MIFF: The North American Entries

Scot and I took in our first night of Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) offerings on Friday. Each of the ten films we are seeing comes from a different country, and appropriately enough, our first film was from Canada. Sadly, it's been the biggest disappointment so far.

AMAL, directed by Richie Mehta, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, and recently won the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The film is based in India and follows the story of autorickshaw driver Amal who defies convention and is actually honest and hard-working. One of his fares is an exceedingly difficult, apparently homeless man who belittles him harshly. In fact, this man is a wealthy hotel owner who is dying. When his encounter with Amal shows him that some of the wealthiest men are the poorest, he rewrites his will cutting his greedy, conscienceless sons out and instructing his lawyer to find Amal our of the thousands of autorickshaw drivers in the city. If you're thinking it sounds like a parable, complete with cardboard characters and heavy-handed lessons, you'd be right. An ironic twist ending does a little to raise the film above bad to simply mediocre. Mehta adapted AMAL from a short story written by his brother Shaun. 1.5 cats

Moving to the U.S. our second film was a big improvement. Ira Sachs (FORTY SHADES OF BLUE) leaves his tested theme of outsiders living in the modern-day South and enters 1950s, northwestern suburbia to look at the domestic difficulties of marriage in MARRIED LIFE. The talented acting pair of Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson play Harry and Pat Allen, a married couple who like, if not love each other. In an amusing reversal, Pat equates love with good sex, and Harry is seeking a deep, romantic love. He thinks he's found it too, in the form of young, beautiful widow Kay (Rachel McAdams) as he confesses to his longtime friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Unable to confess to Pat, Harry steers the plot into Hitchcock territory by deciding he must kill his wife to spare her heartbreak and pain. Meanwhile, the plot gets even messier when first Richard begins to pursue Kay, then Pat reveals a secret of her own.

While this all sounds like a melodramatic, period thriller, Sachs manages to keep things lively by casting his film as a comedy. It is in the comedic elements that Brosnan is allowed to shine, conveying a surprising physical comedy. The cast is attractive and talented, and the production design lovely, and while there may be a plot contrivance or two, this lively film manages to entertain for the duration. 3.5 cats.