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Curling (#110 of 5)

White Nights at the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum 2011

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White Nights at the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum 2011
White Nights at the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum 2011

When asked by Russians whether this was my first visit to St. Petersburg, I replied enigmatically, “Yes and no.” The answer was that I had been to Saint Petersburg, Florida and Leningrad, neither of which has much in common with the spectacular present-day Russian city, the ideal setting for a film festival. The Kinoforum in its first bona fide year (there was a small experimental version in 2010) is one of the only festivals that gives equal importance to tourism, debates, and movies. Held during the celebrated White Nights in July, the superbly organized touristic side gave guests the chance to attend a ballet (Don Quichotte) at the Marinsky Theatre; a huge open-air show put on especially for us at the Summer Palace, with a banquet thrown in; a symphony concert beside a lake, including Tchiakovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which concluded with a fireworks display instead of a cannon; a magical boat trip up the Neva by night; and a visit to the Hermitage, one of the world’s greatest collection of paintings (the festival enabled us to jump the long, long line to get in).

Los Angeles Film Festival 2011: En Terrains Connus, Le Vendeur, Curling, Salaam Dunk, & Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul

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Los Angeles Film Festival 2011: <em>En Terrains Connus</em>, <em>Le Vendeur</em>, <em>Curling</em>, <em>Salaam Dunk</em>, & <em>Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul</em>
Los Angeles Film Festival 2011: <em>En Terrains Connus</em>, <em>Le Vendeur</em>, <em>Curling</em>, <em>Salaam Dunk</em>, & <em>Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul</em>

There’s been an incredible amount of snow in Los Angeles this week. It’s coming in from Alaska, from Wisconsin, from Latvia; it’s all up on screen, with a considerable number of movies set in bleak white snowscapes. Maybe there’s nothing more exotic to Southern Californians than seeing people in heavy overcoats and riding snowmobiles. This sense of snow is most apparent in the trio of Québécois films, which all share distinct commonalities, screening at the festival. Besides being utterly blanketed in snow, these French Canadian films are all methodically paced and play with the passage of time. They dissect the functioning (or dysfunction) of the family unit, and are preoccupied with notions of personal isolation and mortality. While not necessarily bearing the markers of a distinct or organized film movement, these contemporary offerings from Quebec all spring from similar sensibilities.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Happy, Happy

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Happy, Happy</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Happy, Happy</em>

Unfolding in a snow-beset Norwegian town that ironically could double for the blustery environs of Affliction, Anne Sewitsky’s Happy, Happy indulges in more than its fair share of clichés and predictable narrative decisions, starting with its plot. The story, involving two neighboring couples who passive aggressively or unknowingly stir up and eventually expose each other’s covert longings and buried guilt through a series of activities and encounters, is reminiscent of literally dozens of sometimes caustic, consistently discomfiting independent dramadies. In fact, it wasn’t even the best film to use the premise within the confines of ND/NF: Hospitalité, Koji Fukada’s odd, witty, and essentially timeless parable, involved a similar story, though it took place largely within a single household, and was one of the great triumphs of this year’s program, along with festival favorites Curling and Attenberg.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Curling

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Curling</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Curling</em>

The last several years have seen the influx of a number of films about characters shielding either themselves or their families from the alleged dangers of the world, confining their lives to a greater or lesser degree to the relative safety of the domestic fortress. Call it Shut-In Cinema. To Ursula Meier’s Home, Anders Edström and C. W. Winter’s The Anchorage, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, and Bong Joon-ho’s segment in the anthology film Tokyo!, we can now add Denis Côté’s Curling, making its New York debut at New Directors/New Films. Rivaling The Anchorage, the best of the above listed works, in its combination of utter precision of detail and overwhelming sense of mystery, Côté’s film makes for instructive comparison with the movie it most superficially resembles, Lanthimos’s celebrated tale of overprotective parenting gone bonkers.

Cold Stones Are Cool

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Cold Stones Are Cool
Cold Stones Are Cool

If the films nominated for Academy Awards in 2010 were Olympic sports, figure skating—full of sights, sounds, and lots of media attention—would be Avatar, the halfpipe—entertaining and edgy—Inglourious Basterds, and hockey—an unglamorous study in grinding perseverance—The Hurt Locker. For Americans, curling wouldn’t appear until “The Best Animated Short” category: “A Matter of Loaf and Death” starring Wallace and Gromit.

One of the noteworthy, albeit minor, stories coming out of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was some unexpectedly positive murmuring about curling. The genuine curiosity exhibited about the sport could very well be a precursor for more mainstream American interest. U.S. team captain John Shuster expressed satisfaction that Vancouver had helped to put curling “on the map.” Of course, a lot of the attention curling received this year was due to things having nothing to do with the sport itself. Such as the tittering over the Norwegian team’s garishly patterned pants. So, it remains to be seen if curling has the potential to attain more than hacky sack-like fad status in the U.S.

I’ve never set foot on a curling surface myself but I’ve been a closet fan for years. Although, I didn’t realize I was in the closet or that such a closet even existed.