What The Khmer Rouge Didn’t Destroy: LFM Reviews Golden Slumbers @ The 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival
By Joe Bendel. Martin Scorsese needs to dispatch an emergency film preservation team to Cambodia. From 1960 to 1975 about 450 films were produced in the Southeast Asian country. However, only about thirty films survived the Khmer Rouge. The Chinese-backed Communists considered cinema just another form of capitalist decadence (which is sort of true – when it’s really good). Davy Chou surveys what was lost with the handful of surviving film industry veterans in his outstanding documentary Golden Slumbers, which screens at the San Francisco Film Society’s 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival.
Despite being the grandson of the once prominent Cambodian director Vann Chan, many of the filmmakers who were able to escape execution (most of whom endured harsh transit conditions to seek refuge in France) were initially reluctant to talk to Chou. However, Yvon Hem eventually relents, taking Chou on a tour of his long abandoned Bird of Paradise studio (named for the Marcel Camus film that launched many film careers in the country, including his own). Less reticent is Dy Saveth, the former Elizabeth Taylor of Cambodian film, now working as a dance instructor. To this day, the hill where she once filmed a climactic scene still bears her name.
Obviously the genocidal murders and forced labor camps are the greater crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime. Yet the devastation of the nation’s cinema is not merely a footnote to the wider tragedy—it is a tragedy unto itself. Listening to the movie patrons and movie-makers discussing their beloved films, now presumably lost forever, is deeply moving. Clearly lives and livelihoods were lost, but average Cambodians’ treasured memories and cultural heritage have also been destroyed by an ideology of death. Watching Slumbers stirs the same emotions as the sight of a charred family photo album at a fire scene.
Slumbers also bear an unexpected but apt comparison to Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film, featuring many directors and actors forced to relate their films like oral history. Yet Chou is able to convey a sense of them through movie posters, radio commercials, and soundtrack records (many of which remain widely popular). He also stages his talking head interviews in ways that are often quite visually stylish.
For any movie lover, the loss of a nation’s cinematic legacy is truly lamentable, but it is particularly so in this case. From the tantalizing descriptions heard throughout Slumbers, many of the popular Cambodian films of the pre-Khmer Rouge era sound like high-end Bollywood, but incorporating darker supernatural and mythological elements. Though it is impossible to know with certainty, if you are reading this review there is indeed a strong likelihood these films would have been your cup of tea.
One can only hope Chou’s documentary leads to the discovery of some of these lost treasures in forsaken film vaults someplace. Nonetheless, as a film in its own right, Slumbers is quite accomplished. It is an intelligently constructed and elegantly executed cinematic elegy that absolutely puts to shame the vacuous tributes to Hollywood glamour that aired during the recent Academy Awards. Profoundly moving, Slumbers is one of the best documentaries selected for a major festival this year. It screens this coming Saturday (4/28) and the following Tuesday (5/1) and Thursday (5/3) during the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: A+
Posted on April 22nd, 2012 at 9:34pm.
By Joe Bendel. Crooked cops are as French as frog legs and escargot. But in fact, there are varying degrees of police corruption, as viewers can see in Frederic Jardin’s cops vs. cops vs. drug dealers shoot-out Sleepless Night, which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Vincent and his even more corrupt partner Manu just relieved some couriers of a huge shipment of cocaine. Unfortunately, he took a stiletto wound in the process. Without time to be properly stitched up, he must quickly bundle his son off to school and then show up at the station to play innocent. Events take a turn for the worse when the kingpin Marciano abducts the lad, demanding the coke as ransom. Into the lion’s den, or in this case Marciano’s club Le Tarmac, Vincent goes. When the even more corrupt internal affairs officer swipes his hidden coke, the desperate father starts improvising. That is when things start getting good.
Poor, morally compromised Vincent bleeds in every corner of the up-scale hipster disco/restaurant/pool hall, but he always gives as good as he gets. The kitchen gets a particularly messy going-over, worrying the staff to no end. And every time Vincent returns to their domain, the film gets an invigorating jolt of energy.
Tightly helmed by Jardin and stylishly lensed by frequent Eastwood cinematographer Tom Stern, Sleepless Night is sort of like an adrenaline-charged, action-driven variation on the brooding Paris By Night, which screened at French Rendezvous earlier in the year. As Vincent, Tomer Sisley (a.k.a. Largo Winch) is not as cool as Roschdy Zem, but he is still one bad cat.
While not exactly legendary, Sleepless also has some respectable villains, including Serge Riaboukine, whose somewhat larger than life Marciano clearly enjoys the trappings of gangster life. French rapper Joey Starr also brings the appropriate ferocity as Feydek, Marciano’s impatient buyer. Also making quite the impression in a small role as a bystander helping Vincent, Dutch-Russian-Korean model Pom Klementieff should definitely have a future looking alluring in films.
Although Sleepless Night wastes some time up top, over-establishing what a disappointing father Vincent is, once it gets going it becomes a thoroughly entertaining roller-coaster. Not quite at the level of Gareth Huw Evans The Raid: Redemption, but a pretty impressive excursion into action filmmaking nonetheless, Sleepless screens tonight (4/22), Thursday (4/26), and Friday (4/27) during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, with a theatrical release slated for May from Tribeca’s film distribution arm.
LFM GRADE: B+
Posted on April 22nd, 2012 at 9:31pm.
LFM Co-Editor Govindini Murty was on Lars Larson’s national radio show Friday talking about The Lucky One and also the recent Gunter Grass controversy. Special thanks, as always, to Lars and his staff for inviting Govindini on. She always has fun appearing on his show.
Lars’ show is broadcast on over 200 stations nationwide, and runs at different times across the country, so to find his show be sure to check out his website here.
Posted on April 22nd, 2012 at 9:30pm.
By Joe Bendel. The Canadians and Scandinavians are all very polite, right? Maybe so, but there are those who are also pretty twisted. Happily, we will be meeting a two of them in Boris Rodriguez’s wonderfully aptly titled Eddie – the Sleepwalking Cannibal (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Lars Olafssen has an international reputation and a chronic case of painter’s block. Since he can no longer create art, he figures he might as well teach and the Koda Lake Art School is remote enough for him to do so anonymously. (Those Canadian winters are hardly intimidating for a Dane.) Yet, as soon as he arrives, he starts getting pressure to paint, both from the school’s dean and his serpentine agent. Having given up on his artistic career, Olafssen just wants to fit in and impress the skeptical colleague he is attracted to. Toward that ends, he agrees to look after Eddie, the traumatized man-child of the school’s recently deceased patron.
Guess what Eddie the gentle giant does in his sleep? Actually, it usually just involves small woodland creatures. However, getting in his way while sleep-walking can be dangerous, as Olafssen observes. Much to his shock, the sight of blood actually spurs the artist’s long dormant creative juices. Let the carnage facilitation begin.
As great as its title is, Eddie – the Sleepwalking Cannibal does not quite do the film justice. Sure, there is plenty of sleepwalking cannibalism, but this is a surprisingly droll and sophisticated picture. While it mashes up plenty of horror elements, it is the “artistic” mentality that really gets thoroughly skewered.
A nearly lifelong veteran of arthouse cinema, a twelve year-old Thure Lindhardt debuted in Pelle the Conqueror and was somewhat recently commanding the screen as Danish resistance hero Bent Faurschou-Hviid (a.k.a. Flame) in the riveting Flame and Citron. As Olafssen, he is more than just a good sport. He portrays the painter’s mounting creepiness quite credibly and seamlessly. An effective on-screen counterpart, Dylan Smith plays poor Eddie with a keen physicality, suggesting a tragically reluctant monster, roughly in the tradition of Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman.
Eddie – the Sleepwalking Cannibal is a smart, fun film. It will not disappoint the genre enthusiasts who regularly attend Tribeca’s Cinemania (formerly Midnight) screenings, but will also appeal to a wider audience of festival patrons. Really good stuff, the Sleepwalking Cannibal screens again this coming Saturday (4/28) as this year’s Tribeca Film Festival continues at venues throughout Lower Manhattan.
LFM GRADE: A-
Posted on April 22nd, 2012 at 9:29pm.