Tuesday, October 12, 2010

German whimsy about France: Angela Christlieb's URVILLE opens at the AFA

"A poetic dream voyage along the boundaries of fiction and documentary" is one way that its press materials describes URVILLE, the 2009 film from Angela Christlieb.  Because Ms Christlieb also co-directed a film that TrustMovies treasures (Cinemania: a double-edged testament to crazy New Yorkers and the cinema-obsessed), I may be treating her new film more kindly than I otherwise would, for it struck me as the height (no, depth) of pointless European whimsy about... what, for Christ's sake? Maybe Utopia. Or maybe not. As director, writer and editor, Ms Christlieb (the filmmaker is shown below) must shoulder the praise (or blame) for this very odd film that seems to see Urville as an imaginary construct, but also -- since three actual villages in France bear this same name -- as a real place with real people, who are visited by our plucky filmmaker and her crew.
They do not enchant.

This lack of enchantment is not the fault of the villagers but more about what they are asked (and not asked) to do. The filmmaker seems to have set her mind on exploring what isn't, rather than what is, so everything we see and hear melds into one big, silly cacophony. Why are we here? I don't mean this in any existential sense, but rather, why has Christlieb decided to romp from village to village to village and back, while bab-bling on about a bunch of faux statistics that serve to bear out a non-theory about an imaginary town? You got me.

Along the way there are some delightful, if extraneous, moments (well, come on: the whole movie is extraneous): pigs eating some delicious-looking loaves of French bread, which I hope were at least day-old), cows gazing out at us fondly, the mayor (shown at bottom) of one of these Urvilles playing with his dogs. These moments may be funny, or pretty, or sweet. But they, like the movie they inhabit, are all over the place.

We spend (too much) time with one fellow dressed as an Indian (above), who evidently enjoys running for public office (and, so far, losing), and his "squaw" (or is that term out of favor these days?). And no, that squaw is not a certain past President, pictured in cutout form, above.  Our Indian simply likes to carry Clinton around with him. (The squaw is shown below, from quite a distance.)

As the randomness builds, eventually the movie seems to coalesce around the idea of death. But no, this, too, dissipates. "People in Urville," the narrator -- a rich-voiced Maud Piquion (is this the Berlin gallery owner, perhaps) -- tells us, "are not afraid of death."  Well, good for them. Of course, she might be referring to the imagined Urvillians rather than any of the real ones. Who knows? Who cares? I guess you can tell that TrustMovies just didn't "get" this film, which certainly does not bear comparison with much else that he's seen. (Points for originality, then?  Hmmm....)

You may have better luck. And if you want to try that luck, Urville opens Friday, October 15, at Anthology Film Archives. Check out its day-and-hour screening schedule from the AFA calendar here. You'll find directions to AFA here.

No comments: