Cinequest 2008, March 5-6 Highlights

Has there been enough praise of A Better Life to make it overpraised yet? Is the violence symbolic, metaphorical, cleansing or just there to hold the movie together? Have a squint, then: noon today Thursday at Camera 12. Great logo, anyway.

7pm on Thursday at C12 is this critic’s darling, Who Is K.K. Downey? which is made ever more relevant by the new Margaret Seltzer scandal breaking as we speak. I think it’s OK to mock these tragic slummers and mock them hard; it’s one thing to be a parvenu posing as Princess Cariboo or the last lineal descendant of the Queen of Sheba. But it shows a certain decadence to pose as a truck-stop harlot, a guy who performs oral surgery on himself or an L.A. gangbanger.

Mocking the Quest’s sponsors, I neglected to mention the free cans of a certain energy drink which I have been guzzling, which are stacked in a minibar refrigerator. It is the color and flavor of transmission fluid, and while “it gives you wings” it also gives you a crash, a terrific meth-like crash two hours later. When someone says that a Cinequest film is dreamlike, maybe it’s because they fell asleep watching it.

Take The Reject (Odbacen) yesterday. Very dreamlike. From the Serb Republic, this Milos Radivojevic effort came equipped with dubious subtitles, which make me wonder if the title might have been better as “The Rejector.” Certainly the protagonist On (Svetozar Cvetkovic) was burning down his own life, faced with an ambient level of uselessness on all sides. What good can come of a life lived on Belgrade’s (fictional?) Slobodan Milosevic Boulevard?

A raffish failure with long shaggy hair, On has just been fired from his executive job at a bank, where he was both too kind and too honest to survive. The heat was on him from the Americanization of Serbia (that’s what we could understand from one of his gestures of contempt. He uses his fingers to fish out those large Yankee ice cubes from a glass of Scotch that he gets served during a business dinner.)

Through some underwritten plotting, On has access to someone else’s stolen fortune—and this has more of a shortening effect on his lifespan than the scotch, the black cigarillos he smokes and his love affair with all aspect of Slavic despair and failure. While I sincerely applauded On’s attitude, I couldn’t put the pieces together—so much of this is close to the vest. What was the business with the Boris Badano-looking spies (Organized criminals? Government leg-breakers? Both?) with their gloves, black suits and really uproarious sunglasses who seemed to have emerged from his dreams into On’s real life? Was the poet whose grave he mourns over a real Serbian hero of the world of letters, or an imaginary figure representing lost hopes destroyed by the war and the militarism? Baffling…

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