Thursday, June 20, 2019

Bob's Cinema Diary: 6/20/90 -- Walking on Water and The Fall of the American Empire

Walking on Water
In the documentary Walking on Water, the artist Christo oversees creation one of his signature works, a floating walkway constructed on Lake Iseo in the Lombardy region of Italy. Set in 2015, the movie follows Christo and his team through a massive undertaking that was taken apart only 16 days after its debut. In his first project since the death of his wife Jeanne-Claude in 2009, Christo navigates bureaucracies and deals with an array of technical and weather problems —- not to mention the frustrations of having the project nearly ruined by inadequate crowd control measures. Christo doesn't pretend that the work has great significance; his "Floating Piers" -- made from more than 200,000 polyethylene cubes -- seems an irresistibly playful creation, a kind of impromptu bridge that Christo covered with orange, water-repellant material. The movie is interesting as far it goes, providing views of Christo as an irritated creator tormented by organizational problems or as a grandfatherly figure talking to New York City school kids. Director Andrey Paounov's documentary falls short, though. We don’t get much by way of explanation about how all this was done, how materials were selected -- and in some cases -- even what materials were used. You may feel a little sorry for Vladimir Yavachev, Christo's nephew, the man assigned the unenviable task of trying to manage the project. Absent narration and interviews, Paounov leaves it us to make what we will of what we've seen. My take: Drudgery and physical labor can dominate the making of something that’s intended to be awe-provoking and fun. And, hanging out with the sometimes irascible Christo isn't always a picnic, either.

The Fall of the American Empire

Yes, that’s an awfully pretentious title for a caper movie about a delivery man (Alexandre Landry) who finds himself in possession of a stolen fortune and then must struggle to keep his windfall. Director Denys Arcand’s Montreal-based movie (in French with English subtitles) offers a medium-grade plot and a fine performance from Remy Girard as a savvy ex-convict who knows his way around the world of finance. Arcand, who also wrote the screenplay, sometimes forces his characters into on-the-nose speeches denouncing the flaws of a system in which money has become the sole measure of success. Add additional discussions about ethics and you’ve got the idea, a caper comedy that wants to say something about the moral bankruptcy of contemporary society. Well and good, but Arcand doesn’t seem to realize that a crisply told story (which this isn’t) would have done the job just as well as one that underlines its intentions. Audiences (myself included) have an insatiable appetite for caper movies, but while trying to justify itself as a social critique, The Fall of the American Empire too often fizzles. With Maripier Morin as a high-priced, sophisticated hooker who helps Landry's character overcome his naiveté.

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