(01/03/07)

Echo Park L.A. (Dir: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland; US, 90′. Released by Metrodome. With Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia)

Released in the United States as Quinceañera, Glatzer and Westmoreland’s feature follow-up to their gay porn comedy The Fluffer (2001) won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Much of the success of this film owes to its nodding to the more innovative end of American fiction television such as Six Feet Under and Desperate Housewives which have been pushing the envelope artistically in a way that Hollywood ceased to do since the heyday of the so-called New Hollywood in the early 1970s. It seems like the indies are wising up to that fact.

Echo Park L.A. starts out in almost documentary mode, with several beautiful, slightly whimsical and seemingly random shots of life in the Latino community where the film is set and which gives it its British release title. The different elements of the story gradually dovetail and we start to follow the plot: Madgalena (Rios) is the daughter of a Mexican-American family in Echo Park, Los Angeles. She is approaching her quinceañera, or her 15th birthday party, an important event in a woman’s formation in those communities. But a few months before the celebration Magdalena becomes pregnant and her religious father kicks her out of her house. She finds refuge with her soulful uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzales), who is already looking after another nephew, Carlos, a macho gay young man played by the excellent Jesse Garcia.

This material gives the directors opportunity to explore issues such as the gentrification of ethnic neighbourhoods (here accurately signified by a white gay couple, real-estate-savvy newcomers to Tomas’s neighbourhood, one of whom starts an affair with Carlos) and to portray inner city communities in a more positive light, as opposed to the mainstream view of such places as drug-ridden hellholes. The lightness of touch that the directors show is impressive as is their lack of moral judgement. The overall effect is one of optimism without corniness and a sense that life is beautiful, after all. It shines all the way through.

Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait (Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle. Dir: Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno. France, 90′. Released by Artifical Eye)

Those who find football boring and overated as a metaphor will find further amunition in this dirge-y portrait of the French footballer and headbutter Zinedine Zidane. We all heard about this film upon its opening in Cannes before the World Cup last year, a clever marketing ploy by conceptual film artist Douglas Gordon, the artists behind the 24 Hour Psycho 1993 installation. As a piece of conceptual art, Zidane is weak as it it doesn’t go much beyond where contemporary television sports cameras already do with their super high-tech equipment. And Zidane as a subject is completely unappealing, in fact often quite repulsive with his agressive face and uninteresting body language. I would imagine that a similar film on Pelé would have been more attractive due to the grace of his playing, but Zidane has no redeeming features about him. And the comments that appear on the screen as some kind of philosophical statements are cringe-worthy and show, once and for all, that footballers should not be given more air time than they already get. The sad thing is, films like this put off reluctance audiences from the art world. ‘Boring’ is not a problem when there is a point to it – like Warhol movies for instance – but Zidane is an empty, possibly opportunistic text. And that’s extremely boring.

Container (Dir: Lukas Moodysson. Sweden, 90′. Released by Metrodome. With Peter Lorentzon and Marina Aberg. Featuring the voice of Jena Malone)

Alternating between the ridiculous and sublime, Lukas Moodyson’s U-turn of a film, considering his previous efforts such as the super-funny retro comedy Together (2000) and other more accessible works such as Fucking Amal (1998) and Lilya 4-Ever(2002). Container is not an easy task for the viewer: it features a succession of low-key images featuring the antics of an overweight, gender-confused man interspersed with footage of a woman while Jane Malone’s whispery voice-over works as a kind of stream-of-consciousness narrative. At points the film looks like a never-ending Sonic Youth video minus their powerful music and Malone’s voice-over delivery and the actual content of the text is often clichéd. But occasionally something beautiful happens and you start to get into what Moodysson tries to do: an excavation of the human soul, duality and the age-old quest for the self. It’s a very experimental film, in the literal sense of the word, and as such it fails and succeeds on equal measure. The DVD also includes an extra, Inside the Container Crypt which documents Moodyson’s installation based on the film at the ICA in London last year.

The three DVDs reviewed here are out now. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.