, Burkina Faso)


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Delwende is a relatively simple film. In the midst of a epidemic, a small Burkina Faso village believes the recent rash of deaths is tied to witchcraft. They set up their version of a divining rod, which indicates the witch is none other than Napoko (Blandine Yaméogo), who just happens to be the mother of Pougbila (Claire Ilboudo), the young woman we've conveniently just learned has been raped. They run Napoko out of town, which naturally angers Pougbila, who takes it upon herself to track down her mother and clear her name.

It's a simple plot for what's ultimately a simple film that aims to expose the injustices dealt to women in a primitive culture. It's hard not to think of the Salem Witch Trials or even the vastly superior film Water (2006). The fact remains, though, that there just isn't all that much talent on either side of the camera. A better editor could have easily trimmed this down a good ten minutes without sacrificing a bit of content, and the script is either heavy-handed or poorly translated, but that hardly matters, since the performances are haphazardly directed. Is it important to shine a light on this part of the world? Sure, but it couldn't hurt to have a better flashlight.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
(Stephen and Timothy Quay, NR, 99 min, Germany/UK)

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The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is an intriguing, yet awkward title, but it's fitting for this intriguing, yet awkward film. The latest from the Quay Brothers involves a piano tuner (César Saracho) who's hired by a strange doctor (Gottfried John) to tune seven automata, devices I never quite understood. Somewhere in there is a recovering opera singer the doctor is trying to help in some way and a whore, who wanders around and looks seductive.

In the end, I think the film is about art, about how artists create, how they exist, and how they are perceived by the world, but no other explanation would surprise me. Hell, if you told me it was about aliens, I wouldn't be shocked.

In it's best moments, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is a baffling, hypnotic, enigmatic masterpiece. The problem is, those stretches are all too short. All too often, you get the idea the Quay Brothers are far too deep into their own imaginations. The film is produced by Terry Gilliam, and at times echoes him at his most obtuse and self-indulgent. To say it can be frustrating is an understatement. The festival program promises that it "resembles little else in cinema", but to me it felt a lot like early Jeunet, and while I can't place the plot, I'm sure I've seen that before. If it were at least ten minutes shorter or ten percent more coherent, then this could be a very good film, but as it stands now, it's just...um...well...I have no idea.

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