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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Summer Film Cocktail
By Marina Sinitsyna

From June to July, Moscow experienced fits of severe competition as countries contended in the FIFA World Cup for football's Holy Grail, films vied for the Moscow International Film Festival Grand Prix, and the Festival itself wrangled for an audience against the World Cup. And none too badly, judging by the crowds streaming, even on match nights, into Oktyabr Cinema, the main festival venue. Despite the usual zings about a drop in the quality of the selection, there were quite a number of films to look forward to on DVD. Here is a short list.

Volver (The Return)

Pedro Almodovar, Spain

Almodovar himself characterized this movie as "natural surrealism" and this is exactly the feeling you get while watching it. Consider: three murders, two cases of incest, one dead body in the fridge in a restaurant storage room and one ghost Ц all of which surprisingly enough feels palpably real, at least for 110 minutes. It's a movie where tragedy goes hand in hand with hilarity, and where drama is barely distinguishable from comedy. But first and foremost, this is a story of a family of women who manage to survive through fire, superstition, lies and even death, due to their love for each other and an unquenchable thirst for life. It is the return (volver) of the mother from the other world to apologize to her daughter, and the return of Almodovar to the genre of comedy, to a collaboration with Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz, and to the beliefs of La Mancha where he grew up.

Kubrador (The Bet Collectior)

Jeffrey Jeturian, the Philippines

Far from being a very typical Filipino film, Kubrador may be easily overlooked by someone who is looking for pure entertainment. Bleak but humane, it shows three days in the life of aging bet collector Amelita (brilliantly played by Gina Pareno) who goes around her povertystricken neighborhood convincing people to entrust their hard-earned pesos to luck Ц jueteng, a popular numbers game first introduced by Chinese traders to colonial Manila. Although illegal on paper, everyone plays it, even policemen who detain Amelita in order to place bets a huis clos. Day after day, year after year, Amelita wanders around the maze of her shanty town, the maze of her life Ц not in search of happiness (she has long forgotten what it is), but in search of more numbers which remain her Ariadne's thread.

Le Courage d'Aimer (The Courage to Love)

Claude Lelouch, France

This is a film about love and love is the only theme for the main plot as well as the side stories. Lelouch jangles around his characters so professionally that we never lose track of what is happening on the screen. A street musician, an ambitious and charming kleptomaniac, a bartender and her twin sister, a rich but uneducated pizza magnate, an actress-owner of a chateau Ц their lives all come together in this film which remains light and rhythmic despite all the unexpected turns of the plot. Tragic at times, the story nevertheless brims with inexplicable French insouciance, thus making Le courage d'aimer as scrumptious as creme brulee and refreshing as a cool Sauterne.

Ask the Dust

Robert Towne, USA

Based on John Fante's novel and produced by Tom Cruise, Ask the Dust talks about Depression Era Los Angeles where fellow outsiders and would-be lovers are trying to catch the American Dream by the tail. Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), a seductive but tempestuous Mexican waitress, seeks a Prince with an Anglo-sounding last name, while Arturo Baldini (Colin Farrell), a first-generation Italian with much swagger but little bite, hopes Ц with the support of editor H.L. Mencken Ц to pen the Great American Novel. This period romantic comedy sparkles when the leads tussle in wittiness and willfulness, but later fades when the two get pseudophilosophical in an obvious attempt to justify the title. It ill suits a Cinderella yarn to get into longwinded discussions about the real meaning of the pursuit of happiness.

Der Rote Kakadu (The Red Cockatoo)

Dominik Graf, Germany

GDR asserts its claim here as a popular setting in contemporary German cinema. Unlike Goodbye, Lenin, the Berlin wall is yet to be erected in Der Rote Kakadu. So in spring 1961, East Berlin youth, though disturbed by the political atmosphere, dream of a stage designer career, swing to immoral rock'n'roll music and compose avant-garde poetry. "Red Cockatoo" is a club where they gather to dance and party, a place where love, jealousy, treachery and political games evolve. Politics always interferes in their lives and these young souls are forced to make a decision whether they want to stay in East Germany (either as subversive or slave to the regime) or to flee to the West.

La Science des Reves (The Science of Sleep)

Michel Gondry, France

Welcome to the Dream Factory! Or maybe a dream kitchen, where Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) tosses daily impressions, carton boards, cellophane, cotton and imagination all in one pot. The whimsical half-Mexican youth returns to Paris persuaded by his French mother to take up a new job, but life cannot compete with the throbbing reality of his dreams. This wide-eyed wonder both attracts and confuses Stephanie, a pragmatic neighbor whose willingness to understand draws Stephane in as well. Stephane could easily be Amelie Poulain's brother and may even surpass her in sincerity, dreaminess, and charm.

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