Festward Ho!

Sometimes whispering, sometimes screaming, the fourteenth Miami Film Festival (January 31 to February 9) corrals thirty-two full-length films and five shorts, including eleven U.S. premieres, from fourteen different nations. The mix, as usual, leans heavily on recent U.S. (six), Spanish (five), and Latin American (five) works, but also features the 30-year anniversary re-releases of Arthur Penn's stylishly violent Bonnie and Clyde and Swedish director Bo Widerberg's beautifully photographed nineteenth-century love story Elvira Madigan.

As it did in 1995 (Miami Rhapsody) and 1996 (Two Much), the festival debuts a "Miami" movie, in this case Bob Rafelson's Blood & Wine. Mercifully, however, the Film Society of Miami, which coordinates and presents this ten-day cinematic clambake, decided not to open this year's fest with hometown fluff, reserving that honor for Cosi, a piece of Australian fluff. (Apparently enough fluff exists internationally to warrant such charitability; now, if the fest had bowed with Chen Kaige's highly charged melodrama Temptress Moon, that would've been ballsy.)

In addition to films, the festival offers a peck of free seminars that will bring together directors, critics, actors, producers, and various industry muckamucks for what promises to be some lively discussions. Particularly intriguing, at least on paper: "Whose Miami?" (an examination of the way the city has been characterized on-screen) and "Making Movies: A Case Study of Daytrippers" (the director, producer, and two of the stars of this festival entrant dissect the project from inception to wrap).

Reviews of four films that will screen in the fest's opening days appear below. Readers also are encouraged to seek out several works not addressed here, notably: Temptress Moon; Robert Altman's Jazz '34: Remembrances of Kansas City Swing, the iconoclastic director's name-above-the-title filming of a jam session of contempo jazz luminaries (James Carter, Joshua Redman, Ron Carter, Don Byron, and others); and both Widerberg's Elvira Madigan and his most recent film, 1995's All Things Fair. (Capsule reviews for entries not dealt with here appear on page 55.) Next week's New Times will contain reviews for films presented during the second half of the festival.

Painfully obvious, relentlessly self-conscious, tediously overwrought, and poorly conceived and executed on almost every level, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Guy (Saturday at 11:30 a.m.) posits itself as bold and innovative when it's merely abrasive and dumb. A film about a film, Guy chronicles the process of an unseen/unnamed L.A. woman filmmaker (Hope Davis) -- known only as "Camera" -- selecting a walking, talking subject for a cinema verite project (a guy named Guy, played by round-faced Vincent D'Onofrio -- hello, Everyman!), and then following/stalking him here, there, and everywhere. She documents the big events and the minutiae of his life, from peeing and sleeping to working -- he's a middleman for a stolen car operation -- and making love with his girlfriend. Mostly, though, Camera captures him responding to her intrusion, with Guy moving from open hostility to gradual acceptance to, finally, outright need.

Initially, when Guy recoils from Camera's camera, Lindsay-Hogg and director of photography Arturo Smith use the shaky-cam technique made famous in a thousand slasher movies to convey a hunter/game motif. But as Guy quits his protestations and embraces both Camera and camera, Guy takes a more formal cinematographic approach, seguing into what amounts to a one-man performance -- less Spalding Gray monologue, mind you, than mercilessly mugging MTV veejay.

The film makes two other significant -- and even more annoying -- shifts. In keeping with Camera's no-frills documentary style, at first one hears only the conversations she has with Guy, plus ambient street sounds. But Lindsay-Hogg gradually adds snatches of simpering trumpet and synth music to the background in order to signify the pair's inevitable dance of mutual attraction; then he stirs in snippets of songs by cool-school bands such as Morphine and Poi Dog Pondering. Presto: Maysles brothers cinema verite jarringly morphs into John Hughes brat-packer territory. Worse, Camera's unadulterated documentary eventually develops a bad case of film-school hiccups, introducing jump cuts, fades, slo-mo's, and, during the film's mortifying denouement, as Camera and Guy's "relationship" completely disintegrates, a dreamy, superimposed flashback of Guy nattering about "surfing on giant marbles."

While Guy appears to consider itself a confrontational polemic on the inextricability of life and art (a somewhat duh, if not totally unworthy endeavor), in the ham-fisted mitts of Lindsay-Hogg, screenwriter Kirby Dick, and star/co-producer D'Onofrio, it plays like an original production by a high school drama class hell-bent on conjuring the double helix spirits of being and nothingness. At least the filmmakers succeed on that second score.

For an elegant and wholly inspired examination of the intersection where life meets art, check out Iranian writer/director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's lyrical Gabbeh (Saturday at 2:00 p.m.). The film opens with an elderly Iranian married couple bickering about who will wash their gabbeh, a colorful, one-of-a-kind Persian carpet woven to depict a story told by its maker. The woman (Roghieh Moharami) wins out, and as she kneads the carpet barefoot in clear running water, a lovely young woman named Gabbeh (Shaghayegh Djodat), dressed exactly like the old woman, suddenly materializes out of the ether.

Gabbeh tells the pair that she wove the gabbeh; urged on by the old man (Hossein Moharami) and old woman, she relates its tale, the story of her large nomadic family -- father, mother, schoolteacher uncle, and many brothers and sisters -- and her frustrated attempts to connect with her suitor, a horseman who follows behind them alone at a discreet distance as they move hither and yon across the dramatic Iranian countryside. Gabbeh's stolid father has sworn to kill the pair if they elope, and he keeps delaying their union by imposing a seemingly never-ending series of arbitrary conditions: His brother -- Gabbeh's uncle (Abbas Sayahi) -- must return from the city; then the uncle must marry; then Gabbeh's mother must give birth; and so on and so on.

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