I’m still not at all sure how many of the scenes in the movie Without took place in reality, and how many took place in the girl’s head. I’ve been trying to figure it out since yesterday morning, but it’s still a mystery to me.
Joslyn is the 19-year-old girl hired to take care of a geriatric invalid in a vegetative state by a family living on a remote island, although I’m not even sure that happened. Shortly after she arrives it becomes clear that she’s never cared for an invalid before. The family leaves her with a set of hand-written instructions for taking care of the old man, loosely stapled together on yellow sheets of legal paper that she goes back to, page by page, as she’s trying to figure out how to lift the old man out of his wheelchair into bed. Does that seem at all probable to you?
The only thing that does seem to have taken place is that Joslyn has lost a connection to a dear friend, a significant other, who she can’t stop thinking about. Laying awake at night, she pours through the photos of a girl on her iPhone, unpinching the screen to get as close as she can before turning the lights out and setting the phone beside her bed to wake her up with a jingle in the morning.
Except that the phone isn’t by her bedside in the morning. She rolls out of bed and snatches it up from the window ledge to shut off the incessant tune it’s playing, first without a thought, then with a furrowed brow. When she finally duct tapes it to the bed stand it stays there, but when she rolls out from under the covers she finds that the t-shirt she went to sleep in is lying folded at the foot of the bed. Confused, she pulls it over her head and gets dressed. I’m pretty sure that last part happened to her. Not sure how or why, though.
The old man is an interesting character. He speaks just a few words in the whole movie. Oddly, they’re not the words I expected: “Umm, Juicy Fruit.” They were much more ordinary, while at the same time more sinister, although I’m pretty sure he never said them. I’m pretty sure he didn’t exist outside her mind, even though he locked Joslyn out of the house at least once. Might have been twice, although I think she locked herself out the first time, which means she could’ve locked herself out both times without realizing it. If she was even there. I’m so confused.
Joslyn isn’t sure at all that the old man is the basket case he seems to be. As it turns out, by the explosive scene at the end of the movie she’s absolutely sure of it, and yet, if I’m right, then everything she believes him to be is almost certainly a product of her own troubled mind, and she was just house sitting the whole time, and had way too much time to think about her friend, and it made her go a little la-la. Or maybe she really did walk off into the woods, and she disappeared forever, but then what does the last scene mean?
Between movies I ventured into the basement bathroom at the Orpheum theater to use the commode, because I already knew what the upstairs facilities looked like, and more importantly what they smelled like, and figured the basement bathroom couldn’t be any worse. I was wrong about the smell, and I’ll never know what they looked like because the basement bathroom was lit by a single 40-watt fluorescent bulb over the sink, which was on the opposite end of the room from the toilets, and the ceiling and all the walls are painted black. What. The. Hell.
Raising money to fight breast cancer is a big business, the subject of Pink Ribbons, Inc., a documentary we saw Sunday afternoon at the Orpheum. The film explores the many ways that the Komen organization raises money for breast cancer research, and the effects it has had on the culture of breast cancer victims in particular and American society in general. It also raises a few uncomfortable questions about how the Komen organization frames its mission of raising money for breast cancer. Whether you think it’s good or bad, this movie is worth a look. Four out of five.
Jiro Dreams of Shusi, the movie we saw Saturday night at the Orpheum, is one of the most sublime documentaries I have ever watched. It’s about Jiro, a master of sushi-making whose reputation is so great that people come from all over to eat in his restaurant in a subway station in Tokyo. You must have a reservation to get a seat. Reservations are filled months in advance, so plan ahead.
His son works with him and has been for years and years. Some day he hopes to take over his dad’s business, but Jiro’s in no hurry to leave. Other aspiring sushi masters come to work in Jiro’s kitchen, and he is exacting in his tuition. One hopeful cook tells how me learned to make an egg dish by doing it over and over dozens of times, throwing out each batch because why would you serve an inferior dish to a customer?
I wouldn’t recommend just any documentary about making sushi to everyone, but I would recommend this one. It can’t be easy to put together a film about cooking and make it look this good. Four out of five.
The last movie we saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival was the very Russian film Elena. How Russian? In the first scene, the sun rises behind the curtained windows of an upscale house, as viewed through the limbs of a leafless tree. The sun hasn’t risen at the beginning of the scene, in which the house and the tree are cloaked in pre-dawn gloom, but it’s shining through the windows by the time the scene ends, about five minutes later. Or it could have been fifteen minutes later. It felt like fifteen.
Anyway, I didn’t realize at first that we were witnessing the sunrise. That only became apparent when the orange-yellow glow of the rising sun began to backlight the house, several minutes into the scene. The gathering light gradually made me aware that there was a large, grayish bird with a red crest sitting silently in the branches of the tree. Then, as the first rays of sunshine burst through the windows of the house, another bird joined the first, cawing like a crow. Crows caw throughout the movie, typically in the company of the movie’s principal characters, Elena and Vladimir. At the end of the movie, as the camera lingers on the same shot of the house that opened the film and there is no more Vladimir, only one crow is sitting in the tree outside the house. That’s how Russian this movie is.
Elena has been married to Vladimir for about two years. He is very rich. She, apparently, was not until she married Vladimir. Her grandson, Sasha, will be drafted into the army unless she can convince Vladimir to hand over enough money to bribe a college official or two and get Sasha into college. Vladimir loves Elena, but he doesn’t like her son’s family much, and won’t give Elena the money.
Here’s a hot tip for you: When your Russian wife asks you for a chunk of money, give it to her, especially if you put her in charge of doling out your medicine. Piss her off, and you’re going to end up in the darkly-lit, brooding scenes of a Russian movie while a quartet of cellos play the same line of somber music over and over.
Have you ever played Tetris, the video game where you have to stack blocks of different shapes that come falling from the top of the screen? The game appeared first in the early 1980s and has been around ever since, but the first national competition of Tetris players to find a champion didn’t take place until 2010 in Los Angeles. That’s the subject of The Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, the film we saw Sunday afternoon at the Orpheum.
The film followed gaming geek Robin Mihara as he tracked down the most amazing Tetris players he could find through a gaming web site and convincing them to play in the championship. The player he was really after, though, was Thor Aackerlund, who was crowned the Tetris champion by the Nintendo Corporation in a one-time competition during the 1990s to promote the company’s products. The gaming community raised Aackerlund’s gaming ability to legendary status even though he hadn’t been seen or heard from in decades.
Most of the fun in the movie comes from finding all the gamers, learning about them and watching them as they meet each other, most for the first time. The meet and greet only gets better when Aackerlund shows up. Oddly, what ought to be the film’s big finish, the competition, feels anticlimactic. It doesn’t add much to the film and feels tacked on. But I gave the movie four out of five because I liked the lead-in to the competition.
A young girl, Laure, and her family move into a new neighborhood. When she goes out to play and make friends with the neighborhood kids, they mistake her for a boy. Instead of correcting them, she decides to go along with it, telling them her name is Michael.
That’s the premise of Tomboy, the movie we saw Sunday afternoon at the Orpheum. I’m still not sure what to make of it. I liked the way they explored the complications that pile up as Laure struggles to maintain her fiction: She’s young enough to pass for a boy when they go swimming in the lake, but she has to hastily cut the bottom off her own swim suit and prepare it in other ways. But she’s not sure how to respond when a girl in her neighborhood turns sweet on her. Mostly, she simply lets the girl play out her own romantic fantasies, which is not too far from the way a boy would act.
Sooner or later Laure’s house of cards would have to come tumbling down, but I sure didn’t expect it to happen the way it did. There were lots of tears and some anger, as there should have been, but it ended on an uplifting, hopeful scene that hit the right note. I gave it four out of five.