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The Reeler Blog

The Reeler Finds The Hamptons -- Again

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The last minute has always been my favorite time of day, and that's the instinct that pushed me out to the 15th annual Hamptons International Film Festival over the weekend. And whereas my previous, weeks-in-the-making HIFF excursion a few years back resulted in exactly one viewing, one panel, a rainstorm and a party experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, this year's more thrown-together 36-hour journey netted three full viewings, a fine hamburger, imported chocolate and that destabilizer to end all destabilizers: a dead body on the Long Island Expressway. Impulse -- what a bitch.


Erin go blah: Colm Meaney in Kings, a competition selection at this year's Hamptons International Film Festival (Photo: High Point Films)

I wish it had been all about the movies, kind of the way the Woodstock Film Festival awed me the week before with its own grab bag. I must have exhausted my good fortune; the small film I rushed to catch in Montauk had me second-guessing within 10 minutes, the latter portion of which I spent fleeing the theater. Whatever; I was hungry anyway. The later film, Kings, which is apparently Ireland's submission for this year's Foreign Language Oscar (it's in Gaelic), was mildly better, a drama about the reunion of five Irish immigrants in England on the occasion of their friend's death. Working from Jimmy Murphy's play, director Tom Collins skims terrain of class war, alcoholism, lovelessness and suicide as well-trod as a Belfast sidewalk. But when finally calibrated for character over exposition, Kings' ensemble is its own angsty, potent cocktail; bourgeois Joe (Colm Meaney) is the same devastated soul as strung-out Jap (Donal O'Kelly), banished to the back room of an English pub where even centuries of alienation can't compete with a few decades of old-fashioned Catholic guilt.

Sunday was too stunning a day to be in a theater, but there I was at The Ross School, the first educational facility I've visited boasting both an indoor koi pond and bathrooms attuned for maximum feng shui. The projection booth could have used its own spiritual guide; a projector lamp burned out about eight minutes into Laura Dunn's beautiful if obvious The Unforeseen, reducing the experience to a momentarily dark, drawling meditation on unchecked development in the suburbs of Austin, Tx. It really wasn't much more than that once the picture was revived, but with a shooter like Lee Daniel filming his beloved Texas as poetically as ever, it hardly seemed to matter. Its festival life winding up as we speak, The Unforeseen premieres on the Sundance Channel in 2008.

(Clockwise from left) Klara, Tanutscha and Mina, the 15-year-old subjects of Pool of Princesses
(Photo: Reverse Angle)

Back out to Montauk. I won't do that again. I was low on petrol and running late for a 2 p.m. screening of Pool of Princesses, director Bettina Blümner's engrossing documentary about three 15-year-old girls coming of age in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. Their respective ambitions clash with absentee parents, borderline alcohol abuse, doomed romances with men five to 10 years older than them and God only knows what else. Smart, slinky blond Klara chain-smokes her way through truancy school en route to a career as a café owner, astronaut or "porno star" -- she can't decide. The others -- acerbic Tanutscha and lovelorn Mina -- have only slightly firmer conceptions of adulthood, veering aimlessly from chat lines to boywatching to family pow wows, reverse engineering childhoods they never actually had.

Despite a few icky, contrived confessional interludes, Princesses is a marvel of organic proximity -- not only between camera and subject (Blümner and cinematographer Mathias Schöningh manage uncanny invisibility) but also between the girls themselves, who continually hint at growing apart even as their surrogate sisterhood promises each other's only refuge. As both well-executed doc and almost irredeemably prurient melodrama, the film should have a theatrical life in the States, though, as a friend who shared her candy with me (including a scrumptious Cadbury Curly Wurly from a local grocery store offering a selection of hard-to-find British treats) lamented afterward, "That title doesn't work at all." She's right; Pool of Princesses, quite literally translated from the German Prinzessinnenbad, needs an overhaul. Here's hoping Blümner has a reason to reconsider in the months ahead.

In any event, it may be the last film I ever see on the East End. The trip back to the city ensnared your humble author in apocalypse-evacuation levels of traffic, complete with a multi-car accident and a corpse in the slow lane. Cormac McCarthy couldn't have planned it any worse. Nevertheless, I can't be sure. A lifetime of last minutes may convince me yet.

POSTSCRIPT:
In awards news, congratulations to Chris Eigeman, whose filmmaking debut Turn the River (profiled last week on The Reeler) took home both the festival's screenwriting prize and a special jury award for Famke Janssen -- a nifty score considering the fest doesn't have an annual acting prize. Kudos as well to Kings shooter P.J. Dillon, whose maudlin visuals claimed the hardware for best cinematography.

Posted at October 23, 2007 8:23 AM

Comments (1)

What a crap reviewer. These guys who can't write and think they are cool reviewers should be asked to leave the building... go home and give us all peace.

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