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The Washington International Film Festival is in process and we have signed up to see about six movies. We have seen three so far.

Usually, we scour the festival’s publicity material to determine exactly which movies we want to see. This year, we did it differently. The festival plays at various venues. We chose to only see movies playing at the Avalon, since it is close to the house, and parking is usually pretty easy. That made it easier to decide which movies to see (the Avalon seems to show four movies a day on its two screens).

On Tuesday, we saw a double feature, “Roming” and “Unfinished Stories”, and last night we saw “Mon Colonel”. A night off tonight, and then we go back on Thursday.

“Roming” is a Czech movie that tells the story of a gypsy (Roma) family in transition. We who are not gypsies have trouble understanding gypsies, nomads who are not agriculturalists, families who have traditionally considered themselves outside the law, musicians who don’t like to take baths, fortune tellers who are scam artists but somehow still know how to tell fortunes…..I don’t know exactly, but these are the common thoughts, aren’t they?

Well, in “Roming”, you learn that the gypsies are having a hard time understanding themselves these days. Our young hero is an engineering student in Prague, giving no outward sign of his gypsy heritage. His father lives in a Soviet style apartment complex, drinking vodka and trying to write the great gypsy epic (he thinks an epic is what the gypsy needs to ground himself in his own ethnic identity). His uncle (gypsy caricature through and through) comes to take father and son on a road trip, to a town where the extended family lives and where an 18 year old girl lives who the father had betrothed to the son 17 years earlier (the son having no clue of this, of course). The uncle wants to sleep under the stars; the son brings a fancy tent; you get the picture. And all the while, the father writes his epic, and the story shifts from the father-uncle-son story to the epic story until they intertwine, and realty becomes unreality and vice versa. A pleasing and funny movie. But what do the gypsies think about it?

Then came “Unfinished Stories”, which I thought was a great movie, but E. hated. It is Iranian, takes place during one very cold winter night in Tehran, and is the first part of a story of three different women: a young girl whose parents have forbade her continuing to see her boyfriend and who, at least for a while, decides not to come home; a woman who goes to an all night pharmacy to take a pregnancy test and who husband has kicked her out of the house because she was not ‘careful’; and a young woman who has just given birth in a hospital, but whose husband was jailed on some unimportant charge, but whose disappearance makes it impossible for her to pay the hospital bill, which is necessary if she is going to be able to keep her baby. They meet various men (a soldier, a policeman, a taxi driver) who help them as best they can (which is not always very much), one story morphs into another, and none of the stories are resolved. E. tells me that resolution is important to her; as for me, I like to end the stories myself. I thought this movie was terrific.

Last night, I gave the lowest score possible to a new French movie, “Mon Colonel”. We met a friend at the theater who was raving about it; thought it could not have been better. It is Algeria in the mid-1950s, and the French are trying to pacify a village (city) in one of the three provinces of a country then thought of as an integral part of France. A young lieutenant becomes the aide-de-camp to a rather brusk, no-foolishness colonel, who thinks he is fighting a war against terror, and that to fight such a war you need to reek terror on the terrorists. Eventually, the lieutenant breaks down, and either commits suicide or his done away with by the colonel (“missing in action” is the official verdict). But not before the lieutenant writes up his story and has it sent to his father by a French Algerian teacher, who for years forgot he had the manuscript. The father of the dead soldier (who turns out to be Charles Aznavour) reads the manuscript and kills the now retired and elderly colonel. The movie is the story of the search for the colonel’s murderer, based upon the authorities’ review of the lieutenant’s manuscript, which the father has sent in pieces (to guarantee attention).

Cecille de France is one of the nicest French actresses to watch (Remember “Avenue Montaigne”?). She plays Lt. Galois (not the cigarette) and is charged with reading the manuscript. The movie goes from her sitting in full color at a desk, with tears in her eyes, to black and white flashbacks to Algeria in the 50s. I was embarrassed for her.

I thought the movie pretty awful, about as trite as can be. Algeria? Read Iraq. Read the Israeli Occupied Territories. Read wherever you want. They took a good story, and they muddied it all up.

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