Sunday, October 19, 2008

Let's Make Love

Don’t Look Down
screens tonight at 8:30pm and Friday, 10/24, at 10:30pm. Both screenings will take place at 600 North Michigan.

Born in ’68 screens today at 1:15pm at 600 North Michigan.

The nearly-full house at yesterday’s screening of Don’t Look Down (Argentina; 2008, 85 min, 35mm) challenged several clich├ęs about U.S. movie audiences. Namely, they seemed perfectly comfortable with its joyous depictions of explicit sex, and when they laughed during these scenes (which was often), it wasn’t nervous laughter, either. But this may be less indicative of Chicago’s good vibes than of the strengths of Don’t Look Down—a rare film that manages to be funny and erotic at once.

At the outset, writer-director Eliseo Subiela doesn’t hint that his film will turn into a lesson in Tantric sex. The movie starts as a charming story about Eloy, a 19-year-old eccentric who works odd jobs and has crazy dreams about his dead father. (One of these dreams—unexplained until much later—has the father slowly emptying nuts and bolts from his suit pockets. The image plays as a wry parody of art-house cinema, and it got one of the bigger laughs of the day.) In one of many unpredictable turns, Eloy becomes a sleepwalker. He winds up one night in the apartment of an old lady therapist and her granddaughter, Elvira. Instead of kicking him out, the women take a liking to Eloy, with the beautiful, Gypsy-ish Elvira (who’s nine years his senior) deciding to make him a great lover by the end of the summer.

This premise verges on teenage male fantasy, but Subiela makes clear that the sex is not about Eloy’s gratification only. As in the classic comedies by Dusan Makavejev—particularly W.R. Mysteries of the Organism (1971)—sex is presented as life-affirming for anyone who enjoys it. (There’s another weird plot twist later on in which Eloy finds himself literally dematerializing at orgasm, but he makes sure not to deny Elvira pleasure before he does.) The film’s conflation of dreams, character quirks, music and eroticism yields a sensibility overflowing with life. Granted, this should feel familiar to anyone who’s read Gabriel Garcia Marquez or any other of the great South American Magical Realists. But how refreshing it is to encounter it in an accessible, crowd-pleasing film. Don’t Look Down also doubles as an instruction guide to more than a dozen challenging positions from the Kama Sutra. As our society enters a depression and more people will have to “make their own fun” (as my grandparents used to say), perhaps Subiela’s film will prove a rather utile one in the coming years.

Another film that conflates societal and sexual awareness is one of CIFF’s French entries, Born in ’68, by the writing-directing team of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (who are best known for their Jacques Demy tribute Jeanne and the Perfect Guy [1998]). As the title suggests, the movie begins with a look at France’s revolutionary/utopian generation before moving forward through the next four decades. The early passages depict an idealistic group’s efforts at establishing a commune in the French countryside—with as many scenes of free love as of farming. It’s hard to think of many other films that stage group sex with this much tenderness, and the most commendable thing about Born in ‘68 is its rich sensitivity. (Similarly, the large ensemble cast has no weak link—especially impressive, as many of the actors have to age believably over 40 years.) But apart from Ducastel and Martineau’s daring choice to shoot so much of a period piece in Bergman-esque close-up, much of the film comes across as a retread of Lukas Moodyson’s Together (2000), John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980), Alain Berliner’s classic Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976), and other like-minded works. It much follows the now-familiar pattern of Leftists coming together to make good, falling apart, and then finding comfort in some modified version of their ideals. Not that this is necessarily a bad message (It’s especially valuable to hear in the United States as a corrective to the conservative propaganda of Forrest Gump [1994] and Oliver Stone’s ‘60s-set films), but it’s hard to say whether it merits a full three hours of attention. Still, Born in ’68 is a surprisingly leisurely three hours, and the confidence of its storytelling never bores.