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Chaos, sex addiction and Ned Beatty in person at Minneapolis

CHAOS is just a theory in physics, but it's a full blown practice at the Minneapolis film festival. Whether or not a can of film will arrive at its designated venue at all, or, if it does arrive, whether it will be wound on
backward or inside out -- therefore unshowable -- is often a toss-up. One such instance, Werner Herzog's latest, "The Wild Blue Yonder" -- an astronaut fantasy in a post-Armageddon world -- arrived at the Oak Street theater projection booth cut into unmarked segments, so that the film started somewhere in the middle, with some kind of frogmen swooshing about in uncharted green waters with no introduction. There was no way to unscramble the rolls of celluloid on the spot, so the problem was quickly solved by giving everyone (it was a full house on a rainy Saturday afternoon) a rain-check to see any other film of choice any other time. Did anybody snarl, or burst out in anger? -- Not a chance, because this is Minnesota where every body politely wishes you a "havva nice day", even if they can't speak English -- or even if it's the most miserable day in history.

So much for that. These little mishaps are what make the Minne-haha festival so unpredictably amusing -- or, "more confoosin' than amoosin'" as L'il Abner might say. It's all good fun as long as the next picture is even weirder than the last, or further proof that fiction is stranger than fact and vice-versa. With that said, I must mention one of the weirdest movies I've ever sat through, not quite sure whether to keep laughing (it was pretty funny in spots) or throw up at the nauseating antics of the Geek "hero" up there on the screen. The name of the film: "I Am A Sex Addict", USA, 2005, R.T., 95 freakish minutes, perpetrated and directed by Iranian-American filmster, Caveh Zahedi. Zahedi's style is to plant an unmoving camera square on himself, and then proceed to tell you, in a very deadpan manner, all about his innermost perversions, complexes and abberations. The addiction under discussion -- needing to get blow-jobs
from Los Angeles street-walkers every chance he can -- is not in and of itself, particularly shocking or disturbing. The presentation of his fellatio excursions is, in fact, more or less amusing. What is shocking is how creepy this guy is, and how he yet manages to rope good-looking, normal women into marriage bound relationships. In between he returns to his UCLA film school moviola to work on the film we are seeing -- or something like that. So Cavedi is everything -- director, narrator, subject, direct object, accusative case, and focus of nausea, all rolled into one ... And yet, in a most oblique manner, I actually enjoyed this film and thought the time was, if not well-spent, at least not totally wasted -- 'cause, baby,
you ain't never gonna see nuthin like this again! Let's just say this is a special niche film, not for every taste ...It might help, however, to think didactic middle Godard fused with early outrageous John Waters, and a dash of Woody Allen on Peyote thrown in -- to process the proceedings.

Given the huge concentration of Norwegian-Americans in this part of the world it is not surprising to find a generous sample of Norskie oriented programming here each year. One of the best of these was "Too Much Norway", a 95 minute historical documentary co-directed by Rune Denstad Langlo and Sigve Endresen on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Norwegian independence in 2005. What the film is really about, more than a chronology of events –( tracing how this nation went from abject poverty after the war to the highest standard of living in the world by the end of the century) -- is how this nation of only a few million souls has formed a strong national identity apart from the other Scandinavians. While poking good-natured fun at themselves (“the only part of the world that wasn’t already conquered was Antarctica, so we headed for the South Pole”) their Danish and Swedish neighbors come in for some pointed barbs. When the Danish press attempts to belittle Norwegian achievements in the winter Olympics a Norwegian ski champion remarks to the camera, “Well, they live in a flat country so you can’t expect them to understand much about skiing”. The Swedes are more bluntly scorned for their collaboration with Nazi Germany in WW II when they allowed German troops to cross through Sweden to invade Norway – in return for an uneasy neutrality. No love lost there. But the harshest criticism of all is for Norwegian turncoat, Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian Nazi prime minister who was executed after the war for his outright embracing of the Hitler gang. Quisling pro-Nazi speeches are shown in extenso – the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that – underlining why the name “Quisling’ became a synonym for “traitor” in the war years. Altogether a fascinating, at the same time amusing, study of nationhood, culture, and personality -- and a must see for anyone with any interest of any kind in twentieth century European history.
Another strong picture having to do with national identity is the French-Israeli co-production “Live and Become” (2006, 140 minutes), directed by Romanian ex-patriot helmer Radu Mihaeleanu,, who made a big splash in 1998 with ”Train of Life. This is the gripping story of a black Ethiopian boy who is adopted by a French speaking Moroccan Israeli family and raised as a Jew, although it finally turns out that he is not. Even though taken for a Jew, and quite good looking, his skin color marks him for painful discrimination. As an adult, now a doctor in search of his lost national identity, he goes back to an Ethiopian refugee camp to find the biological mother who abandoned him “for his own good”. Unknown actors deliver expert
performances, especially the two youngsters who play ‘Shlomo”, the dark-skinned hero, but the film goes on too long for its own good, descending a bit into bathos at the end. But you still have to give it 90%
-- after all, nobody’s perfect.
A program of three short films was a three-pronged winner all the way; the titles; “My Dad is 100 Years Old”, 16 minutes, starring Isabella Rosselini, “Uso Justo”, a 22 minute experimental film affixing English subtitles to footage extracted from an obscure Mexican medical melodrama, and “Ashaman”, a 21 minute film composed of scenes from a 1944 Egyptian film with the dialogue excised and haunting music overlaid.
“My Dad” is a poetic homage to legendary Italian neo-realist director Roberto Rossellini by his daughter, Isabella Rossellini, also the daughter of Ingrid Bergman, in the year that would have been the director’s hundredth birthday, 2005. In this picture Isabella plays many roles, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Fellini, Selznick. And even her own mother, Ingrid… All of these historical figures debate the pros and cons of Rossellini’s contribution to world cinema, but Isabella ends up saying “I don’t know if my father was a genius or not, but I do know I loved him”. No matter what anyone says, Isabella is nowhere near as beautiful as her fabulous mother, but she is probably a better actress. Isabella wrote the script and it was directed by
Canadian Guy Maddin.. This is something very special and is so packed with happenings that it seems three times as long as the listed running time. A minor gem. “Uso Justo” was made by local talent Coleman Miller who also did the official festival trailer in the same style. While this trick of planting irrelevant English subtitles under camp Mexican footage is hilarious in a three minute trailer, it quickly runs out of steam in a longer film. The film has nevertheless picked up some prizes for its novelty, but if anyone still remembers that Woody Allen once did more or less the same thing, by dubbing, scrambling and rebtitling a Japanese film, naming it “What’s Up Tiger Lily” way back in 1966, this is maybe not so novel. The title “Uso Justo” vaguely means “justified use” – as in, “I have a right to use (and abuse) your dumb footage, sucker”.

The Egyptian compilation entry, “Ashaman” put together by a professor of comp. Lit. at U.of M. who is of Lebanese origin and calls himself Bizri, was for me the most intriguing of the trio. Ashaman was a beautiful Syrian-Egyptian singer, the most popular of her time, and also a movie star with an aura something like an Arabic Hedy Lamar. She was apparently involved in espionage a la Mata Hari and was killed in 1944 at the age of 32. The footage we see is from her last film called “Passion and Revenge”
and the music we hear over these images of her are her own songs. Both the singing and the images are haunting, and the effect of the film is hypnotic.
I felt myself transfixed like a cobra in thrall to a snake charmer’s flute.

Although there were at least a dozen other films I wanted to see but didn’t have time to get to, one last calls for comment, “Beethoven’s Hair”, listed as a 90 minute documentary, but I would call it more of a Hoax-a-mentary, on the order of Piltdown man. The author of this at times deft, at times heavy-handed put-on, musicological director Larry Weinstein, would have us believe that one of Beethoven’s young disciples snipped off a lock of hair from the maestro’s freshly dead corpse, that these few strands then passed through many hands ending up on the Sotheby’s auction block, and were finally submitted to the SLAC electron-positron collider at Stanford to be tested for lead poisoning – Yeh-yeh – they got nothing better to do at the atom smashing complex than test a strand of dubious hair reputed to belong to Ludwig van, for lead content…. In one of the more grotesque scenes of this hoxomentry we see doctors siphoning gallons of black crankcase oil out of Beethoven’s bloated stomach and the twentieth century “scientists” conclude that Ludwig suffered from lead poisoning most of his life, which accounts for his constant scowl , early deafness, and the morbidity of some of his string quartettes. The one saving grace is the Beethoven music we hear throughout . Viewers are advised to cover their eyes and concentrate on the music. The one word description is “grotesque”, but if seen as a black comedy it might be interpreted as funny. – as in “funny farm”. On a far brighter final note we can mention the brilliant restored 1941 David Fleischer feature length cartoon (78 nminutes), “Hoppity Goes to Town”. The titular Hero, not directly related to Hopalong Cassidy, is a charmer of a grasshopper who leads the blue-collar bugs of Bugville against
the villainous C. Bagley Beetle. Featuring the honky-tonk music of Hoagy Carmichael, this is a treat for kids of all ages. The Fleischer Brothers Max and Dave, were Disney’s only competitors and made a few other marvelous cartoon features, notably “Gulliver’s Travel “ before they went out of business. The sheer variety of programming in Minneapolis – whether good, bad, or simply weird – puts new body English on to the word “eclectic” and justifies a trip to the Land of Sky Blue Waters.

The 24th Minneapolis-St. Paul Int'l Film Festival closed out on a strong note on April 30 with a full-house screening of "Sweetland", a 110 minute debut feature by local film-maker Ali Selim. The film stars Elizabeth Reaser as a German mail-order bride in Minnesota just after World War I and features one of the best American character actors ever, Ned Beatty. Mr. Beatty, who maintains a home in upper Minnesota, was on hand for the screening and was a show all by himself in the post screening discussion and the after picture party. Beatty, still a bit on the roly-poly side and now sporting a shock of long white hair, is the exact opposite in person of the often sleazy characters he has portrayed on screen. Among his many credits are such classics as "Deliverance", "Nashville" and "Superman I" in which Ned was the hilarious side-kick of arch-villain Luther, as played by Gene Hackman -- A truly droll characterization That was -- (Yup, Mister Loo-Thor...") -- Beatty has just finished shooting a political thriller in London directed by Paul Schrader with Woody Harrelson, Willem de Foe and Lauren Bacall -- a cast typical of the kind of screen company Ned Beatty usually keeps. At 68 the actor is not quite as busy as he was in past years,
but he regaled us with an interesting anecdote relating to the durability and timelessness of really good pictures. "Not long ago, says Beatty, I was at Burt Reynold's house in Florida for a reunion of the cast and director (John Boorman) of "Deliverance”, which was shot in 1972. Burt put the film on and we all watched it, and the interesting thing was that WE were all much older, but the film hadn't aged at all." A very gracious gentleman and an all-American silver screen icon, it was a true pleasure to meet Ned Beatty here in Minneapolis, and a great way to wind up the festival. Seeya next year in the Twin Cities -- if there is a next year in the Twin Cities.
by Alex Deleon, Minneapolis

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