“Cinema Six” is the definition of average, which is strange considering it was probably the most pumped film at the festival. You couldn’t walk an inch in the press lounge without stepping on one of their little yellow adverts. To begin with, it’s obviously Mark Potts’ first film, as narratively, it’s derivative of so many other, better, things. A lot of the emotional ennui that the filmmakers are trying to convey about working at a movie theater, particularly one that feels so run down and little visited – something that, yes, I can currently attest to as a popcorn pusher in my spare time – are culled from “Clerks” in a way that’s a little too far in the direction of laziness rather than homage. Its attempts at male conversation and camaraderie are part and parcel of the produce of Judd Apatow and his ilk – a lot of “fucks” and a lot of empty vulgarity about balls that doesn’t really feel natural, even though the film makes a great attempt at putting that impression forward.
Yet, while superficially it looks like a lovechild of the aforementioned — those movies at least made an effort to have an arc, to tell a genuine story about disaffected twenty-somethings who come to some real conclusion about their lives through trial and error — “Cinema Six” ultimately feels like a big, floppy let-down. The ending arrives suddenly and the most interesting moments, which should have comprised the better part of the narrative, happen in only the last few scenes. It feels like the director gathered a crew of people and rented out a movie theater and just let them goof off for a while with the camera rolling, and then realized he was making a movie and scrambled to fashion some kind of coherence out of the chaos. Yes, goofing off is what we do most of the time behind the concession counter. It’s not an exciting job. But, that don’t make for good cinema. Six.
Craig Zobel’s “Compliance” was among the strangest screenings I’ve been to in my four and a half years writing semi-professionally. There was such a feeling of tension in the air – people were audibly responding to the screen in full sentences, and there were moments where it almost came to blows, as one gawky teenager continued to laugh in a room full of pin-drop silence until the whole theater rose up and intimidated him into shutting the hell up. This is perhaps the strongest compliment an audience can give a film intended to provoke intense reactions.
Shot in a claustrophobic and harried fashion, the film depicts the true story of the 2004 serial prank caller who posed as a policeman, made a mockery of the manager of a McDonald’s and sexually abused a young girl. The story is told with such a sharp sense of narrative precision that by the end, the rest of my party was asking me (the only guy who’d followed the story when it happened) just how true it was, because so much of it seems outside the realm of possibility. But, yes, this happened, and it’s to the film’s credit that it refuses to give the audience any distance from the events it portrays, because it forces us to watch the whole thing spiral out of control not as a quiet spectator but as an involved assailant, leaving us breathless because – up until the final twenty minutes – we’re refused exit from that manager’s office, and we’re left questioning after just where exactly it all went wrong. The answer is not in a specific point in the narrative, but in the compliant (haha!) minds of the people, all the people, involved. It’s an effective film made up of uncomfortable people not necessarily being forced into an uncomfortable situation, but going along with it of their own volition and – well, very human stupidity. And, that’s the point, and that’s why it’s so affecting, something the film knows and acknowledges with the last coda against black before going to credits: the events reenacted here happened seventy times in the course of a year. It wasn’t just a fluke of happenstance, and it’s not at all surprising to me to learn that this is being called the most divisive film out of Sundance.
But, to be fair, the manager and company who were at the heart of the incident don’t seem like the brightest people. There was a line that the filmmakers surprisingly didn’t keep from the original proceedings that would’ve only added to this subtext, from the girl who’s life was turned into a shambles at the heart of it all, when she was questioned as to why she even when along with it in the first place rather than raise ire and storm out of the restaurant. She said something in
response that was similar to: “I was raised in a house where you did what you were told, without question. So, that’s what I did.” With this soundbite in mind, the film could also be a pretty damned funny black comedy on the nature of blind acceptance – and, I could understand why that little fuck in the row in front of me couldn’t stop laughing.
Kristina Nikolova’s surprising and refreshing “Faith, Love and Whiskey” is a film my brother and I picked out of the festival book on a whim, partially because it felt like one of the notable movies of the festival and that it probably would do well to cover it in some measure or another.
At the outset, I had no real interest in seeing it, because the way it was being promoted was on all sides very much that of a conventional, empowering chick-flick. Indeed, even the words of the promoter at the beginning of the screening said as much, because it boiled down to, “you’re about to see a great film about women! And Bulgaria! And women in Bulgaria!”
But, a man can be wrong – “Faith, Love and Whiskey” is probably my favorite of the feature length films that I saw at the festival, this year. Not a little of that is due to it feeling like the only truly independent film at the festival, the only one out of the crop that I saw that made no real concessions toward the type of bland and disposable main-stream that so many of the others were aiming for.
It’s uncomfortably raw and real, and warm. It’s a such a beautifully naturalistic, unconventionally raw examination of relationships, of femininity and masculinity, combined with a photographer’s eye toward the landscape of Bulgaria, a strange and almost magical combination of the urban and the rural seeping into each other, where the boundaries are never defined between either.
It would really be pointless to talk about what “Faith, Love and Whiskey” is about in a narrative sense, because at its real core its about simple human things expressed with a feeling of great, palpable humanity and lyrical grace, and with surprisingly little in the way of dialogue. Most of what’s here is made known through a sort of constant visual collage of snippets – eyes, faces. Expressions. Winding roads. Glances. Glass bottles on a window sill, growing ever bigger. When there are words spoken, they’re either hushed tones of reluctant acceptance given pin-drop weight by their emotional importance to a scene or drowned out by the blaring music of the sweaty night-clubs that make up a good portion of the film’s background.
So much of this goes into what the film does so well, which is make a film that is actually “universal,” a buzzword that so many films make a claim for, by dealing in emotions and feelings rather than the artifice of genre, something I saw too many other films fall before than I’d like, this festival. That feeling of being romantically trapped, and wanting a last fling before its all concretized, and in that old dilemma it finds something more personal and complicated, being stuck between the comforts of a familiar and juvenile fling, or the burgeoning adulthood that marriage promises, and the feeling of hidden guilt when this marriage is crowed about by family in front of the other man’s face. The euphoria that comes with a reconciled love, and the unabashed shame when it turns out to be merely a temporary thing, and you end up being the one who has to leave the room. Days drift by, more and more until reality suddenly returns to returns the main character Neli back to the world she’s resigned herself to – but, just how reluctantly, we’re never made clear.
For more information on The 2012 Dallas International Film Festival go here.