I have a few friends back home who refuse to check critics’ reviews of a movie before they go see it. Their reasoning: it taints the viewing experience, and they end up having the critics’ comments in the back of their mind during the entire movie. If the summary of the movie sounds good, according to these brave souls, then it’s worth a try and they can decide the rest after watching the film.
Though I’m the type of person who checks at least a dozen reviews before watching a movie, I’ve always envied the old-school charm of my friends’ movie habits. And last night, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to put this practice to use. My friends and I had decided to catch a film on the opening night of BAFICI 2010, Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente. But by the time we had picked our films –our sole criteria being that the films be Argentinean – we realized the movies were either sold out or over. My friends and I began scrolling through the list of remaining movies and their screening times, and it was overwhelming to say the least. Too many films, too many plots, and too many that could turn out to be one of those experimental films that leave you wondering when the plot’s going to come in … 45 minutes into the movie.
We ended up picking Revolutions happen like Refrains in a Song; it wasn’t Argentinean, but it was playing at 10:45 P.M., which is basically the same thing. (Right?) We quickly read through the summary and realized that we still had no idea what the film was about, aside from the fact that it could be part fiction, part documentary, have socio-political undercurrents, and purposely not match the dialogue (in the “hiligainon” dialect) directly with the Spanish and English subtitles. Oh, and according to the writer of the synopsis, it had possibly one of the most “adorable” film titles in recent history. I’m glad he considered that a detail more important than the plot, but thinking back, all of the above could have cued us into the quality of the film.
Yet that’s the thing: we weren’t going to rely on critics’ reviews tonight. We were going to dive head first into this independent film, which must be somewhat decent if it was making an appearance at the festival.
I’ll let the facts speak for themselves: about 30 minutes into the movie, my friend nudged me to take a look around. The couple sitting next to us was getting up to leave, the trio of friends sitting behind us had all fallen asleep, and a few people in front of us were wavering in between laughing in confusion to legitimately trying to figure out the mess that was the plot. As my friend put it when we later walked out of the movie –only halfway through –this film would be what he would have made if he’d been up late one night, drunk and tripping on acid, and was choosing between 7 different plot lines but in the end just decided to choose all of them.
I will give the film some credit. It did have a unique vision, with the protagonist moving throughout the island of Panay, collecting debts, possessions, dreams and memories, and weaving together the lives and stories of the inhabitants. But there was too much happening, and too much pseudo-documentary camera work, to let the average and unassuming viewer decipher where the movie was going. I have a metric I use to measure movies sometimes that goes as follows: if you don’t care whether the characters die by the end of the film – as in, you wouldn’t be happy or sad or any emotion in between, just apathetic –then the filmmaker hasn’t done part of his job. Well, an hour into this movie, I not only didn’t care, but I almost wished some terrible natural disaster could wipe out the island’s fictional inhabitants so the movie would just end. At one point, the screen went blank unexpectedly and gave way to a musical refrain accompanied by what seemed like keyboard symbols pressed at random (like this: %$^#&) moving down the screen. The word “end” came on at one point in the sequence, but my friend just whispered “wishful thinking.”
The point of this much-too-long rant is: don’t assume that every film at the festival is worth going to just because it’s being screened over the next week. There are so many gems that do deserve to be seen, but you’ll have to give in and consult the critics’ reviews in La Nacion and Clarin to figure out which ones are worth seeing. For instance, Rodriguez and Ajami have been cited as must-sees by critics all over. Or, do a little bit more research than we did before deciding on a movie. It may be less spontaneous than choosing a random film based on the sparse summary, but let’s strike a deal: you try sitting through Refrains first, and then we’ll talk.