Three Days Of A Film Lover's Heaven

Film Festival

May 11, 2006


I really can see Friday as "a perfect day" at the Maryland Film Festival. That's partly because John Waters has chosen as his annual selection (tomorrow night at 8) a movie that could stand on its own as far-out entertainment even without Waters' witty and provocative introduction. The love that heals and the love that kills are one and the same in this hard-edged yet exhilarating picture, Head-On, Fatih Akin's dead-end-kid romance for live-wire adults.

Set mostly among Turkish immigrants in Hamburg, the movie mingles a punk-rock sensibility with a ravenous appetite for color and sensation. Cahit (Birol Unel), pushing 40 and grieving for his dead artist wife, has totaled his car in what is either a suicide attempt or an absurdist statement. Meanwhile, a stranger, Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), has taken to slashing her wrists as extreme emotional punctuation -- she's found that attempting suicide or staging it is one way to escape a smothering, sometimes brutal family. When Sibel runs into Cahit at a mental institution, she thinks of another, safer way. She marries Cahit for convenience. What makes the movie wicked smart is how it shows that gentleness can co-exist with violence. Sibel hesitates to make love with Cahit because then she'll feel that they're actually married. Yet affection and longing become a volatile combination.

When director Akin detonates the carnage in this movie, it's sudden and terrible, but comfort is never far behind. Midway through, Sibel crashes for a night with a friend of Cahit (who has sometimes posed as Cahit's uncle). This friend has never approved of her. But when this pretty, long-stemmed girl with a face like a broken-petaled flower crumples and sobs, she pierces his heart. He sings a song about a raven-haired beauty who shouldn't cry because everything that happens will just happen again. (It's like a sadder "Turn, Turn, Turn.") He even plays Turkish air guitar and mouths strumming sounds to put over the tune. Head-On is not a happily-ever-after movie. The feelings its characters must go through are erotic loss and melancholy. But director Akin knows that the capacity to feel generously and thoroughly is never wasted.

I intend to start my day at the 10:30 a.m. discussion of The Wire with its creator, David Simon, then stay for the 1 p.m. screening of the documentary about South Africa's first wave of freedom fighters, Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela. The evening contains a welter of conflicting choices. I've seen Head-On and Richard Hankin's terrific documentary Home Front (7 p.m.). But I'll still have to pick among Water (8:30 p.m.), a drama about the plight of widows in India; Wide Awake (9 p.m.) a documentary about my one chronic affliction, insomnia; and Al Franken: God Spoke (also 8:30 p.m.), a portrait of a funny former classmate. I may just flip a coin twice.



Admittedly I'm a little biased, since I'll be your host for the MFF's annual 3-D film revival, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better way to kick off Day 2 than to don a pair of silly-looking glasses and enjoy Vincent Price, Eva Gabor, Patrick O'Neal and even Baltimore's own Conrad Brooks in 1954's The Mad Magician (11 a.m.). Price plays the title fiend, a master illusionist who feels he has been wronged by his former employer and vows revenge. Expect lots of things thrown at the audience.

David Boreanaz, looking to prove there's life after seven years as a TV vampire named Angel, plays a married man being seduced by three teenage girls in a dark comedy called These Girls (1 p.m.). Then again, if you've had your fill of frothy fiction, check out Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan's Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (12:30 p.m., Brown Center), the story of a 13-year-old Japanese girl kidnapped by North Korean soldiers, and the parents who spent 20 years not knowing what happened to her.

Stanley Kubrick's rumination on the Vietnam War, 1987's Full Metal Jacket (4 p.m.), will feature an introduction from star Matthew Modine, who wrote about his experiences making the film in his 2005 book, Full Metal Jacket Diary. The film stars Modine as a Marine private; we first see him enduring basic training under the sadistic Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), then covering the war as a correspondent for Stars & Stripes.

Grab a quick dinner after Full Metal Jacket (maybe at next door's Tapas Teatro, provided you're lucky enough to get a table), then settle in for Matthew Porterfield's contemplative drama Hamilton (7:30 p.m.), two days in the life of a young unmarried couple growing up (and few things make you grow up faster than having a kid) in Northeast Baltimore.

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