Phoenix Film Festival Review: World Cinema Best Director

The Phoenix Film Festival is one of the few events that makes me, and the city of Phoenix, feel cultured. I'm not saying there aren't fun, "classy" things to do during the year. But this is the one solitary week out of the year that you can see more than one or two foreign films without leaving the valley. It's the only time that the phrase "independent film" isn't used to describe some "quirky off-beat humor" with a B or C list celeb in it.

Instead, the week is dedicated almost entirely to films you wouldn't and couldn't otherwise see. In addition to world and short film competitions, there are even student and local showcases. The last few days of the festival, which we currently find ourselves amidst, or essentially dedicated to winners in various categories. Last night featured several of those winners, including the one for world cinema best director.

Italian director Francesco Campanini's Il Solitario, meaning Solitaire, was an action pieces about Leo Piazza, a high stakes crook tied up with the mob. He goes on a heist -- the one that's supposed to set him up for life. In a mass shoot out, he's the only survivor on either side of the robbery, and must go into hiding in order to save his life. The irony is that while money is no object, he is constantly paying people to protect him, all while living in extremely uncomfortable situations merely to stay alive.

It follows the plot line of most of these types of films. He's always running, and there's always someone just about to catch up with him. Of course, there's a girl involved. The beautiful Saeda, formerly a prostitute, comes to his lone apartment to bring him provisions. While he nearly forces himself on her, of course they fall in love with hardly any dialogue. Though they decide to run away together, you can imagine that things in their lives get complicated and it won't be as easy as they would have thought.

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To be honest, the film was a bit disappointing. The music was cliche, as was the story line. The copy of the film that the festival got was of extremely low quality. (So much so in fact that the picture looked unclear and figures and shadows looked clunky.) Also frustrating was that the film had come out in 2008, and somehow it didn't make it to the Phoenix Film Festival for a whole two years. There was a constant reminder of this on screen in the form of a copyright label that hung in the upper left corner the entire time. The translations in the subtitles were full of grammatical errors, and while I'm often pretty understanding of the difficulty in translating both language and ideas cross culturally, it was frustrating.

The thing is that it's hard to understand what and why certain films work in some countries and not others. While I tried to be understanding of the film and my fellow audience members, (who insisted on talking through the last twenty minutes of the film and laughing and inappropriate times throughout...aren't you guys supposed to be the real film buffs who must see non mainstream cinema in an unadulterated context?!?) it was not possible for me to get past the cliches and overdone storyline. While I easily feel sympathy for less than savory characters, I couldn't really make myself like anyone, and the lack of sympathy made it tough to relate to on any level. I would pass on this one, kids.

Stay posted though. I'll be reviewing films tomorrow and Friday, and hopefully will have exciting news to report about Thursday night's event which is a screening of a new film with Luke Wilson. He'll even be in town for it and the subsequent party.

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