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Palm Springs Film Festival, III

Much to my surprise, a film I saw the other day had a torrid sex scene in a crummy room followed by a cut to the guy smoking a cigarette. I thought to myself, what, no pizza? So much for that inexplicable international motif.

Other themes, however, seem to hold strong. For example, a preoccupation with desperately poor and exploited Third World-like settings in which audiences can a) vicariously enjoy the sordid sex, violence and melodramatic injustice of the characters a-la "Last Stop 174" without getting too worked up by the political ramifications and responsibilities. Or b), films in which these benighted cultures preach their paradoxical superiority to our materialistic, selfish and superficial societies. Since our greed and hedonism is plunging us all into the same kind of scarcity, over-population and universal hardship as they are enduring, maybe we can learn from those who have already had to adapt to a world of diminished resources and fewer golf courses?

Take for example the film mentioned above, Macedonia director Teona Mitevska's "I Am From Tito Valdes." It's a story about the title town, which during the period of the Yugoslavian Republic was poisoned by a Tito-era steel factory. Here three sisters struggle for survival -- the eldest, a blowsy methadone addict with her eye on the factory's loutish new owner; the next oldest, a professional basketball player who will sleep with anyone to get a visa; and the youngest, who is the main character, a 27-year-old virgin who has decided to remain mute presumably until her deceased father returns or maybe until she somehow gets pregnant (wanted and unwanted pregnancies are another odd theme in these films. More on that later. Maybe). At any rate ,when she sees a woman giving birth noisily at the clinic where she picks up her sister's daily methadone supply she goes home, takes off her clothes, lies on the kitchen table and give herself a mock gynecological exam, dreamily cooing about an imagined pregnancy. Her sister, the junkie, comes into the kitchen and sets down the plates for dinner without commenting on her sister lying on the table like the main course. It's that kind of movie.

"Tito Valdes" may be more metaphorical or magical realist in its program for dealing with the coming economic and environmental catastrophe. Bosnian director Aida Begic's "Snow" offers more details. This film takes place in another deprived, Balkan boondock, in this case a village whose men have all been taken away by and presumably murdered by Serb troops during the war. (Here women are deprived of their husbands, while in "Tito" and "Last Stop 174" children have lost their parents. Shattered families being another theme). One of the widows has tried to keep the community going by making preseves and chutney out of the local plum harvest -- using jam to get out of a jam, so to speak. But a Serb interloper arrives on the scene offering the remaining residents a deal to buy up their property for a corporate real estate developer. Don't we already have all we need here already, argues the jam-maker, pushing the case for the simple life as opposed to a cash bailout and a dubious future in the city? Indeed, the mountainous landscapes and even the war-shattered ruins are achingly picturesque. However I'm not convinced by the mute, feral orphan boy -- kind of the Bosnian equivalent of the nutty, non-speaking younger sister in "Tito"  -- who gets scared all the time and runs off and whose hair for some reason grows to shoulder length within hours unlike the old imam cuts it off. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

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