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Miami International Film Festival

I've been to a lot of film festivals, but none quite like Miami. At the hotel, for example, pneumatically perfect women lounge topless and nearly bottomless on the chaise lounges and enormous mattresses alongside the lantern-lit pool. Walk down Lincoln Road Mall to the movie theatre and you pass a man with no arms painting with his feet, another man walking six Italian greyhounds, hundreds of scantily clad college students on Spring Break, assorted clowns, tanned panhandlers, myriads of tourists, scores of upscale bistros and boutiques and a million parrots squawling in the palm tress. It's a lot to take in, a lot for the movies to compete with.

And they must also compete against each other. For indeed, once again, I am here as a member of the FIPRESCI (International National Film Critics Jury). So far, I'd say the films have fared pretty well -- I think the key for them is providing less stimulation than the overripe city itself. The Israeli entry "Someone to Run With," for example, had maybe too much going on for its own good.  It starts fine with two gradually intersecting storylines -- the first about a young girl who shaves her head (this, for some reason, is the third film I've seen in in the past week in which a character shaves his or head. What does it mean? It doesn't matter) and becomes a street busker in Jerusalem; the second about the dorky teenaged boy who is assigned by the city's animal control department to track down the owner of the girl's dog, recently found i.d.less and abandoned. What happens in between the girl shaving her head and the boy with her dog trying to find her at first appeals to the down-the-rabbit-hole sensibility, but as the two stories converge the plausibility goes out the window. A  nice cover of "Wild Horses," though

The other Israeli entry, "Sweet Mud," might have the worst title in the festival but the semi-autobiographical story about a 12-year-old trying to survive in a hellish kibbutz in the 70s offers some genuine emotional moments and some that are contrived and manipulative. It struck me that both movies are in a way the same: in "Someone" a sister must save her addicted brother from a community that on the surface seems idealistic but is in fact corrupt and evil (a kind of  inner city school for the performing arts consisting of street kids that's actually a front for a drug ring -- kind of "Fame" crossed with "Oliver Twist" with heroin instead of porridge). In "Mud" it's a son trying to save the addicted mother from the outwardly communal but in fact selfish and venal kibbutz. Are these films trying to tell us something about the current state of Israel? Probably not, at least I'm pretty sure that's not why they were wildly popular with audiences.

Kudos for the least popular film so far go to the Swedish film "God Willing." It's got everything American movie goers hate: subtitles; a non-linear narrative; quirky characters who speak in riddles; a style reminiscent of Godard or maybe Aki Kurasmakki; none of the easy to digest platitudes or political cliches that make similar films like "Babel" or "Crash" palatable. About twenty people walked out. I liked it, of course.

Not as much as British director Andrea Arnold's "Red Road," though. A nightmare look at the age of surveillance and anomie with one of the year's most intense and disturbing sex scenes. It's like "Rear Window" directed by Wenders and Antonioni in which Grace Kelly gets it on with Raymond Burr. Or something like that. The leader so far in the competition. Meanwhile, I'm heading for the pool.

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