Smart And Spicy
Two Kidnappings and a Trip to Trieste
June 7, 2018
Just as exotic spices and Marco Polo were at the crossroads of civilization, importing culture today, as well as the films that influence our culture, can shape lives. Ideas have a profound impact; impressions, dreams, data, images affect us long after we're first exposed.
Remarkable film festivals have invaded, each hard to resist, and often, directly competing on the same night for our attention, hearts, and money. You can spend that money on drinks, or expensive food, or you can purchase your exposure to ideas. Which lasts longer?
Flavor-of-the-week this year appears as identity politics, factoring, whether in elections upcoming in November, or 2020's big one. Identity politics of film festivals?
Sure. Ever since Marlon Brando permitted Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist, to take the Oscars stage in his name wearing traditional clothing while protesting events at Wounded Knee, points of view express political identities. You saw it at this year's Oscar's.
Identity politics originally concerned a history of injustice and grievance, a protesting of past behavior toward members of a self-defining group. Currently, it's appearing as a shortcut key to a group's claim it has meaning.
Identity politics involves groups of people having "a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity" tending to promote their own specific interests or concerns (Merriam Webster).
So we get:
COLCOA, the French Film Festival, supported by the French government, committed to showcasing French cinema's diversity.
LAJFF, the Jewish Film Festival, which Mayor Eric Garcetti says confronts societal issues and reflects on the rich heritage of the Jewish people.
LAAPFF, the Asian Pacific Film Festival, promoting Asian creatives in every field, proud to be the largest Asian film festival in the U.S.
SEEurope, presenting the cultural and cinematic diversity of South East Europe.
STARRING EUROPE Film Festival, presented by the European Union promoting cultural ties across the 28 countries in the E.U.
The British use the expression "spoiled for choice," when you have too many good choices. Or as an old Yiddish saying goes, "You can't be one tuchas on three parties."
That was the tantalizing position I found myself in concerning these film festivals. Each is worth your time; you'll learn, and perhaps grow.
* * *
What are the odds? Both the Opening Night film at the Asian Pacific Film Festival, and the Closing Night film at the Starring Europe Film Festival, explored the same subject: a father with a kidnapped daughter.
After seeing these films, I thought of how uneasy I am when parents have a child tethered with a leash. These films erased all discomfort.
Parents! Listen to me. Don't take your eyes off them for a minute. Please.
That this idea transcended continents, making its way to audiences via two distinctly different, and large, demographic groups has meaning.
"Searching" opened the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. It's a film with personality split: part computer voyeur, part big brother. Seeming to unfold innocently, it quietly becomes a heartaching thriller, ultimately doing what thrillers should: it keeps you on edge.
Tightly edited, everything you see on the screen, you're seeing on a screen. The whole film takes place on the computer belonging to John Cho's daughter. Starring as David Kim, Cho is implacable, flint on steel confronting the unthinkable.
Home videos of the daughter gently morph to the present, at times using triptych-split screens; action happens next to texts, emails, online chats. Never leaving Cho's computer, everything's watched. Makes you consider what your own laptop might see.
When his daughter can't be found, Cho's searches go deep, ultimately encircling detectives' investigations. Surprising twists to online searches keep your heart beating, as Cho never gives up on finding his daughter.
This clever, intelligent thriller cuts across genres of detective, crime, murder stories. I predict it will be a big hit. In theaters August 3.
LAAPF knows how to throw a party! Hot music! Everywhere you could see feet tapping as the Director Guild of America's lobby overflowed with happy film lovers. Bodies swayed as people sampled overflowing food; one caterer told me she brought 400 teriyaki chicken kebabs along with three kinds of sushi and lush fruit. As I circled back, everyone was moving in some way to the music. It was jazzy, it was sophisticated.
And then I saw Annie. Offering cold brew coffee and tea, plus decaf, Annie was dancing, moving dreamily; I felt happy to watch her having fun.
Best of show: First Street Catering.
* * *
"Pororoca" from Romania closed out the Starring Europe Film Festival. Another father with missing daughter, this time with a curiously different approach. Shot in Bucharest, the film's uneasy with what's coming. Showing what it does to a family when a child goes missing's hard to watch; the ending is unsettling.
The evening opened with a salute to Romania, playing both the U.S. and Romanian national anthems. I was especially touched by hearing the Romanian Consul-General, Cosmin Dumitrescu, overflowing with emotion, discussing freedom.
"Freedom is not free," he told us; the date was the anniversary of the independence of Romania; it was also Europe Day.
"We celebrate today in accordance with the values of democracy and freedom."
"Tolerance, openness, respect for diversity" is how he characterized Romania, which he said was the seventh largest nation in the E.U. "Maybe the sixth," he added, ending with a wish for holding the peace.
* * *
SEEFest, the South East Europe Film Festival, had wonderful films. The theme, “Passport to Trieste,” highlighted films, conferences, and industry networking.
I was in Trieste once. I remember it as a gray sky place where you feel anything can happen, with small serpentine streets, the kind you'd imagine hiding spies. Or was it that I'd read too many spy novels?
I remember happening by chance upon a tiny restaurant that just looked right. It surprised me when I learned it had a Michelin star. The restaurant was plain, really simple, lovely.
Putting films from Starring Europe together with my memory of Trieste, I could see the honor. Trieste, a crossroads between Austrian, Italian, Slavic and Jewish cultures, stands for intrigue and mystery.
"SEEfest invites you to reflect on this city as a metaphor for the ironies, uncertainties and possibilities that characterize not only the South East European experience, but many facets of our global age; shifting and disappearing borders, fervent nationalisms, placeless places and the multiplicity of identities that are confluent, and sometimes conflicting, in us all." (official festival description).
The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I is this year; SEEfest did a good job of bringing a nuanced group of films to the U.S.
Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.
You can write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org