Entertainment
A scene from The Philosopher Kings. No context needed.
courtesy Houston King

Film Fest, week two: a lot of twisted love

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Wrong Rosary

Musa is a middle-aged man who moves to Istanbul working as a muezzin and singing the daily prayer call in an Islamic mosque. Starting a new life, he moves into an apartment where he meets his next-door neighbour, Clara, who was orphaned at childbirth and raised by nuns.

The film alternates between her life and Musa's, with each finding their religions conflict with the other. Due to their upbringings, they are so introverted and painfully shy that they cannot get past the most basic greetings to address their attraction for each other.

This is Turkish director Mahmut Fazil Coskun's first film and is a modest and patient affair, plainly shot on handheld camera. It focuses on the small, minute details of the characters' lives -- as they prepare meals or clean their apartments. The interactions between the two are strictly functional. Musa borrows a screwdriver from Clara. They share an elevator in silence. He returns a rosary she dropped.

It takes weeks for just a proper introduction and an exchange of names.

The film is slower and more meandering than viewers may be accustomed to, but the acting and character development are rich and meditative. The slightest gestures and glances take on powerful meanings in the film's context. In this way, the film is very much the Turkish equivalent of David Lean's 1945 romance Brief Encounter. In its long stretches of silence, Wrong Rosary holds moments of quiet charm and deep sadness.

..Richard Lam

Houston, We Have a Problem

Houston, We Have A Problem tackles the tumultuous history of America's oil booms and busts, attempting to understand the energy industry's history in order to forecast its future. While the film suffers a bit from a lack of coherent editing early on, it turns out to be one of the more sober and optimistic views on the subject in many years.

Torre starts where the energy industry began, with Texas and its "wildcatter" oil-men. From there the film describes, in the words of the people involved, exactly how the oil industry got big and why it collapsed. Surprisingly, the film's choice of subjects doesn't demonize anyone -- there's no ethnocentric bashing of the Middle East for controlling the world's oil. Instead, the film constructs a narrative that basically says, "Wow, America's energy situation never needed to be as bad as it is."

While the history pieces have been done before in other films, constructing Houston, We Have A Problem with first-person accounts grounds the film's perspective in an engaging way. Rather than fear-mongering about the end of peak oil, though, the film extends its reach to include commentary about the future of the energy industry and the potential for innovation.

Under Torre's watchful eye, Houston, We Have A Problem emerges as a surprisingly thoughtful, thought-provoking and optimistic look at the American energy sector. While the film isn't entirely on-message -- spending half the time discussing history before explaining why it matters -- the treatment of the subject is excellent and makes Houston a must-see for anyone interested in the energy sector.

..Ryan Pike

The Philosopher Kings

In the white halls of the academic ivory tower, students and staff often forget about the people on its fringes. Yet their simple, incredible stories of simple human existence are some of the most powerful, as seen in Patrick Shen’s new documentary The Philosopher Kings.
Named after Plato’s Republic — where philosophers ruled instead of petty despots — the film features eight custodians from across the United States of America offering a healthy dose of earthy wisdom in the sacred halls of such prestigious institutions as Princeton and Cornell University.

The film is beautifully shot, scored and edited and these choices help tell each individual's incredible story, intermingling each of their stories and showing some common thematic connections through their brilliant tales of loss, love and simply living day to day.

The film's editing is beyond reproach. From one of the first scenes -- a giant portrait of Earth dominating the screen only to get dusted by University of Florida Museum caretaker Melinda Augustus  -- to the heartwrenching handheld footage of Josue Lajeunesse crying at the realization that he can only do so much to help family and friends in his native Haiti on his janitor and taxi driver's salary, this film is incredibly cinematic. This is a welcome reprieve from the more common forms of reportage documentary out there.

There are problems with it, but mostly come from The Philosopher King's excessively upbeat nature. The soundtrack is gorgeous but at times comes off as cloyingly sweet. Not only that, but each custodian's relentlessly happy story can become too much.

When Vietnam vet Jim Evener says, "If you're miserable everyday, you're doing something wrong," it's easy to immediately scream, "yes!" Only afterward, upon reflection, do these kind of Chicken Soup For The Soul-isms come across as incredibly shallow.

Yet The Philosopher Kings is still a powerful film. Each custodian demonstrates an earthy intelligence, a populist positivity which is a breath of fresh air from the bourgeois neuroses that affect the lives of post-secondary graduates. Kings offers a rustic charm, not because of its characters per se, but because it shows wisdom gained from experience and not knowledge gleaned in the depths of a textbook.

..Jordyn Marcellus

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