Diary of the 13th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival


I decided to skip the opening night of the festival, so this was my first day seeing movies. I started slow with just two. I saw my first film at the Prince Music Theater with a rather large crowd of people: my friends Neil, Dan, and Star.

Films I saw today: Grimm, Cafe Risque, including Roof Sex, Five Fucking Fables, Boys Night Out, Love is a Bullet in the Heart, Son of Satan


The title of this film (made in the Netherlands by Alex van Warmerdam) refers to the Brothers Grimm, the famous writers and collectors of (rather violent and frightening) fairy and folk tales. In case you didn't get the reference, the movie makes an even more obvious allusion to fairy tales immediately--the opening episode in what will be a highly episodic film starts off just like the old story of Hansel and Gretel. A poor couple, with nothing to eat and no fuel with which to keep warm, decide they can no longer support their two children (a decidedly grown-up boy and girl named Jacob and Marie, played by adult actors). So the father leads them deep into the forest on the pretext of collecting firewood, only to leave them stranded and lost. Having established itself as a fairy tale, however, the film now leaves the old stories behind and veers off into new territory. There are no breadcrumbs--just a note from Mom telling them to go see their Uncle in Spain. And the witch they meet is not interested in eating them--she just wants some action. The early episode with the witch is probably one of the funniest, and best, in the movie. It's quick, clever, and hilarious. Unfortunately, the following episodes are not all as well done.

As you can probably tell, Grimm has a very contemporary, postmodern, ironic sense of humor to it. It also contains moments of beauty and fantasy and magic (such as when a trip through a tunnel suddenly transports our two heroes from a cold, rocky area to a sunny desert plain--which is apparently Spain). But this fancifulness and humor is mixed up with menace, violence, and danger (the siblings kill, and are in danger of being killed, many times throughout the film). So it captures the feeling of those old fairy tales quite well, while adding that modern, ironic twist. The soundtrack expresses the tone of the film well, balancing menacing sounds with fanciful melodies.

As I mentioned above, the film proceeds in a series of episodes; it might just as well have been called The Adventures of Jacob and Marie (although, upon consideration, I think I prefer the original title). This wandering, choppy structure makes for an interesting, though ultimately rather flawed, film. The story is clever and takes unexpected twists and turns, but it is also not really one story. It is a meandering collection of stories that goes on for some time (perhaps a little longer than it should) and then stops, without ever coming to any kind of conclusion. The only linking thread to the stories are the two main characters. Our sibling heroes, though they are often impulsive and foolish, are clearly not children. In fact, they are extremely sexual animals; almost every episode in the film has some sexual element to it. An incestuous sexual tension hangs heavily between the two main characters, and their rather icky relationship is nearly consummated in one scene. In the longest episode of the film, Marie suddenly begins a relationship with a suspicious doctor, who lives with his mysteriously ill sister and two servants in a remote mansion, and Jacob is filled with anger and jealousy. In this episode we have another brother and sister pair, and we learn that their devotion to each other is just as strong, and just as icky, as Marie and Jacob's.

Grimm has a little bit of everything--even a car chase and a showdown in a wild west town--and this eclectic, surprising mix is both a strength and a weakness. The film lacks a solid focus and thrust. It has good bits, and bad bits, and none of them really hang together all that well. Jacob and Marie are occasionally likable, occasionally puzzling, and occasionally despicable, but their characters are not strong or consistent enough to pull the movie together into a whole--all we really learn about Jacob throughout his many adventures is that he likes to hit people with large chunks of wood. Grimm is often fun and clever, but it might have been better if it had been edited down into a shorter film.

My Poll Rating: Good


I had a good long time before my next movie, which I was seeing with Star and my girlfriend Sarah, so a bunch of us went to a great local bar called Noddinghead and chatted over a nice dinner. Then it was back over to the Prince Music Theater to see a collection of short films called Cafe Risque.

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Cafe Risque: An Evening of Adult Animation

Quoted here from the festival web site is programmer Michael Enright's description of this collection:

Heat up your Friday night with this collection of naughty animation that knows how to put out. Bad boys, talking willies, corrupt parents and some really dirty furniture are just some of the treats we have waiting for you in our big screen peepshow. Leave the kids at home, and get ready to go down for a ride we know you'll enjoy! These are cartoons gone bad, and that's oh-so-good!

Sounds like naughty cartoon fun, right? Wrong. This was easily the worst film/collection I've ever seen at a festival, the worst programmed collection, and the most poorly described/advertised film/collection. Having read this description, the audience was primed and ready for some fun, dirty cartoons. They were rowdy and ready to laugh, but many of these films were not meant to be laughed at, weren't fun, and weren't even really about sex. All three of us walked out together after the first five of the twelve films in the program. We met a couple outside just as annoyed and disgusted as we were, who had walked out even earlier. This collection was really a complete disaster. Sarah and I went home feeling sick and angry, wanting desperately to get the bad taste of those films out of our minds. Later on in the festival I talked to other people who actually sat through the entire thing, and they told me that it didn't get any better. The last film apparently showed some promise, but turned out to be just as bad as pretty much all the other ones.

Roof Sex

I don't remember the title of this film ever being displayed on screen, but the festival web site indicates that "Roof Sex" is the title, which makes sense, so I'm sticking with that. This was the only good short in the collection, and the only one that actually lived up to the description given by Mr. Enright in the festival program. It's a fun, naughty little short in which two chairs, through the magic of stop-motion animation, have sex on a roof. When the old lady who owns the chairs comes home to find them ripped and torn from their acts of passion, she naturally assumes the cat is to blame, and swats it. This film was made by some entity or other that goes only by the name PES. Later on in the festival, I'd be thoroughly entertained by another of his/her/its short, animated films. Bravo, PES, whatever you are!

Five Fucking Fables

This is easily the worst of the films I saw in this collection, and indeed one of the worst and most hideous films I've ever seen. This short film is itself a collection of five even shorter films. They are "The Man Who Could Talk to Flowers," "A Drink," "Bookshelf," "Give Me Your Head", and "Dare to Eat". Each one is full of violence, misogyny, and the sick perversion of the act of love into a disgusting act of violence and hatred. Not one of them is fun or funny or sexy. I would call them puerile and juvenile if they were not so full of adult situations and sicknesses. The audience, cued to laugh by the context of this collection and the tone of the first film, laughed at these films, but they could not be described as humorous except by a very sick mind.

Boys Night Out

This film was animated in a style reminiscent of modern cartoon shows like "Ren and Stimpy"--lots of smooth primary colors and simple shapes. It appears to be set in a kind of '50s American suburban household. Mother is going out for the night, so she leaves her son in the care of her boyfriend. Neither are happy about this, but the man decides to take the boy out for a night on the town. He disguises the tyke as a grown (though rather stunted) man, and off they go to the local gentleman's club, where the man is clearly a regular customer. The boy is understandably dazed and confused by the place, and is even more confused and horrified to find the local priest ogling the dancing girls. "Don't tell your Mom," he says, "she wouldn't understand." But finally he also runs into his Mom there, who tells him not to tell the priest because "he wouldn't understand."

Another pretty messed up film. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel about it, or what I was supposed to take from it. I guess it was supposed to be a clever, sarcastic look at society's hypocrisy and repression with regards to sex, but it was never particularly funny or clever. It was just kind of creepy and lame.

Love is a Bullet in the Heart

This was a computer animated film following the progress of a bullet through the air as it passes among various scenes and images, some of which might have something to do with love. An old idea, and nothing particularly inspired or interesting is done with it.

Son of Satan

This was another film the audience really didn't know how to react to. They tried laughing at first, but as the film continued (this was the longest of the films I sat through in this collection, clocking in at thirteen minutes), the theater slowly quieted. This is an apparently autobiographical story, animated by JJ Villard, about the leader of a gang of adolescent boys and how he drives the gang (and/or the gang drives him) to beat and hang and nearly kill another boy, supposedly because he is rumored to have had sex with a girl (a rumor, it turns out, he started due to peer pressure from the gang and from boys like them). The animation is crude, though extremely detailed, and consists of a series of pencil sketches. All the boys are drawn as hideous mockeries of pubescence, their awkward bodies dangling and poking out in all directions, their faces encrusted with zits, their eyes bulging with rage and fear and desire. Even if the events described in the film did not actually happen, it has the feel of a personal confession, of a delving into dark thoughts and memories perhaps better left unexamined. It is intense and sickening and frightening. I might have appreciated this film more if I had not seen it in the context of this collection--which, remember, is supposed to be a collection of fun, sexy films. This film is a dark and disturbing examination of what an adolescent boy, pumped with hormones and pressured by his peers and his environment, is capable of. It is not in any way fun and sexy.


We sat through the first couple minutes of the next short ("Intolerance III: The Final Solution"--the short with the most tasteless and insensitive title ever, which looked like it was going to be some kind of half-assed political/social commentary in the form of a sci fi epic about warring alien factions) before we all decided it was time to leave and walked out. It was a very sour note on which to end my first night of the festival. Sarah and I both felt rattled and sickened, and really rather outraged. If we had been given ballots (and that we were not suggests to me that somebody realized ahead of time how disliked this collection would be), I obviously would have voted this one a Poor.

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Jim Genzano

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