By Andrea Meyer
Throw a beer bottle in New York and there’s a good chance you’ll damage the skull of a filmmaker — or an aspiring one, or a film industry worker-bee, or at least a backseat critic who’s sure he knows movies. That might explain the myriad of film festivals popping up throughout the city, many of which vaporize as quickly as they appear. But those with a little luck, pluck and funding have managed to stick around and the Brooklyn International Film Festival (BIFF) is one of them.
The first international competitive film festival ever to hit screens in New York is now entering its ninth year, showcasing a diverse program of films — 15 narrative features, 11 docs and a slew of shorts from 15 countries — from June 2-11 at the regal Brooklyn Museum.
The event kicked off on Friday night with Italian director Libero De Rienzo’s melodramatic and zany love story “Blood, Death Does Not Exist.” It’s fitting that such an enigmatic display would open a festival that has the enigmatic title Enigma-9. I’m not sure why a festival needs a title or why it’s not just called the Brooklyn International Film Festival, but the intent is apparently to declare the festival’s quest to cinematically confront “the most delicate and difficult questions of our times.” An executive summary explains the event’s goal to “stimulate the intellect and inspire conversation among people of diverse backgrounds. It is about attempting to connect the dots and can be viewed as a vast puzzle where opposite viewpoints, inconsistencies, ambiguities strive to coexist.”
While the opening night film is puzzling at times, “Blood, Death Does Not Exist” does offer a refreshing departure from usual rules of narration and tone. At its center is a surprising brother-sister relationship, the incestuous frolicking seeming to naturally spring from an intimacy as playful as it is fraught. While the film’s formal experimentation is occasionally gratuitous, the film is entertaining and provocative.
Another twisted relationship is the focus of French director Diane Bertrand’s “The Ring Finger,” about a factory worker (Olga Kurylenko) who, after slicing off a bit of her finger into the lemonade she bottles, finds a new job at a mysterious laboratory that creates specimens of objects that trigger clients’ most painful memories. In no time, the wounded waif is wearing the red shoes her new boss gives her — and occasionally enjoying sweaty romps with him on the bathroom floor. While the film’s metaphors are both clunky and hazily out of reach (is that possible?), dreamy cinematography and pacing and an irresistible, measured performance by the gorgeous Kurylenko make the film a hypnotizing watch.
Steamy sex has clearly invaded the summer zeitgeist. Evidence comes with the East Coast premiere of Bent Hamer’s “Factotum,” in which Matt Dillon and Lily Taylor rock the rusty old bedsprings as rough-and-tumble writer Charles Bukowski’s drunken alter-ego, “Hank Chinaski,” and Jan, his favorite fuck-buddy. Dillon gives the downtrodden, blathering performance of his career. Between this film, “Crash” and, of course, “There’s Something About Mary,” it might be time to admit the guy is not just another pretty face.
Other highly sexed fare includes Brazilian director Sérgio Machado’s “Lower City,” starring “City of God”‘s Alice Braga as a hooker with a heart of gold who comes between a couple of petty hoodlums (Lázaro Ramos and Wagner Moura), whose equally golden hearts are damaged when other body parts get the best of them. The stars of the indie road-trip flick “Road,” by director Leslie McCleave, roll around a beaten-up backseat together, but they also have other things on their mind in this suggestive, ecologically-minded story about an ex-boyfriend and -girlfriend on a trip through the toxic waste sites of Canada, where they find that the world is out-of-whack. On a similarly frustrating journey is the protagonist of Iranian director Mohammed Reza Arab’s “The Last Queen of the Earth,” about an Afghani working in Iran who makes a desperate attempt to return to his wife before the Americans make their inevitable attack in the wake of September 11th.
While “Factotum” and “Lower City” will get limited releases in the States, most films rely on festivals like BIFF to for exposure in communities that might otherwise not have the opportunity to see them. One example of a film that is unlikely to hit “theaters near you” is Azazel Jacobs’ kooky “The GoodTimesKid,” about two guys named Rodolfo (Jacobs and Gerardo Naranjo) circling an oddly attractive Echo Park Olive Oyl (Sara Diaz) while trying to figure out what to do with their lives. The film is absurdist, wistful and sweet, so don’t miss your chance to see it.
While the narrative program is compelling, BIFF’s best films are found among the documentary selections. Especially noteworthy is Joseph Mathew and Dan DeVivo’s “Crossing Arizona,” a look at the immigration debate that gathers the opinions of the humanitarians to the ranchers to the Minutemen, all doing heated battle along the Arizona/Mexico border. My personal favorite, Amy Nicholson’s “Muskrat Lovely,” is further proof that truth is more mind-blowing than fiction. The film follows the contestants of a dual-purpose event in Dorchester County, Maryland – the National Outdoor Show, where teenaged girls put on their evening gowns to compete to become Miss. Outdoors, and on the same stage the best local muskrat skinners try to rip the hides off the little furry critters faster than the next guy. Nicholson never knocks us over the head with a message, just lets the footage of bloody hides contrast images of primping and twirling and curling and what a dizzying and dazzling display it is.
For more information, visit www.brooklynfilmfestival.org.