By ALI NADERZAD Anyone who’s lived in downtown Manhattan long enough will have heard of the Angel Orensanz Foundation. Located on Norfolk Street in a former synagogue, the foundation houses art exhibits and music showcases; in other words, it’s that other-side-of-town destination for underground-savvy artists and downtown-centric musicians. I had always thought that Angel Orensanz was one of those immigrants who came to NYC after the turn of the century and became a patron of the arts. So you can imagine my surprise when I met him in the flesh, standing in the queue for a movie yesterday afternoon. Orensanz still has his accent from his native Spain; he’s endearing and a bit of an eccentric (are you surprised?). He was interested in everything going on around him, asking questions constantly, rather like a child. We watched a film together and parted ways until our next chance meeting.
Today I saw four films, just one or two shy of my daily goal. In the middle of the afternoon I went to see “Thirst,” by Park Chan-Wook about a priest who participates in a medical study and gets a blood transfusion which completely transforms him (mutate, is more like it). There was a healthy dose of humor in “Thirst,” a humor which I find to often be lacking in Asian films (but then, my diet usually consists of non-Asian films so my expertise in this is rather lacking). Melodrama or grim violence often seem to be the order of the day. The humor was good and the audience laughed but “Thirst” left me cold, and even a little repulsed. I walked out after about sixty minutes.
Bahman Ghobadi’s “Noone knows about the Persian cats” was fast-paced, montage-heavy and full of the kind of Persian music you wouldn’t hear on the radio in Tehrangeles, USA. By this I mean there wasn’t any of the sugary, pop ballads with cheesy overtures and production values. Underground music, or ‘indie rock’ as the youths in this film often invoke, is apparently alive and well in Iran, or at least that’s what Mr. Ghobadi would have use think. He follows a couple of twentysomethings as they alternately try and put a band together and obtain fake papers to leave the country. I am not sure that this film will linger for very long in our collective memory but fun to watch nonetheless.
I finished the day by walking over to one of the local theatres which a NY-based publicist commandeered to screen “Precious,” the movie they’re representating, for the press. This is in anticipation of a roundtable discussion with the cast tomorrow (which includes none other than Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz). Set in the 80s, Precious is the story of a morbidly obese teenager (named Precious) who unfortunately attracts bigger-than-usual problems at home. She becomes pregnant and is forced to leave her home. Her mother, played by Mo’Nique, isn’t exactly sympathetic to her daughter (parents in movies selected in Cannes happen to often be poorly characterized). I’m not sure what I think of Precious yet. I was moved, but also felt manipulated. And yet, the performances were dizzyingly strong and the writing quite admirable. For once, there was barely any glossing over of the dialogue or fitting in a memorable soundbite for good measure. In fact, I wondered how is it that a director can coax such acting out of his cast. It’s quite impressive that Lee Daniels, the filmmaker, could get people like Kravitz and Carey to take on what turned out to be very small roles (not even supporting) until I saw in the credits that Oprah Winfrey signed on as Executive Producer. Well, somebody had to make that connection, didn’t they? It had to be me
I will be attending the press luncheon tomorrow with the cast (including the two songbirds) and will be talking to you about that afterwards. Day 2 at the Festival: a little disappointing, especially that I did not make the Bubblegum yacht party (that’s after I realized that it was several towns over, with a shuttle bus, etc. and I didn’t think I’d be back in time for the Precious screening (picture: “Precious,” dir. Lee Daniels).