Daniel Garber speaks with Argentinian director Ariel Winograd about his new film My First Wedding (Mi Primera Boda)

Posted in Argentina, comedy, Cultural Mining, Movies, Romance, Romantic Comedy, TJFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on July 20, 2012

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Can a wedding succeed when surrounded by squabbling family members whose own marriages are falling apart? A new Argentinian film, My First Wedding, which opens today in Toronto, asks that very question. A screwball comedy, My First Wedding is about a wedding gone astray when the groom — who loses his fiancee’s heirloom wedding ring — is forced to come up with a way to delay the ceremony without the bride discovering why.

I speak with the Argentinian director Ariel Winograd about his film, Daniel Hendler, Natalia Oreiro, Judd Apatow, Ariel’s personal connection to the story, his views on comedy, his influences, and more…

Love, Romance and Passion. Movies reviewed: Trishna, My First Wedding PLUS Burlesque Assassins

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

In the heat of the night, Toronto has been boiling over with record hot temperatures and high tempers, tragic shootings and a bizarre machete mugging.

But hot nights can also lead to steamy romance, passion and ultimately to love. So this week I’m looking at two movies that deal with romance. One’s about a wedding that might lead to disaster; another where the lack of a wedding might ruin the relationship.

Trishna

Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Jay (Riz Ahmed) is a confident Oxbridge toff touring India with his buddies. But when they see a young woman performing a dance at their hotel in Rajasthan Jay is smitten and decides to pursue her. And the dancer Trishna (Freida Pinto), notices him too — clearly the feelings are mutual. Jay’s father owns a palatial hotel in Jaipur, and since Trishna’s father’s accident (he was the jeep driver for the travelling Jay and his friends), her extended family has no income. So she takes him up on his offer and goes to work for the hotel, and study at the local college. All’s going well until she is accosted by some tuffs, rescued by her white knight Jay on a motorcycle and then taken back to the hotel, where they succomb to passion. But by the next morning she feels ashamed and what happens and flees home.

If this all feels like a Victorian novel, that’s because it is: it’s an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in modern-day India. Scooters instead of horses, jeeps instead of stagecoaches, but class is still the big divider. Trishna comes from a poor family, and although given a taste of the high life — a Bombay apartment as Jay dabbles as a Bollywood producer, or in Jaipur at the posh hotel — there’s a clear difference between Jay’s status and hers. He moodily shifts from boyfriend to employer, and the dynamics of their relationship also changes. He says in the Kama Sutra there are three types of women you can sleep with: a sophisticated woman, a servant or a courtesan. He doesn’t mention wife. Trishna wonders which one she is. There relationship could be a passing fancy for him, but for a disenfranchised woman it’s all she’s got.

Trishna is a very moving and realistic romantic drama, partly scripted, partly improvised — almost documentary like. Pinto and Ahmed are both great as the lovers, and the director, Michael Winterbottom is as experimental and surprising as ever. His movies range from 24 Hour Party People to A Cock and Bull Story (a comic adaptation of another British novel — in this case Sterne’s Tristram Shandy)

While he has no specific style – his style can change drastically from film to film — Winterbottom’s always an interesting director who constantly expands the boundaries of what you can call a movie. Trishna follows a traditional story, but by shifting the culture and language from 19th century England to 21st century India Winterbottom can take the age old story of poor girl meets rich boy and turn it into an entirely new type of film.

My First Wedding

Dir: Ariel Winograd

Adrian and Leonora are a happy couple, dressed up and ready for their country club wedding outside Buenos Aries. The wedding planner is organizing everything, family and friends are all arriving, and a rabbi and a priest are being driven out there to officiate. Adrian (Daniel Hendler) is Jewish, while Leo (Natalia Oreiro) is Catholic. But as they separately rehearse their wedding vows, Adrian panics when he loses Leo’s wedding band. She’ll kill him if she finds out. so, to postpone the wedding, he must send the Priest and Rabbi off on a wild goose chase, hide the truth from his bride, and find the ring (with help from cousin Fede).

The wedding planner recommends they go through the wedding in reverse order — party, dine, drink, and dance… and say the vows at the end instead of the beginning. Sort of an upside down wedding. But things get even more complicated. Leo’s snobbish mother, herself divorced, is disappointed in her choice, Adrian’s family are all quarrelling, his grandfather wants to smoke pot, and past lovers — Leo’s former professor, the dashing Miguel Angel (Imanol Arias); and Adrian’s second cousin who still likes him — all seem to be working hard to ruin the wedding. Angel announces that marriages are like cities under seige: everyone inside wants to get out, while everyone outside is trying to get in. With the divorces and collapsing relationships all around them, the title (My First Wedding) begins to make sense.

This is a funny, classic screwball comedy about what can go wrong at a wedding. The two leads are great as is the very large supporting cast. It’s a light enjoyable rom-com from Argentina, told from the groom’s perspective.

Trishna and My First Wedding both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Also playing tonight (at the Bloor Cinema) is a neo-burlesque, cabaret style movie called Burlesque Assassins (directed by Jonathan Joffe), about some killer spies (with names like Roxi D’lite) who double as cold-war exotic dancers as they travel the globe to catch the villains. Lots of guns, 1950’s uniforms, and more cleavage than you can shake a stick at. Also on this weekend is the documentary “They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” about Burma and its people. It’s showing free at the East Gallery, just across the street from the AGO on Dundas.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

 

Great Dramas at TIFF 2010: Deep in the Woods, The Matchmaker, Black Swan, plus The Light Box

Well, the Toronto Film Festival is in full swing, and there’s still time – this Friday, Saturday and Sunday — to catch some really great movies, surrounded by other people who also love movies. It’s not everyday you get to ask a director questions about a movie right after you see it, or know that the person sitting beside you definitely has an opinion too, and is willing to share it with you – whether you like it or not. In fact, it’s one of the few times when semi-straight-laced Toronto sheds its inhibitions and throws aside the childhood warning: Don’t talk to strangers.

Now is also the time to check out the Tiff Light Box at the corner of John and King in downtown Toronto. Just this past weekend they’ve opened up a brand-spanking new headquarters for the film festival to function as a full-year event. There’s a restaurant and café with huge glass walls downstairs, and upstairs are some really nice looking movie theatres, that seat up to 500 people. It feels like you’re entering a museum or an international exhibition. Very impressive, very exciting experience.

If you listen to my reviews regularly you might remember my lament over the death of the velvet curtain, the dramatic opening and closing that used to mark every movie. To paraphrase Mark Twain, news of its death has been greatly exaggerated. And evidence of this is right there at the Light Box. Huge red curtains part to start each show, and rows of neat red seats arc out in the theatre. My only complaint is they sacrificed looks for comfort. There are impressive, minimalist, row after row of little square fold-down seats… but no arm rests. What are they thinking? I guess they figure people who like movies all wear black turtlenecks and have tiny bums and straight backs and will sit for hours with their hands neatly folded in their laps, calmly contemplating Fassbinder and their next fix of heroin.

We’ll see how that pans out…

CORRECTION: I have since discovered that, while the seats in my row at the Light Box had flip-up seats with no arm rests, most of the other rows had regular, comfortable seats. So I just lucked into that one special row for the Fassbinder fans in black turtlenecks… or maybe people who use wheelchairs.

The Light Box also has a series of galleries-cum-movie theatres that straddle the space in between art and cinema – movies projected as art; video art using cinematic narratives. There are shows and installations on right now by Canadian directors Atom Egoyan and the amazing Guy Maddin, as well as Singapore-born artist Ming Wong’s show in which he plays all the characters, male and female, in a Berlin soap opera.

Now let me talk about a few of the films I found interesting at this year’s festival.

Deep in the Woods

Dir: Benoit Jacquot

Timothee, a kid, a ruffian, really, in torn clothes with matted hair appears in a small town in France in the 1850’s – he can barely speak, and has filthy teeth and black hands. But he makes eye contact with Josephine (Isild Le Besco), the well-educated daughter of the town doctor, and proceeds to study her, climbing trees, peering through her windows, and hiding in the bushes as she fends off a boring suitor trying to impress her with his poetry.

She is straight laced and wears a bodice, but Timothee (Argentine actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) sees her true self yearning to be free, standing at the edge of steep cliffs daring herself to fly away.

So he insinuates himself into her life, and soon impresses the family with his seemingly magical skills in magnetism, prestidigitation, fortune telling, and hypnotism. When they are alone together, Josephine is quick to strip off her clothes and have sex with Timothee. Has he forced her using hypnotism?

Soon she follows him deep into the woods where they live a random, itinerant life, encountering people and events as they travel down a road. Their relationship – a sort of a marriage is constantly evolving; and the power dynamics – a rich educated woman living with a destitute man with survival skills and perhaps magical powers – gradually shifting from him to her.

This is a powerful and strange movie, unlike any I’ve even seen. Maybe it’s closest to the great movie “The Lovers on the Bridge” / “Les Amants du Pont Neuf”, (dir: Leos Carax) but different. It’s not for everyone, but I really liked it, especially the two main actors who are captivating in their roles.

Another movie that I really liked is

The Matchmaker

Dir: Avi Nesher

Arik, a kid in Haifa, Israel in the late 1960’s, is hanging out with his friends playing soccer when a man with a cane and huge scar across his face, and a mysterious past, arrives on their block. He’s Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), and he’s a matchmaker from Romania who’s there to find husbands and wives for unusual people with peculiarities who haven’t had any luck on their own. He says, he’ll find them the match they need, but not necessarily the one they want.

So after Arik’s prank misfires, he hires him to come work for him in the wrong side of town where he lives. His office is right beside a movie theatre that only plays movies with happy endings, run by a family of little people, dwarves who had survived concentration camp experiments by the notorious Dr Mengele, and near to an elegant woman Clara, who runs a late night speak-easy. The Matchmaker also earns his money in a shady occupation, but his vocation – matching up people who truly love each other – is his mission. None of the characters dare to bring up the concentration camps; in the 1960’s it was still considered taboo to talk about. They refer to it only as “there”.

Meanwhile, young Arik is falling for his neighbour, a tempestuous Iraqi girl, Tamara (Neta Porat), who has rejected her family’s conservatism and embraced the American youth culture of psychedelic music and the sexual revolution.

If this sounds like a complicated plot… it is, but it’s a fantastic story with compelling, captivating, and unusual characters – not all loveable, but you really want to find out what happens to them. Nesher is a not just a great director, but also an amazing storyteller. This is the kind of movie, one with a great story – with comedy, passion, romance, intrigue, betrayal, and truly memorable characters — that you rarely encounter anymore. Look out for this movie – the Matchmaker — hopefully it will be released after the festival.

Another movie, and one that definitely will be released, is

“Black Swan”

dir: Daren Aronofsky.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina, pure of heart, who wants the lead role in Swan Lake. She’s been raised to reach perfection, en pointe, by her relentless stage mother who was also in the ballet, but never made it big. Nina doesn’t drink or smoke or have sex – she still lives at home, she’s bullemic, plays with stuffed animals, wears a fuzzy pink coat, and listens to her little music box with a dancing ballerina by her bed.

But the ballet director, played Vincent Cassel, wants to put new life into the that cliched old ballet. He pushes her to also play the role of the Black Swan, the sinister evil twin of the Swan Queen. For this, he wants her to abandon her remaining childhood and purity and to become angry, passionate and sexual. He’s exploitative and cruel. Meanwhile, Beth the former diva at this ballet, (Winona Ryder) is forced to retire, and a new competitor, Lily (Mila Kunis) is also trying for the role, and trying everything she can to take it from Nina. Sophisticated Lily is Nina’s opposite – sex, drugs, smoking, and backstabbing all come as second nature to her. Nina has to hold on to her role in the ballet, as well as her tenuous grip on reality.

OK: does Aronofsky’s latest venture work or not. I have to admit, at times, this movie drifted into high camp, was unintentionally hilarious, and felt like nothing more than a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls”, another movie about backstabbing dancers. Who knows, maybe “Black Swan” and “Showgirls” will still be double-billing it at rep cinemas 50 years from now.

That said, I think it’s a totally watchable classic melodrama and psychological thriller, with great acting by the two main women, plus very enjoyable overacting by Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey (as the over-the-top stage mom). The movie’s also stunning on the eyes and ears, with great production values.

I think Aronofsky knows exactly what he’s doing, neatly alternating super-real, documentary-like footage just like in The Wrestler – behind the scenes bone-cracking, massages, rehearsals, warm-ups and make-ups – with equal parts scenery-chewing soap and surreal, drug-induced psychological fantasies (like in his great “Requiem for a Dream”). For me, this balanced worked.

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