A Sunday departure meant I wasn't able to enjoy any of the offerings on the final day of the 19th Annual Cucalorus Film Festival, but I caught two last films before bidding adieu at Saturday night's fest-sponsored Midnite Brunch.
An animated sequence from the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply. (Photo: Variance Films)
TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY — As one of the talking heads notes in this informative and intelligent documentary, there are plenty of folks who don't particularly mind the abuse of privacy that has become the norm in our interconnected world, whether it's the government monitoring our personal communications or companies like Facebook and Google sharing our information with anyone they please. After all, these folks argue, I have nothing to hide, so why should I care? Leigh Van Bryan, for instance, is someone who probably had nothing to hide. But when this British resident wrote that he was looking forward to his U.S. visit, with plans to "go and destroy America," he and his friend were met at the Los Angeles airport by armed guards from the Department of Homeland Security who arrested them, questioned them, threw them in holding cells for 12 hours and deported them back to England. How could Leigh possibly have predicted that DSH and TSA agents wouldn't have a clue that "destroy" was U.K. slang for partying, or that they would still deport him after everything was explained? Or take the young teen who received a visit from government officials after he sent out a message stating that President Obama had better be careful of being firebombed since Osama bin Laden was successfully brought down. Somehow this voice of concern was tagged a security risk, apparently a heinous scheme by a minor who planned to assassinate the president somewhere in between doing his homework and playing PS3. Director Cullen Hoback's film is full of such infuriating bits, although all of the ire isn't directed at a government that, since 9/11 and the accursed Patriot Act, has completely dismantled Americans' rights. Instead, Cullen also rightly goes after our "friends" on the Internet, those services that provide us with free information and allow us to stay in touch with old high school buddies but which actually are insidious in the manner in which they have allowed all of our private data to be accessible to the government, the law, businesses and even other citizens. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg receives the lion's share of the criticism, and deservedly so — there's even a Michael Moore-like scene in which Cullen camps out in front of Zuckerberg's house hoping to get some comments, and Zuckerberg's first statement is a request to Cullen to turn off the camera, thus giving him — yes — privacy.
Terms and Conditions May Apply director Cullen Hoback holds a Q&A session after the Cucalorus screening. (Photo: Natalie Howard)
Cullen packs the piece with relevant interviews, including choice quotes from the likes of author Margaret Atwood, musician Moby and Barrett Brown, the unofficial head of the hacktivist group Anonymous. All of these interviewees take the topics at hand with the utmost seriousness, though that doesn't mean their anecdotes aren't often amusing. Take Jerome Schwartz, for example. Cullen confronts him with a list of keywords that have been traced back to his account, most centered around the topic "how to murder your wife." Yikes; we should lock this guy up immediately, right? Hold the phone; not even his presumably endangered wife would agree to that; after all, Schwartz, a screenwriter by trade, was conducting some online research for the hit TV series Cold Case (for which he penned an episode), and a man who seemed like a prime candidate for a maximum-security prison is suddenly revealed as a decent bloke who's just doing his job.
Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps in Stranger By the Lake (Photo: Strand Releasing)
STRANGER BY THE LAKE — The most explicit non-porn film I've seen since John Cameron Mitchell's excellent 2006 effort Shortbus, writer-director Alain Guiraudie's French import is a triumph as a study of human behavior in the face of rampant sexual desire but a misfire as the murder-mystery it haphazardly attaches onto its main frame. The entire film is set at a secluded stretch of beach where gay men gather to swim in the water, tan in the sun and hook up in the bushes. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a good-looking young man, is slow to get started in the cruising department, spending time instead with Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao), a portly older man (think Gerard Depardieu) who frequently visits the beach because he finds it a quiet place to think. Henri is also gay but platonically so, and he solely enjoys hanging out with Franck for the company — indeed, their scenes together are the film's best, thanks to Guiraudie's revealing dialogue and d'Assumçao's poignant performance. Franck eventually does hook up with another man (and, yes, the camera even captures the cumshot), but he's mostly interested in a handsome stranger named Michel (Christophe Paou), who he later witnesses drowning his partner late one afternoon. Obviously, Franck should report what he saw to the authorities; instead, he enters into a carnal relationship with Michel. But matters become more complicated once a police inspector (Jérome Chappatte) arrives on the scene and starts asking a lot of questions. American cinema is so timid when it comes to sexuality — especially homosexuality — that it's refreshing to see a film that accepts it in such a matter-of-fact manner. But while the character relationships are nicely delineated, the thriller aspects are surprisingly anemic, with little in the way of logic, suspense or even rooting interest.