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with George

Category: 2009

The Diary of Anne Frank/Mid-August Lunch (2009)

As with most of the films in the 2009 revisit so far, I had very little idea of what Mid-August Lunch would be about. I might have read the one-sentence Netflix descriptor, but I was basing my inclusion of it almost entirely on title, poster, and the fact I knew it was Italian.

Why then, would I tag that movie along with The Diary of Anne Frank, a film I not only already knew about, but a film that I had seen most of a few years ago (when it aired on PBS in the US)? It was mostly random, I suppose, and I figured that if I had no reason to discuss them together, I could always review them separately. Fortunately for my viewing experience, there was a connection. Don’t you love it when that happens?

Anne Frank, for those of you who don’t know, was a 13-year-old when she went into hiding with her family in 1940s Amsterdam. She hid because she was Jewish. Her life, which was already set to change because she was entering adolescence, was about to be flipped upside down by Hitler and war. During these teenage years in which most people learn life isn’t fair, the lesson would be even harsher for her.

Neither film is particularly plot-heavy. The majority of The Diary of Anne Frank takes place in one location, and for better or worse, the film is much more focused on characters and the interplay therein. Asked to describe what Mid-August Lunch is about, I would say, “food, money, and old people,” and I would be 100% correct. A man takes in three old ladies as favors he owes for not being able to pay rent or bills. And that’s all that happens, really.

The major link between these two films is that they’re both about loneliness.

The teenage angst in The Diary of Anne Frank is often obvious and overdone, and the tension is occasionally forced. Sometimes, it fails to be anything but a scope-less portrait of a growing girl. But it tells a human story, and it does it well for the most part. This isn’t a thriller reenactment or a war epic. It’s an adaptation of the actual diary of Anne Frank, and therefore relies completely on the small things, and whether or not you’ll buy and appreciate them.

Anne (played exceptionally well by Ellie Kendrick) is lonely. She claims no one understands her. These are basic youth complaints, but the fact that it is set against the dreadful background of World War II is what made her writings artifacts, and what makes her special.

The old ladies in Mid-August Lunch are lonely, if not completely alone, as well. Their families neither need nor want them. Gianni takes them in because he’s being forced to, but by the time comes for them to leave, he’ll only let them go if he’s forced to.

In that movie, people find each other and they do live happily-ever-after. In The Diary of Anne Frank, however, things a little more complicated. People find each other, then drift apart, then get angry at each other, then make up and do it all again, because they’re living together in a confined space that wasn’t really meant for living.

But the beautiful tragic truth of the whole film is that they are lucky, as a few characters exclaim with surprising hope throughout the film. They’re lucky not only to still have each other, but also the not be dead yet. And even though their case is special and much more dire, the same goes for the characters in Mid-August Lunch and for us all.

The Diary of Anne Frank: It is at its best when it reaches beyond the trite melodrama and lets Anne be flawed and hit real emotion. Great performances from Kendrick, Iain Glen as Otto Frank, and Tim Dantay as Mr. Kugler. I take or leave Geoff Breton as Peter. 3/4.

Mid-August Lunch: A fun, lively, but modestly paced slice-of-life film that explores people’s need to be needed. Lead actor/director/screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio seems to be talented in all his roles. 3/4.

CNBC Originals: As Seen on TV/Objectified (2009)

As Seen on TV

Inside-the-industry cable documentaries fascinate me. Their running times allow them to be intense and immerse-able without being heavy at all. (Side note: ‘immersive’ really should be a word.) Plus, we get the equal parts goofy and serious narrator. Factual television is as full of potential as reality television is popular.

This is why I wanted to include one of these CNBC Originals in our festival.

I once wasted a good deal of money on a ShamWow, so I know this first hand, but advertising really works. Particularly infomercials. Apparently, and according to As Seen on TV, it’s a $150 billion industry. PedEggs outsell Snickers. Those hammy, ridiculous sales pitches actually work on people, and it’s no wonder. Who doesn’t need a saw that refuses to cut human flesh (maybe)?

But wait, there’s more! They actually made and sold a Chia Obama!

The infomercials are cheesy, and As Seen on TV stoops to that level of cheesiness to get its point across… or maybe just to be a little more entertaining. It, like the commercials it highlights, is filled with fluff and things I neither ever wondered about nor will actually remember.

Of course, it wasn’t as good as the ones about airplane crashes, but As Seen on TV was a fun and forgettable cable documentary and was totally worth the 41-minute investment.

My rating: **½

Objectified

Unless… you happen to have 75 minutes free. In which case, you should see Objectified.

The documentary about objects in our world is made by Gary Hustwit, the same person who directed Helvetica, the documentary about font. I thought Helvetica had a lot of promise that wasn’t capitalized on. It drags and is weak at times.

But Objectified is the complete opposite (despite being similar to its cousin in that it relies entirely on expert talking-heads instead of finding everyday people to talk to). It’s zippy and fun, but can handle some emotion and provokes deeper thought. (Yes, kids, even about art!) I enjoyed the final few shots, particularly.

My rating: ***½

Next time: a few mini-reviews of 2009 films I’ve already seen.