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      Flower and Snake in Philadelphia Film Festival
      "Flower and Snake"
    Tattoo you

    The Philadelphia Film Festival may leave its mark on you with its bevy of provocative Japanese sexploitation flicks, but you might also have designs on extraordinary offerings from the courtrooms of Paris, the subways of Budapest or the frozen north of England.


    If they were looking for a new name for the Philadelphia Film Festival, they might do well with the Philadelphia Japanese S&M, Bondage, Disease, Early Death and Other Forms of Female Torment Festival, if that's not taken already.

    April 7-20, 2005. More than 140 films in five venues.

    Related links: Official site
    Philadelphia Film Festival 2005
    • Overview

    • Official festival site

    • Clean
    • Crying Out Love in the Center of the World
    • Evilenko
    • Frozen

    • Machuca
    • Or (My Treasure)
    • Winter Solstice
    • Woman Is the Future of Man
    With close to 150 movies on the schedule, there's almost certainly something on the schedule that doesn't involve inflicting pain on Japanese schoolgirls in prim uniforms, but you might be able to attend a movie a night without seeing one.

    The film that comes with the most warnings is "Flower and Snake," about which the festival web site says: "If you know the world of Japanese sado-masochistic sexploitation films, you've already bought your ticket. If you don't think you want to see this sort of thing — you're probably right, so don't attend or you're bound to be extremely offended." I took their advice and gave it a pass.

    But I did catch "L'Amant" (by the director of last year's festival staple "Vibrator"), which despite its French name is a Japanese film about three men in a mansion who buy the unlimited services of a high school girl from her 17th birthday to her 18th. Another entry, "Marebito," from the director of "Ju-on: The Grudge," is a thriller that the program, with characteristic understatement, says is about "a cameraman's relationship with a feral girl from hell." And "Pink Ribbon" seems to be the Japanese answer to "Inside Deep Throat" — a documentary chronicling the Japanese porn industry, which may shed some light on the odd obsessions that go into the films previously mentioned.

      Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia Film Festival
      "Rittenhouse Square"
    But the winner in this category is probably "Crying Out Love in the Center of the World," which is no sex-and-gore torturefest but rather quite a sweet romance in which tragedy befalls our beauteous young heroine in the form of a deadly illness rather than an abusive and sexually twisted yakuza henchman. Unabashedly melodramatic, it's part of the "jun ai" or "pure love" craze that invaded Japan last year, but it's also perfectly crafted and a pleasure to watch.

    Two other movies that get my nomination for best in show are: "The 10th District Court, Moments of Trials," a French documentary that is to "The People's Court" what a good pain au chocolat is to an Egg McMuffin. Without comment, the camera observes a dozen cases that pass through "Chamber 10" in the Parisian court system — recording the defendants' own revealing pleas on their own behalf and the judge's patient, sometimes wryly funny command of her courtroom. And "Frozen," a British mystery whose heroine, much in the tradition of Lars von Trier, tries to solve her sister's disappearance while simultaneously obsessed and depressed.

    There are days when I despair of ever seeing a great movie again and other days when I marvel at the amazing variety of great work being done around the world. With the offerings above, this was one of those days.

    The lens is turned on the city of Philadelphia in a number of locally produced films. One of the quickest sellouts was "Rittenhouse Square," a documentary about musicians and other frequenters of the city's historic central square. The festival closes on April 20 with "Music from the Inside Out," about musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra. And an potentially intense drama that I didn't get a chance to see was "Cellar," from a play about two friends who come to consciousness locked in a cellar with a gun and one bullet. It's based on a stage drama originally produced at Haverford College and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

    The festival also gives Philadelphians their first look at a number of films that have already appeared in New York, either in other festivals or in theatrical release. Three of them — the Israeli "Or (My Treasure)," the Korean "Woman Is the Future of Man" and the Australian "Somersault" — were disappointments. But not so several others, including the Hungarian black comedy "Kontroll" and the Chilean film "Machuca," which envisions the coup of Sept. 11, 1973 through the eyes of a privileged youngster whose preconceptions are toppled along with the government.

    Festival articles



    Crying Out Love in the Center of the World

    An unabashedly melodramatic but meticulously and sweetly made Japanese story of doomed young lovers.



    Writer-director David Grieco hacks away at the true story of the Soviet Union's worst serial killer until he's left with "Evilenko," a shallow, schlocky psycho-killer flick that wastes the talents of Malcolm McDowell.



    A bright thriller from cold, gray northern England, where a troubled, working-class heroine isn't sure whether she's tracking down a killer or growing delusional.


    Land of Plenty

    German director Wim Wenders provides a socially conscious view of poverty and paranoia in an America somewhat resembling the real one.



    "Machuca" looks at the swirl of events leading up to Chile's 1973 coup through the eyes of a privileged youngster and the poor Indian boy who becomes his friend.



    Park Chanwook's revenge tale "Oldboy" is a mind-torturing, paranoia-driven adventure through the possibilities of modern filmmaking.


    Or (My Treasure)

    This Israeli film about a level-headed teenage girl who has to take responsibility for her messed-up prostitute mom is too light on plot to support its weighty message.


    Winter Solstice

    A shallowly written movie about deep emotions, which misses every chance to get inside its characters' heads.


    Woman Is the Future of Man

    "Woman Is the Future of Man" is all title and no point — a time-shifting jumble of scenes that mostly end in dull sex.


    The World

    Globalization arrives in China, but halfway decent storytelling doesn't, in Jia Zhangke's "The World."

    APRIL 9, 2005

    Reader comments on Philadelphia Film Festival:

  • Rittenhouse Square: A Great Lie   from Terry James, Jun 26, 2006

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