Tuesday, May 31, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Day #6: El Bulli: Cooking In Progress and Sons of Perdition

First, and most important: If you're reading this in Boston on or before 2 June 2011, Sons of Perdition is still playing at the Kendall Square Cinema, and is pretty darn good. It was only booked for a week, so it would probably not have survived the ridiculous way they've booked Tree of Life this weekend anyway (and boy, is that a rant for this week's Next Week...).

No Q&A for it there, of course, which is a shame; Tyler Measom gave a thoroughly charming one to cap off the festival's run in the Somerville Theatre (thanks to his bright shirt, you can almost make him out in the obligatory Horrible Photography™). I found myself impressed by the even, accepting tone he maintained throughout the conversation, considering the subject matter of his and his wife's film, I would have been pretty much 100% pure anger. I'm not a big fan of superstition to begin with, so I can't really say that there's a special place in Hell for the people who manipulate their followers like this, but it ticks me off - both for it's a crappy thing to do and how it never seems to lead to people questioning their own religious beliefs.

That was the second half of the night; the first was what was possibly the surprise hit of the festival; El Bulli: Cooking in Progress got upgraded from one of Somerville's smaller theaters to their main screen, and while it didn't sell out, it got fairly crowded. No filmmakers in attendance, so it was on Brian to mention during the intro that they always hope to book something that strikes a chord with audiences, and this one exceeded all expectations in terms of ticket sales.

Maybe they set their expectations a little low; Adrià was a visiting lecturer at Harvard last fall, giving the project even more local interest even if cooking programs weren't popular. Plus, there's a science angle, which was a big part of what got my attention (for all I grumbled about all the performer-related docs, I grabbed a seat at any science-related one I could find, although there were never two or three of those running at once). It's a lot of reasons for people to be interested in the movie, and it seemed to bring them all out.

Just one horrible picture today:

"Sons of Perdition" director Tyler Measom
Tyler Measom, from fairly close up, so I got an unusually decent shot.

(And, man, is it a said thing that dropping Warren Jeffs's name into Amazon brings up multiple books about his cult.)

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (IFFBoston 2011)

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress has a strange start for a documentary about a famous chef and his equally famous restaurant: The kitchen is disassembled and packed away. This is not, however, a precursor to a jump back in time to tell us a story of failure; it's a fittingly unusual beginning to an examination of Ferran Adrià's unusual process.

Yes, Adrià's El Bulli restaurant did close in October of 2008, but that's a regular occurrence, as he and his staff retreat to their Barcelona test kitchen to begin development of the next year's menu. Though the words are never mentioned in the film, Adria is one of the main practitioners of molecular gastronomy (though he prefers the term "deconstructivist"), a form of cooking that embraces technology and scientific procedures. Adrià and his assistants will spend the next months painstakingly researching and quantifying the tastes and textures that come from preparing different foods in different ways, developing a menu theme that coalesces into the "Year of Water" when the restaurant re-opens in June of 2009.

There's an old joke among scientists that the scientific method is best defined as "make the grad students do all the work". The various assistants and sous-chefs we meet are likely a bit higher up the totem pole than that, but the principle holds: For much of the film, we are not watching Ferran Adrià, but his staff - Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego et al. They're the ones who do the repetitive but crucial work of iterating through various combinations of ingredients, equipment, and parameters in order to discover the best ones to present to Ferran, and are often the ones who find a new dish, whether by happenstance (mistakenly using carbonated water when flat was originally called for) or trial and error. In some ways, though, this is more instructive - with Adrià off-site or just off-screen, we see pecking orders on the one hand and comradeship on the other. Some on the staff are relatively new, so there is talk of "what Ferran will think".

Full review at EFC.

Sons of Perdition

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #4 (IFFBoston 2011)

Most of the time, when the modern westerner encounters or hears of polygamy, it's an individual case, and thus he or she thinks about the individual psychology involved. Make it more commonplace, though, and a numbers issue emerges: A potential surplus of young men. In a polygamist community in the American southwest, this excess is cast out (or at least, men who leave are not pursued nearly as much as women), considered "sons of perdition", and the film of the same name is a fascinating look at these exiles' struggles.

The exiles come from the town of Colorado City, Arizona, a town populated by Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a Mormon splinter group under the leader ship of Warren Jeffs. Jeffs - called "The Prophet" - is a second generation cult leader who controls the town absolutely. When girls reach child-bearing age, they are given to the men Jeffs selects; fall out of favor, and your wives and children may be distributed to someone else (and, since you'll no longer need such a big house, you'll likely be ordered to move, as well). Extra boys who are not among the chosen elite are either dropped outside town or allowed to run. Many end up in St. George, Utah. The filmmakers spend most of their time with three: 17-year-old Sam, his 15-year-old cousin Bruce, and 17-year old Joe.

Generally speaking, documentaries come in two main flavors - fly-on-the-wall and interview/archive-driven. Directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten mostly favor the former, following the boys around as they experience and try to find a place in the outside world. There are basic bits of information to fill the audience in on, though, and it's delivered in a couple of interesting ways. We get an idea of what sort of indoctrination the members of the FLDS receive by listening to clips of Jeffs, and it's remarkably, unnervingly seductive - the delivery is clear and simple with consistent logic that almost makes sense from a certain starting position; it does a good job of short-circuiting any contempt the audience might feel for the majority of the FLDSers. Outside of that, the information seldom seems spoon-fed; only a former FLDS social worker really seems to be a straightforward interview. The rest come from the boys and the people they meet, the information seeming to come out as asides as the subjects go about their business.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: