So far today (more to come later)...
Son of Man (South Africa, 2006) * * * *
D: Mark Dornford-May
Set in "Judea, Afrika," this exhilarating film squeezes the life of Jesus into one 90-minute film set in a contemporary African landscape. The screenplay pretty much sticks to the source material, to the point of often using King James poetry, but what transports the film into a higher sphere is the clever way it tells its overly-familiar story: Herod is a dictator with automatic-toting soldiers; brief snippets from a news broadcast offer updates on the political chaos the country is passing through; when Jesus (Andile Kosi) raises Lazarus, it's shot on camcorder like a hastily-captured moment to air later on a Dateline NBC special on miracles. But little of this film is ironic. The emphasis is on the story and power-to-the-people political transformation, and the most clever switch of all--involving the crucifixion--offers a modern twist that really means something. Dornford-May, a British opera director whose South African adaptation of Carmen, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, is also screening at WIFF this weekend, here de-emphasizes the music (although there is some) in favor of blistering, stylish cinematic storytelling. (His Carmen star, Pauline Malefane, appears in a smaller role here as Mary, but she co-wrote the screenplay and much of the music.) In short: it's great, and hopefully it will find a wider audience.
A WIFF Intermission: Duck Soup Cinema
The Navigator (U.S., 1924) * * * *
D: Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp
Hey, is it my fault they scheduled Duck Soup Cinema right smack in the middle of the Wisconsin Film Festival this year? It seems particularly odd given that the Capitol Theatre is now an official WIFF venue. At any rate, film festivals seem a bit more complete, to me, if a silent film is included, so it might be appropriate that I had the chance to add a little seasoning of Buster Keaton to my WIFF-scrambling this year. The opening hour of vaudeville was more eclectic than ever (an 11-year-old piano virtuoso and a UW swing dance troupe), and host Joe Thompson was joined onstage by Bucky the Badger for at least one high-concept gag (performing the fast-paced verbal jokes of "Who's on First" with a mute badger). The Keaton vehicle is one of his very best. Buster plays a bored playboy who finds himself lost at sea with a cute girl on a giant steamship called "The Navigator." At one point he swordfights a swordfish by using another swordfish. You can imagine this working in animation, but Keaton did it live in 1924, and it's wonderful. But back to the festival...