Author: Mallory Nezam
The AFI International Film Festival occurs annually in Los Angeles. Every fall since 1987, Hollywood hosts the 11 day-long event, featuring films from emerging international filmmakers, global showings of films from established masters, special screenings and red-carpet gala premieres. The event also features an international competition of features, documentaries, and shorts. The event gives both emerging and well-known artists invaluable exposure to the film community (www.afi.com).
This year’s festival ran from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9 and featured 151 films from 38 countries, panels, receptions and special events (www.afi.com). Some of the centerpiece galas included Che (Steven Soderbergh), The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky) and the world premiere of Doubt (John Patrick Shanley), starring Meryl Streep.
I was lucky enough to make it to the Oscar buzzed-about movie and centerpiece gala of the festival, Che. The film showing, directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven series, Traffic, Erin Brockovich) consisted of two parts. The first, a film entitled The Argentine and the second, Guerrilla. The four and a half hour long two-part epic follows Che and Castro through Cuba’s revolution in The Argentine, and then to Bolivia, where Che renounces his Cuban citizenship, changes his name, and secretly begins an underground guerrilla movement to overthrow the government. The film premiered in May at the Cannes Film festival where Benicio Del Toro won the award for best actor for his role as Che.
As is customary for all of the film screenings at the festival, the filmmaker spoke, along with AFI president Bob Gazzale, and the film’s star, Del Toro. Soderbergh mentioned the extended research undertaken to complete such a monumental film. Alongside Che, the filmmaker shot a short documentary, featuring interview of those who fought alongside Che.
The film, shot primarily in Spanish, is an intimate look into Che’s guerrilla warfare-what life was like for young revolutionaries living in the jungle, living only for their cause. “To survive here, to win,” says Che in the first film, “you have to live as if you’ve already died.” The film carries a similar serious tone throughout the whole four and a half hour affair, highlighting the philosophies of the two revolutions (one achieved and one attempted) and the devotion of those involved.
Che was monumental. It was an event, more than it was a film, an active character itself, transforming its audience rather than simply entertaining. It did more than tell a story, the epic four and a half hour event demanded that the audience members devote a significant amount of time to undergoing an intimate experience of guerilla warfare. Soderbergh’s film meditates on the guerrilla perspective for such a prolonged period of time that the audience is pushed to transcend the border of spectator and engages, themselves, in the soul of the guerrilla fight. The length also demands of the audience the type of commitment that Che Gueverra might have demanded from his followers.
To achieve this level of intimacy, the film may have sacrificed other components. Its focus on the guerrilla fighters left out large chunks of the Gueverra story and the revolutionary movements.
The film also lacked a definitive position on the controversial figure of Che. Was this a box office stunt, an attempt to pull in a wide range of viewers despite their opinions of this historic icon? Or was it simply a film folly, the result of an overly ambitious endeavor to capture one of the most popular figures of modern times? Regardless of the intention of either the film’s length or moral positioning, the experience was transformative and effective at communicating a message about Che’s guerrilla warfare. It did, however, fail to capture the whole of this monumental figure and story.
Two days later I attended another special feature premiere of quite a different tone. The Brothers Bloom, directed by Rian Johnson (Brick) and starring Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo, is a smart comedy following the world’s best con team: that of two brothers. We follow Bloom (Brody) and Stephen (Ruffalo) through childhood to the present day, where the two meet a wealthy heiress (Rachel Weisz) who gets wrapped up in their scheming. Bloom, struggling with the fabrication of the fictitious world of conning, learns that there is a thin line between real life and the brothers’ con stories.
Following the film, I spoke with director and film writer Johnson about his transition from his last film, Brick, which debuted in 2005, to this newest film. The two suggest quite a jump for Johnson, moving from a heavy film noir, to a lighter comedy.
Johnson insightfully commented that “you don’t choose the project. It just happens.” He likened the process to falling in love. “You don’t choose the qualities of the certain person you fall in love with. It surprises you who you choose.” The Brothers Bloom still takes advantage of the language-heavy, witty and swift story telling qualities of Johnson’s last film, but translates these into a comedic setting with impressive appropriateness. Johnson, for example, was able to use his ear for dialect and seep the film in con men dialogue, just like his last film busied itself with drug and slang noir-style lingo. Consequently, this new film is a successful departure from Johnson’s last, carrying forth some of his established talents, as well as pushing him into the new realm of comedy.
Che will be released into theaters in December and The Brothers Bloom is already out and entertaining. Both are excellent and distinctive pieces of art, just a small example of the wide range of work displayed at the festival this year, which proved to be a successful avenue for filmmakers of all statures to showcase new and exciting work.
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