MIFF: Saturday Night Movies

Saturday night featured one of the most unusual films of the festival, and one of the best - and not necessarily the ones I would have expected. It also found us walking the pedestrian mall at Lincoln Road, an experience that makes navigating the mobs in Times Square seem rather tame. Yikes!

ESTÔMAGO - A GASTRONOMIC STORY (Brazil/Italy; 112 min.)
director: Marcos Jorge
This lively black comedy examines the nature of power as it relates to food. Raimundo Nonato comes to the big city from the "jungles" of Brazil - no money, no place to stay - and wanders into a cafe where he orders the fried chicken snack and gets in trouble with the owner when he can't pay. The two work out a deal where Nonato will wash dishes in exchange for board. Diner owner Zulmiro soon discovers that Nonato has a talent for cooking and teaches him how to prepare some of the diner's staples. Within days, the place is packed, and Nonato's food is universally praised. Soon he is scooped up by the local restauranteur, Giovanni, who further instructs Nonato on the finer arts of cooking, including wines, and shopping at the market for a restaurant. As Nonato's fortunes rise, so does his relationship with Íria, a local prostitute with a jones for good food.

Director Jorge intercuts Nonato's story with scenes from the present day where he is embroiled in a power struggle in prison. He enters his cell of a dozen or so prisoners at the bottom of the ladder, but as his culinary skills provide gourmet meals for his cellmates, he slowly finds himself off the floor and into the bottom bunk, then rising higher and higher until he is directly below the cell's leader.

Jorge deftly deftly juggles the two stories, Nonato's rise to power in prison, and the reason he's in prison in the first place. The acting is appealing, especially João Miguel as Nonato, and Fabiula Nascimento as Íria. The black comedy is skillfully handled, and the build-up to Nonato's initial downfall well paced. I hope this film gets a release Stateside, and if it does, it comes highly recommended. 4 cats.

DISENGAGEMENT (Israel/France/Germany/Italy; 117 min.)
director: Amos Gitai
Israeli director Amos Gitai has clearly put together an accomplished work in DISENGAGEMENT, but it's one that requires a little more knowledge of political situation there than I possess to fully appreciate it. After a terrific, yet nebulous opening sequence with Uli (Liron Levo), an off-duty, Israeli police officer and an unnamed Palestinain woman (the marvelous Hiam Abbass) sharing a cigarette, some conversation, then a kiss while on a train, the action jumps (back?) to Paris, where a French woman of Israeli background (Juliette Binoche) stands a bedside vigil as her father dies. Her adopted half-brother Uli arrives, and after some slightly offbeat conversation and particularly bizarre flirtation, the two join their late father's lawyer (Jeanne Moreau) for the reading of the will. There Binoche's character discovers that a daughter she had given up at birth, was living in a camp in the Gaza strip, and that her father had visited her several times. As a police officer, Uli was returning to Israel to move the settlers in Gaza out, and his sister decides to return with him to find her daughter.

With some outstanding visuals and some powerful scenes, Gitai illustrates the difficult task of the Israeli police having to forcibly move Israeli citizens off the Gaza strip. He also shows how ill-prepared the police are, and how easily such a sensitive task can be bungled. Binoche's character is a bit of a cypher, acting a little mentally touched at first, then finding her ground when on the hunt for her daughter. It was nice to see Dana Ivgy (OR, MY TREASURE) playing Binoche's daughter. A strong film, but a little too obtuse for me. 3 cats.

I agree with you. Estômago is really good.