Well, we apologize – Seattle Maggie totally dropped the ball last week on our SIFF coverage. It could be that between the demands of The Man and our jealous Mistress Theatre, we had nary a moment to spare. Or, more likely, it could be that two Sundays ago we were stumped into confused silence by This Charming Girl, a movie in which nothing happens. It was considered one of the top Korean films from last year, which was probably why we had to wade through a packed house at the Harvard Exit. There was a feeling of excited expectancy that comes with such a crowd, which only served to baffle us further when we settled down to 99 minutes of nothing much in particular.
Jeong-hae, a quiet young postal worker, suffers from insomnia and sleepwalks through her monotonous days. She adopts a pet kitten…and then she doesn’t. She gets married…and then she doesn’t. She invites a cute writer on a date…that doesn’t happen. She finally confronts her uncle, who brutally raped her as a child, thus causing her current state of suspended animation. They sit together on a bench in silence for many long moments, and then (Warning: Spoiler!)...nothing happens. Yes, we realize that we are glossing over all of the emotional subtleties of the film; as a matter of fact, we did find it interesting in a dry, abstract sort of way, but it did nothing to engage us personally in the story. While the tedious extended shots of people staring off inscrutably at nothing intoned “deep and meaningful” at us, all we really wanted was for something, anything, to happen. Afterwards, we met up with Boyfriend Todd at the charmingly twee Joe Bar and found that our perch on the dollhouse balcony above the cash register made for excellent eavesdropping on our fellow SIFF patrons. “Well, I fell asleep,” one lady said to her companion. “Then I woke up, but it looked the same. So I fell asleep again.”
“Me too!” her companion said, making us think that maybe we should just pat ourselves on the back for making it through without losing consciousness, and be done with it.
Luckily, staying awake was not a problem last Saturday afternoon during Long Twilight, a Hungarian take on the Shirley Jackson story “The Bus”. Even Boyfriend Todd, who we dragged along with us, seemed remarkably alert and lucid. An elderly lady archaeologist boards a strange bus in the countryside of her youth and has a series of increasingly odd and familiar dreams. Her childhood home appears on the side of the road as a seedy hotel, the same bizarre duo of truckers keep driving by, and a mysterious locket hides an unseen secret. Director Attila Janisch, looking somewhat hunky in a George-of-the-Jungle-turned-Gap-model kind of way, gamely fielded questions after the film. Among other things, he admitted to reading Jackson’s story in his youth and throwing the book against a wall in frustration before learning to embrace the vague mystery for what it was, rather than looking for a specific, concrete answer. Which, coincidentally, describes the best way to approach this enjoyably eerie film.
On Sunday evening, we wrapped up the weekend with The Circus, with our friends Alysha and the Unflappable Mr. Barnes. As we stood in line in the alley behind the Neptune, we realized that we had somehow never seen a Charlie Chaplin picture. Sure, we learned our ABCs with Maria doing her passable Little Tramp impression on Sesame Street and grew up to swoon over Johnny Depp's droll take on the Gold Rush's rolls-on-forks dance in Benny & Joon. We even sat through Robert Downey Jr.’s sadly misunderstood version in Chaplin and Eddie Izzard’s vaguely creepy version in The Cat’s Meow. But Seattle Maggie will tell you now, with authority – we didn’t know what we were missing with the real deal. The very picture of doleful gravity, Chaplin’s Tramp literally stumbles upon a job at a failing circus with hilarious results. As the Tramp woos a sad-eyed ballerina horse rider, he falls into one comical situation after another, including a chase through a funhouse mirror maze, a sleepy lion, a botched clown audition, and a magician’s hat gone disastrously awry. We know we aren’t the first to say it and we won’t be the last, but Chaplin’s prowess at physical comedy is simply incredible. With only the polite cock of his battered hat and the dignified angle of his rickety cane, Chaplin inspires the kind of helpless belly-laughs that most people never indulge in public. And as the Tramp ended up on the high wire act, covered with monkeys and his pants puddled around his ankles, the theater resounded with a cacophony of snorts, cackles, and howls of laughter; we were tickled to find that some of it was coming out of us.
Well, all good things must come to an end - SIFF is wrapping up this weekend. Tune in next week for our final report!