SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL 2009 – Sunday, March 29th

Another gem of a three movie day for me yesterday. I guess it’s a tad unfair to compare my experience at Sarasota to other festivals, because so many factors play into why I know I’ll be seeing good to very good to great films whenever I’m here: 1) I’ve already weeded through a lot of junk at other more premiere oriented festivals; 2) My own cinematic taste buds are so cosmically aligned with those of Mr. Hall and Ms. Herrick; and 3) The aforementioned programmers have the luxury of picking and choosing from the best at Cannes and Toronto and NYFF and Sundance (though this year, they have a few very impressive premieres/near premieres of their own: Invisible Girlfriend, The Family Jams, Nowhere Kids, D-tour, etc.). Combine those forces and the deal is pretty much sealed. Anyway, let’s get to yesterday’s action…

Herb and Dorothy — I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to catch up with Megumi Sasaki’s documentary about the world’s most adorable art collectors, Herb and Dorothy Vogel. Everyone was right. This story is just too unbelievably cute to be true. But it is. As if the film weren’t enough proof, I got further confirmation from the couple who sat next to me. Before the film started, the woman informed me that she was a first cousin of theirs, and at the end, she said, “They’re even nicer when you spend time with them in person. They don’t like talking about themselves.” While I found the entire film to be inspiring, in the closing act, when we discover just how unselfish they truly are when it comes to their collection, it had my eyes all watery. Along with Old Partner, this might just be the sweetest love story of this year’s festival.

Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love — Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary about Senegal’s legendary singer has a scope that I hadn’t expected. It isn’t merely a rousing portrait of a truly special individual, though it certainly is that. It also works as a stirring corrective/counterbalance to most non-fiction works that concentrate on the bleaker and more troubled aspects of both Africa and Islam. This continent and this religion have a positive, uplifting spirit, and in N’Dour, Vasarhelyi has found the perfect individual to represent this. Not to mention how pretty this movie is.

Julia — Another film that I’ve been dying to see for almost a year, Erick Zonca’s follow-up to The Dreamlife of Angels has received some horrendous reviews. Perhaps because of that I was expecting the worst, but I dug Julia to the max. Yes, it reeks of Cassavetes, but with Tilda Swinton doing her own unhinged variation on Gena Rowlands, it’s consistently fascinating. On a filmmaking level, I was most struck by the way Zonca photographed the daylight, with such burning, overexposed harshness. I can’t remember a film that made me feel a character’s hangover better than this one. As for the story, though the third act spins into increasingly outlandish situations with borderline racist caricatures of the Mexican bad guys, it somehow works on its own crazy terms. One of Zonca’s main intentions seems to be testing the limits of how unredeemable and unlikeable can you make a main character without the audience checking out. Cinemasochist that I am, I stayed checked in the whole time.

It’s looking like four more movies today. Time to get to it…

— Michael Tully

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