Dir. Geremy Jasper
Official Selection Feature International
The Richter Scale says: To be an artist you have to live a life. No matter where you come from, who your parents were, where you went to school or the kind of education you got, if you lived a life and want to express something about what that life has meant for you, then you have what it takes to be an artist. You just have to be able to give a piece of yourself for an audience to take with them. Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) is 23 years old, is significantly overweight and lives in a bad New Jersey neighborhood with her mother (Bridget Everett) who was once a singer but had to give it up when she got pregnant, and her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) who has a disease that’s putting the family in financial trouble. Patti dreams of being a hip hop star (she calls herself Killa P) and along with her best friend Jherome (Siddharth Dhananjay) she searches for a way to get her rhymes out there in an environment that doesn’t see much of a future for her.
A story like this is not new. One can see the influence of films such as 8 Mile and Precious (and many others about dreamers trying to escape their urban lives), but the story’s freshness here comes from its protagonist. Patti may not be the smartest or the most charismatic, but her passion for rapping and her enthusiasm for discovering that world is invigorating. She uses it a lot of cussing to express herself because that’s the world she’s from and she carries a melancholy from the way everyone sees her (many in the neighborhood call her Dumbo, because of her weight) and a mother that resents not being able to make it because of her daughter’s existence (which is why she doesn’t want to see her succeed). Danielle Macdonald is a revelation in the lead, with a contagious energy and an expert histrionic capability that keeps this character from ever becoming grotesque. Bridget Everett complements her, creating an entirely human mother, jealous and resentful, but compassionate and proud when she needs to be. Cathy Moriarty, pro that she is, steals every scene she’s in playing a woman who knows she’s reaching the end of her time and even though she doesn’t quite understand what her granddaughter is up to, she’s happy to see her happy (and to be included in that happiness).
With so many films in the Festival taking an objective point of view in their narratives, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a film taking a subjective view and given that it’s about a girl with dreams of being an artist, being subjective is exactly the right call. Director Geremy Jasper uses bright lights and slow motion techniques when our protagonist is excited about something, distorts the image in a scene when she gets high (a sequence that brilliantly mixes horror and innocence) and he puts us inside this character’s head through these dreams (the film opens with a fantasy in which her rap idol introduces her in a show). This builds a contrast with the more mundane scenes and there are a lot of close-ups to the actors’ faces when it’s times for them to express their anger over the life they’re leading, but the film is never dour. The sequences in which Patti and Jherome record an album in a recording studio hidden in a cemetery (past a tunnel called the “Gates of Hell”) that belongs to a new friend of theirs that calls himself “Bastard: The Antichrist”, we see a lovely portrait of collaboration to make music. A music that can only be possible because Patti has a story to tell and even though they may reject her and call her Dumbo on the streets until the day she dies, she’s going to tell it.
Patti Cake$ will be screened at the Juárez Theater today at 14:00 hrs in Guanajuato City.
Dir. Baz Luhrmann
Tribute to Brigitte Broch
The Richter Scale says: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”. This phrase that originated in John Lennon’s Nature Boy is one of the motifs of this irreverent cinematic musical experience that became a phenomenon when it was first released and practically brought the “movie musical” back from the dead. Few directors have inspired such a wide variety of reactions as visionary Australian Baz Luhrmann, who makes every one of his films a unique and complete sensory experience. The plot here is thin, and at times ridiculous, but Luhrmann is one of those filmmakers for whom plot is just an excuse to grant an audience an experience like no other and with Moulin Rouge! he uses songs by Sting, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Queen and Elton John among many others to transport to Paris in 1899 (as it could only exist inside a 20th Century Fox studio) and tell the story of young writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) who has arrived in Paris to be a part of the Bohemian Revolution and during his first visit to the Moulin Rouge night club, Satine (Nicole Kidman), the most sought after courtesan in that place, mistakes him for a Duke that will invest in her first play. To make a long story short, they fall in love, but Satine is promised to the Duke in exchange for putting on their Spectacular.
It may be a melodramatic and sometimes non-sensical plot, but what Baz Luhrmann achieves with his style and the reason why he’s perfect for making a musical is his focus on highlighting the emotions of the characters. These are characters that express a lot (the Duke’s scream of “I don’t like other people touching my things!” is parodied to this day) and the cast makes each character feel immense. McGregor is probably the most grounded of the cast, since the weight of the whole thing falls on his shoulders and it gives him a contrast to the rest of the cast (oh, but when he sings!). Kidman finds a middle ground, being an object of desire that our protagonist slowly realizes is quite vulnerable (and a few other secrets along the way). Jim Broadbent has always been my favorite as Harold Zidler, the Master of Ceremonies at the Moulin Rouge, a man with a lot of love for the club, a great presence, yet always very much aware of his place in the world, though I must also mention Richard Roxburgh as the Duke, a man with a mousy design (and a voice to match it) who looks pathetic, but projects great power.
What truly makes Moulin Rouge! a “movie musical” (and not just a movie that is also a musical) is the way it uses cinema as part of its choreography. A key component of a Baz Luhrmann film is its frenetic editing, and here, editor Jill Bilcock arranges the images to go with the music (the Tango de Roxanne sequence is a succulent example of that) and like all good choreography, the individual steps (which in this case is the cinematography, shot by Donald McAlpine), even if they go by so fast that you can’t appreciate every single one individually, is each exquisite. And, of course, every image is visual ecstasy and given that the Festival is honoring Brigitte Broch, one must mention the Academy-Award winning art direction (in which she worked with Catherine Martin, who is also the costume designer) which creates an evidently artificial version of Paris, but which sets the mood for what this movie will be. Something we know is artificial, with obviously constructed locations, stylized costumes, gloriously exaggerated performances, characters that begin to sing in the middle of a scene (songs that wouldn’t be written for another half-century at least), all working together to generate authentic emotions and genuine experiences. That’s a musical! And what’s most glorious and spectacular about this masterpiece is that Baz Luhrmann understands that and embraces it fully.
Moulin Rouge! will be screened at the Steps of the University of Guanajuato today at 21:00 hrs in Guanajuato City.