Sunday Night Movies in Miami

If there was a theme to Sunday night's films, it would have to be carrying our dead or our absent loved ones. In POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD, two children living in Caracas, Venezuela, must invent stories about their absent parents who are revolutionaries in a political struggle. In Zhang Yang's GETTING HOME, a man literally carries the body of his dead friend back home to his family.

POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD (Venezuela/Peru; 90 min.)
director: Mariana Rondón

In her introduction, director Mariana Rondón thanked the countries of Venezuela and Peru for funding her film, then commented on how POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD was a singularly Venezuelan story. In 1960's Caracas, revolutionaries struggle against a political regime. Two children tell stories of growing up with revolutionary parents through a lens of romance and innocence. Rondón wonderfully combines dramatic and comedic narrative storytelling; faux docementary; and comic book style hand-drawn animation over live action to tell this darkly funny, yet serious story of a very volatile time and culture.

At first POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD was confusing; Rondón jumps around in time without warning, and the two children narrate their stories as if they were comic book characters. There is none of the political nuance to explain the whys of the conflict. Gradually however, the story becomes clear, peppered with fabulous sequences of the various characters lives. Family scenes around the Venzuelan New Year are lively and telling; especially when Teo, one of narrators' parents, returns home and is subsequently captured by the government and imprisoned. A sequence 2/3 of the way through the film, depicting a group of female, revolutionary, college students committing an act or defiance is perfectly executed in groovy, 60s style, bringing together split screens, animation, music and narration sublimely. Rondón is a talented filmmaker whose work deserves broader exposure. I have no idea what kind of distribution POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD will receive, but I can only hope it makes it to Boston. 4/5 cats

GETTING HOME (China/Hong Kong; 110 min.)
director: Zhang Yang

Straddling the sublime and the ridiculous, young, Chinese director Zhang Yang explores the bonds of friendship in GETTING HOME. Benshan Zhao (HAPPY TIMES) plays Zhao, an aging factory worker whose co-worker and drinking buddy dies unexpectedly far from home. Zhao is determined to fulfill a promise he made to his friend, to return him to his village for burial. Operating with limited funds, and carefully trying to pass his deceased companion off as drunk or comatose, Zhao begins a series of cracked adventures is his attempt to complete his task, and along the way, he learns the true meaning of friendship and finds a path for his life.

Zhang, director the popular Chinese films SHOWER and QUITTING, starts things off on a silly note, and throughout the film there is an understandably absurd quality to the proceedings. Gradually Zhang starts to introduce more serious themes, yet in a way that fits in with the established tone of the film and never seems overly heavy-handed. Sure there's a little schmaltz, but it's not overdone like in a Hollywood film. While he doesn't take the experimental risks that he did in QUITTING, GETTING HOME is an entertaining and lovely film. 3.5 cats