"The Cutting Edge II: A World On Film" is a package of six feature films, offbeat foreign movies that are, as the series title suggests, on the cutting edge of cinema.
That seems to imply that each of these six pictures is an art film, which may indeed be the intention. But not all of them succeed - and when they fail, they're close to intolerable.Two of the films - "Dust in the Wind" and "My Favorite Story" - are now playing at the Blue Mouse Theater through Saturday. Then "Macao, or Beyond the Water" and "The Jester" will play there Sunday through Tuesday.
The remaining pair, "The Eve of Ivan Kupalo" and "The Last of England" begins a week-long run at the Cinema in Your Face! theater Friday.
The films are from different countries and cultures around the world and represent individual filmmakers' very unique visions. They are all about as far from mainstream Hollywood as they can get, but they are also about as far from each other as they can get.
As such, my perceptions may not necessarily parallel yours, and it should be said up front that the reviews that follow reflect a viewing of videocassette tapes of each film. As such they may have lost something in the transition - especially since subtitles are much more comprehensible on the big screen than the small tube.
But it also needs to be said that they were not viewed all in one sitting, and I was affected by some films more than others, though the order of viewing was completely random.
Two of the films I thought were quite good, three others I found only fair and one I could not finish.
The best, in my view, were "Dust in the Wind" and "Macao, or Beyond the Water" (which is the title on the film, though "Beyond the Sea" is the title in the publicity).
-DUST IN THE WIND - ***- A lovely little film from Taiwan, a simple, slow-moving slice-of-life story about two young teens who love each other, but who are both shy and rather inarticulate.
Against the wishes of their elders they quit school and go into the already overcrowded work force, only to discover to their dismay that life isn't all that peachy when you're young, inexperienced and unskilled.
They wish to get married but can't save any money and eventually the boy is drafted. What happens next is pivotal, and therefore will remain unrevealed unless you see it for yourself. But suffice it to say this is a quiet, unassuming film that relies for its lyrical nature on subtle characterizations, gorgeous cinematography of the Taiwanese surroundings and our ability to identify with these poor kids and their difficulties. The events of the film are nothing special, just the day-to-day mundane things of life. And certainly we can all identify with that.
In Taiwanese and Mandarin, with English subtitles, "Dust in the Wind" is unrated, but would probably get a PG for some profanity from one elderly man.
-MACAO, OR BEYOND THE WATER - ***- A fascinating, bizarre "Twilight Zone"-style portrait of a man who has either died or possibly gone insane. He is on a flight from Zurich to Stockholm when his plane crashes. He apparently survives and swims ashore but finds to his amazement he's on an island inhabited by Chinese.
Is this some sort of weird afterlife, or is he going nuts? When the plane's pilot appears and seems to be having the same experience, he eventually learns the truth. Meanwhile, his wife mourns his loss until she ultimately discovers a way to join him.
Strange, gorgeously photographed, alternately funny and bewildering, this is ultimately a mesmerizing love story.
In German and Cantonese, with English subtitles, "Macao" is unrated but would probably get an R for a nude sex scene before the credits. Otherwise there are only a couple of mild profanities.
Less successful in my view were "My Favorite Story," "The Jester" and "The Eve of Ivan Kupalo."
-MY FAVORITE STORY - **- A dull, plodding yarn encompassing four generations of a family, but focusing mainly on the two youngest, a mother and daughter who both have trouble with men.
The daughter is an aspiring classical singer who is pregnant by her boyfriend, while her mother is unhappy with the man she lives with, and we see flashbacks of the man she used to live with, a relationship no more successful.
Filmmaker Anne-Marie Mieville is a protege of Jean-Luc Godard and while this film is not as frustrating as most of Godard's, there are several of his tricks here - long scenes that seem to have little purpose, music that abruptly starts and stops, but there are some very nice moments nonetheless.
In French, with English subtitles, "My Favorite Story" is unrated but would probably get a PG-13 for profanity, nudity and sex.
-THE JESTER - **- This avant-garde film from Portugal has several plots revolving around the production of a classic Portuguese play - "The Jester" - with parallels in the play's characters to the people putting it on. The main story has to do with a couple's on-again-off-again romance and the death of an amateur illegal arms dealer whose childhood best friend is telling the story in flashback form.
A rather obtuse attempt to cover far too much ground with an approach that is aloof, forced and with broad humor that never gels. Some good performances and nice set-pieces, but ultimately it's overlong (more than two hours) and dull.
In Portuguese, with English subtitles, "The Jester" is unrated, but would doubtless carry a PG for violence, profanity and nudity.
-THE EVE OF IVAN KUPALO - **- This surrealistic treatment of Ukrainian folklore, a fantasy about a poor youth who wants to marry a wealthy farmer's daughter, is about as zany as they come, with quick cuts that seem a modern MTV-influenced style, but the film was actually made in 1968 and suppressed for 20 years. Ultimately it's too quirky for its own good, overwhelming the story with style. It's in Ukrainian with English subtitles; unrated, probable PG (violence).
But, for me, the worst of the lot is from Derek Jarman, the English filmmaker who also gave us the obnoxious "Caravaggio" a couple of years ago.
-THE LAST OF ENGLAND - turkey - Boring, pretentious end-of-the-world tripe, a freewheeling series of images ranging from color home movies to tinted scenes of destruction and sexual perversion to black-and-white narrative bridges. Tiresome, tedious and deadly dull. I left this one about halfway through. Unrated, probable R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity).