Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Magic moments

My favorite moment so far of the 27th Seattle International Film Festival has to be what happened during the press screening of the Colombian film Our Lady of the Assassins.

Before I proceed, however, I should issue a warning. As a rule, I try to avoid spoilers, that is, giving away specific plot details about recent movies that might ruin it for someone who has not yet seen the movie but who is planning to. I have been known to bend this rule when the movie involved is a classic that most people are well familiar with or with obscure movies that most people aren’t likely to see. I don’t know how many people reading this plan to see Our Lady of the Assassins, but if you are be forewarned that I have to give away some plot details to recount what happened in the press screening.

So anyway, this movie is about a noted writer who returns to his hometown of Medillín after a long absence and within minutes falls head over heels in love with a young man who is the last member of a gang that has otherwise been entirely wiped out. That bit of information right there would make most thinking people a little nervous, but the two plunge headlong into their May-December romance, their carefree frolicking (which seems to consist largely of hurling expensive stereo equipment off the balcony onto the street below) interrupted sporadically by assassination attempts against the young man’s life. Eventually and as the result of a set of circumstances that can only make the writer feel extremely guilty, the young man is finally blown away, just as he himself has been blowing away every passerby on the street who annoys him. The writer is distraught and goes into a deep funk and only snaps out of it when he happens to look up at the television in a bar and notices that a new president has been elected without his having noticed. So he goes home to shave and clean himself up.

The next thing we see is the figure of an older man at a distance down a long hallway in an apartment building knocking on a door. We assume reasonably enough that this is our writer. A woman answers the door and is surprised to see him. We are surprised too because the woman is not speaking Spanish but English accented from somewhere on the North American eastern seaboard. The man has brought flowers. She is flustered. The reason becomes obvious when a naked young man speaking English with a British accent pops out of the bedroom. Where did this sudden plot twist come from? Did our writer return to New York to a past relationship? At this late point in the story are new characters (from a totally different country) being introduced? Within minutes it became obvious. The projectionist had loaded a reel from a completely different movie! Soon the movie stops, the lights come up, and after a delay of a few minutes, our Colombian movie is back on track and the resolute writer is back out on the street picking up another young man who looks amazingly like the first one. No, this isn’t another projectionist error. Just a strained coincidence in the storyline.

I love moments like that. I don’t know why. I guess because it’s a reassuring reminder that film festivals are run by and for human beings—not monolithic quality-controlled corporations. Not that mistakes don’t happen in regular commercial screenings. But somehow those only annoy and never fire the imagination like our suddenly transplanted story line.

I’ve apparently dodged several bullets this year on some of the strangest unplanned features of film festival screenings. For instance, I heard several people talking about the press screening of an Australian movie called Better Than Sex which, according to the festival materials, is about a one-night stand that “turns into a three-day binge.” People seemed either to love or to hate this movie. But they could all agree on one thing. It seems that during the screening, two of the reels were mixed up and played in the wrong order. Every single person I heard talking about this said that it didn’t matter at all that the reels were played out of order! Now, we are talking about full-series pass holders here who are the same lot that stage a spontaneous demonstration in the aisles when a few of the opening credits of a movie are obscured because the curtain opened too late and who then insist that the movie be shown from the very beginning again. These are the sorts of people who were saying, ah, it doesn’t matter what order the reels are in when the movie is played. It makes me want to see the film just to get an idea of what they are talking about.

Other magic moments have included one venue that seems to be perpetually plagued by people neglecting to turn off their cell phones. By one report, four different phones went off during one screening.

Then there was the woman who wandered into a screening of Coronation thirty minutes after it began, hung out in the aisles for a while, stood beneath the screen for a while, took a seat, fell out of the seat, switched to a different seat, walked into the walls for a while, then took three more seats, all the while talking to herself and to the screen, sobbing and laughing, and finally exiting twenty minutes before the end of the film. This is why I personally never buy the extra-large cup of cola.

I would like to say that this was the single weirdest thing that happened during the film festival, but I can’t. Not yet anyway. After all, there is still more than a week to go.

-S.L., 7 June 2001

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