We spent last week at the Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan. This was the second year of the festival as well as our second year attending. Unlike last year, there was no “Freedom Festival” organized by Michael Moore-haters this year. Perhaps they are still recovering their debts from last year, when they lost money and had to stop their showing of “Michael Moore Hates America” after discovering it had inappropriate language for the family audience they were targeting.
We saw nine films in just five days — four in one day was our max. (Rachele saw one more — The Beauty Academy of Kabul — that I missed, unfortunately, and we gave our tickets to Jesus Camp to Rachele’s parents.) Our selections were:
- Flirting With Disaster
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Men at Work
- Winter Passing
- La Moustache
- Paradise Now
- Innocent Voices
- Viva Zapatero
- The Killing
The one that sticks most in my memory is La Moustache. The essence of the plot is revealed in the first minute of the movie: a man shaves off his mustache. His wife of fifteen years doesn’t notice. In fact, she doesn’t remember he ever had a mustache. While the film starts as vaguely comic, it quickly spirals into a psychic breakdown with a possibly unreliable narrator. It was quite nearly perfect.
The beautifully restored virgin print of Monty Python’s Holy Grail was astonishing. The film was shown for free on a large outdoor screen by the lake, and the sound was crystal clear (now in stereo!) no matter where you sat. There are a bunch of scenes everyone always remembers in the Holy Grail. I realized after watching it again that the movie is composed entirely of these memorable scenes. (I had the same feeling watching the Wizard of Oz after a ten to fifteen year hiatus recently.)
Finally, Stanley Kubrick’s first film, The Killing (1956) also merits the maximum rating, whatever that is (5.5 stars?). While it lacks the surreal/experimental feel of his later films, Kubrick was already beginning to play with narrative structure and sequencing. The film walks through the events leading to the climax several times, each time from a different character’s point of view. But really it’s just a great heist flick.
Mani Haghigi, the Iranian director of Men at Work, had an interesting observation about the festival. Unlike most other film festivals, he, as a director, could just hang out and enjoy the films and the company and not worry about impressing executives and distributors. The festival’s motto is accurate — “Just Great Movies.”