Thursday, April 26, 2007

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2007 Opening Night: Fay Grim

Showed up, picked up my press pass, and stopped at Mr. Crepe to get some sustenance, and settled into the second row with plenty of time before the film was scheduled to start, which means roughly an hour before it actually started. I complain about this every year, I know, and I really should get over it, so I'm at least trying to build this year's watching schedule around the same screen - even if they don't let you camp out, the waiting past the listed start time won't have me gritting my teeth as much, worrying about whether or not I'll be able catch the next film if it (against all odds) is starting on time.

So, one mmo down. I'm thinking Congorama or The Killer Within and Great World of Sound tonight, although I'd also like to see On Broadway with a big chunk of cast & crew in attendence.

Fay Grim

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2007 at the Someville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Sequels don't sound like a very independent film sort of thing, and they accordingly don't happen very often. After all, most independent films that do well enough to get a sequel financed wind up in the hands of a studio. But sometimes a filmmaker does get a chance to revisit characters a few years later... By which time the crowd at the boutique cinemas and festivals has had a lot of turnover, so it might as well be a completely new film.

Fortunately, the opening scenes of Hal Hartley'sFay Grim have enough exposition that even those of us who have only vaguely heard of Henry Fool can get relatively caught up: Nine years ago, urban poet Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) helped his friend and brother-in-law Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) flee the country, leaving behind wife Fay (Parker Posey) and son Ned (Liam Aiken). This has landed Simon in prison, although royalties from his books support Fay and Ned. Simon's publisher Angus James (Chuck Montgomery) suggests that there might be some money to be made in publishing Henry's notebooks, once dismissed as an unreadable mess, but now possibly of interest. It turns out that they're not just of interest to those interested in reading the works of a man who influenced Simon Grim, but to the international intelligence community: CIA agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) and his assistant Carl Fogg (Leo Fitzpatrick) show up at Fay's door, and would like for her to travel to Paris and retrieve two of Henry's eight notebooks, which they believe France is planning to use to blackmail the United States.

The first half of Fay Grim plays as a comedy, both because of the gleeful absurdity of the plot devices and the deliciously off-center performances. Every new bit of information we learn about Henry's past makes him seem less like a man and more like a tall tale, as Henry's journals jump from Santiago to Afghanistan and point in between, alternately describing him as a university janitor with ambitions to become chief librarian and someone whose knowledge of the Israeli nuclear weapons program could cause a planet-wide crisis. Fay's trip to Paris is a never-ending series of awkward bits of tradecraft, with nearly everyone she meets involved in the caper in one way or another.

Full review at HBS.

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