Diary of the 14th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival


This year I decided to go for a much less ambitious schedule of films. And today I even cancelled a film I had been planning to see. I'm taking it easy this time around. My first film was at the Ritz at the Bourse, so I rode the train into the city and then took a nice leisurely walk across town to the theater.

Films I saw today: The 10th District Court, Moments of Trials, Survive Style 5+

The 10th District Court, Moments of Trials

A number of my friends seemed surprised that I was going to see this film, which sounded to them like the dullest movie ever made: a documentary on the French legal system. Call me crazy, but that sounded interesting to me. And the film turned out to be just that. It's a documentary in the purest sense, in that it simply documents a series of trials in a particular French court over a few days--there is no narration or comment on the proceedings, except for a short text prologue explaining the format the film will take, pointing out that the footage was edited into "moments," and that we will not be seeing whole trials.

What we do see are the foibles and flaws of humanity, in the form of a long string of suspects who are almost all obviously guilty: the drunk driver who insists he had only one drink (though admittedly it was very large); the construction worker taken to court for cursing out the women who gave him a parking ticket; the dotty older woman who claims she doesn't deserve to be punished for speeding; the jumpy and overly polite fellow on trial for running around with an illegal weapon--it turns out he mixed beer and tranquilizers; the delivery man who's been driving without a license, and intends to continue doing so, because he has to for his work.

We meet all of these and more, and they're quite a bunch of characters. Most of the film is quite funny, as most of the accused folks we meet are so ridiculous and stupid. Only a few cases (like one against an abusive stalker) actually involve truly dangerous and disturbing people. The judge is quite a character, too--a tough older woman who's willing to listen to your story to a point, but will brook no shit. When one man starts trying to argue a point of law with her, she shuts him down quick.

It was fascinating to learn a bit about how the French legal system works. It seems that civil suits are handled concurrently with the respective criminal trials, and the verdict and sentence are handed down by one or more judges, with no jury involved. One case that really stuck out for me was the one with the construction worker. I couldn't believe that he was being sued by the women who gave him a parking ticket because he called them bitches. I'm sure that kind of thing happens every day here in Philadelphia, and no one sues anybody over it; I should think it's kind of expected. This guy even apologized to the women afterwards, but he still was ultimately ordered to pay them 200 Euros!

I have few complaints about the film. It ends rather abruptly, and even though I respect the decision to include no narration, I felt like a little voiceover here and there might have pulled the thing together a bit more. Still, it's an amusing and enlightening film.

My Poll Rating: Very Good


After the movie, I walked back to the train and headed home. I had originally planned to see Frozen at 5 this evening, but instead I took some time off to stay home with my wife. There was no way I was going to miss Survive Style 5+, though, so I headed out for that one later this evening and met my friend Star at the theater. I noted with some amusement the presence of a number of the regulars I've gotten used to seeing at these sorts of movies during the festival.

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Survive Style 5+

Somehow I'd gotten it into my head before heading out to see this one that it was a fighting movie. I think this misconception made an already unpredictable and surprising film even more astonishing and enjoyable.

Survive Style 5+ is a Japanese film that consists of five separate stories (each introduced with an identifying number) that end up colliding and interweaving in interesting and unexpected ways. This may sound familiar, but believe me, it's not. Story number one opens up with a man burying his wife in the forest; he has apparently just murdered her. When she twitches, he beats her over and over again with a shovel. He returns home to his mansion in the forest, which is like an incredible piece of collage art, only to find his wife already there, and somehow alive again. He does a spit-take, and we move on to story number two, which follows a woman who designs surreal and hilarious television commercials. She's having ideas for them constantly (preceded on the soundtrack by a weird little piece of music and a ding) and recording them with a hand-held tape recorder. They're always based on whatever's happening to her at the moment, even if it has nothing to do with the product; when we meet her, she's just had a disappointing sexual experience, and so ends up with an idea for a commercial involving men competing to see how fast they can make love.

Then it's on to story number four, where we meet a group of burglars travelling around in a van. They talk about sex (with one of them hilariously claiming he can masturbate using his imagination alone), and it becomes clear that one guy has a secret crush on one of the other guys. Story five follows a philosophical and short-tempered British hitman and his Japanese translator (who is also, we learn later, a hitman). And story three, the last story we are introduced to, is about an older businessman and his loving family. They are about to go see a popular and famous hypnotist, and his act will change their lives.

I'd tell you more about these various stories and how they all interconnect, but finding that out is one of the more enjoyable parts of the film. What I can tell you is that Survive Style 5+ is, predictably, a movie about survival--survival sometimes in the face of incredible odds, and despite logic and physics. It's about people undergoing transformative experiences that help them to better understand themselves and others. It's hilarious and violent and tender and sad and uplifting, and I highly recommend it.

My Poll Rating: Excellent


A satisfying first day of films. I hope the rest of the days of the festival are as good!

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Jim Genzano

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