Sunday, September 10, 2006


Friday, Sept. 8

Day 2: First up, “Deliver Us From Evil,” an expertly made, profoundly troubling doc about defrocked and convicted Catholic priest Oliver O’Grady and his 20-year run of sexual abuse of children and adult parishioners in California. Amy Berg, a veteran CNN and CBS news producer, intercuts chilling interviews with the serial pedophile, now roaming free (and apparently jolly) in Ireland, and heartbreaking segments with a number of O’Grady’s victims and their families. Lawyers, activist priests, abuse experts and historians fill out the narrative, which does not paint a pretty picture of the institution of the Catholic Church, from the Los Angeles archdiocese that oversaw O’Grady to the Vatican itself.

Then, “La Tourneuse de Pages (The Page Turner).” Director Denis Dercourt’s ice-cool and elegant French revenger takes a page (or deux) from Chabrol -- “La Ceremonie,” especially -- and demonstrates that Deborah Francois’ performance in the Cannes-winner “L’Enfant” was anything but a fluke. Here, the mole-specked actress stars as Melanie, a musical prodigy from a working class provincial family (the parents are butchers – more about animal carcasses later). In childhood, following a traumatic audition, she abandoned the piano. Now a young woman, she gets a job as a page-turner for a celebrated classical pianist (Catherine Frot). The position is no accident, it seems, as Melanie insinuates herself into the lives of the frosty musician, her high-powered lawyer husband and their piano-playing son. Revanche!

A run from the Varsity, a 12-screen complex in a block of fancy shops where most of the press and industry screenings are held, to the Intercontinental, where a swarm of indie P.R. firms have their offices and the hotel patio becomes a defacto gab-lounge during the festival run. Interview with Amy Berg, director of “Deliver Us From Evil.” This is only her second fest -– she landed Lions Gate as a distributor at the first, the L.A. Film Festival, in a “little bidding war.” Berg’s head turns along with others as Glaswegian comic Billy Connolly works the al fresco room (he’s here with "Fido," a Canadian entry). The waiter reports that Penelope Cruz and her director, the Spanish brandname Pedro Almodovar, have already come and gone.

Third pic: “Borat Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” in which Sacha Baron Cohen goes from the Frenchie racecar driver of “Talladega Nights” to this mustachioed newscaster of Kazakhstan’s state-run TV station. The mock-doc, directed by “Seinfeld”/ “Curb Your Enthusiasm” dude Larry Charles (no relation to Larry David), starts in Borat’s Kazakh village, where he bids farewell to family and livestock to take a road trip across the USA, but not before merrily lampooning post-Soviet Eurasian culture, with references to, I dunno, bestiality, incest, prostitution and wrinkled old crones in babushkas. Cohen, who is Jewish, delves into anti-Semitic themes, too, in both his character’s homeland (the traditional "Running of the Jews") and in the USA, where Borat begins his journey in New York and ends it in Orange County. An outrageous odyssey, it brings the hirsute foreigner into contact with Southern etiquette classes, a plus-size black hooker, a giant bear, an ice cream truck, an Evangelical ministry, an unbelievable naked wrestling match/quasi sex scene between Borat and his portly news producer, and a Pamela Anderson autograph signing that ends with the former "Baywatch" babe being put in a sack. Seriously. (The press screening went without a hitch; but the previous night’s public presentation went south 15 or 20 minutes into the film, with a projection room disaster. No one could fix things, so Cohen, Charles and documentarian Michael Moore (he was in the audience) offered to entertain – and entertain questions from the crowd.

“Chacun Sa Nuit” (“To Each Their Night”, or the less-telling Anglo title “One to Another”) is next – a disappointment co-directed by the actor Jean-Marc Barr. It’s about five randy teenagers, four guys and a girl, in some sunny quadrant of France --childhood friends who swim naked, have sex, play in a bad rock band and occasionally go home for dinner. (Think: Gallic version of Larry Clark’s “Kids.) The pouty, Converse-wearing Lizzie Brochere plays Lucie, who goes from boy to boy, but who remains in love with her brother, Pierre (Arthur Dupont), in a rather intimate manner. Meanwhile, Pierre, who’s bisexual, goes missing and then turns up dead. Call the cops. It’s a mystery, kind of, but less a whodunit than a who-cares?

Lots of talk about the serious, socio-political tenor of this year’s festival, and it’s true. Even “Borat,” for all its comic outrageousness, grapples with weighty stuff (and not just that fat guy): American xenophobia, international anti-Semitism, radical Islamicism and East-West conflict. The documentary “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” which showed tonight, echoes the opening night German secret police drama “The Lives of Others” in its account of the Nixon administration’s and FBI’s orchestrated campaign of surveillance and interference against the ex-Beatle peacenik and his wife, Yoko. Not to mention the much-buzzed, yet-to-be-screened "Death of a President" -- the hypothetical, faux doc about the assassination of President George W. Bush and its tumultuous aftermath.
Good night, and good luck.



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