This year’s Chicago International Film Festival was a mosaic of styles and genres by dazzling new directors from such far corners as Belgium, Vietnam, and Morocco, to brand-spanking-new fodder from Jean-Luc Godard, Chantal Akerman, and Robert Zemeckis. Christopher Walken made an appearance, as did Tom Hanks and Annette Bening, and numerous directors were on hand to make short speeches before their reels rolled. Oh, the eye-candy was grand! Here are two of the outstanding:
By Carla Barger
Iranian director Mohsen Amiryoussefi’s debut film, received a Camera d’Or Special Mention at Cannes this past May, and for good reason.
The story takes place at a cemetery in the town of Sedeh. After a news crew interviews the employees, the owner of the cemetery, Abbas Esfandier, who not only works with the dead all day but also spends his nights watching gruesome war footage and documentaries of western funeral rites, begins to see his life and impending death on his television. He spends his time preparing for death’s arrival, an actual entity named Azrael, and attempting to gain forgiveness from his mistreated employees. By the end, he has managed to way-lay Azrael, but when he realizes he might have to spend eternity dealing with the idiots in his midst, he wishes he hadn’t.
The actors in Amiryoussefi’s film are not actors at all. In fact, as in neorealism of the past, the characters in this film are as they are in real life. Esfandier and his employees really do work in a cemetery preparing bodies for burial. This lends an authenticity to their actions and expressions that professional actors may not have been able to access.
Amiryoussefi’s use of television as death’s mediator successfully achieved an eerie effect, while illustrating a major difference between Middle Eastern and Western society. In a perpetually war-torn Arabic culture, television is used to communicate and inform its people of inescapable harsh reality. The silent black-and-white images that haunt Esfandier through the screen seemed a wrenching and appropriate tool in revealing Esfandier’s current situation and impending doom.
Farsi with English subtitles. 87 mins.
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, French director, Pierre Salvadori’s Aprús Vous makes up in charm what it lacks in depth.
Antoine is a really nice guy and has a really nice life; he loves his job as a maitre d’ at an upscale Parisian restaurant, he has a beautiful and supportive girlfriend, and he has a nice apartment with a balcony and a view. Then, one day on his way home from work, he comes across the suicidal man named Louis dangling by a rubber hose from a tree in the park. Of course, he runs over, cuts him down, and takes him home, where he sits in a despondent stupor at the dinner table with Antoine and his girl, Christine. Antoine proceeds to coax Louis back into the world by letting him live with them and getting him a job at Antoine’s restaurant. He even tracks down Louis’ lost love, Blanche, the cause of his suicide attempt. The only problem is Blanche is trús charming, if not a little flaky, and after repeated excuses to visit the flower shop where she works, Antoine ends up wanting her for himself. Finally, Louis realizes that he doesn’t need Blanche to be happy and if Blanche and Antoine are in love, well, that’s just fine with him.
Salvadori intersperses a lot of quick cuts throughout the restaurant and flower shop scenes, hinting at early French New Wave influences and suggesting both the harried restaurant atmosphere and Blanche’s racing mind as she makes her flower arrangements. There is very little actual conversation between Antoine and Blanche. Their meetings, though brief and under the guise of “helping” Louis, are thrumming with emotion just below the surface. When Blanche says to Antoine, “flowers mean things: roses mean love, peonies mean ‘I’m sorry…'” the flower shop takes on an entirely new feeling.
The actors are Aprús Vous’ saving grace. The storyline is predicable but both Jose Garcia (Louis) and Daniel Auteuil (Antoine) are so engaging that it doesn’t matter. The settings, mainly the restaurant and the flower shop, are quaint and romantic and by the end you just want to give the characters a big ol’ hug.
French with English subtitles. 110 mins.