Saturday, April 28, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.02 (Thursday 26 April 2012): Pelotero and The Imposter

The anecdote in the first paragraph of the Pelotero review is the truth; I was going to give the movie a pass because I've seen enough other baseball movies on similar subjects that I didn't necessarily feel the need to see another until Brian Tamm basically said "you're not seeing the baseball movie? C'mon, Polisse is going to play the Kendall!"

So I saw it. Heck, it's a better recommendation than what I was toying with earlier - having people tweet to me and @eFilmCritic what I should see an making the best schedule I can from the winners. If I can get our follower counts up for next year and have the same sort of "well, it all looks good" feelings about the schedule, maybe I'll try it then.

In the meantime, have some horrible photography:
Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, Jon Paley, "Pelotero" directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jon Paley at the Somerville Theatre, 26 April 2012
Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jon Paley

Interesting Q&A, at times. There was one older lady who accused the directors of making an exploitation film, although I'm not sure how you can look at this and think it was on MLB's side - while I admit that it could have been much harsher toward the organization, I think it makes very clear how MLB rigs the system in their favor and even then tries to take further advantage.

Most seemed to like it, though, and the directors implied that they had gotten some distribution, and would likely play at the Coolidge in July.

It wound up making an interesting double feature with The Imposter (hey, Indomina, would you mind correcting the spelling of "Impostor" before releasing it, even if you're going to book it in places that call themselves "Theatres"?); both wound up with themes of identity theft and presenting yourself as younger than you are. The Imposter was the slicker production, but oddly omitted the big question of why Frédéric Bourdin did this at all never backed out when he saw the mess he was in. The obvious answer, that he's mentally ill or compulsive in some way, will have to suffice, but it's not nearly as solid as the economic reasons displayed in Pelotero.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

I've already seen and reviewed a couple of movies about Dominican ballplayers trying to make the American major leagues - one fairly decent documentary (Rumbo a Las Grandes Ligas) and one feature (the excellent Sugar) - so I nearly passed on this one until a festival director reminded me that my first choice would have a regular theatrical run soon enough and, you know, baseball! And I'm glad; Pelotero ("Ballplayer") got lucky where its subjects are concerned, but the filmmakers still deserve credit for piecing it together so well.

Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano were, when Pelotero was filmed in 2009, two Dominican teenagers who play shortstop and practice with neighboring trainers. Jean Carlos works with Astin Jacobo and is a solid, hard-working prospect, while Miguel Angel works with "Moreno" Tejada, and is such a cocky natural talent that he's known as Bocaton ("big mouth") and widely expected to garner the highest signing bonus a Dominican player has ever received. That is, if Major League Baseball's investigators can be convinced that he will only be celebrating his sixteenth birthday in the months leading up to the July 2nd signing day.

This is not an idle concern; not only is Sano a big guy with an advanced skill set, but many Dominican prospects have been caught lying about their age or, when that became harder to do as the United States implemented more stringent immigration controls, assuming others' identities. We are told that 20% of all professional baseball players come from the Dominican Republic despite the island having a population just 2% the size of that of the U.S., but even considering that, the vast majority of these teenagers will go unsigned; the difference between dropping out of school to concentrate on baseball full-time for nothing and receiving a life-changing bonus can be razor-thin. Even discounting the prospect of fraud, these kids and everyone around them are highly motivated.

Full review at EFC.

The Imposter

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

The very title of The Imposter seems like it might be giving the game away, but it's not hard to argue that this is entirely appropriate. Director Bart Layton opts to make the film a mystery only after all the facts have seemingly been laid out, and often seems to seek out the shaky ground when presenting those. This documentary politely rebuffs clarity as others strive for it; combine that with stylish production and you get an often-fascinating feature.

On the 13th of June in 1994, 13-year-old Nicolas Barclay vanished less than two miles from his home in San Antonio, Texas. As missing-child cases go, it wasn't unusual - many go unsolved if there is no break in the early hours - but it took a strange turn in October of 1997, when a young man found in Linares, Spain claimed to be the missing boy. He was not - where Nicolas was blond-haired and blue-eyed, this 23-year-old Frenchman was neither and spoke with a noticeable accent - but it's hard to blame a family that has lost a child for wanting to believe.

That this man cannot be Nicolas is made quite clear from the beginning, but what Layton sacrifices in suspense by making that explicit is more than compensated for by how this knowledge combined with the time that elapsed between the actual events and the making of the film colors audience perception of the interview segments. There's a subtle difference to how Frédéric Bourdin (the imposter of the title) is handled - he seems to be telling a story rather than answering unheard questions, and has variations in camera angle compared to others who get a single, straight-on setup - that hint that he is not just one of several interview subjects, but a narrator and protagonist. Laytonalso seems to spend much of the movie selecting interview footage that suggests that even over a dozen years later Nicolas's family still thinks of the months when Bourdin impersonated Nicolas with some strange fondness.

Full review at EFC.

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