Mill Valley Film Festival Oct. 7-17, 2010 - Movie Reviews

By Jonathan W. Wind

The 33rd Mill Valley Film Festival begins October 7 and ends October 17. These are a few of the finer offerings of the festival.

Child of Giants

Narrated by Daniel Rhodes Dixon, eldest son of depression era photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) and painter Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) Child of Giants tells the story of Daniel's disenchantment with his parents, icons of the American art world and residents of San Francisco. Dorothea, famous for her b&w photography and Maynard for his desert art and folk paintings were ruthless in their raising of their two sons, who loved them but could not seem to obtain their love in return. Much of the film, sorrowfully, is a gripefest of how he and his brother were not loved but instead sent to foster homes while Dorothea and Maynard developed their impressive careers. Daniel rebelled and became a thorn in their sides until he finally reconciled with them and matured without the crushing weight of his parents' fame.


Patagonia is the southern tip of South America, comprising parts of Argentina and Chile and the majestic Andes. In two completely unrelated stories, a young unmarried couple from Wales comes to Patagonia to photograph the lush landscape and work on their romance and their future, while a half blind octogenarian and her young grandson travel surreptitiously from Patagonia to Wales to look for the older woman's roots and her past. The young couple's romance gets in a bind when she falls for their tour guide Mateo. Meanwhile in Wales the grandmother and grandson Alejandro, after repeated attempts, finally find her hometown, she sighs, parks on a park bench and promptly dies with a smile on her face. Back in Patagonia the couple find each other again by accident, after weeks of separation. This is a lovely movie featuring the lush natural beauty of landscapes 10,000 miles apart and about how we learn about each other through travel and how beauty does exist everywhere, not just in your own backyard.
(English subtitled)

The King's Speech

The King's Speech is the story of George VI (played by Colin Firth), father of Elizabeth II, who suffered from a terrible stammer that made public speaking an embarrassing chore. The King needed to speak publicly to soothe the Kingdom during WWII bombings in London after the abdication of his brother the Duke of Windsor. He finds an unconventional speech therapist named Lionel Logue, played to perfection by Geoffrey Rush. As Royal and commoner learn to open up to each other a friendship is formed that is played out on the world stage in this true story of a proud man and an oppressed prince both eager to overcome their shortcomings and learn to trust and persevere, and of a companionship that allowed the doctor to say to the King “you don’t need to be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were 5 years old.” Also starring Helen Bonham Carter, the King's Speech is certainly an Oscar contender. This is a wonderful movie, the audience stood and applauded, how often do you see that?

In Julia's Disappearance Julia is on her way to her 50th birthday party and feels her life is in crisis as she battles with feeling invisible because of the new decade upon her. All of her friends are gathered at a restaurant and as they wait they complain and discuss their various problems and ailments and the indignities of aging, drinking heavily, almost to exhaustion. Meanwhile Julia gets waylayed by a stranger who convinces her that aging is in her mind and she decides instead to have a few drinks with this wise stranger, rather than with her waiting guests. Simultaneous stories of bored teens and recalcitrant seniors with thin links to Julia all end up playing out at the same restaurant in a funny, if unbelievable ending to this cute comedy.
(English subtitled)

Queen of Hearts is a lame French farce where Adele gets dumped by Matthieu, and ends up living with a neighbor who insists that she need to sleep with other men to get over herself. She meets Pierre on a park bench, falls in love at first sight with Paul, and has hilarious sex with Jacques; all the while dealing with trite text messages, cute babies and a variety of odd situations that always end up leaving her in pain. But surprise, Pierre, Paul, Matthieu and Jacques are all played by the same actor, sporting different hair styles and glasses, though this is not actually mentioned in the film and is not part of the plot, perhaps the allusion is to her being able only to see her lost love. Queen of Hearts is an oddity more for what you question than for what is clear. Actress Valerie Donzelli plays Adele, she wrote the screenplay and also directs in a clipped style that unexpectedly breaks into song upon occasion, adding further comedy to a story already top heavy with silly tricks. Donzelli also strips for explicit sex scenes made all the more ridiculous by tears and moans, it all gets quickly tiresome in this comic romance.
(English subtitled)

In Biutiful Javier Bardem plays a man in crisis. Filmed entirely in Barcelona, he makes his living by securing immigrant labor for low paying blackmarket jobs in construction and street sales. His life begins to collapse as his wife flies out of control, his Asian labor force is all accidentally asphyxiated and his African street salesman are beaten and incarcerated by the Spanish police for drug trafficking. He himself is diagnosed with cancer and as his life becomes unbearable he turns to his children for solace. As a man falling from grace he looks for redemption and finds it in his connection to the afterlife. His reality is stained and his fate is he is unable to forgive himself. Filmed in sweeping detail, Biutiful dramatizes the painful realities of life in a touching way that kept my attention throughout. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu gives expression to a flawed man without apology and gives the audience a heartbreaking experience.
(English subtitled)

© 2010 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 10/06/10
Movie Magazine International