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Miami International Film Festival, Part II

The Miami Festival differs from others not only in the racy surroundings against which its film must compete but also in that the quality of the films seems to have peaked early rather than starting slow and building up steam. The last half dozen or so movies just haven't been winners. Nonetheless, they play out certain themes I've noticed. This often happens in film festivals, either because of the programmer's personal inclinations, or the universal zeitgeist, or my own mental disorders.

For example, a few of the films involve a crazy mother. I've already mentioned "Sweet Mud," in which a 12-year-old must bear the burden of a crazy mother in a sinister, repressive kibbutz that rejects her. Well, her problems are a walk in the park compared to the mother in Indian director Chitra Palekar's "A Gravekeeper's Tale." Once again a 12-year-old boy is featured, and he's shocked to discover that his real mother is in fact the local "ghoul,"  a wild-eyed witch ostracized and feared by the villagers. It seems at one time she was an outspoken, empowered woman whose choice of both raising a family and having a career -- in this case taking care of the local children's cemetery -- didn't sit well with the rest of the patriarchal community. They condemned her as an evil spirit who cast the evil eye and dug up dead infants and fed her milk to them. How many independent, ambitious women have had to contend with that!

From a less sympathetic point of view, Martial Fougeron's "My Son" looks at another disturbed mother of a 12-year-old. It opens with a shot of an ambulance and a woman's voiceover saying something to the effect that nobody knew things would happen this way and if they did they certainly would have done something about it. So much for irony. What follows is 80 minutes of a bourgeois, Gallic "Mommie Dearest" as Nathalie Baye plays a shrewish mother who psychologically and physically torments her son Julien.  Her wimpy husband looks on and Julien's older sister futilely protests and so things just get worse and worse and you know this is going to continue until the kid either tries to kill himself or kill his mothher or both or she tries to kill him. When will the ambulance finally show up?  At one point the father slaps Baye and the audience at the screening I attended broke out into cheering. I haven't seen a reaction like that since "Fatal Attraction." I might even have joined in myself.

A couple of contrasts in directorial philosophy, meanwhile. While here I interviewed Mark Fergus, the writer/director of the taut, thoughtful thriller "First Snow." He confessed to having read James Joyce's "Ulysses" over a half dozen times and expressed the hope that some day someone would expand the potential of film as much as Joyce had expanded that of the novel. Later, the festival celebrated the career of Luc Besson in a special tribute at which he said, "Normal books make me sleep. Comic books -- That's the stuff."

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