Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Miami International Film Festival: Day One

It's not supposed to be cold in Miami. But for one day, the morning after I got there, the temperature hit 42 degrees farenheit, somewhere close to the record and about the same temperature as back home in New York. With that welcolme in mind, I went in search of what has been called the "northernmost city in Latin America."

My birthday was coming up, and the good people at the Miami International film festival were kind enough to let me sit through more than half a dozen press screenings before I headed even further south to spend a couple of days in the Caribbean proper for one of those big "numbers that end with zero or five" celebrations. I spent the mornings exploring Miami and the evenings at the screenings, which will permit me to honestly cover the MIFF without actually being there.

The festival will start with a gala opening of Paul Verheoven's "Black Book" (see below) at the glamourous Gusman center for the Performing arts, wich is rather new and conveniouuntly located right next to the Omni Center bus station. It will then move to a gala party, which I probably wouldn't have been able to get into anyway, at the historic Freedom Tower, which was built back in the 1920s by the guys who designed New York's Grand Central Station.

Besides the Gusman center, where there will be about two screenings a day, the main venues are at the Regal South Beach Googleplex, where most of the screenings will be held, the Colony theater half a block away (the Lincoln outdoor mall, where bot the Regal and the Colony are, is a very nice place to hang out between screenings), the lovely Tower theater in the middle of Little Havana, which is very convenient to get to when the sun is out (try getting a bus after eight, impossible!) and a couple of screening rooms far away from downtown for people from the suburbs.

This year's selection is actually rather good, with a nice mix of stuff from other film festivals here and abroad, plus a few genuine premiers.

We'll start off with one for the grand opening film:

Black Book
Sony Classics, 145min TBA

Written and Directed
by Paul Verhoeven

World War II is a perfect backdrop for a movie. The good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys, and you can do just about anything except maybe launch a spaceship [and that might have been done, I'm not sure]. Here Paul Verhoeven, who's made many a Hollywood movie in his time, and co-writer Gerard Soeteman, rethink with genre, and come up with one heck of a thriller.

We start in Israel in 1956, where a Dutch tourist named Ronnie(Halina Reijn), vacationing with her husband, comes upon an old friend from back home teaching school in a Kibbutz. Rachel Rosenthal(Carice van Houten), is happy to meet her old pal, and when Ronnie leaves, Rachel sits down by a lake and goes into flashback mode, where she remains until just before the end of the movie.

It's the Netherlands: September 1944, and , Rachel Stein, as she was then is hiding out with some ultra religious fundamentalists, who are actively trying to convert her to Christianity. When an allied bomb blows her hiding place to smithereens, she's at a loss as to what to do, but a fighter with the resistance named Van Gein (Peter Blok), has a plan to get her out, but that turns out to have been a disaster, and everyone on board the barge that was supposed to take her and everyone else to safty is attacked by a Nazi gunboat led by Gunther Franken(Waldemar Kobus), who loots the corpses and pockets the proceeds.

Rachel then hooks up with the Resistance herself, taking the name Ellis de Vries, she takes a job at a food cannery run by Gerben Kuipers(Derek de Lint), and is soon working on various missions, culminating in the seduction of Col. Ludwig Muntze(Sebastian Koch), head of the local Gestapo and one person we'd think is a real baddie. Not exactly so, for deep down inside, he's really a nice guy. However, everybody else in Nazi headquarters isn't, except maybe Ronnie, who's only there for the sex. What's interesting is that many in the resistance are just as bigoted as the Nazis, and there's several traitors lurking about and while we generally root for Rachel and the resistance, we don't know exactly what to expect when the you-know-what finally hits the fan. The excitement isn't over when the war ends. When the Canadians occupy the town, everything unravels and we don't exactly who was the traitor. All we know is that it wasn't Rachel, and someone is going to try to sneak away with all that loot taken from those dead Jews.

The thrills and chills are nonstop, and one extremely long movie manages to flash by in no time at all. This is one of Verhoeven's best movies in years and years and years. See it.

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