I wasn't planning on attending the Provincetown International Film Festival this year; I figured I'm going to Toronto in September and might as well save up for that. Besides, just about everything that plays P-Town makes it to Boston sooner or later.

Still, by the second week of June, I was starting to play around with the idea of going just for the day, to get out of this great, but sometimes tiresome, constricting city and head closer to the coast. I love P-Town for the ocean but also for its otherness, and the trip was just what I needed to cure my Boston malaise. Here are the four films I saw over two days:


Gus Van Sant’s latest continues the experimental narrative style of GERRY and ELEPHANT. Sadly, it’s not as existentially deep and original as the first film and nowhere near as formally brilliant and convincingly tense as the second one.

Set in a vast crumbling mansion in the Pacific Northwest woods, LAST DAYS follows Blake (Michael Pitt), a troubled, drugged up rock musician (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Kurt Cobain) shambling through this landscape. He mumbles, carries a rifle, dazedly watches a Boyz II Men (!) music video, makes mac ‘n cheese, occasionally strums a guitar, and mumbles some more. Friends, bandmates, and members of his entourage also hang out nonchalantly, mostly in the background. They leave town after Blake offs himself near the film’s end for fear of implication in his death.

It’s no surprise that Van Sant originally set out to make a film specifically about Cobain and was denied the rights to do so, and it’s damn near impossible not to think of Blake as a Cobain surrogate. Pitt is eerily convincing, but he delivers more of an impression than a performance, and neither he nor the director has anything enlightening to say about this archetype: the tragic, suicidal musical icon. The film just meanders about aimlessly, without stirring up enough passion or real emotion for us to care.

Having said that, LAST DAYS is not entirely worthless. A few scenes (particularly one where Blake meets with a soliciting Yellow Pages adman), are amusing, almost interesting, even; they look back to the engaging offhandedness of Van Sant’s earliest work. As a whole, it’s also beautifully shot and in a few instances, haunting. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have made a much better short. In the time since I’ve seen ELEPHANT and GERRY, two films I found equally baffling and intriguing, I’ve been more and more eager to return to them and bask in their spatial, temporal puzzles. Can’t say the same for this one, though. It’s encouraging that Van Sant wants to continue his descent from conventional filmmaking into the unknown, but he should navel gaze less and edit more. 2.5 cats


Having seen all of Francois Ozon’s features except for SITCOM, I can say that he’s never made a bad film, but his latest is the closest he’s come to being boring. 5x2 begins with Gilles (Stephane Freiss) and Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), a bourgeois married couple filing for divorce, then proceeds in reverse chronological order, providing us with five glimpses of their relationship, going all the way back to when they first met.

Ozon isn’t the first person to construct a film this way: see MEMENTO, IRREVERSIBLE, and Jane Campion’s obscure but wonderful first feature, TWO FRIENDS. While it’s enriching to view the later sequences with the hindsight and almost illicit thrill of knowing what’s going to happen to these people (and how they are so clearly doomed as a couple), it’s also not very deep—more of a novelty, really. There’s little of the inspired, fervent discourse of a superior disintegrating relationship film like Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE.

Bruni-Tedeschi’s performance grows in assurance and resonance as the film progresses, but Gilles and Marion ultimately seem like a bland, unexceptional case study. Even with their quirks and revelations, they’re reduced to coming across as a generic test couple in an exercise. Loved the woman who played Gilles’ supremely bitchy ex-girlfriend near the end, though. 3 cats


I have a problem with films that morally judge and punish their characters for their addictions—it’s partially what makes REQUIEM FOR A DREAM unwatchable for me. Fortunately, CLEAN doesn’t so much reprimand its antagonist, Emily (Maggie Cheung), for her heroin addiction as much as it honestly lays out on the table the inevitable consequences of such a lifestyle.

When a tragedy involving her aging-rocker lover, Lee, radically alters Emily’s life early in the film, what follows isn’t so much an inspirational, movie-of-the-week tale of recovery against all odds, but a more realistic chain of events: one of redemption, but also self-actualization. Her obvious goal is to see her estranged young son, Jay, who is in the care of Lee’s parents. She knows the only realistic way to accomplish this is in sobriety, yet her attempts to reach this goal aren’t implausible or clichéd.

Split between the glowing, meditative oil refineries of Hamilton, Ontario and the cosmopolitan, claustrophobic streets of Paris, CLEAN also uses the music industry as a backdrop. As it delves into grand themes of death and rebirth, it also sheds light on the inner workings of that industry, which prove to be both a boon and a curse to Emily’s struggle.

Naturally, Cheung is magnificent and Nick Nolte also turns in a strong performance as Lee’s father. The relationship that develops between Emily and him is touching and unsentimental. Beatrice Dalle and Don McKellar also show up in fine supporting roles. In fact, given a week to absorb this film, I’d go as far to say that it’s absolutely flawless—I really can’t think of a single complaint. With the right support from its distributor, this very well could be director Olivier Assayas’ commercial breakthrough—it’s undoubtedly an artistic one. 5 cats


A surprise Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, this film from director Ira Sachs (The DELTA) is also firmly entrenched in the music industry, specifically Memphis’. Alan (Rip Torn) is a veteran white jazz/blues musician. His estranged son, Michael (Darren E. Burrows) returns home to attend a ceremony where his father is receiving a lifetime achievement award. Michael soon bonds with Laura (Dina Korzun), his father's young Russian lover with whom Alan has a three-year-old son.

That’s pretty much the plot of this often quiet, tremendously subtle, European-feeling character study. It arrived at a predictable conclusion, but the way it got there is what kept me awake. I was less taken by the main narrative and more by the many incidental scenes that end up painting an intricate portrait of this particular community (something THE DELTA also did very well). Burrows doesn’t have the range to pull his crucial part off, but Torn is well-cast as a towering figure who’s alternately a volatile beast and a loving pussycat. It’s Korzun, however, who really carries this film’s weight—see it chiefly for her. 3.5 cats