Equally breathtaking, spellbinding and disturbing, The Pearl Button, sheds light on the horrors of Chile's history during which President Allende had nearly all of Patagonia's indigenous tribes killed in a genocide, and, later, President Pinochet had his many Chilean opponents tortured and "disappeared." Director Patricio Guzmán interposes the gut-wrenching interviews w/ Patagonian tribe members and Chileans with scenes of water in its many forms: waves, ice, rain etc. Water symbolizes a lot in The Pearl Button because, as it turns out, the Chileans living during Pinochet's regime were "disappeared" by being thrown into the sea while bound up and stuffed in bags. The sea may look pretty and calm, but it hides its horrors beneath its surface. As Guzmán candidly admits, he himself has always felt scared of the sea to a certain extent. The stunning shots of the Patagonian landscape make for a very lyrical and pensive experience---after you hear vivid accounts of what the tribal members went through or watch a re-enactment of how a Chilean woman was bound, crushed with the heavy weight of heavy metal train tracks, and stuffed into a bag, the scenes of nature help you to absorb what you just saw and heard. If the doc were merely talking heads or if it were to clock past its brief, ideal running time of 1 hour and 22 minutes, it would've been too overwhelming, so kudos to Guzmán for being a director who knows how to find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. Powerful, haunting and provocative, The Pearl Button should be mandatory viewing for all Chileans so that they never forget the horrors of their past. It opens via Kino Lorber at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center.
In post-apocalyptic Ethiopia, Candy (Daniel Tadesse) lives with his beloved girlfriend, Birdy (Selam Tesfaye), in an abandoned bowling alley. An alien spaceship has been hovering, but it hasn't started turning on until recently. The bowling alley suddenly begins to function as well, so Candy sets out to figure out what's going on and whether it has something to do with the spaceship. How do a witch and Santa Claus factor into the narrative? I won't spoil anything more about what happens after Candy ventures out of the bowling alley so as not to ruin any of the surprises.
To call the screenplay by Miguel Llansó weird would be an understatement. A lot happens that's mysterious, bizarre and, at times, even confusing. Llansó leaves plenty of room for interpretation, i.e. the fact that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurine survived the apocalypse and serves as his amulet, and Michael Jordan is worshiped. It's worth noting that Crumbs doesn't have much in terms of action and that it's much more of a slow burn. Llansó makes the most of the limited budget to create the effects of the post-apocalyptic world without excessive CGI (this isn't Mad Max, after all).
Crumbs often feels like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film in its inventiveness, visual pizzazz and quirkiness albeit with a lot more weirdness. However, it's not inventive or entertaining enough to truly become a cult classic because some scenes tend to drag. At least Llansó is willing to take risks because much of what happens narrative-wise is far from a conventional post-apocalyptic film. Also, he's disciplined enough as a director to keep the running time down to 1 hour and 8 minutes. If it were any longer than that, it would've overstayed its welcome.
The Looking Glass
Karen (Dorothy Tristan), a retired actress, lives alone in small-town Indiana. She's still grieving over the recent death of her daughter, and dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's. In the opening scenes, she's driving to the airport to pick up her Julie (Grace Tarnow), her troubled 13-year-old granddaughter, who's going to live with her for the summer away from her father (Anthony Panzica) and stepmother (Faith Marie). Karen hopes to help Julie get back on the right track and to be happy pushing her to pursue her dreams: she notices her talent for singing, so she takes her to an audition for the town's musical production of "The Looking Glass." Julie is initially reluctant to audition, but she eventually agrees to and gets the part. She also starts dating Anthony (Griffin Carlson), a teenager whom she first meets and flirts with on a local beach. The more she spends time with her grandmother, the more she learns to grow up and overcome her sorrow.
Screenwriter Dorothy Tristan should be commended for writing a drama that's refreshing because it's warm, touching, old-fashioned, timeless and relatable. It might have a small budget, but it has a big heart. Moreover, it boasts two complex female roles which is very rare nowadays at the movies. The same can be said for the inclusion of an interesting senior citizen because the elderly are usually depicted in Hollywood as caricatures or merely as "old" rather than as complex human beings like Karen. Tristan wisely keeps The Looking Glass grounded in the dynamics of the relationship between Karen and Julie for the most part. Both Karen and Julie grow and affect one another in different ways so that by the time the end credits roll, they've changed in a way that's organic.
Even when the narrative veers off into another direction, i.e. Julie's romance with Anthony, it still feels true-to-life and not tacked-on. Only a few scenes feel a bit overlong and stilted such as when Karen sit down to talk about her past to Julie in a rather lengthy monologue. Still, you'll be glad to know that The Looking Glass never becomes a melodrama or Lifetime movie-of-the-week. It also avoids relying on narration and flashbacks which would have been distracting. In other words Dorothy Tristan and director John D. Hancock (her husband) trust your intelligence and imagination as an audience member.
Further enriching the film and keeping it grounded in humanism (a truly special effect; CGI should be merely called a standard effect), are the nuanced, heartfelt performances by Dorothy Tristan and newcomer Grace Tarnow who's not only beautiful, but quite charismatic to boot. Their scenes together are thoroughly captivating and emotionally engrossing because they actually seem like they're actually grandmother and granddaughter. Hopefully, we'll Tarnow will get equally complex roles in the future instead of being pigeonholed into shallow Hollywood roles. At a running time of 110 minutes, The Looking Glass is a tender, well-acted drama brimming with warmth and humanism. Back in the days when dramas were ruling the marketplace instead of the current bombardment of shallow, CGI-infested blockbusters (read: bread and circuses), it would have received a much wider theatrical release.
Rock the Kasbah