13 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #4

By the end of the day Monday I realised that I had seen 42 films of varying lengths so far, and the festivals not even half over. Zoinks!

Monday was a more relaxed day, not starting until 7pm. As a fan of Italian cinema, I wanted to check out Respiro, a slice-of-life type film based on an old Italian fishing village legend. People who go to such films expecting action or drama are going to be largely disappointed. As in the tradition of Michaelango Antonioni films such as L'Eclisse (The Escape), very little happens in the course of the narrative. The flimsy plot is merely an excuse upon which to hang a careful study of life in an isolated community. The idea here is to get a feel for the people and way of life.

In a nutshell, there's this lively, sensual, passionate woman who really doesn't fit in with the conservative community around her. Her long-suffering sons and husband love her but are routinely embarrassed by her. When her family attempts to send her away to Milan to see a psychiatrist, she rebels with the aid of her eldest son, the pubescent Pasquale.

The story is resolved in a manner of speaking, but again that's not really the point. The film has a message about conformity and society's oppression of the individual, but that's still not really the point. Respiro is about life in a community, about how every group needs its outsider, about how people add flavour and colour to life, particularly when they have very little. There is a scene in which the younger son (a real scene-stealing ham, that one) finally wins a train set after many tries. Everyone immediately gets caught up in assembling and playing with it -- adults, children, the dogs, you name it. That is what the film is about, the simple joys and the necessity of variety.

After that we sat in on a couple of music documentaries -- one on Richard Thompson (Solitary Life) and one on the late Jeff Buckley (Everybody Here Wants You). The Thompson doc was infinitely richer, benefitting from the fact that the subject is still alive and more popular than ever. From his Fairport Convention roots to his present life in California (with a long detour into his marriage and divorce from Linda Thompson, his partner in song and love for 10 years), this look at one of Britain's great folksinger/songwriters hits all its marks and gives us a good well-rounded overview of his career.

The Jeff Buckley film, on the other hand, was disappointing. While equally thorough in its coverage of his life and death, the uncritical nature of the testimonials made the whole thing seem more like one long video eulogy. I suppose this is inevitable with the tragedy of dying so young (and who didn't leave behind a huge body of work or substantial amounts of interview footage), but it still felt more like a wake than a celebration. The large amounts of home-video footage of Buckley performing was a treat, but oddly enough his biggest successes (which all came post-mortem) are glossed over. The definitive JB doc is still waiting to be made, methinks.

Tomorrow we'll attempt to catch up a bit, covering both Tuesday and Wednesday's films.

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