The Wild, Wild Fest, Part 3

Her father's rage only incites the girl into flirting with reckless behavior, which provides the film with scenes that are both amusing and touching. In a Hollywood teen flick, it would be hard to imagine a moment like the one in which Maria, alternately embarrassed and excited, allows a young man to see her breasts.

But Sunday is not content to stick with the uncluttered story of a young girl's sexual awakening. The authors introduce Maria's shocked discovery of her father's clandestine infidelity with his assistant at the church and the ultimate tragedy that befalls the woman (Hildegunn Riise). Both performances are splendid, and the subplot is a well-meant intrusion that humanizes the priest and softens what could have been a one-tracked oppressiveness. Still, it nearly overloads the film. And Sundquist needs no assistance. For most of the film he makes us believe in his fervent righteousness.

The surprise twist adds further justification for Maria's activism, but it also diminishes the tension of her revolt. The stakes drop as soon as we find out the priest is not the model of virtue he insists that others be. The film's conflict ought to have been between two opposing but equally powerful views -- the time-honored duel between the immovable object and the irresistible force. One suspects that Nesheim, who coauthored the screenplay with Lasse Glom, may have taken the path of least resistance, betting that audiences wouldn't accept Maria unless her father were a hypocrite and a sinner.

Until taking its questionable turn toward a flawed resolution, Sunday was headed in very much the right direction. (Most films run off the road long before that.) There are other, hugely compensating factors as well, such as the haunting, low-key chamber music background and cinematography that rivals Bergman at his best. This movie is well worth careful attention.

Olivier Schatzky's L'Eleve (The Pupil) is closer in style to Scandinavia than to its native France, possibly because this lesser-known but highly promising director may have been influenced by Bergman, as have many, many others. Or maybe because the film is an adaption of a Henry James short story; and James, who always longed to be a successful dramatist but lacked the ability -- or the willingness -- to create stage tension or to highlight the dramatic moment, forces his adapters into a slow-paced, moody rhythm that invites torpor unless one is primed to concentrate on each subtle minute. L'ƒleve challenges its audience but offers rewards to those willing to look and listen carefully.

The theme may be somewhat related to that of The Other Side of Sunday. It may have undertones (quite far under) of repressed sexuality, but if it's supposed to be there, it would in this instance be an older man's repressed interest in a young boy, but not so clearly stated as in the film version of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, for example. Henry James's stock-in-trade, after all, is ambiguity.

Julien (Vincent Cassel), a sensitive, erudite scholar in his thirties, is hired by the parents of a gifted but neurotic child named Morgan (Caspar Salmon) to tutor the boy because their numerous trips make it impossible for him to attend school. Julien quickly discovers that Morgan is gifted, bordering on genius, but also perhaps flirting with madness. He is arrogant about his abilities, which, in addition to an aptitude for practically any subject, include gourmet cooking. Despite the age difference, Julien treats Morgan as an intellectual equal, an approach that is much appreciated by the nervous child, who has been starved for parental affection; the two develop a close but ambiguous relationship. Julien begins to realize that the parents are adventurers, living life in the high style but hopelessly in debt and continually moving to escape the consequences. They promise to pay him eventually. He keeps threatening to leave but has a difficult time of it because he and his charge have by now become inseparable.

Regardless of whether the parents are the characteristic Jamesian Europeans, too artful for an innocent idealist, the results are the same. Reduced to poverty (they say) and unable to care for their son, they beg Julien to stay with him, to become his true parent. The film's final moment is resplendent with possibilities that can be spiritual or sexual, or both. Henry James was no sexual Puritan, but he was reluctant to be understood as dealing overtly with subject matter that was taboo in the late Victorian era (which existed on both sides of the Atlantic and provided the perfect launching pad for Sigmund Freud).

L'Eleve is lightweight compared to The Turn of the Screw, James's masterpiece of ambiguity, but it serves the master better than did the television version of the latter work. Like so many directors in this festival, Schatzky wrote his own screenplay, and we must applaud his detailed effort to reproduce an intriguing study in a medium for which it is not really suited. It was a courageous choice.

If film festivals give you nothing else, they're guaranteed to provide a healthy dose of culture shock, as I experienced in moving from the understatements of L'Eleve to the muddled statements of Paul Chart's American Perfekt. Not only was the screening oversold, causing people to sit or stand in the aisles, but announcements and introductions delayed the start by 45 minutes: We learned that Amanda Plummer had been scheduled to appear but couldn't make it, and that costar Robert Forster was indeed present, as was the writer/director. From the bottom of their hearts, they thanked all kinds of people we never heard of; Chart, who hails from Great Britain, wanted everyone to know how wonderful it was to be in the United States and how it took five years for his film to reach the screen. Produced by nine people at a cost of multiple dollars, it is likely to disappear from the screen in a few weeks.

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