SUBTE-POLSKA: memory, vitality and loves from the past

SUBTE POLSKA

Here’s a wonderful movie (with an off-putting title) that you can ONLY see Sunday in Palo Alto or Wednesday in San Francisco. Subte-Polska is an Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past. A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte-Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Tadeusz (Hector Bidonde) is a working class nonagenarian chess master. He’s still able to win several simultaneous chess matches, but his age is catching up to him and he has periods of confusion and memory loss. His doc has prescribed meds that counteract the memory loss, but he refuses to take them because they…wait for it…diminish his sexual performance.

His adult adopted son (Marcelo Xicarte) is understandably frustrated because he has to keep tracking down an unnecessarily (from his perspective) addled old man. And the son is in a touchy period in his own marriage.

Tadeusz is a Communist Jew who left Poland, his family and his girlfriend to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He found another lover in Spain, but he left her,too, when they were defeated by Franco. Tadeusz’ family didn’t survive Hitler. That’s a lot of loss, and Tadeusz dealt with it by emigrating to Argentina and LITERALLY going underground. To avoid triggering painful memories, he gets a job constructing and then working in the Buenos Aires subway system. He sets up his son as a subway driver, and his best buddies also work in the subway, including the guy who runs the underground newsstand (Manuel Callau).

As Subte-Polska unfolds, Magnone explores our sense of memory, and how we consciously and subconsciously handle both the cherished memories and the devastating ones. As he takes and abstains from taking his meds, Tadeusz’s short-term memory ebbs and flows. This is a guy who has framed his entire life to suppress the memories of his youth, but he begins to remember his youth more and more vividly. As he remembers, he feels a need to find closure.

Tadeusz is a strong-willed person, and Subte-Polska is pretty funny as he causes consternation in his son, doctor and friends – in everybody except his well-serviced girlfriend and his ball-busting old friend from their first days underground. Marcelo Xicarte and Manuel Callau both prove to be excellent comic actors.

Speaking of acting, Hector Bidonde delivers a magnificent lead performance. Bidonde plays someone who has always been determined to do what he wants, stubborn to his core, still confident in his beliefs, mental acuity and sexual prowess, but occasionally shaken by moments of confusion.

You have three chances to catch Subte-Polska at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 4:25 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Wednesday, July 26 4:05 PM
  • Albany Twin (Twin), Tuesday, August 1 6:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Subte-Polska is funny, insightful and moving. I’m still mulling it over. This film deserves a US distributor – and a US distributor who changes the title. After all, it’s a subtitled movie about a 90-year-old; ya gotta help the audience want to see this. It’s the under-the-radar Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

SUBTE-POLSKA: memory, vitality and loves from the past

SUBTE POLSKA

Subte-Polska is an Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past.  A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

Great movie. Off-putting title.

Tadeusz (Hector Bidonde) is a working class nonagenarian chess master. He’s still able to win several simultaneous chess matches, but his age is catching up to him and he has periods of confusion and memory loss. His doc has prescribed meds that counteract the memory loss, but he refuses to take them because they…wait for it…diminish his sexual performance.

His adult adopted son (Marcelo Xicarte) is understandably frustrated because he has to keep tracking down an unnecessarily (from his perspective) addled old man. And the son is in a touchy period in his own marriage.

Tadeusz is a Communist Jew who left Poland, his family and his girlfriend to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He found another lover in Spain, but he left her,too, when they were defeated by Franco. Tadeusz’ family didn’t survive Hitler. That’s a lot of loss, and Tadeusz dealt with it by emigrating to Argentina and LITERALLY going underground. To avoid triggering painful memories, he gets a job constructing and then working in the Buenos Aires subway system. He sets up his son as a subway driver, and his best buddies also work in the subway, including the guy who runs the underground newsstand (Manuel Callau).

As Subte-Polska unfolds, Magnone explores our sense of memory, and how we consciously and subconsciously handle both the cherished memories and the devastating ones.  As he takes and abstains from taking his meds, Tadeusz’s short-term memory ebbs and flows.  This is a guy who has framed his entire life to suppress the memories of his youth, but he begins to remember his youth more and more vividly.  As he remembers, he feels a need to find closure.

Tadeusz is a strong-willed person, and Subte-Polska is pretty funny as he causes consternation in his son, doctor and friends – in everybody except his well-serviced girlfriend and his ball-busting old friend from their first days underground.  Marcelo Xicarte and Manuel Callau both prove to be excellent comic actors.

Speaking of acting, Hector Bidonde delivers a magnificent lead performance.  Bidonde plays someone who has always been determined to do what he wants, stubborn to his core, still confident in his beliefs, mental acuity and sexual prowess, but occasionally shaken by moments of confusion.

You have three chances to catch Subte-Polska at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 4:25 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Wednesday, July 26 4:05 PM
  • Albany Twin (Twin), Tuesday, August 1 6:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Subte-Polska is funny, insightful and moving. I’m still mulling it over.  This film deserves a US distributor – and a US distributor who changes the title. After all, it’s a subtitled movie about a 90-year-old; ya gotta help the audience want to see this.  It’s the under-the-radar Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

DVD/Stream of the Week: WILD TALES

WILD TALES
WILD TALES

Okay, here’s the hilariously dark Argentine comedy Wild Tales. Writer-director Damián Szifron presents a series of individual stories about revenge. It’s still high my list of Best Movies of 2015 – So Far.

We all feel aggrieved, and Wild Tales explores what happens when rage overcomes the restraints of social order. Think about how instantly angry you can become when some driver cuts you off on the highway – and then how you might fantasize avenging the slight. Indeed, there is a story in Wild Tales that has the most severe case road rage since Spielberg’s Duel in 1971. Now Wild Tales is dark, and you gotta go with it. The humor comes from the EXTREMES that someone’s resentment can lead to.

One key to the success of Wild Tales is that it is an anthology. In a very wise move, Szifron resisted any impulse to stretch one of the stories into a feature-length movie. Each of the stories is just the right length to extract every laugh and pack a punch. The funniest stories are the opening one set on an airplane and the final one about a wedding.

The acting is uniformly superb. In one story, Oscar Martínez plays a wealthy man in a desperate jam, who buys the help of his shady lawyer fixer (Osmar Núñez) and his longtime household retainer (Germán de Silva) – until their prices get just a little too high. The three actors take what looks like it’s going to a thriller and morph into a (very funny) psychological comedy with a very cynical view of human nature.

One of the middle episodes stars one of my favorite film actors, Ricardo Darín, who I see as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. I suggest that you watch Darín in the brilliant police procedural The Secrets in Their Eyes (on my top ten for 2010), the steamy and seamy Carancho and the wonderful con artist movie Nine Queens.

Wild Tales was a festival hit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance) around the world and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar. I saw Wild Tales at Cinequest 2015. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

Cinequest: PARABELLUM

PARABELLUM
PARABELLUM

The Argentine drama Parabellum is a trippy movie unlike anything that you’ve seen.  Set in a pre-apocalyptic near future, cities are crumbling into disorder and meteors are plunging into the Earth with alarmingly increased frequency.  Clearly everyone should be panicking, but no one is.

Instead, the characters in Parabellum don blindfolds and are motored up a jungle river to a secret adventure resort where they learn survivalist skills – kind of Camp Heart of Darkness.  The most life-and-death exercises are addressed matter-of-factly, with an absurdly calm determination that makes Parabellum seem like something out of Buñuel.

Parabellum’s measured pace seems so at odds with the impending disaster (whatever it will be), that it’s part of the joke.  What the hell is going on and what are these people thinking?  Beautifully shot, engrossing and witty – Parabellum is a wacky treat.

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES – see the real Oscar winner before the Hollywood version

Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

The superb The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. The Hollywood remake is coming out this weekend, but you should first see the original. The Secret in Their Eyes is a police procedural set in Argentina with two breathtaking plot twists, original characters, a mature romance and one forehead-slapping, “how did they do it?” shot. The story centers on a murder in Argentina’s politically turbulent 1970s, but most of the story takes place twenty years later when a retired cop revisits the murder.

Veteran Argentine actor Ricardo Darin shines once again in a Joe Mantegna-type role. Darin leads an excellent cast, including Guillermo Francella, who brings alive the character of Darin’s drunk assistant. Darin’s detective is a solitary guy who retracts into his lair to bang away at a novel. He has feelings for his boss, a tough judge played by Soledad Villamil. Her career and her personal life can’t wait for the detective to get his own stuff together. All three characters throw themselves into solving the murder and, when stymied, are all scarred by the lack of resolution.

The movie is titled after one element that I hadn’t seen before in a crime movie. And then there are the major plot twists. The final one is a jaw-dropper.

Director Juan Jose Campanella received justifiable praise for the amazing shot of a police search in a filled and frenzied soccer stadium. It ranks as one of the great single shots of extremely long duration, right up there with the opening sequence of Touch of Evil, the kitchen entrance in Goodfellas and the battle scene in Children of Men. This shot alone makes watching the movie worthwhile.

Filmmaker Billy Ray has remade the Argentine film as Secret in Their Eyes, to be released October 23 starring Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetelu Ejiofor. Ray is no hack – he’s adapted the screenplays for Shattered Glass (which he also directed), Captain Phillips and the first The Hunger Games. The plot has been turned into a story about thee US federal law enforcement officials and the murder of one of their children; unfortunately, the trailer looks more like a plot-driven Law & Order, with none of the characters as singular or as memorable as in the Argentine original. We shall see.

The Secret in Their Eyes is high on my Best Movies of 2010. It’s available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixster.

DVD/Stream of the Week: WILD TALES

WILD TALES
WILD TALES

Okay, here’s the first Must See of 2015 – the hilariously dark Argentine comedy Wild Tales. Writer-director Damián Szifron presents a series of individual stories about revenge. It’s still high my list of Best Movies of 2015 – So Far.

We all feel aggrieved, and Wild Tales explores what happens when rage overcomes the restraints of social order. Think about how instantly angry you can become when some driver cuts you off on the highway – and then how you might fantasize avenging the slight. Indeed, there is a story in Wild Tales that has the most severe case road rage since Spielberg’s Duel in 1971. Now Wild Tales is dark, and you gotta go with it. The humor comes from the EXTREMES that someone’s resentment can lead to.

One key to the success of Wild Tales is that it is an anthology. In a very wise move, Szifron resisted any impulse to stretch one of the stories into a feature-length movie. Each of the stories is just the right length to extract every laugh and pack a punch. The funniest stories are the opening one set on an airplane and the final one about a wedding.

The acting is uniformly superb. In one story, Oscar Martínez plays a wealthy man in a desperate jam, who buys the help of his shady lawyer fixer (Osmar Núñez) and his longtime household retainer (Germán de Silva) – until their prices get just a little too high. The three actors take what looks like it’s going to a thriller and morph into a (very funny) psychological comedy with a very cynical view of human nature.

One of the middle episodes stars one of my favorite film actors, Ricardo Darín, who I see as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. I suggest that you watch Darín in the brilliant police procedural The Secrets in Their Eyes (on my top ten for 2010), the steamy and seamy Carancho and the wonderful con artist movie Nine Queens.

Wild Tales has been a festival hit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance) around the world and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar. I saw Wild Tales at Cinequest 2015. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES – see the real Oscar winner before the Hollywood version

Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

The superb The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. The Hollywood remake is coming out this fall, but you should first see the original. The Secret in Their Eyes is a police procedural set in Argentina with two breathtaking plot twists, original characters, a mature romance and one breathtaking, “how did they do it?” shot. The story centers on a murder in Argentina’s politically turbulent 1970s, but most of the story takes place twenty years later when a retired cop revisits the murder.

Veteran Argentine actor Ricardo Darin shines once again in a Joe Mantegna-type role. Darin leads an excellent cast, including Guillermo Francella, who brings alive the character of Darin’s drunk assistant. Darin’s detective is a solitary guy who retracts into his lair to bang away at a novel. He has feelings for his boss, a tough judge played by Soledad Villamil. Her career and her personal life can’t wait for the detective to get his own stuff together. All three characters throw themselves into solving the murder and, when stymied, are all scarred by the lack of resolution.

The movie is titled after one element that I hadn’t seen before in a crime movie.  And then there are the major plot twists.  The final one is a jaw-dropper.

Director Juan Jose Campanella received justifiable praise for the amazing shot of a police search in a filled and frenzied soccer stadium. It ranks as one of the great single shots of extremely long duration, right up there with the opening sequence of Touch of Evil, the kitchen entrance in Goodfellas and the battle scene in Children of Men. This shot alone makes watching the movie worthwhile.

Filmmaker Billy Ray has remade the Argentine film as Secret in Their Eyes, to be released October 23 starring Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetelu Ejiofor. Ray is no hack – he’s adapted the screenplays for Shattered Glass (which he also directed), Captain Phillips and the first The Hunger Games. The plot has been turned into a story about thee US federal law enforcement officials and the murder of one of their children; unfortunately, the trailer looks more like a plot-driven Law & Order, with none of the characters as singular or as memorable as in the Argentine original. We shall see.

The Secret in Their Eyes is high on my Best Movies of 2010. It’s available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixster.

DVD/Stream of the Week: WILD TALES

WILD TALES
WILD TALES

Okay, here’s the first Must See of 2015 – the hilariously dark Argentine comedy Wild Tales. Writer-director Damián Szifron presents a series of individual stories about revenge. It’s now topping my list of Best Movies of 2015 – So Far.

We all feel aggrieved, and Wild Tales explores what happens when rage overcomes the restraints of social order. Think about how instantly angry you can become when some driver cuts you off on the highway – and then how you might fantasize avenging the slight. Indeed, there is story that has the most severe case road rage since Spielberg’s Duel in 1971. Now Wild Tales is dark, and you gotta go with it. The humor comes from the EXTREMES that someone’s resentment can lead to.

One key to the success of Wild Tales is that it is an anthology. In a very wise move, Szifron resisted any impulse to stretch one of the stories into a feature-length movie. Each of the stories is just the right length to extract every laugh and pack a punch. The funniest stories are the opening one set on an airplane and the final one about a wedding.

The acting is uniformly superb. In one story, Oscar Martínez plays a wealthy man in a desperate jam, who buys the help of his shady lawyer fixer (Osmar Núñez) and his longtime household retainer (Germán de Silva) – until their prices get just a little too high. The three actors take what looks like it’s going to a thriller and morph into a (very funny) psychological comedy with a very cynical view of human nature.

One of the middle episodes stars one of my favorite film actors, Ricardo Darín, who I see as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. I suggest that you watch Darín in the brilliant police procedural The Secrets in Their Eyes (on my top ten for 2010), the steamy and seamy Carancho and the wonderful con artist movie Nine Queens.

Wild Tales has been a festival hit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance) around the world and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar. I saw Wild Tales at Cinequest 2015. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

THE FILM CRITIC: when a cynic’s life becomes corny

Rafael Spregelburd (center, with glasses) in THE FILM CRITIC
Rafael Spregelburd (center, with glasses) in THE FILM CRITIC

In the enjoyable Argentine comedy The Film Critic (El Critico), we meet a glum and judgmental movie critic (Rafael Spregelburd).  He’s proud of having not written a rave review in the past two decades and he’s so pretentious that he thinks is French (very nice touch).  He lives to pile snark on romantic comedies, a genre that he despises.  His editor says, “You are a terrorist of taste!”.  He is so negative through-and-through, that he is a pretty miserable person to be around.

Then, he meets (cute) a vital and captivating woman (Dolores Fonzi).  To his discomfort, he is pulled into every cliché of a movie romantic comedy (when they kiss for the first time, fireworks even go off in the sky above), and he starts becoming uncharacteristically happy, even giddy.

Writer-director Hernán Gerschuny has created a winning, character-driven comedy.  His protagonist’s entire identity is to be unsatisfied by anything and everything.  Yet it turns out that he can be hooked by the same joys that he thinks he is above.

The Film Critic is full of references that will delight movie fans – and especially cinephiles,  movie critics and movie bloggers!  The critic holds forth with a hilarious recounting of rom com conventions (“why are they always running?”).  And, of course, the woman that HE meets looks uber cute in a beret, and he races to the airport at the end.

Gerschuny delivers great comic timing.  One of the protagonist’s colleagues watches an “experimental short film” (ba dum) “by a Taiwanese director” (ba dum) and then NAMES the director.  And THEN he says, “I think he’s got something to say” as it becomes apparent that the “short” is a security video.

All in all, The Film Critic is a satisfying hoot, now available for streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

WILD TALES: the first Must See of 2015

WILD TALES
WILD TALES

Okay, here’s the first Must See of 2015 – the hilariously dark Argentine comedy Wild Tales. Writer-director Damián Szifron presents a series of individual stories about revenge.

We all feel aggrieved, and Wild Tales explores what happens when rage overcomes the restraints of social order. Think about how instantly angry you can become when some driver cuts you off on the highway – and then how you might fantasize avenging the slight. Indeed, there is story that has the most severe case road rage since Spielberg’s Duel in 1971.  Now Wild Tales is dark, and you gotta go with it. The humor comes from the EXTREMES that someone’s resentment can lead to.

One key to the success of Wild Tales is that it is an anthology.  In a very wise move,  Szifron resisted any impulse to stretch one of the stories into a feature-length movie.  Each of the stories is just the right length to extract every laugh and pack a punch.  The funniest stories are the opening one set on an airplane and the final one about a wedding.

The acting is uniformly superb. In one story, Oscar Martínez plays a wealthy man in a desperate jam, who buys the help of his shady lawyer fixer (Osmar Núñez) and his longtime household retainer (Germán de Silva) – until their prices get just a little too high. The three actors take what looks like it’s going to a thriller and morph into a (very funny) psychological comedy with a very cynical view of human nature.

One of the middle episodes stars one of my favorite film actors, Ricardo Darín, who I see as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. I suggest that you watch Darín in the brilliant police procedural The Secrets in Their Eyes (on my top ten for 2010), the steamy and seamy Carancho and the wonderful con artist movie Nine Queens.

Wild Tales has been a festival hit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance) around the world and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar. I saw Wild Tales at Cinequest 2015.