Saturday, May 13, 2023

SIFF 2023 Dispatch #3: An Epic Friendship in The Eight Mountains and the Magnificent Melodrama of Sirk in Hope as in Despair

In this dispatch, I'll be looking at The Eight Mountains and Douglas Sirk: Hope as in Despair. Click here for dispatch #1 (Other People’s Children) and here for dispatch #2 
(Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes).

(Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, 2022, Belgium/Italy, 147 minutes) 

Two lives become inextricably entwined in this Italian award winner from the Belgian makers of The Broken Circle Breakdown. By coincidence, I watched The Eight Mountains just after Celine Song's Past Lives. In both films, children meet at 12, form a connection and go their separate ways, only to reconnect at critical junctures. Much like Nora, Pietro even describes himself as "the one who leaves." He meets and bonds with Bruno in an alpine village so depopulated that they're the only children. It's a stunning, if pitiless place--particularly in the winter. If Bruno is rooted to the land, Pietro longs to see the world. Initially, class differences tear them apart, but family ties bring them back together. Martin Eden's Luca Marinelli, as the adult Pietro, is as terrific as ever. The Eight Mountains is a widescreen story shot entirely in the 4:3 aspect ratio by Titane cinematographer Ruben Impens. 

(Roman Hüben, 2022, Switzerland/Germany/France, 76 minutes) 

"Film is blood, tears, hate, death, and love."
--Douglas Sirk (1897-1987)

Swiss filmmaker Roman Hüben explores Douglas Sirk's career in considerable depth in his essay-style documentary. Born Detlef Sierck in Germany, Sirk spent his twilight years in Hüben's native Lugano. In the 1930s, when Nazis presented Sirk with a choice between his career and his Jewish wife, he fled to the States where he would enjoy his greatest successes, particularly the melodramas he made with Rock Hudson, a sort of surrogate son. Hüben's interviewees include director Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven), biographer Bernard Eisenschitz, journalist Jon Halliday--I have Halliday's invaluable book of interviews--and Fassbinder favorite Hanna Schygulla (Fassbinder and Hudson appear in archival interviews). Though I recommend the film for anyone interested in Sirk, Hüben's German narration has a somniferous quality--I also recommend a shot of caffeine beforehand.

The Eight Mountains plays the Egyptian at 11am today and opens at the Egyptian on May 26. Douglas Sirk - Hope as in Despair plays again on May 16 and becomes available to stream on May 29. I would also recommend Love to Love You, Donna Summer, which plays again on May 13, and festival opener Past Lives, which opens at the Uptown on June 13. For more information, please see the festival site. Images: The Eight Mountains from Janus / Cannes Film Festival and Sirk, Hudson, and Wyman from Wikipedia.   

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