I saw two excellent movies today. My favorite was The Weather Man which came out in 2005, starring Nicholas Cage and Michael Caine. Cage plays a weather man on a Chicago television station, who is separated from his wife and has trouble making connections with his father, played by Caine, and his children. People blame him when the weather doesn't turn out as predicted and throw food at him when they encounter him in the street. Although he is making $270,000 a year, he is a loser, and nobody beats Cage, with his natural hangdog expression, at playing a loser. Although there is eventually some sort of resolution, it is not a formulaic Hollywood ending.
Everything about this movie is great. The script is one of the best pieces of writing I have seen. It is intelligent, moving without being mawkish, and knows when to mix in humor to lighten the depression. The cinematography is outstanding. The movie looks good; the pictures are pretty; the blocking is interesting. The acting is great. I have already mentioned Cage and Caine who always give good performances, but the lesser characters, particularly, Gemmenne de la Pena, as the overweight daughter and Nicholas Hoult, as the troubled son, also do fine jobs.
Attending the showing and talking afterwards were the writer of the movie, Steve Conrad, and the actor, Gill Bellows, who does an excellent job as the son's counselor who makes a move on the son. Conrad has the kind of quirky intelligence that makes him the kind of person who would be fun to know. A friend, who attended the morning panel discussion, heard Conrad's young son, who looked to be 7 to 9ish years old ask his father why he couldn't see the movie. His father said it was because it was rated "R" meaning that it had words in that he should not hear. "But, Dad, I've heard you say those words," Conrad's son replied. I gave this movie five stars and would say it is one of the best movies I have seen at the festival the last several years.
The second movie today was Moolaade, a movie set in Senegal about female circumcision (a nice word for genital mutilation.) Ebert touted this as the best movie at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. I don't know what else played at the festival, and although it certainly is a good movie, it is a message movie, although one done very well. It is set in a Muslim village and does an excellent job of depicting the color and the deprivations of poor West African villages. Trouble starts wehn Colle, the second of four wives of a powerful man, who has refused to let her daughter be cut, is asked for protection by four other young girls who do not want to be cut. She invokes "moolaade," a word meaning protection, which involves tying a strand of bright yarn across the entrance to her compound. It is believed that anyone who violates the moolaade will have terrible things happen to them, so the girls are safe as long as they stay inside the compound.
The male elders get fed up with the feminist rebellion, and put their foot down, burning all the radios they women have been listening to and pushing Colle's husband to beat her until she lifts the moolaade. She refuses to submit, despite the public beating and as she stands taking the blows, the other women of the village start cheering for her. Eventually, all of the women unite to prevent their daughters from being cut.
The discussion afterward included the lead actress of the movie, Fatoumata Coulibaly, herself a practicing Muslim living in Mali, who has herself been genitally mutilated. She said it was hard for her to do the movie because it includes a rape scene in which her breasts are exposed, and public nudity of any kind is against her religion and her culture. However, she feels so strongly about the need to stop female circumcision that she felt it necessary to do the movie. She explained that the result of the mutilation, which removes the clitoris, supposedly so the woman will not enjoy intercourse, causes sexual intercourse and childbirth to be extremely painful.
Although Moolaade was made in West Africa and is intended to influence West Africans, it has been shown primarily in the West. It has been shown hundreds of times in Europe and North America and only three times in Africa. Some of the West African governments are outlawing the practice, but individual villages still have to be convinced to stop it and that can only open when real women, like the women in the movie, declare that they won't take it anymore. I gave this movie four stars.
I am sorry that I will miss the remaining movies of the festival, particularly, given the health of Roger Ebert, the future of the festival is in doubt. Hopefully, it will go on, even when he is not able to participate, but we were told that this year's festival was about to be cancelled when Ebert was told that the season passes had all been sold in less than a week, he said that he would make it if humanly possible. Some of the movies still coming up that I would have particularly liked to have seen are Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Paul Cox's Man of Flowers, Werner Herzog's Stroszek, Andrew Douglas's Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and Russ Meyer's Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. Herzog's movies are always interesting and Herzog himself will be here, although without Ebert to interview him, I don't know that he'll talk until 2 o'clock a.m. with a still-packed house hanging on every word like the last time he was here. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, although I've never seen it, is from what I hear, sleazy, but it was written by Roger Ebert, so it would be fun to see what was coming out of his warped mind 35 years ago.
But we fly out of Midway Airport tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock, without regrets for the Big Apple. Hopefully, there will be other Ebertfests in the future; one's progeny debuts at Carnegie Hall only once.