BLIND SPOT: HITLER’S SECRETARY (***), despite its riveting subject matter, is victimized by a bad decision by its well-intentioned filmmakers, Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer. A documentary in which Hitler’s former secretary, at the time 22 years old, Taudl Junge, speaks out for the first time, is fascinating to be sure, but that Heller and Schmiderer choose not to supplement her first person recollections with any historical footage or even photos of Junge from the time is a major mistake. As a result, the film consists of the septuagenarian Junge talking to camera in some bad digital video footage for nearly two hours. While what she has to say is, needless to say, fascinating as a historical document, it’s less effective as a film and a teaching tool without placing Junge in a contextual setting and far too unjudgmental about its subject matter. While a vital piece of history is further documented, I can’t help but think that “The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl” was far superior in the way it examined its controversial subject matter by both exposing her hypocrisy and illustrating the era with essential film clips and photography.
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (***1/2) however, is a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking. Michael Moore manages to top “Roger & Me” with this audacious chronicle of America’s gun culture, he vacillates between riotous humor and social satire and soul sapping tragedy and sadness. Occasionally he overreaches as he attempts to understand America’s fascination with guns and the brutal violence that ensues as a result (as in the case of saddling America’s military industrial complex and foreign policy with most of the blame for much of our nation’s domestic social ills), but in his relentless search for answers, he posits many provocative questions which are not asked frequently enough. Searching beyond the easy answers and deconstructing some of the all too familiar arguments, it’s a welcome addition to the national debate, which while not always on the money, is consistently thoughtful, smart and thoroughly satisfying. None more so than when two of the wounded Columbine students demand K-Mart stop selling the ammunition that permanently disabled them…and win. If nothing else, Moore’s vivid illustration of the triumph of the underdog is more important than ever in this era of Operation Tips and the slow erosion of our civil liberties.
LOST IN LAMANCHA (***), another superb documentary, about the unmaking of Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated “Don Quixote.” Not since “Hearts of Darkness,” which chronicled the misfortunes of Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Apocalypse Now, has their been a film as thoroughly satisfying, darkly comic and well realized in providing an overview of the up’s and down’s of the making of a big budget feature film. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who made the superb “Hamster Factor,” about the making of Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” top themselves with this fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, accounting of Gilliam’s own tilting at windmills and the unraveling of this major motion picture.
SPIDER (**) is David Cronenberg’s latest, a two hour psychodrama, which should have been twenty minutes. While Ralph Fiennes turns in his typically spot-on performance, “Spider,” the story of a schizophrenic who can’t distinguish reality from fiction after possibly committing a heinous murder, is slow, languid and drab. Despite being stunningly shot by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, “Spider” never caught me in its web. I’m ready for Cronenberg to return to the visceral horror which was his trademark for so many years.
THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (***) was widely beloved by Telluride audiences and is the latest film from Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. The film is charming and smart and chronicles the story of a man who has to rebuild his life after being brutally beaten and a victim of amnesia. Instead of using this timeworn device as a noir or espionage conceit, the film unwinds in a most unexpected way and delightful way as the film’s befuddled protagonist, who may or may not be dead, played by Markku Peltola, begins reassembling the pieces of his life.
Pedro Almodovar is back in top form in TALK TO HER (***1/2), a hysterical, and at times, touching story of two men whose lives intersect in a most unlikely way. Although the film’s “Macguffin” is actually rather repugnant, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is how Almodovar is able to use this conceit to craft such a delightful and whimsical story, none more witty than a ten minute interlude in which Almodovar offers his own take on silent films which is redolent of early Woody Allen. “Talk to Her” is marked by strong performances from Javier Camara and Dario Grandinetti and the discovery of the stunningly beautiful Lenor Watling as Alicia, a Spanish actress to watch…and how couldn’t you, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her.
More Telluride in part three of GOLDMINE: THE 29TH TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL>>>
Posted on September 13, 2002 in Festivals by Mark A. Altman
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