I ended up skipping Day 5 and Day 6 (Monday and Tuesday) so I could take a breather and spend time with the loved ones. I was back at it on Wednesday!
WHITEY: Unites States of America v. James J. Bulger
Synopsis: Embedded for months with Federal Prosecutors, retired FBI and State Police, victims, lawyers, gangsters and journalists, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger examines Bulger’s relationship with the FBI and Department of Justice that allowed him to reign over a criminal empire in Boston for decades.
I followed the Whitey Bulger case for a bit last year but I was truly excited to see a documentary dedicated to the issue. In fact, this was the 1st documentary I got to see at the festival and it did not disappoint. It did its fair share of jumping around but it seemed to flow fairly well, giving us a brief history of Whitey Bulger’s upbringing (did you know he was at Alcatraz?) before diving into his time as the infamous leader of an Irish mob in Boston. They interviewed a myriad of people who had different connections to Whitey: siblings of victims, his defense attorneys, US prosecutors. The central theme was not whether he killed people (which he freely admitted to) but whether he was an FBI informant or not. He was absolutely adamant that he was not an FBI informant while US prosecutors claimed he was. As with any documentary, nothing was what it seemed to be and we may never know for sure if Whitey was an FBI informant or if the FBI doesn’t want the public to know that their agents were tipping off Whitey merely for cash. Recommended if you like crime stories and Boston accents.
Synopsis: A vagrant enters the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare in the process.
This film is bound to spark debates and I can’t even wait to see what theories are created by fans in the forums. Borgman struck me as a cross between a Michael Haneke film and a live-action fable. Much of what happens is very interesting, entertaining and kept me glued to the screen. However, this is a film that withholds a LOT of information. Characters will enter a room, close the door, and come out acting completely different…and it’s never explained why. What about those scars? Why are the characters even really doing this in the first place?
If you are a viewer who demands answers to the biggest plot threads presented in a given film, you will be disappointed with this one. The true answers in the film seem to be metaphysical and mysterious. This begs the question: can you call a film great even if you don’t understand it? If it purposefully keeps you in the dark as to why things are happening? I spent several days thinking about it and believe it is truly a fine line. What I did see, I loved, and it kept me wanting more. Borgman gave me just enough meat to keep me happy, even if I was a bit hungry at the end.
When the World’s On Fire
Synopsis: Javier, a Guatemalan immigrant, finds himself homeless and living on the fringes of society in a hardscrabble Southern city. With his loyal dog as his companion, Javier encounters a revolving cast of charcaters, each more colorful than the last – rugged souls trying to break free from their suffocating predicaments and hoping to catch some glimmer of their American Dream.
I really appreciate how down home and real this film felt. It takes place in the parts of Nashville that you don’t see on TV – the spots under the freeway, in the woods. It gives the film a unique flavor and distinct viewpoint. The film doesn’t have a strict plot (something I’m noticing is a trend at the festival) but it’s still able to make things interesting by simply traveling with the lead character. It shows someone who has dreams but really doesn’t do much to achieve. Instead, his alcoholism gets in the way constantly, showing how, a lot of times, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to progression.
The supporting cast were interesting in their own right, even if they didn’t always feel 100% necessary to the main plot. The main character was pretty well defined but very single-minded so the supporting cast helped add a bit of variety to keeps things moving. I think this movie really shined best when it came to several music sequences that take on a free-form embodiment, complete with fractured editing and quasi-psychedelic sound design. When the World’s On Fire is worth checking out if you like your films rich in texture and more free-form compared to what commercial theaters display.
Into the Silent Sea
Synopsis: Alexander, a lone cosmonaut, is adrift in orbit around Earth. He has lost communications and life-support systems are dwindling fast. At the same time in Italy, a radio engineer is working the night shift. He discovers a voice amidst the empty static. Under desperate circumstances, and across vast distances, an intense connection is made.
This film felt almost like a Russian Terrence Malick film; the editing jumped from present times to distant memories and back again. The story is essentially about a man finding out he has been left to die and is reflecting on his life. Since the film focuses on this reflection, it lacks a bit of energy that comes with a charging story, but it makes up for this with a large measure of soul. It is heavy on tone, opting to drift across the screen like poetry using the visuals to communicate. The cinematography was really exceptional and I look forward to seeing more of this director’s work.
Closer to God
Synopsis: A genetic scientist, Dr. Victor Reed, successfully clones the first human being, Baby Elizabeth. Victor intends to do extensive tests on Elizabeth before allowing her to be examined by his peers and witnessed by the public at large. When photographs of Elizabeth, with a strange receptor on her forehead, are leaked to the press, everything he has worked for is threatened.
Another film shot in Tennessee, this one jumps more into the thriller/horror genre, which is a genre typically reserved for the awesome Graveyard Shift program of the festival. The performances were strong, especially from Jeremy Childs, who played the lead character. At first, it plays with a bit of science fiction, showing us the first cloned baby who has a small crystal-type thing on her forehead. Complications arise when parts of the public aren’t exactly happy with this news, along with the lead character’s wife. From there, it dips into dramatic territory before settling into horror. Obviously, the film’s central theme is whether we should in fact clone humans and it incorporates that fairly well.
The greatest thing about this film to me was showing the walls closing in all around the doctor. He did what he did because he believed it could help but just about everyone around him has their doubts. The deeper the story goes, the more tragic it gets, and you really start to understand the complexity of the situation. I almost wish they had a bigger budget to take this story around the world; although it is fairly contained to the doctor’s lab and home, I would have loved to see more of the outside world reacting to this situation. Perhaps for the sequel, yeah?
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