Miami International Film Festival

Starting anew, round two

Kamchatka could be seen as an allegory of the tragic period of the "dirty war" that it's set in, as it leaves so many questions unanswered. Nevertheless, with more substantial context, this beautifully acted film would have been a more powerful portrait of its time. -- Judy Cantor

Playing on Saturday, February 22, at 1:00 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

Till Human Voices Wake Us
Directed by Michael Petroni; Australia, 2002
Bedroom farce, Spanish-style: The Other Side of the Bed is fluffy, formulaic filmmaking
Bedroom farce, Spanish-style: The Other Side of the Bed is fluffy, formulaic filmmaking
Balseros is tough, insightful, disturbing, and unforgettable
Balseros is tough, insightful, disturbing, and unforgettable

Location Info


Miami International Film Festival

1100 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: South Beach

Michael Petroni's directorial debut is a film that is perfect for -- and doomed to -- the film festival circuit. It's stylish and evocative and its two stars, Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter, add glamour and a thorough professionalism. But general audiences will have little patience with its slow pace and dramatic inertia.

Set in Australia, the story follows Dr. Sam Franks, a psychiatrist whose elderly father has just died; he left instructions that he is to be buried, not in Melbourne where they live, but in the small country town where Sam grew up. Sam takes the body back by train, a journey that sparks memories of his boyhood and a tragic romance with young neighbor girl Sylvy. Young Sam took Sylvy, who wore leg braces, to swim in the nearby river where she drowned -- an accident for which he never forgave himself. Amid these memories on the train, Sam suddenly looks up to encounter a beautiful young woman, Ruby.

When the conductor arrives to speak to him about his father's body, Sam leaves his seat briefly. On his return, the woman is gone. After arriving at his destination, Sam goes driving in a rainstorm and spots a young woman on a train trestle, then rescues her from the raging river. It's Ruby, or whoever she is, as she now has amnesia. Sam the shrink takes her back to his childhood home and cares for her, treating her with food, rest, and psychotherapy. Little by little Ruby remembers shreds and patches of memories, but to Sam's amazement, they all seem to be from Sylvy's life.

The film has several appealing aspects. Besides the solid cast, Petroni's direction is thankfully subdued, with a fluid camera style and a rich, saturated color palette. Petroni, who works primarily as a screenwriter, penned this script -- which draws its title from a T.S. Eliot poem -- while still studying at the American Film Institute. It's a thoughtful, literate tale that switches back and forth between the story of Sam and Ruby (played with skill but little chemistry by Pearce and Bonham Carter) and the backstory of young Sam and Sylvy (Lindley Joyner and Brooke Harmon, who bring a lot more heart and soul to their relationship).

The double narrative adds mystery and atmosphere, but the pace is slow and the sonorous Samuel Barber-esque score only emphasizes the lack of dramatic action. This is a film purely about a man's inner conflict, which is notoriously hard to photograph. Much of the Sam/Ruby story consists of wandering about the woods as Ruby keeps stumbling onto the sites of various incidents from Sam's past. And while the resolution brings some closure to Sam's personal struggle, it's neither surprising nor very satisfying. The result is a short feature -- under 100 minutes -- that ought to be half an hour shorter. Some movies don't work because they are adaptations of literature that should have stayed on the page. Till Human Voices Wake Us reverses that trend. This is one film that probably would work better as a short story. -- Ronald Mangravite

Playing on Monday, February 24, at 7:00 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

Directed by Chus Gutiérrez; Spain, 2002

Poniente was filmed in Almeria, the arid southern Spanish landscape familiar from Sergio Leone westerns. The backdrop for this recent movie is unrelenting sun, sandy soil, and the howling and groan of the wind -- or maybe that's Leone watching Poniente from his grave.

Cardboard characters, a telenovela-esque plot, and DOA dialogue are the culprits of a good idea gone stinking. Poniente ostensibly deals with the ruthless treatment of Moroccan immigrants by native Spaniards, as well as the strife of Spanish farmers in globalized times. Unfortunately the movie mocks such compelling material with a melodramatic screenplay that has the characters spouting "significant" platitudes on these social themes from the opening scene, while the action focuses largely on the main character's quest to get laid.

Poniente's heroine is Lucia (Cuca Escribano), a single mother and schoolteacher, who lives with her young daughter in Madrid. When her father dies, she goes back home and decides to stay and run the family tomato business she has inherited. She is met with opposition from family members who see a better life for her in Madrid. Then there's her wily cousin Miguel (Antonio Dechent), a racist taskmaster (as was her father), who wants the greenhouses for himself. Undaunted, Lucia gets her hands dirty and starts learning the business, often taking time out to stare longingly at a photo of the father of her daughter. Soon she meets Curro (José Coronado), a gold-hearted guy whose goal is to open a fish shack on the beach with a Moroccan friend (Farid Fatmi, the most likable actor in the movie). Curro rips Lucia's clothes off, and they fall madly and immediately in love.

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