FEST PICKS: ‘Happy Endings’; S&M; Here’s Johnny

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BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC I dropped into TLA Video’s South Street store on Friday and found the staff frantically scurrying to serve the Philadelphia Film Festival’s advance ticket buyers, so it appears the opening weekend got things off to a smashing start. I didn’t make it out from under my pile of Festival home-screeners until late Sunday night, but was happily surprised to see the screening of 12:08 East Of Bucharest a good three-quarters full; not bad for a Romanian comedy. The film, which examines the different memories of a town’s citizens over who showed bravery as Communism fell, begins as gentle human comedy and ends with a live television talk show right out of SCTV. It was easily witty and wise, warm without being sentimental and had a rich sense of place while apparently shot on a shoestring. How come we can’t make ’em like this anymore? Maybe we need to read more books and fewer graphic novels.

One of the artistic highlights of this year’s festival is a new film from Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, whose films Vive L’Amour and The River have been grand prize winners in some of Europe’s biggest festivals. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone follows a homeless man as becomes emotionally entangled with a hard-hat worker and a waitress. Ming-liang’s disciplined style allows no camera movement, little dialogue and saves the close-ups for a few climactic moments, a method that can mesmerize those patient with this sort of Asian minimalism or bore the anxious and squirmy. It helps that he has a very painterly way with composition and light, giving his films an experience not unlike a slow stroll through an art museum. I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone is another effective example of his style. Since his films suffer so much on video, and since there is no guarantee it’ll get a week at the Ritz, this one has been tagged a must-see for those interested in challenging contemporary cinema.
7:15 p.m. TONIGHT, Ritz East


Considerably more accessible is the gentle rubdown supplied by Feel [pictured at the top of this post], a character study of four men patronizing an Asian massage parlor and the four women who give them their “happy endings.” Billy Baldwin and Kevin Corrigan are among the stars, just to give you a clue on how “N.Y. Indie” this film feels, and its sexy-Asian fetish is leavened by portraying the women as full-blown characters as well. It’s a good-looking, well-shot film that goes down easy, but writer/director Matt Mahurin’s script doesn’t have much interesting to say on why guys hang out in massage parlors. And only in the U.S. (or maybe the Muslim world)would a film so explicitly about sex be so chaste.
4:30 p.m. TODAY, Bryn Mawr Institute

If Feel wants to leave you with a sense of release and a smile on your face, S&Man (pronounced “Sandman”) is a documentary that seeks to creep you out. Directed by J.T. Petty (who co-scripted Batman Begins) S&Man follows a trio of faux-snuff film makers in an attempt to examine the impulse and effect of putting death up on screen. As a doc, the film is full of amusingly morbid personalities (one woman, who specializes in being a fake torture victim sees herself co-starring with Goldie Hawn in the future) but Petty’s film has grander ambitions which take the viewer into some disturbing uncharted waters. It’s a deceptively clever piece of work and it found a way to deeply spook this jaded horror fan, so I have to give it props.
9:45 p.m. TONIGHT, The Bridge
Thursday April 12th 9:45 Prince Music Theater

It seems like no matter how well-planned things might be, sometimes the reels just don’t arrive. Last-minute changes are usually noted on the Festival’s website, and latest news is that Jonny Lee Miller (the guy who did the Sean Connery imitation in Trainspotting) is going to be in town at the end of the week for two screenings of the newly-added film The Flying Scotman. You’ve been given fair warning, start thinking up those ponderous/embarrassing queries for the First Former Mrs. Angelina Jolie at the Q & A. Until then, I’ll be slouched down in the back row.

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