By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 10, 2010 at 8:40AM
Nora and I drove out to the Palm Springs International Film Festival Saturday, already well under way (it winds up on the 18th). Fest director Darryl Macdonald and lead programmers Helen du Toit and Carl Spence not only play the pre-Oscar awards-tributes-red-carpet game with such films as Precious, An Education and The Last Station, but also assemble a large selection of foreign Oscar submissions (not all are deemed worthy). A Fipresci jury will choose the best film and performances of the 41. Altogether the fest brings in about 1000 assorted folk to the robust--and growing-local fest, with help from distribs as well as various foreign consulates. We registered along with the filmmakers from Ajami, a tough Palestinian/Israeli drama that is Israel's entry.
Saturday after a spartan organic lunch at Ace Hotel & Swim Club (a renovated Howard Johnson's and Denny's in minimalist/moderne style that showed The Big Lebowski to a crowded rec room that night), Nora and I screened Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, which was initially announced as the Greek entry for Oscar consideration. Greece thought better of it.
The sensationalist film was this year's Cannes Un Certain Regard prix-winner. Half the audience left after a sweet kitten was stabbed with garden shears; another sizable portion split when three nubile teens climbed into a tub together. The family unit lives in a walled in compound; only the over-protective father leaves for work every day, returning with food, objects and entertainment for his wife and kids. One older son has escaped over the wall. The rest are deprived of stimulus and act out in various all-too predictable ways. I didn't want to leave this curious, compelling movie (which Kino International is releasing), but I could understand why so many did. They felt assaulted.
Also slipping into the audience were Australian star couple Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, who had just unspooled her debut feature, Beautiful Kate, to a warm reception (it was deemed too dark to acquire by at least one stateside distributor). At the Viceroy Hotel party later, Brown said he stayed through to the end, but thought the "experimental" movie could have been dispatched in "twenty minutes."
Sunday brings a foreign film panel moderated by Variety's Peter Debruge and a plethora of choices. No City of Life and Death, though, one of two films pulled by China Film Group in protest over the showing of a pro-Tibet doc, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom. It turns out that the ink was not dry on the deal for National Geographic Films to distribute The City of Life and Death (set for March), which is complicated by parent National Geographic's complex ties with China. There's a chance the deal could fall through. When the festival spoke to Ye Kai, whose short Quick Quick Slow Slow was also pulled from the fest, she was clearly intimidated, they said.