Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bettie Page Reveals All, These Birds Walk, Sweet Dreams

Bettie Page Reveals All
Sweet Dreams

These Birds Walk

Finally, a trio of documentaries, in each of which the filmmaking falls short of the interest of the subject.

Mark Mori’s “Bettie Page Reveals All” can’t help but be fun. Mori got Page to sit down for an audio-only interview about a decade before her passing, and she recounts the affairs and incidents of her life with flair and cackling good humor. I’d much rather have heard the interview straight through while flipping through a companion book of Bettie Page photos. Mori’s interviews with a series of talking heads – including, inevitably, PJ-clad Hef – add little, and the stock video footage Mori slaps onscreen anytime Page refers to any person, place or thing detracts significantly. It looks like it belongs in a 50-year-old educational reel.

The enigmatically titled documentary “These Birds Walk” follows a handful of children in Karachi who have run away from home and landed, to their great good fortune, at the foundation formed by Pakistan’s foremost humanitarian, Abdul Sattar Edhi. There, they are sheltered and fed until either their parents come for them or, more often, they term out of Edhi and are chauffeured back home. The film also profiles Asad, an Edhi driver who makes commissions on the side by transporting medical patients to and from hospitals. We need to see at least one of those runs, though, to understand when Asad must prioritize. We would also benefit from a greater understanding of why – and when – some kids term out and some don’t. Ultimately, though I appreciate the film’s sideways peek at life in Karachi, directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq let the camera run too long just watching the kids act out. And when Asad brings one home and the father he’d been petrified of returning to tells Asad he’d have done better to bring him a corpse, the moment is heartbreaking, but without context, it might just as well have taken place in Kingston or Kalamazoo.

The Rwandan women of “Sweet Dreams” come from both the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Some lost parents or siblings in the genocide of 1994; some of their parents were perpetrators and are still rotting in jail. They come together to pursue an activity long foreclosed to them: drumming, and the movie is never so alive as during these musical outpourings of grief, repentance and reconciliation. Unfortunately, directors Lisa and Rob Fruchtman spend too much of their short running time rehashing material we’ve seen better elsewhere. And they do a mediocre job of incorporating into the film the new business of the women’s co-op: an ice cream store, the only one of its kind in the country. Decisions such as which women will get jobs at the store take place off-camera, leaving unanswered questions. In the end, the movie feels more than anything like promotional material for the white Brooklynites helping the women’s theater director, Kiki Katese, to realize her quixotic and impetuous wish.

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