Saturday, May 5, 2012

Loose ends

The Betrayal (d. Karen Winther): The director returns to her spotty history in this intermittently affecting but mostly flat exercise. Winther combs through old journals and interviews both her parents and former friends in her effort to get to the bottom of a colossally stupid and damaging decision, when she was a troubled 15-year-old, to volunteer her far-left friends’ whereabouts to a known neo-Nazi group. As a portrait of 1990s Oslo's political bifurcations, the film is fairly compelling, but Winther is maddeningly vague about her ideological inclination in any phase of her life, and her frequent voiceovers about uncovering why she did what she did grate more than they illuminate. In any case, it's the wrong question. **/**** (Special Presentations)

Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story (d. Raymond De Fellita): In 1966, Frank De Fellita interviewed a man named Booker Wright for his NBC News documentary about racial tensions in Mississippi. Booker, a popular African-American waiter in a whites-only restaurant by night and bar owner by day, gave a brilliant and devastating monologue about the grin-and-bear it approach to racial discrimination, which saw him attacked, fired, and possibly killed as a result. (The circumstances of his death are suspect.) With Booker’s Place, Frank's son Raymond mounts an archival excavation of the elder De Fellita’s influential but rarely screened doc, while shepherding Wright’s monologue into the present and inviting his granddaughter to reintroduce it as a key document in the Civil Rights Movement. For the most part, this is vital and moving material, which doubles as a subtle lesson in the history of network television; it only flags when the director stops for too long to consider his own father’s cinematic legacy -- the least interesting part of the story.  ***/****  (Special Presentations)

Over My Dead Body (d. Brigitte Poupart): Brigette Poupart turns the camera on close friend and collaborator Dave St-Pierre, a Montreal-based choreographer who’s internationally celebrated and derided in about equal measure for pieces like A Little Tenderness for Crying Out Loud! A fittingly naked profile of a young artist whose work eschews politeness, the film follows St-Pierre, diagnosed in his teens with cystic fibrosis, over a gruelling 15-month period as he awaits a lung transplant. This is Poupart’s first feature, and while it sometimes shows in the overcranked editing and CSI-like trips into x-rays, it’s otherwise a visceral, moving, and wildly inventive film that effectively digs into its subject’s skin for the long haul. ***/**** (Canadian Spectrum)

Scarlet Road (d. Catherine Scott): Rachel Wotton is an Australian sex worker who focuses on an underserved client base: people with disabilities. Catherine Scott’s Scarlet Road does a good job of breaking the taboos surrounding both touchy subjects by simply refusing to take them seriously: the disabled have sex drives, it flatly asserts, and some women work in the sex trade. Period. It would be a more thorough portrait if the film invested more in these workers’ legal situation in Australia, which seems too complex for its somewhat cheery tone. But Scott brings a delicate touch to her coverage of both the clientele – plus their lovely, overwhelmingly supportive parents – and of Wotton, who moonlights as an activist and academic pursuing a Master’s degree in sexual health. What the film lacks in political nuance, Wotton makes up in her articulate commentary, especially her rebuttal to those who make offhanded claims about the supposed false consciousness of sex workers like her. ***/**** (World Showcase)

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