In the cold and snowy face of winter, there can be no more economical nor culturally diverse vacation than January's Palm Springs International Film Festival. The 16th incarnation brought together 190 films from 65 countries, including 79 premieres and most of the films nominated for Best Foreign Film Academy Awards.

This particular immersion into world-class cinema and warm desert days began at the Orbit In (a mid-century modern hideout, where the decor and ambience are an elegant, fifties, retro retreat into comfort, including in-room spa services. In Palm Springs, the typical stargazer is never disappointed, as the film festival, founded by former pop star-mayor Sonny Bono, provides gala awards presentations every year to both Hollywood and international film luminaries. This year, the cameras and crowds clamored about such notables as Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey, Kirk Douglas, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Samuel L. Jackson.

Among the films attended, during a really rough regimen of watching films, meeting filmmakers, staff, friends and press in the hospitality suite and soaking in the Orbit In's hot tub at night, were some terrific titles, many of which will assuredly have distribution in the States. The most hilarious of those still looking for a distributor is Ferpect Crime (Spain), a wild black comedy from director Alex de la Iglesia. Dashing Rafael (Guillermo Toledo) runs the ladies section of a major Madrid department store. But when he accidentally kills his rival for a promotion, the body disappears and his secret helper is one of the few women he has not slept with, the plain but wily Lourdes (Monica Cervera). She manages to get him to give up all women but her, coerces him to marry her and then learns that forced marital bliss is also a dangerous game. Ferpect Crime is chock full of hilarious sight gags and de la Iglesia has style aplenty.

Another feature most deserving of a distributor and wider audience is a gripping account of love in war-torn Beirut, as depicted in Deadlines France/UK/Tunisia). Co-directed by Ludi Boeken and Michael Lerner, who themselves were journalists in Lebanon during the civil war in the 80s, the story revolves around U.S. journalist Alex Randal (Stephen Moyer), who gets the scoop of his life from beautiful but enigmatic French photographer Julia Muller (Annie Parillaud, the original La Femme Nikita). Shot in Tunisia, the film has the excitement and realism of a documentary, while weaving a moving story about divided allegiances and dark secrets that can not only break hearts but also threaten the lives of supposedly safe war journalists.

Certain to reach international audiences is the directorial debut of actor Charles Dance, Ladies in Lavender (United Kingdom). The U.S. premiere of the film in Palm Springs boasted the acting talents of two grand Dames, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, who play sisters whose tranquil life is shattered when they find a young, handsome man (Daniel Bruhl) shipwrecked near their 1930s Cornish seaside home. Though he is Polish and cannot speak English, he grows close to them and is nursed back to health. Their rivalry for his attention is usurped by the daughter of a noted composer (Natascha McElhone), who discovers him to be a world-class violinist and tries to convince him to leave his doting, elderly caretakers to make an international career for himself. Dance elicits beautifully nuanced performances from all in this lovely seaside tale of divided affections.

Danny Boyle, known for his hard-edged filmmaking in Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, takes a lighter, familial touch in a delightful film Fox Searchlight will be bringing out, Millions (UK/US). Wide-eyed innocent Damian Cunningham (Alexander Nathan Etel) has imaginary conversions with saints and one day, while playing, has a bag of stolen English pounds fly off a train and onto his head. He feels the money should be given to the poor and needy but his big brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) intends to spend it on consumer items.

Their mother has recently passed away and their father must deal with the discovery of the money while meeting a woman who may once again reawaken his heart. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce adds to this mix the clever twist of the money about to become worthless when pounds are converted to the then-new Euros. While there is jeopardy in the film, Boyle has crafted a stirring, funny and sweet film that should find its way into the hearts of viewers everywhere.

While the festival is mostly noted for its foreign films, a fine American indie on view was Say Yes Quickly, directed by Gregg Hale. Hannah (Suli Holum) has locked herself in her apartment, depressed, writing a novel with the help of a mysterious online mentor who identifies himself only as "@lien." When she meets loveably goofy Henry (Brandon Bales), she falls in love but secretly cannot let go of her brilliant, manipulative cyberspace consultant. During a road trip, the young lovers will face the challenge of this revelation and the illness of Hannah's mother, who has long denied her the support and understanding she has craved for so long. Hale, co-writing with Rachel Davis, gives us a story that is unpredictable yet believable, touching but never manipulative, with smart and incisive dialogue throughout.

Among the many strong entries from France was the imaginative romantic comedy The Story of My Life. Celebrity ghostwriter Raphael (Edouard Baer) should be happy with the money he makes and a lovely girlfriend. But no, he has to fall once again for a woman he has obsessed over for years, who just happens to be the girlfriend of his current client, the leader of France's soccer team. Baer combines soulful, good looks with comedic skills and this U.S. premiere from director Laurent Tirard features one of the funniest disaster dates of all time, involving a wild boar, a country road and the destruction of a borrowed car.


Illuminations 125x125 Lavendar Jar


© Melt Magazine 2005