Monday, October 4, 2010

#mff2 Part 3: Eastern Europe

It's no secret that I have a general interest in all things Eastern Europe.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to an ardent love of halusky, langos, and Soproni.

This is likely why I was drawn to the following two films during the Milwaukee Film Festival. The first deals with cooking, and I love me some of that, and the second is set in the midst of the Carpathian mountains and is presented partly in Hungarian. You know I especially appreciate that.

Cooking History
This film spans almost a century of war, and investigates what is was like for those soldiers who were commissioned to cook for their thousands of brethren on the battlefield. Through stalwart interviews sometimes presented tongue-in-cheek by the filmmakers, we get to hear war stories from those who fought a different sort of battle - feeding thousands of soldiers utilizing a cooking space sometimes the size of a postage stamp.

Each set of interviews is accompanied by a recipe that will feed the soldiers in question. A little known fact is that a pinch of salt makes most everything palatable.

Overall this film was at times funny, other times poignant, and always entertaining. A true storyteller's documentary.

My only comment is to remind the audience that even though you may buy your meat in cellophane-wrapped styrofoam trays, yes, the animals still had to be killed in the process. Even though you, as a consumer in America, are far removed from any food growing/harvesting/butchering process, it's far past the time you remember where it comes from. So stop harrumphing, covering your eyes, and gasping with outrage when you see that chicken's neck broke or that cow's vein cut open in the film. After all - a dirty secret you likely don't want to hear - animals are kept and killed far less humanely in our U.S. mass-produced food system than what you saw here.

Katalin Varga
I really wanted to like this film. During the screening I kept reminding myself how beautiful Hungarian and Romanian countrysides are as I closed my eyes and listened to them speak in those lovely, melodic native languages. I reminded myself that I was supposed to like this film and be its champion. I was transported back to my time in Hungary, convincing myself that I should like this film based on that tie alone.

But it didn't work.

Until the end.

To say I was highly disappointed with the cinematography would be an understatement. I think my 5-year-old Sony handycam could do a better job of capturing what were supposedly breathtaking views of the Carpathian mountains. We'll never know. The scenes ended up flat and sometimes just awkward depending on the camera angle.

The filmmakers also did that stupid shaky camera thing that, I think, filmmakers believe either a) makes things seem scarier, or b) makes things seem more "real," but really just gives the audience a headache and makes me, personally, not want to look at the screen.

But the story was awesome...unsettling...disturbing...heartbreaking...and loving.

And the end...

The end made all the rest of it so worth it.

On a somewhat mff2-related topic: I'm happy to report that I won a screening pass for two from to see Waiting for Superman next week. I was so disappointed to have missed this film at the festival - the 2010 Allan H. (Bud) & Suzanne L. Selig Audience Award winner. I'll have a little recap next week.

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