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Off to a Good Start Doesn't Guarantee a Winner
by Marinell Haegelin

Film festivals receive a plethora of “for consideration” films, and, typically understaffed, cannot thoroughly screen all films submitted. This I know, as I have been quite involved with the LUNAFEST, Berkeley, California, film festival’s screening committee from the outset and for five years. I thought about this because a few films I saw this year began well and then petered out. Let’s concentrate on three: Adieu Berthe, The Secret of the Ant Children, and People Out There.

Pharmacists Armand and wife maintain their business, and son, under the scrutiny of mom-in-law who lives above the pharmacy, and is overly interfering. A privately passionate magician, Armand’s lover Alix encourages by assisting his efforts. When Armand’s aunt dies, a new scenario develops for all the players, and although Armand paid slight attention to Berthe when alive, her death offers a deviating interval. Which is approximately when the film’s momentum droops. Berthe’s effects offer a treasure trove of mystery for Armand to juggle and interpret; yet with each non-edit Adieu Berthe’s story looses impact. Unimportant scenes bog down the witty, ironic, and humorous situation we began with. At least Berthe, and those whose lives she enhanced, conjure up fulfilling impressions for us to depart with.

African rural scenes seize our imagination, and pressing events our attention at the outset of The Secret of the Ant Children. Jilted Cécile hunts down Didier in Benin, Africa; he magnanimously allows her to stay. Getting lost on a swimming outing, she sleeps in the car overnight in the wild, to be awoken when a native woman leaves her squalling infant by the front tire. Eventually, Cécile decides to adopt baby Lancelot and return to France. Fast-forward seven years: Lancelot’s having ambiguous visions that affect his schoolwork, Cécile’s current lover wants commitment, Cécile’s mother is guarded, and when a psychiatrist suggests taking Lance back to his roots, Cécile’s mom monetarily supports her quest. By now we are aware just how obnoxious Cécile is and how pampered Lance is, and marvel at mom’s giving Cécile any kind of support. At the point in the film, in Africa again, when Cécile might find (personal) redemption, her actions are so stupidly stubborn we groan. Based on a real-life story, I wonder what the original “Cécile” thinks of this interpretation of her life-story.

A winter panorama showing Riga, Latvia’s “new suburbs”, i.e. contemporary projects, is an interesting basis from which to begin. But being poor becomes an excuse for being brutes and bullies in People Out There. What are not manifest are the historical implications for post-Soviet Latvian-Russian speaking residents; I learned about this from the press kit. Initial tender concern from Jan for his granddad, and their mundane life, is circumvented by n’er-do-wells Jan cannot break away from. Jan’s particularly attached to Crecker; daydreaming, neither is willing to invest hard work in his future. Fixating on a lifestyle, and a classy woman socially unattainable is Jan’s easy-way-out idea, but to where? There is nothing likable about the characters, or even worthy of our compassion; their arrogant rage escalates, leaving a trail of sadness. Choices determine outcome, and they get their just desserts.

I chose to see Adieu Berthe because it was the festival’s closing film; there were worthier films that came closer to this year’s theme, “belief”. The descriptions for The Secret of the Ant Children and People Out There in the festival program contributed to my choosing them, and were misleading; the festival’s version is blatantly different to People Out There’s three-line synopsis in the press material. Curious and curiouser. Who writes the film festival’s depictions, and, does anyone watch films through to the end?