The Prytania Theatre only has one screen, but it's got more area premieres this week than the multiplexes. The annual filmOrama (May 29-June 4) festival is cosponsored by the New Orleans Film Society and the Prytania, and it features a slate of 19 films, including 10 making their Louisiana debut.
The mix of films includes new and classic documentaries, restored films, foreign movies and more. The Wolfpack, this year's Sundance Film Festival U.S. Grand Jury Prize winner, screens three times (see review p. 39). The festival also screens Grey Gardens, the cult classic 1976 Albert Maysles documentary about Edie Bouvier Beale and her namesake mother, the oddball reclusive cousins of Jackie Onassis who lived in an extremely dilapidated and cluttered mansion in East Hampton. A more recent Maysles film, Iris, also is in the festival. In it, he chronicles New York fashion icon Iris Apfel.
Features include Clouds of Sils Maria, in which a renowned and aging actress (Juliette Binoche) must work with a rising Hollywood starlet (Chloe Grace Moretz). It also stars Kristen Stewart, who became the first American woman to win a Cesar Award for her role. The French and Belgian film Realite is an absurd satire of Hollywood starring Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!). Al Pacino stars as a small town locksmith who struggles with the loss of a longtime love in Manglehorn.
Below are reviews of three films screening opening weekend.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
(9:15 p.m. Sunday, May 31; 3:30 p.m. Monday, June 1)
Swedish director Roy Andersson sets the drab color scheme and darkly humorous tone of his comedy in an opening trio of short vignettes involving death. The comedy ranges from bleak to wildly offbeat as some characters struggle mightily with the banality of their lives and desire to avoid emotional expression while others grasp lustily and awkwardly at their desires. Two nearly emotionless and ineffectual salesmen of novelty items peddle fake vampire teeth and gruesome rubber masks in shops devoid of color and customers. An old man in a bar reminisces about a day decades earlier when a former owner, the spirited and aptly named Limping Lotta, sang and allowed a long line of soldiers and sailors to pay for shots of liquor with kisses. Many long vignettes feature more compelling action in backgrounds glimpsed through windows than from the hapless protagonists vacillating in the foreground. The film's brilliantly measured pace is occasionally broken by stark action. One reflection offers a jaw-dropping tableau about indifference to the suffering of faraway others, and yet Andersson maintains the film's lighthearted humor about heart-breaking events.
(6 p.m. Saturday, May 30; noon Monday, June 1; 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 2)
It's stunning that Albert Maysles was 87 when he made this documentary about the then 93-year-old Iris Apfel, the legendary New York fashion maven and interior designer known for her signature bug-eyed Coke-bottle glasses and inspired accessorizing. The documentary follows her shopping and through the many cluttered rooms of her large Park Avenue and Palm Beach, Florida, homes. But what comes through in the portrait is a free spirit with a dedication to creativity, endless curiosity and adjusting to an ever-changing world. Apfel is otherwise completely ageless.
Rebels of the Neon God
(9:30 p.m. Friday, May 29; 9 p.m. Tuesday June 2)
A restored version of director Tsai Ming-liang's 1992 debut film was recently released in the U.S., and it's a story of frustration, infatuation and petty crime among young people in Taipei. Ah-tze is a criminal who lives in an apartment that's constantly flooded, and he sloshes back and forth from his tiny bedroom to his haunts in video game arcades and hectic streets. He begins to hang out with Ah-kuei, whom he meets because she's just had casual sex with his brother, and while the two are riding his motorcycle, they get into a fight with a cab driver. They smash the car's rear view mirror, and the driver's son, Hsiao-kang, watches and becomes obsessed with Ah-tze. Hsiao-kang is frustrated with life and withdraws from classes to follow Ah-tze to arcades and the streets, as the thief's robberies get more serious and Ah-kuei becomes frustrated with his wavering interest in her.
The rain never lets up, and Tsai frames his spare film in the main characters' tiny bedrooms, cheap hotel rooms and dark arcades lit mostly by the flash of the game screens. The title refers to a Chinese myth about a god born into a human family, which struggles to control him, and Hsiao-kang's superstitious mother is afraid their son is the reborn figure. Neon also clearly refers to the video games and endless walls of signs over streets filled with young people. In one scene, Hsiao stares at an iconic image of James Dean from Rebel without a Cause and idolizes him. Tsai's film is less about rebellion than restlessness, but that still pushes its young people into ever more dangerous games.