High Museum of Art: Films

Looking Ahead to the Latin American Film Festival by Linda Dubler

Those Who Remain, screening on October 27 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre as part of the upcoming 25th Latin American Film Festival.

by Julie Chautin

 The High’s Latin American Film Festival is twenty-five years old and many of us who love Latin American films have been coming for most, if not all of those years.  Every fall we look forward to greeting old friends with lots of abrazos (hugs) and catching up with news, just like at a family reunion.

 And family reunions, or the lack of them, gives poignancy to Those Who Remain, the beautifully filmed documentary about family members who stay in Mexico when their loved ones go north to work in the United States.

 Directors Carlos Hagerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo visited homes and villages all over Mexico and let wives, children, parents, and friends of the workers tell their own stories.

 One of the wives, Rosa, is overseeing work on the house she and her husband are building with the money he earns up north in the U.S.  But since he is away, she tells us, she makes the decisions for everything.  The camera quietly pans the house.  It’s new and modern, and very empty.  More empty houses appear on the screen.  They are ready to be lived in, but instead, stand alone and empty, waiting.

 Then village streets appear with no one on them.  Everyone has left to go north, says one remaining neighbor.

 Yet, in another town a man has come back for good, and he is happy to be home.  He uses the money he made to buy land and build an arena so his village can hold a rodeo, just like in the old days.

 And there are more reassuring sights.  A group of girls play a lively game of soccer. One talks about continuing her studies because that’s what her father wants her to do.  That’s why he’s working up north.

 When the Los Angeles Film Festival gave their Documentary Award to Hagerman and Rulfo in 2009, the jurors applauded the film’s “generosity of spirit and lyrical grace that illuminates a human landscape with fresh eyes, … documentaries can be both journalism and poetry.”

Those Who Remain

 There is poetry as the camera films a young girl twirling in her communion dress.  And an old man looks contentedly over his land.  This is a story that cries to be told, and laughs too.

 Director Carlos Hagerman received his BA in Mexico City and then won a Fulbright scholarship to the NYU film school that has graduated other directors whose films we’ve shown in Atlanta.  He worked several years as a director in Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu´s film production company.

 Director Juan Carlos Rulfo is also the cinematographer.  He is the son of writer Juan Rulfo (1918-1986) often cited as one of the finest writers in 20th century Latin America.  He wrote the novel Pedro Páramo, a forerunner of magic realism, in which a man goes back to his father’s hometown and finds only ghosts.  One of the films Juan Carlos Rulfo has made is in homage to his father.  He visited his father’s hometown and interviewed its inhabitants.  They were not ghosts, they just had trouble remembering.  Thus, the title Del Olvido Al No Me Acuerdo (I Forgot, I Don’t Remember).

 In his later years the elder Rulfo became a photographer.   Both his visual eye and storytelling abilities may have easily nurtured the filmmaker and cinematographer his son became.

 But family ties don’t stop there.  Juan Carlos Rulfo is married to Valentina Leduc Navarro, the film editor for Those Who Remain.  She also worked on sound editing.  She is the daughter of the Mexican film producer Berta Navarro and film director Paul Leduc.

 In 1991 Berta Navarro visited Atlanta as a guest of the High along with her film, Cabeza de Vaca.  During her stay I took her out for lunch and she told me about her family.  Now her daughter, the next generation, has made one of the films we are showing.  Like I said, every festival seems like a family reunion.

The High will show the film with English subtitles. View the Spanish language trailer here:

Arrivederci to Leonardo’s Angels by Linda Dubler

As Leonardo‘s angels prepare to take flight (the exhibition ends on February 21), here are a couple of movies to fill the radiance gap.

Wings of Desire
(Linda Dubler)

There are some movies so precious to memory that they are best left there. That’s the way I feel about Wings of Desire, which I saw in a hormone-heightened state (I was pregnant at the time) upon its release in 1988. But just because I won’t go back again doesn’t mean you shouldn’t — and if you’ve never seen Wings Of Desire, what a gift awaits you!

The film opens with an extended, lyrical reverie, in which we are privy to the watchful existence of two angels who listen in on the thoughts and dreams of Berliners as though their combined consciousnesses were a really big party line. The mood of this sequence is tender and ruefull; the angels can tap in, but can’t change whatever sorrow or obstruction they might witness. In his review of the film , Rogert Ebert nails this sequence when he writes, “it moves slowly but you don’t grow impatient, because there is no plot to speak of, and so you don’t fret that it should move to its next predictable stage. It is about being, not doing.”

As I recall, the whole movie becomes more earthbound when one of the angels, played by Bruno Ganz, falls in love with an acrobat in a faded little circus, and trades his wings for human emotions. But even then director Wim Wenders suffuses his work with gentle humor and a sublime combination of appreciation and resignation over our species’ vulnerability and love’s transcendence.

Angels in America
(Linda Dubler)

If you haven’t seen Mike Nichols’s brilliant adaptation of Tony Kushner’s  epic, multi-award winning play, add it right now to the top of your Netflix queue or make it your next selection at the video store.  A sprawling, furious, inspired epic that opens in October, 1985,  the six hour, two-part drama, in the words of Variety’s Todd McCarthy, ” retains all the immediacy of Kushner’s passionate foot-stomping about AIDS, the Reagan years, political and personal hypocrisy, compassion, the Mormons, spirituality and so much more.”

If it now seems like a period piece, it still carries an enormous emotional charge, thanks to the prodigious acting by a cast that includes Al Pacino (and not a scene-hogging, grandstanding Al Pacino either), Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, and Mary-Louise Parker among others.  Make sure you clear your calendar because once you start watching you won’t be able to turn away from the screen.

(Eleanor Ringel Cater)

Legion s an agreeably cheesy celestial smack-down currently in movie theaters (for now!) Paul Bettany (best known as Russell Crowe’s’s doctor pal in Master and Commander and soon to be seen as Charles Darwin in Creation stars as Michael, a now-fallen angel trying to keep a disgruntled God from having His latest command carried out. Namely, to destroy Mankind!

Michael ends up watching over what may be the new Messiah; that is,  defending a pregnant woman and various, um, characters at a remote diner. A lot of it is along the lines of, “This Time, It’s Personal!!!,” but as I said, sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for: Wrestlemania with wings — and guns.  At its best it recalls the cult classic Tremors.

(Eleanor Ringel Cater)

You couldn’t really call Michael a winged victory, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. It’s only when Nora Ephron let’s her fantasy-romance get predictable (and a tad soggy) that the movie errs. But for the most part it holds up just fine.

John Travolta in Michael

Michael, the angel John Travolta plays in the movie, isn’t exactly the type who makes little bells tinkle (a la It’s a Wonderful Life.) Less heavenly host than slovenly guest, he’s a beer-swilling chain-smoker with a middle-age gut and two-day beard. Michael first appears to an addled Iowa motel owner (perfectly played by Jean Stapleton, who proved on All in the Family she does addled as well as anyone in the business). But the real miracle-working Michael intends involves a couple of tabloid journalists (Andie McDowell and William Hurt) dispatched by their egomaniacal boss (Bob Hoskins) to cook up a good story. Imagine their surprise when Michael turns out to be the real thing.
It’s an odd little picture, the sort that confounds expectations. Just when you’ve given up on it, it takes a turn for the better (and, alas, vice versa). Still, who could completely resist a movie that ends with Vinnie Barbarino and Edith Bunker dancing together in the streets of Chicago?
John Travolta in Michael

Review: Nora’s Will (Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) by hmablogmaster
Nora's Will

Nora's Will

If you missed Nora’s Will at the High’s 2009 Latin American Film Festival, here’s your chance to catch it. It screens at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, January 17 at 1 p.m. (introduced by Linda Dubler) and Friday, January 22 at 3:40 p.m. (introduced by Eleanor Ringel Cater).

Visit www.ajff.org for more information, and read on for Eleanor’s review of the film.

Continue reading

Revisiting the Depression on Screen by Linda Dubler

by Eleanor Ringel Cater

Now that some of us are experiencing the worst depression since THE Depression, I figured I’d offer up some thoughts on a few more-or-less contemporary films set during the period. (Currently on view at the High is the exhibition, American Scenes: Art From the Depression Era, works from our permanent collection.)

In the new movie, Amelia, starring two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, there’s a brief glimpse of a soup line as she cruises by in her expensive car. She’s on her way to make another commercial (for which she’ll be paid big bucks). She says something like, “Oh, those poor men.” The movie is similarly superficial, and not just about the Thirties.

Annie had much more luck on stage than on screen, but the movie version isn’t all that bad. Unfortunately, the TV version is more often shown. It’s an entertaining, very old-fashioned musical, with Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and Carol Burnett as the comically villainous Miss Hannigan. They give the picture more than enough professional gloss to overcome John Huston’s (!) apparently disinterested direction. Annie‘s real problem is numbers — not just the much-publicized production costs, but the elephantine production numbers, which are all show-stoppers — as in stopping the show dead in its tracks. But when the screen is cleared of the zillion dancing clowns and butlers and maids and Rockettes, this story of the blank-eyed orphan (Aileen Quinn) who finds happiness – if not a compatible hairstyle – with billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Finney) is pleasant enough. A good kids’ choice, if nothing else.


Nicholson and Streep in Ironweed

Though riddled with flaws, Ironweed‘s overall effect is poignant and powerful. Provided, that is, you’re willing to sit out its two-hour plus of sepia-toned seediness. Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson at the top of his game) is a former ace ballplayer, now boozed-up bum, who has returned home to Albany, the city he fled decades ago after accidentally killing his infant son. Based on William Kennedy’s best-seller, the picture is essentially a couple of days in the lives of a couple of lost souls (Meryl Streep, equally good, plays Nicholson’s flophouse mistress). True, the movie moves at a snail’s pace, but the stars are both phenomenal, showing us a sodden spiritual sadness – a kind of DTs of the soul. And you have to admire a movie made during the feel-good Reagan years dares to be a bummer about bums. Both stars were Oscar-nominated.

Do you have a favorite?


The Song of Sparrows by hmablogmaster
November 5, 2009, 12:15 pm
Filed under: Film Series: High, Guest Blogger, Review

The Song of Sparrows will open this year’s Iranian Film Today series on Friday, November 6 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theater. Learn more about this series at High.org/Films. Review by Eleanor Ringel Cater.

The Song of Sparrows

My friend Forrest Rogers used to have a name for certain kinds of movies. He called them, “Pigs and Mud” movies.

You know, the ones with subtitles, that, even when they earn raves, sound about as appetizing as a bowl of cooked carrots (It’s GOOD for you, the reviewer seems to be pleading).

So, when I read that The Song of  Sparrows concerned the plight of an Iranian ostrich wrangler… well, you can just imagine. Ah, Pigs and Mud AND Ostriches!

But sometimes the carrots are sugar-coated. At least, that’s the case here. The Song of Sparrows isn’t just good for you; it’s just plain good in its own low-key, meandering way. I’d planned to turn it off after 15 minutes and found myself watching to the very end.

Hard-working Karim (Reza Naji) loses his job at the ostrich ranch after losing one of his birds (the ensuing Follow That Bird chase is as hilarious as it is poetic). His daughter has just lost her hearing aid, so it’s off to the big city to find a new job.

Karim finds one, inadvertently, when a busy businessman jumps on the back of his motorbike and barks out an address. And, voila (or however they say it in Iran), Karim has a new job as taxi of sorts. Contrasting Karim’s adventures in Tehran with his often tumultuous family life, Oscar-nominated Iranian director Majid Majidi creates an involving human story that sometimes comes off like a silent comedy.

No, it’s not a heavy-hitting cross-over foreign-language hit like last year’s Oscar-winner, Slumdog Millionaire, but the two movies have more in common that you might think.

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Review: Ballroom (Latin American Film Festival) by Linda Dubler
Ballroom will be screened on Friday, October 30 as part of the Latin American Film Festival.

All the world’s a ballroom in Ballroom, Lais Bodansky’s prize-winning film about a down-at-the-heels dance hall in Sao Paulo whose clientele is a little frayed around the edges, as well. That’s because they’re mostly AARP-ready regulars who gather weekly to see and be seen. In some cases, it’s implied, it’s the only way a few of them have to affirm that, yes, they are still alive.



Now, that sounds tragic and, granted, a sense of imminent mortality underlies this gently bittersweet movie. But there is humor, too, and the sort of plainly human observations we don’t usually see in standard Hollywood fare. Age spots and wrinkled necks aren’t really the point here. They’re a given. I admit it; you’ve seen this before: the ballroom as a microcosm of life. We see the survivors, who take life as it comes (I couldn’t help but note that a LOT of the women asked to dance are blonde).
But Bodansky demonstrates it’s not always easy to swirl your way into changing your life. Among the many mini-dramas we observe:
• an aging lothario who ignores his elegant regular date when a fresh-faced young newcomer (there to help her boyfriend with the music) arrives on the scene.
• a desperate woman who ages visibly each time she’s passed up by a potential partner (she’s as lovely as anyone, so her situation is much more complicated than an easy Ugly Duckling scenario).
• the mysterious minx — is she tragic or powerful — who prowls  the club like a predatory animal, waiting to pounce (or be pounced).
• the poor gentleman dubbed El Skunko, who dances all the time, every time… alone.


The structure is hardly new; we’ve seen it in dozens of pictures, ranging from Saturday Night Fever to Strictly Ballroom. But Ballroom has a quiet confidence, a killer soundtrack and a cast of actors so natural (and talented) you almost forget it’s not a documentary. Add some terrific laughs and a tender heart and to me, that’s entertainment.

Celebrate International Animation Day with ASIFA and the High by hmablogmaster

From Jay Blodgett, ASIFA-Atlanta.

ASIFA (Association International du Film d’Animation), is the worldwide animation society founded in Annecy, France. ASIFA was established in 1960 by many great masters of animation in the spirit of pursuing world peace, and aiming to promote friendship and mutual understanding between different cultures through the development of our unique art medium — animation. This precious spirit of our founders, who include Paul Grimault, Lev Atamanov, Norman McLaren, John Hubley, Ivan Ivanov Vano, Karel Zeman and Alexandre Alexeieff among others, continues to guide our activities.

Today, there are more than 30 chapters all over the world, including ours right here in Atlanta, which promote the art of animation through workshops and screenings. In recognition of Emile Reynaud’s first public performance of animation by Theatre Optique at the Grevin Museum in Paris on October 28th, 1892, we celebrate International Animation Day. This year is the fourth time ASIFA-Atlanta has celebrated IAD, and the third time we’ve presented films at the High Museum of Art.

Last year, about 40 different countries spanning every continent celebrated International Animation Day, some of them extending the celebration over days or weeks of screenings and workshops. So far this year, so far we’ve received films from Japan, Korea, Brazil, India and Croatia.

We hope to also show films from Portugal, Russia and Bosnia via a DVD exchange made possible by ASIFA. Chapters compile a DVD of selected films from their members and send it out to other ASIFA chapters around the world.

Ariel Belinco’s and Michael Faust’s “Beton”, a film from Israel we showed in 2006:

This year marks our first International Animation Day screening the Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Theatre. ASIFA sponsored a great event there this past July for the Society for Animation Studies conference and fell in love with the space. With a seating capacity of 400, we expect a large crowd of animation lovers. It’s free to attend. Reserve your ticket at asifa-atlanta.com.

Our thanks go out to ASIFA-Atlanta members, whose participation and membership fees make this all possible. Please check out our website at asifa-atlanta.com if you’d like keep up with our events or if you’d like to join ASIFA-Atlanta.

Jay Blodgett, Secretary