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IFFBoston 2010: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (Closing)

Monday at IFFBoston 2010 brings two vastly different screenings to Somerville’s small Cinema 5.  8: The Mormon Proposition lays out the political battles surrounding the recent Proposition 8 in California.  The purpose of Prop 8 was to repeal the existing right of marriage for same-sex couples.  In the days that followed the vote on the confusingly worded text - where supporters needed to vote “no” and opponents were to vote “yes” – it became known that the Prop 8 campaign had been one of the most expensive in California history and that most of that money had come from the Mormon Church, in many cases behind the scenes and against the law, including coercion of some faithful by Church elders.  Further, it came out that this was just the most recent battle in a long campaign by that Church going back to Hawaii in the 1980’s.  This documentary delves into the history of this effort by the Mormon leadership and its impact on people on both sides of the debate.

If Sergio Leone were Korean with a sense of humor, the result might be The Good, The Bad, The Weird.  One of the selections for this year’s festival within the festival, IFFBoston After Dark, director Ji-woon Kim’s film showcases a vision that is totally his own, yet sprinkled with homages to other artists from around the world.  As the title suggests, the core triumvirate of characters are loosely inspired by Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – yet that’s not all there is.  The high-energy shootout in the Ghost Market is part Butch and Sundance against the Bolivians and part Crouching Tiger, Hidden Spiderman.  Other scenes are reminiscent of such wide-ranging sources as: the 1979 screwball comedy, The In-Laws; the Japanese graphic novels, Lone Wolf and Cub; or simply Indy fleeing the Nazis.  This film not only deserves to be seen, it deserves to be seen at the late show with a bucket of popcorn, followed by a post-movie roundtable at an all-night diner with your buddies that saw it with you.

It seems that IFFBoston’s inspired screening of a pair of art-related films at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art on the festival’s penultimate Tuesday night may have crossed over from experiment to tradition.  At least I hope so.

The early show, Marwencol (Special Jury Prize, Documentary Feature), introduces us to the world of Mark Hogencamp.  Well, worlds.  This documentary takes us on a journey into one man’s self-therapy devised to deal with the after effects of a savage attack.  Mark used to be a different person: an angry drunk who filled sketchbooks with skilled but angry drawings that hint at some unresolved past trauma.  After suffering a beating that left him senseless and comatose, a new Mark emerges.  Kindler and gentler, sober, but without the fine motor skills to draw, it also seems that the effects of any pre-existing trauma have been wiped clean and replaced by a new and sometimes overwhelming fear.  Mark’s clear artistic sensibilities exhibited prior to the assault must find a new medium in his new reality – and in so doing, a new reality is itself invented.  Enter Marwencol, a 1/6th scale World War II-era Belgian town that Mark has created from whole cloth in his backyard.  The town is populated by dolls that represent characters inspired by people in Mark’s life and his imagination.  The painstaking detail that brings the town to life goes as far as Mark’s own character in Marwencol having 1/36th (1/6th of 1/6th) scale dolls to use.  Marwencol’s overall result is exquisite artisanry, as are Mark’s photographs that preserve the timeline of vignettes experienced by the inhabitants as they go about their lives.

The nightcap, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, chronicles the rise and fall of a unique American artist.  Young and vital, destitute and adrift, Basquiat came of age in the Manhattan of Blondie and the Ramones, but also of Warhol and Studio 54.  From low beginnings as a homeless, teenage, high-school-dropout graffiti artist, he soared to great heights as the darling of the art scene for his iconic neo-expressionist artwork.  That meteoric rise seemed to overwhelm this vulnerable soul until, Icarus-like, he flamed out and was gone, leaving an indelible arc in only a dozen years in the public eye.  So infectious is this film that, as the lights came up after this screening, I found myself writing notes, unbidden, in freeform poetry instead of prose.  Even if the output would be a little long for SAMO’s style, the message would be familiar:

Fame takes you from your friends,
People who knew you way back when.
When fame leaves you,
Will your friends be there to take you back?

In a late switch, the festival’s Closing Night feature at the Coolidge became Micmacs.  Visually reminiscent of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1995 release, The City of Lost Children, it is soon apparent that this is a creative caper-comedy with a twist.  Several twists, actually, if you count the contortionist.  Instead of a crack team of criminals and con artists, this scheme plays out with a merry band of oddballs and outcasts.  The goal of the ruse is not mere self-enrichment, but, arguably, making the world a better place.  All in all, this pleasant surprise was a nice, fun, parting gift to draw IFFBoston 2010 to a close.

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