Features & Columns

Cinequest 2015 Festival Picks

Our film critic reviews 7 Cinequest films
ASPIE SEEKS LOVE: David Matthews is the subject of Julie Sokolow's documentary on a 41-year-old man with Asperger's searching for a soul mate.

Aspie Seeks Love

One of the best of the fest—Julie Sokolow's documentary about the Pittsburgh writer David Matthews. At 41 he got the diagnosis that "my so called eccentricities had a biological basis." Coping with Asperger's, Matthews lived alone with a cat of great age and raccoon size. He's a fan of Daniel Clowes who would have found a place as a character in that artist's comics. Matthews turns to online dating to find someone ("Even a near-hermit such as yours truly craves personal contact"). Matthews physically resembles H. P. Lovecraft a little—he'd had the nickname "Squidboy" hung on him in school. Interesting that he's a man having to be schooled by therapists in the meaning of romance, which by its very definition is fiction. Yet it's Matthews' refreshing honesty that finally breaks him out of his loneliness. Director Sokolow gleans some picturesque backdrops of Pittsburgh, one soulful town. Special guest star: author Chuck Kinder, Matthew's writing teacher, Stanfordite, former drinking buddy of Raymond Carver, and self-proclaimed ex-thug. (Plays Feb 27 7:45pm, Camera 12; Mar 1, 4:45pm, Camera 12; Mar 4, 2:45pm, Camera 12.)


(1934) The Parisian Jean Vigo died at age 29, and this was his only full-length film—a revision of a didactic script about the differences between the country mouse and the city rat. What he delivered was the kind of pure poetry directors from Wong Kar-Wai to Lars von Trier are groping for. The plot is simple boy-meets-girl. It's a romance set against the iron and smoke of an industrial corridor, on the banks of a canal between the forlorn French village in the north and the Seine's mouth at Le Havre. Jean (Jean Daste), the newly married barge captain, takes his bride Juliette (Dita Parlo) to meet the rest of the two-man crew. The rowdy second mate Father Jules (Michel Simon) entertains Juliette—and scares her a bit—but she jumps ship when they get to Paris, and that's where Jean has to try to find his wife. The barge is sleepwalking as much as floating, covered in a cold silver fog. The characters on the boat seem masked, as if in a Melville tale. L'Atalante's voyage echoes through the movies, proves the utter necessity of love in surroundings where all is inhuman. (Mar 3, 7:30pm, Camera 12. Metro's Richard von Busack is on hand to discuss the film and receive Cinequest's Media Legacy Award.) (RvB)

Underground Wrestling AllianceThe Crowd

The Crowd

(1928) The rise and fall, and rise again, of Johnny Sims (James Murray), another would-be go-getter in New York City, riding the wheel of fortune and facing strife with his wife (Eleanor Boardman). Director King Vidor, to MGM head of production Irving Thalberg: "I suppose the average fellow walks through life and sees quite a lot of drama taking place around him. Objectively, life is like a battle, isn't it?" In this silent drama of the mundane, Vidor sought escape from escapism, using a semi-pro actor for more verisimilitude (Murray had been a hobo and a dishwasher before he got his break). The Crowd is a fountainhead of movie invention—the Very Big Office where Sims toils, turns up in Billy Wilder's The Apartment and Orson Welles' The Trial, it bears an ending which is generally thought of as original to Preston Sturges in Sullivan's Travels, and Vidor thought up a concealed camera in a pushcart to steal scenes off the street—again as per Wilder in The Lost Weekend. It heralds neo-realism, too ("Oh, The Crowd, The Crowd," Di Sica reportedly told Vidor when they met. "That was what inspired me for Bicycle Thief.") See this pinnacle of the silent film in a genuine movie palace with living legend Dennis James at the California Theatre's Wurlitzer. (Mar 6, 7:30pm, California Theatre.)

Los Hamsters (The Hamsters)

"All over England, people were waking up, queasy and despondent." Evelyn Waugh's description of his nation matches the malaise-stricken suburban Mexico in the debut by Gilberto Gonzalez Penilla. Dad Rodolfo (Angel Norzagaray) loiters in a coffee shop to conceal his unemployment—he's a drag on the labor market at age 50. Unloved wife Beatriz (Gisela Madrigal) is sneaking to her spinning class, but it's the class' stiletto-sideburned instructor who is really trying to get a free ride. Meanwhile, daughter Jessica (Montserrat Minor) and son Juan (Hoze Melendez) are heading for trouble of their own. The editing could be sharper, and Los Hamsters is sort of a conservative social critique—the trouble begins with bad choices, rather than the choices made by bigger people than the ones we see here. However, it's a unique, violence-free take on Tijuana, a metropolis that only exists in the gringo imagination as a hell hole. Here, it's lambent with the same marine light as San Diego, and rich with the same queasiness and despondency that plagues the middle class on el otro lado. (Feb 27, 5 pm, California Theatre; Mar 3, 9:15pm, Camera 12; Mar 7, 11:45am, Camera 12) (RvB)

Underground Wrestling AllianceMarry Me

Marry Me

(aka Trouw Met Mij) There's no easier way for a director to get a mixed group of characters together than to stage a wedding. We have front row seats for the strife—and the reconciliation—at the marriage of Jurgen (Dries de Sutter) and Sibel (Sirin Zahed). Sibel is a tough but lovely once-divorced Turkish lady raised in Belgium; Jurgen is a passive Flemish man whose family is flaunting their tolerance about their son marrying into a relatively traditional Muslim family. Brother-in-law to-be Kemal (Burak Balci) is the most trad of them all, and he scowls through the wedding in a way that suggests how tough director Kadir Balci's movie could be, if it weren't dedicated to harmony and a happy ending. That dedication is, of course, what's going to make it popular at the fest. The fine rapport between de Sutter and Zahed spices the familiarity of the tale, with the Jane Lynch-like Anouk David a stand-out as the anxious mother of the groom. (Plays Mar 1, 2:30pm, California Theatre; Mar 4, 7pm, Camera 12; Mar 6, 7:30pm, Camera 12) (RvB)

Songs She Wrote About People She Knows

Likable, feckless Canadian absurdist barebones working-class musical, of special palatability to gleeks. The tense thirtiesh Carol (a deadpan Arabella Bushnell, there for talent not for glamor) is in therapy for her smothered feelings of wrath. Her shrink encourages her to sing out her feelings to express herself. This proves terrible advice—Arabella loses her job when she leaves a little number called "Asshole Dave" on the answering machine of her boss, Dave (Brad Dryborough). She gets fired, but he gets the singing bug himself, and it seems to be viral. The cops arrive to warble a spiritual, accompanying themselves on Carol's spinet. The influence of Godard's A Woman is a Woman might be discerned. But it plays more like Glee's method of making the dialogue uptempo, screwball style. Songs sometimes gets to be all about its words—a play might have been a more natural outlet for debuting director Kris Elgstrand's creativity. (Plays Feb 28, 3:15pm, Camera 12; Mar 2, 7pm, Camera 12; Mar 5, 5pm, Camera 12.)

Underground Wrestling AllianceBooze, Boys and Brownies

Booze, Boys and Brownies

Director/star Veronica Mannion plays Vivian, a Kristen Schaal-like figure searching for fame and boyfriends in Hollywood—variously referred to as "Jollywood" and "Hollyweird." It's a round of classes, auditions and preparation for her one-woman show, as Vivian recuperates from the heartbreak she had her own part in causing. She goes through life tousled and tanked (the movie begins with Vivian taking a good-morning-midafternoon swig from a bottle); her search for old-fashioned romance makes way for bursting into spontaneous-looking pocket-sized musical numbers. As in Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, these numbers look a bit like filmed little theater. We can see Vivian's predicament—she doesn't want to be relegated into chubby-best-friend roles in the movies, even though Vivian's best friend (Ariel Hart) wisely reminds her that "chubby best friend" is how Brittany Murphy started out. It's a predicament trying to work in an industry where being five pounds overweight means you might as well be five tons. ("Those cheeks—they're so full, like a Cabbage Patch doll," opines a mean skinny rival who made it to a regular job.) Mannion's face-scrunching abilities rival Renee Zellweger in her Bridget Jones days, and the movie makes clever use of some magical realist ideas—subtitles as two women intuit what the other is thinking. (Feb 25, 7pm, Camera 12; Mar 5, 1:45pm, Camera 12; Mar 6, 9:30pm, Camera 12) (RvB)