Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, 3 Hearts, Seymour: An Introduction, Dreamcatcher

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
3 Hearts

Seymour: An Introduction

Capsule reviews of two features and two documentaries from the art house:

David and Nathan Zellner's would-be comic odyssey "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" sinks under the weight of a fatally flawed scenario, ponderous patches, and contempt for its own characters. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a depressive, asocial Tokyo "office lady" (a sort of factotum of femininity) who spends all her free time at home re-watching the Coen Brothers' "Fargo." The facetious "this is a true story" title card convinces Kumiko that there's a briefcase full of money buried in the North Dakota snow with her name on it. Joe Morgenstern, in his WSJ pan, posits that she must be clinically deranged. Perhaps she's just monumentally stupid. In either case, there's no way for us in the audience to make common cause with her.

Before she decamps to Minneapolis - with a stolen company credit card in hand - she abandons her pet rabbit, Bunzo, who happens to be adorable, particularly when chomping on her leftover ramen noodles. First she takes him to a park and sets him free, but he doesn't want to go anywhere. Then she takes him to a subway station, leaves him on an empty outbound train, and watches, crying, as he rides away. Let me say for the tenth time how tired I am of animals' being mistreated (fictionally) in movies. First of all, a pet rabbit should not be kept alone but ideally with another neutered rabbit of the opposite sex. Secondly, intense fear is the worst thing an animal can experience - far worse than intense pain. Rabbits, as prey animals, spend their lives on constant alert. The fear going through this animal's mind as his only companion abandons him to an unknown future is too horrible to contemplate. How could decent people include such a scene in a movie that aims for a magical, dreamlike quality? 

Upon Kumiko's arrival in the freezing Minnesota winter, the film takes a turn toward unfunny fish-out-of-water comedy. At the airport, she's welcomed by a couple of proselytizers who warn her to steer clear of Lutherans and "Harry Kishners." A kindly motorist puts her up for the night and suggests she forget about Fargo: "I'll take you to the Mall of America instead. That's a lot more fun." A policeman trying to be helpful brings her to a roadside Chinese diner (just thinking about that food is enough to make you vomit) and is dumbfounded to learn that the proprietress, who is Mandarin, doesn't know Japanese: "Can't you translate even a few sentences?" I like my movie characters to be at least as smart as I am or, preferably, smarter. Two hours with a woman who's based her life around "Fargo" without considering that it may be a work of fiction - and others even more clueless than she - doesn't jazz me.

"Farewell, My Queen" director Benoît Jacquot returns with "3 Hearts," an overheated cassoulet of coincidence and contrivance. Benoît Poelvoorde stars as Marc, a Paris revenue agent conducting an audit in the country. One evening, he misses his train back to the city and meets a mysterious woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) with whom he spends the night wandering the streets, talking and flicking his cigarette lighter on and off about a hundred times. Her name is Sylvie, but they never exchange names or any other contact information, instead agreeing to meet a week later at the Tuileries Garden.

Marc and Sylvie just miss each other, and she moves to America with her longtime boyfriend. Meanwhile, he begins a new romance with an antique dealer named Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni), spending weekends at the home Sophie shares with her mother (Catherine Deneuve) and hearing about the sister who means more to Sophie than anyone - who just happens, unbeknownst to him, to be none other than Sylvie! "3 Hearts" is an egregious example of what the late Roger Ebert called the Idiot Plot, in which the movie would simply end if anybody came out and said what we've known all along.

The film critic Mike D'Angelo has written a point-by-point dissection of the ludicrous lengths Jacquot goes to to keep this from happening: Read it. It's far more entertaining than the movie. A friend suggested that the last scene leaves you to wonder what actually happens. You'd have to be brain-dead not to know what actually happens (we've been expecting it to happen from the start). The last scene is just a pointless meditation on what might have happened had Marc and Sylvie found each other at the Tuileries that fateful afternoon.

Gainsbourg - of Lars von Trier's mind-blowing "Melancholia" - is such a compelling screen presence, you can almost look past her wearing the same set of clothes throughout the movie. Poelvoorde doesn't look the part of a fought-over wishbone, but hey, it is France. But a year after the still-luminous Deneuve made the charming "On My Way," how could Jacquot cast her in this glorified soap opera and give her absolutely nothing to do? And a word must be said about the stentorian bongs with which Jacquot randomly litters the soundtrack. I can't remember movie music more annoying.

Ethan Hawke makes his directorial debut with the documentary "Seymour: An Introduction," about the pianist Seymour Bernstein who, paralyzed by stage fright, gave up his concert career at 50 to focus on tutoring promising youngsters. The film consists largely of these teaching sessions and painstaking master classes, and also features Bernstein's extended conversation with former pupil (and NYT writer) Michael Kimmelman, who pointedly asks whether his artistic gift conferred a duty that he abdicated by retiring. "I'm hearing you, Michael," he replies. I'm not sure there's much more takeaway from "Seymour" than practice, practice, practice - and Bernstein's joy at the sound of the Steinway he's allowed to select for a small private performance - but its 84 minutes make a short and sweet "Introduction."

There's more real talk (and real pain, and real hope) in any five minutes of Showtime's "Dreamcatcher" than in all of "3 Hearts." Kim Longinotto's verité documentary chronicles the extraordinary efforts of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former teenage prostitute who now helps young women get off the Chicago streets she once walked. For more on her inspiring work, check out the Dreamcatcher Foundation's website here:

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