Time of your life 


The special program devised to promote "Tango: The Obsession" was just finishing up as I walked up the front steps of the Enzian Monday night. The screening, I soon learned, had been sandwiched between a dance demonstration and a Q&A session with the film's director. A Festival staffer of my acquaintance greeted me at the door with a smile.

"He's young," my friend said of the "Tango" auteur. "Real young. Like 26."

We exchanged the rueful, conspiratorial head-shake that we elders reserve for discussions of the younger and more successful. I momentarily considered asking my pal how he felt about Hanson, but thought better of it.

As the audience of apprentice gauchos filed out, I spotted "SlamNation's" equally youthful Beau Sia at the bar, enjoying the company of two pretty, raven-haired attendees. From now on, I determined, I'm going to take this guy's lonely-heart image with a grain of salt.

Buckling up

Taking their seats for the 7:15 p.m. showing of "Cadillac," the festivalers gossiped about the previous evening's disaster at Colonial Promenade: The print of "Buffalo 66" had burned up approximately 20 minutes before the end of the picture, necessitating last-minute refunds to all ticket holders. Hoping to be spared any similar mishaps, the Monday mob settled in to sample the untested pleasures of "Cadillac."

Seeing the film for the first time, I was impressed by its unfolding, enigmatically structured story of three high-school friends, now grown to adulthood, who attempt to come to grips with the demons of their past and move on to new, more fruitful lives. The film's few flashback sequences were accessed via imaginative, sparingly utilized transition shots, and the dialogue-driven narrative could easily have been mistaken for a stage drama that had been adapted for the big screen ("Jackknife," the filmed version of the play "Secret Snow," was one obvious antecedent). On the down side, the revelations toward which the story had been building seemed anti-climactic once they arrived.

Dating yourself

Next up was "Unmade Beds," the staged documentary about a quartet of New Yorkers searching for companionship in the pages of the personals. Having seen the film before the beginning of the Festival, I was curious to see how it would play before an audience. At first, the signs were all positive, as the crowd erupted in repeated, uproarious laughter at the ridiculous attitudes and activities of the principal characters. It seemed to be smooth sailing for "Beds" -- that is, until the picture abruptly fluttered and went dead. The house lights came back up, and we feared the worst. Had we angered the gods of celluloid by mocking the Sunday-night debacle? Was it all a bizarre publicity stunt for "The Race to Save 100 Years," next Sunday's documentary about film restoration? On a more personal level, how the hell was I going to get a refund on an all-access pass?

Thankfully, the crisis was short-lived. Fire Marshal Bill did not make an appearance, and the screening resumed. Within a few minutes, we were all back to laughing at the hapless strivings of the love-starved.

After a while, however, an interesting transformation began to take place. As I had anticipated, the guffaws turned to chuckles as the desperate self-loathing that is the undercurrent of the film made itself more apparent. By the time an obese woman was seen tearfully lamenting that she'd never be able to celebrate a 50-year anniversary with anybody, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Sympathy (and maybe self-recognition) swept the house.

Those who had been around for the showing of "Cadillac" had to have been doubly affected. In the course of two features, they had been reminded how tenuous a thing an identity really is. The first film had been somewhat safer territory: Not everyone has been a teen-age wrestling star whose college plans were scuttled by an ill-advised night of drugged-out revelry. But we've all felt the need for love, and been more than a little frightened of who we might be willing to become in order to get it.

The end credits of "Unmade Beds" drew merely courteous applause from the shaken audience members. Clutching their loved ones and their other possessions tightly, they shuffled to their cars, thinking of the masks they would pick out to wear tomorrow.

Tips for Tuesday: A 7:15 p.m. viewing of "Tell About the South" (an exploration of Dixie culture) is the pick at Enzian. At the same time, Colonial Promenade hosts a last-chance replay of "Unmade Beds."

For a complete listing of Florida Film Festival events, search the Calendar

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There's even more at the official website.

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