Friday, April 16, 2010

Eating Our Way through the Wisconsin Film Festival, Day Two: Osteria Papavero

Our evening started with a 5:00 movie at MMoCA, where we were greeted by Meg Hamel, director of the Wisconsin Film Festival (see very brief clip). She explained that although this was our second night, it really was opening day for the film festival (the Wednesday films were considered "bonus" showings.) The night ended with a 10:15 movie that concluded after midnight.

In between, we had time for a leisurely walk across the Capitol Square under lowering skies. We were headed for Osteria Papavero on East Wilson St., where our Wisconsin Public Radio membership card meant our second entree would be free. As we sat in our window seat it began to rain lightly, and we enjoyed watching people walk by with their umbrellas. We were warm and dry and sipping some of the best Negroni cocktails in town (and the staff doesn't have to ask their guests how to make them).

T, the Letter from Here resident food correspondent, had this to say about our dinner
A delightful springtime meal. Two of the standouts in the seafood antipasto were home-cured lox on rye toast and a cannelloni bean salad with fresh white anchovies. The house-made tagliatelli entree delivered a rich, herby mushroom wallop. The roasted halibut came with broccolini, pea tips and fresh fava beans. It was a lovely meal and ended with homemade limoncello and an intensely chocolate hazelnut mousse topped with kumquats in a sweet syrup.
After that it was back to some serious (or not so serious) pursuit of cinematic art. This seemed to be our night for satire.

The Happiest Girl in the World
A dysfunctional family grapples with an age-old question in this satirical Romanian comedy -- if you won an expensive car in a contest, would you keep the car or sell it? Delia is a high school student who wins the car, sees it as her passport to freedom and wants to keep it. Her none-too prosperous parents see the car as a means to achieve a modicum of financial security and pressure Delia to sell it. Most of the film takes place during the shooting of a chintzy TV commercial featuring the happy winner drinking the sponsor's soda while seated in the car. Between endless retakes she fights with her family and then has to act happy and spontaneous on camera. Comedy ensues, perhaps a bit too ponderously and predictably, but it does ensue. And you're left with the question -- is it like this when they shoot the Publisher's Clearing House commercials. Do those winners also bicker and cry between takes?

The Host
The Film Festival is showing several movies by the acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-ho, and this monster movie -- unlike any you're likely to have ever seen -- was our choice for a late night treat. It's got the usual monster movie stuff, staged in off-kilter and unexpected ways, but also a lot more. Among other things, it delivers something I've longed to see again since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona -- an archer in a situation where failure is not an option and he (or she, in the movie) has only one shot with a flaming arrow and absolutely must hit the target.

The Host is a dark fairy tale, a story about a wonderfully dysfunctional family whose members are called on to become heroes in the face of danger to one of their own, and who all eventually rise to the occasion in their different ways. It's a fable about the stupidity of power and authority. It's a commentary on official overreaction to the SARS epidemic a few years ago (as if the monster weren't perfectly capable of wreaking havoc on its own, the authorities mistakenly insist it's carrying a dangerous virus -- thus the title). But it's also a family saga with unexpected depth and feeling. And it contains unforgettable imagery -- such as an extensive visual survey of the stark urban beauty of Seoul's bridges and sewers, or the beautiful closing image of the family's food stand glowing in the dark on a snowy night. Oh, and have I mentioned that it's often very funny?

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