Thursday, April 15, 2010
Eating Our Way Through the Wisconsin Film Festival, Day One: Brasserie V
What an auspicious start to the Wisconsin Film Festival -- balmy spring weather all day, a great light dinner at Brasserie V on Monroe Street, and then a little after 10:00 a bright fireball streaking across the night sky and briefly turning light to day, which we unfortunately missed because we were in our second movie.
Less auspicious was the fact that right after completing this self-timer, 1/2-second exposure, the Coolpix fell into the water glass that I was using as a makeshift tripod. Only an outside corner of it got wet and I fished it right out. It freaked me out, although apparently no harm was done to the camera. But I digress.
To keep our wits clear for two movies in a row we had a couple of light Belgian beers and shared a soup, salad and entree. We enjoyed the Bibb & French Bean salad and the Moules et Frites, good as always. The real surprise was the cold carrot and ginger soup, which was simply dynamite.
From there we headed to the Chazen Museum of Art, where our films screened at 7:30 and 9:30 (both repeat Friday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater, if you're interested), parking in the lake Street ramp after finding all the free parking spaces in our favorite block of Brooks Street filled. The films, in order:
The Exploding Girl
Features a sensitive, memorable performance by Zoe Kazan, the granddaughter of director Elia Kazan, as Ivy, a young college student returning home to New York City for semester break, where she tries to sort out her feelings about the two young men in her life, one of whom dumps her by cell phone. It's an immensely appealing performance, in a modest film that's beautifully crafted, filled with quiet grace notes and wry observations. T thought a key scene in the movie, where Ivy's friend Al takes her to a rooftop pigeon coop, seems an homage to the scene in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront when Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint visit the pigeons on the roof.
The Thorn in the Heart
A family memoir by Michel Gondry about his formidable aunt Suzette Gondry, who taught school in rural France, and her relationship with her troubled son, Jean-Yves, the "thorn" of the title. Suzette seems to have had a major impact on the children she taught and was considered an "avant garde" teacher. She was less successful with her son, and seemed to prefer her nephew Michel, with whom she could relate more easily.
Although much of the film looks like a home movie, it's more complex than that, as you might expect from the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film retraces the life's journey of Suzette to her various teaching posts in rural French villages, the transitions consisting of shots of speeding model railroad trains to suggest the passing years, from the fifties nearly through the present. Later we learn that's not just a directorial affectation, but that the model railroads were built by Jean-Yves in his lonely childhood. Although the film is indirect in what it communicates, you're left with the feeling that although Gondry respects his aunt, he empathizes more with his cousin, Jean-Yves.
A couple of scenes also refer directly to the magic of film, to which Gondry was introduced by his cousin, who made family films. In one, the crew recreates a makeshift movie theater Suzette had made for her students in the woods back in the early fifties, and shows an old black and white Jean Gabin movie. The most magical scene is one in which schoolchildren are given "green screen" pants or shirts that make parts of their bodies disappear on video while they're playing. It's absolutely enchanting.