By Susan JAMES
One of the city’s major international events, the Los Angeles Film Festival, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month with screenings in theaters around town of nearly 200 features, movie shorts, and music videos from 40 countries. In a number of the films California appears as a major character, so below is a sampler of three ‘foreign’ films made here.
“Lake Los Angeles,” filmed in the desert near Pearblossom, is the story of a young Mexican girl named Cecilia (Johanna Trujillo). One of a growing sea of illegal immigrant children, Cecilia is stranded in the desert when the father she has never seen fails to meet her and the coyote who has gotten her across the border sees a chance to make a profit by selling her. Escaping and surviving by her wits, Cecilia’s savior turns out to be a middle-aged Cuban refugee (Roberto Sanchez) whose own loneliness is as desolate as the desert that surrounds his rundown homestead. Anchored by the powerful performances of Trujillo and Sanchez, “Lake Los Angeles,” directed by Mike Ott, likens the desperate journeys of illegal immigrants to a modern day underground railway where freedom beckons, monsters roam and fear is never far away.
For something totally different, look out for “Man From Reno,” a Japanese neo-noir tale written by three non-Japanese Americans, Dave Boyle, Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, which won the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Festival. An adroit exercise in smoke and mirrors, the story focuses on identity theft and murder in the murky back streets of San Francisco. Coming at a complicated series of crimes from opposite ends of the problem are an aging small town sheriff played with effective restraint by Pepe Serna and a beautiful young Japanese mystery writer (Ayako Fujitani). Visually arresting as the camera moves between rural California and hidden corners of the City by the Bay, the story plays out with sudden shifts of mood and startling twists of plot that we don’t see coming. With a story as multi-layered as the proverbial onion, the film focuses with mixed results on the randomness of fate. Don’t spend too much time analyzing each twist and turn; just buckle up and enjoy the ride.
One of the categories in the festival, L.A. Muse, features films where the city is both inspiration and character. David Au’s “Eat With Me” follows in the footsteps of Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman” where food becomes a metaphor for life’s complicated interactions. The excellent, awkward and amazing Sharon Omi plays Emma, a middle-aged L.A. woman trapped in a stifling marriage who leaves her husband and goes to stay with her son, Elliot (Teddy Chen Culver). Elliot is the chef-owner of a failing Chinese restaurant whose lackluster food is a metaphor for Elliot’s own failing life. Elliot is gay, something his mother has never accepted, but her arrival on his doorstep offers both of them a chance to reconnect not just with each other but also with a more complete life. “Eat With Me” celebrates the idea that when you open yourself up to change good things can happen. George Takei makes a cameo appearance together with platefuls of gorgeous dumplings. One thing I guarantee is that if you watch this film the next stop you’ll be making is at your local Chinese dumpling restaurant.
See you at the movies!