The second day of Hamilton’s World Film Festival had two highs and a low. Serendipitously, though, each movie was better than the last, culminating in what is bound to go down as one of the best films of 2012.
THE SALT OF LIFE
Italy’s The Salt of Life was first on the line-up and, unfortunately, quite mediocre. It felt like a comedy made by someone who hadn’t watched any comedies of the last thirty or forty years.
Jokes fell flat far more often than they landed. (A father accidentally ingesting acid? A middle-aged man being told by the young girl he’s fantasizing about that he reminds her of her grandfather? Such bits were already worn out by the ‘90s.)
Torn between wanting to tell an American Beauty-esque tale of mid-life crisis and a Serious Man-ish modern cuckold comedy, it fails at accomplishing either. The Salt of Life ultimately suffers most from just not being entertaining.
TO ROME, WITH LOVE
To Rome, with Love marks a return to form for Woody Allen that Midnight in Paris flirted with but couldn’t quite reach. Not only is it his most well-written movie since Match Point, it’s his outright funniest in over a decade.
Telling four unrelated stories that simply all deal with people in Rome, Allen intercuts the four tales without foolishly intertwining them. One of the four stories, involving Jesse Eisenberg, imagines a physicalized version of conscience and reason in Alec Baldwin, who stands by, witnessing the hole Eisenberg keeps digging himself into and providing an almost on-screen commentary of sorts.
Another tale, recalling Allen’s quirky comedies of the ‘70s, involves an Italian who is an amazing singer, but only in the shower (which leads to one of the best sight gags of the movie, at the climax of that thread’s story).
The third storyline is a delightful commentary on people who are famous simply for being famous, with Roberto Benigni hilariously the center of national attention for no real whatsoever and providing hysterical reactions to sudden and truly random celebrity.
The last of the four tales is where the pictures fumbles, with lazy writing and a barely passable farce involving a husband accidentally introducing to his parents a prostitute as his wife and sticking with the story (while his wife is concurrently seduced by an Italian movie star).
The prostitute/fake-wife storyline fell flat at every turn, which prevented the movie from reaching the heights of some of Allen’s classic comedies. Even so, having three-quarters of a brilliant comedy still keeps To Rome, with Love in the upper tiers of post-‘80s Woody Allen.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
And then there was Beasts of the Southern Wild. Great things have been being murmured about it the last couple months, including festival awards and rave early reviews. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the experience that unfolded onscreen.
So much of the joy of the movie is its unpredictability. What happens in the movie is best left unrevealed. This much can safely be said: Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a community of people who survive in a land called “The Bathtub.”
It’s not directly addressed at the start of the film just where The Bathtub is located, or even when. Six-year-old Hushpuppy (a mind-blowing performance by Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) simply exist there, along with the other member of their makeshift community. They survive without many modern conveniences like cell phones, toothpaste, or even electricity (save for some generators being run by a dwindling supply of gasoline).
So much of the power of this movie is in the way director Benh Zeitlin makes you feel like The Bathtub exists, real and yet so amazingly fantastical. The events also unfold as filtered through the perspective of young Hushpuppy, who sometimes fills in gaps with the kind of things that seem logical to a child simply because they don’t truly understand.
The acting is beyond good. Wallis, especially, is revelatory in the nuanced performance she gives, despite seemingly being too young to even understand most of the script. Every single character in the movie seems real. They don’t feel like characters, they feel like real, existent people. And it doesn’t feel like a movie, it feels like something that’s actually happening.
Watching Beasts of the Southern Wild is an incredible experience. It doesn’t have any recognizable actors in it and it isn’t an easy movie to describe. But it’s a singular vision, and one that’s never been depicted on film before. This movie is going to be one of the biggest films at the Oscars next year. Count on it.
Day 3 will feature screenings of Norwegian Wood, 2 Days in New York, and Hysteria.