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AFI FEST: Heath Ledger 'Doctor Parnassus'

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
A Lake by Philippe Grandrieux

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (top); A Lake by Philippe Grandrieux (middle); Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest (bottom)

AFI FEST 2009 highlights, Nov. 2:

  • Daniel Raim's documentary Something's Gonna Live, which features interviews with several behind-the-scenes veterans, including Robert F. Boyle, Conrad Hall, and Haskell Wexler
  • Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which marks Heath Ledger's last film appearance
  • Asghar Farhadi's drama About Elly, winner of the Silver Bear for best director at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival
  • Andrea Arnold's family drama Fish Tank, winner of the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival
  • Bahman Ghobadi's No One Knows About Persian Cats, about the obstacles faced by a couple of Iranian teenagers trying to form a rock band in an Islamic country
  • Alfred Hitchcock's absurd(ist?) chase flick North by Northwest, celebrating its 50th anniversary

Schedule and synopses from the AFI FEST website:

Something's Gonna Live by Daniel Raim

Something's Gonna Live

Mann Chinese Theatre 1, 4:00 pm

AFI alumnus Daniel Raim (Oscar-nominated for his short documentary, THE MAN ON LINCOLN'S NOSE) explores the artistry and personalities of acclaimed production designers (and pals) Robert “Bob” Boyle, Henry Bumstead, Harold Michelson and Albert Nozaki, along with master cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Conrad Hall. Raim joins these artists at the twilight of their years, exploring their creative growth, their mortality, the values they wish to pass on, and their hopes for the future. A riveting look at the humanity and creativity that helped shape films like THE BIRDS, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, STAR TREK and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, SOMETHING'S GONNA LIVE is an intimate story of life, death, friendship and cinema. Robert F. Boyle, Hitchcock's longtime designer, a 2008 Honorary Oscar recipient and Distinguished Lecturer at AFI, turns 100 on October 10. -Lane Kneedler

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Graumann's Chinese Theatre, 7:00 pm

Set in the present day, Gilliam's fantastical morality tale tells the story of a travelling show where the audience gets an irresistible opportunity to travel into their imaginations, guided by the extraordinary Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). An inveterate gambler, Parnassus made a bet thousands of years ago with the devil (Tom Waits), in which he won immortality. Centuries later, on meeting his one true love, Parnassus made another deal, trading his immortality for youth, on condition that when his daughter reached her 16th birthday, she would become the property of the devil. As Valentina (Lily Cole) rapidly approaches this milestone, the desperate Parnassus talks the devil into one final wager. Encountering a series of wild, comical and compelling characters (including the trickster Tony, played by Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell), Parnassus fights to save his daughter in a never-ending landscape of surreal obstacles, hoping to undo the mistakes of his past once and for all.

About Elly by Asghar Farhadi

About Elly

Mann Chinese Theatre 6, 7:00 pm

This taut, involving drama, centered around the mysterious disappearance of a young woman, confirms director Asghar Farhadi as a major talent, with an unrivaled ability to chronicle the malaise of middle-class Iranian society. Working in a highly controlled film industry that has progressively shut down the most innovative directors over the past three years, Farhadi has miraculously sidestepped the censors in earlier work like FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY. In his new film, a joyful party of friends—three married couples with kids plus the newly divorced Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) and young kindergarten teacher Elly (Taraneh Alidousti)—drive to the Caspian Sea for a three-day holiday. The plan, masterminded by Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), is to introduce Elly to Ahmad, who's looking for a new wife. Sepideh tells the elderly lady who rents them a big beach house the first lie: that Ahmad and Elly are newlyweds. Given Iranian social conventions, this is understandable, but it begins a chain that will have dire consequences. –Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter

Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank

Fish Tank

Mann Chinese Theatre 3, 7:00 pm

Deepening her exploration of the British working class on view in her Oscar-winning 2003 short film WASP and her 2006 Cannes Jury Prize-winning feature debut, RED ROAD, Andrea Arnold evokes the social realist tradition and influence of the gritty British New Wave films of the '50s and '60s.

FISH TANK features a remarkable acting debut by Katie Jarvis as Mia, a brash 15-year-old on the cusp of coming of age sexually. The cheap public housing block where Mia lives with her single mother and younger sister can barely contain their bad behavior and brutal affection, let alone her mum's new boyfriend (HUNGER's Michael Fassbender). With headphones on, Mia finds an escape route through dance and the calm of Constable's pastoral Essex countryside, where the wasteland is transformed into waves of grass and miles of sky. Winner of the 2009 Cannes Jury Prize. –Jacqueline Lyanga

No One Knows About Persian Cats by Bahman Ghobadi

No One Knows About Persian Cats

Mann Chinese Theatre 1, 10:00 pm

Bahman Ghobadi's infectiously lively and youthfully exuberant film follows two intelligent and determined Persian teens as they jump through hoops doing what in many other countries is relatively simple: forming a rock band. As they comb Tehran's basements, recording studios, and even cattle ranches (!) for other fellow indie rockers, they begin to understand the difficulty of attaining artistic freedom in a highly restrictive society. Expensive visas, requirements of English-language songs, and the pressures from the ever-looming, sterilizing pop music industry are only some of the obstacles that the budding musicians encounter (more incendiary political issues, of course, subtly lurk at the film's borders). Yet, as the raucously refreshing montage sequences suggest, an untamed love of music drives NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS. Ghobadi keeps the unapologetic desire for creative expression alive and pulsing, and reveals the Iranian underground indie music scene in all of its frenetic, hidden glory. –Beth Hanna

A Lake by Philippe Grandrieux

A Lake

Mann Chinese Theatre 6, 10:00 pm

Cinema is currently being redefined, and Philippe Grandrieux (SOMBRE, LA VIE NOUVELLE) is an artist fully engaged with its reinvention. “I don't think in terms of stories,” Grandrieux has noted. “To me, these films are objects. They're plastic. They're formed.” Set in a misty and remote corner of the French Alps, A LAKE envisions a family living in the woods and supported by the eldest son's logging, despite his frequent, violent epileptic fits. He adores his sister, perhaps excessively. The arrival of a stranger to help the logging sets off tremors that dislocate the delicate balance of family relationships. In Grandrieux's hands, this story becomes a complete sensory experience that engages the eye, ear, mind and emotions to their fullest extent. At once intensely physical and metaphysical, Grandrieux's expression of feeling through light (and its absence), sounds and faces offers a mainline to the subconscious and a slab of experience. –Robert Koehler

Northless by Rigoberto Perezcano


Mann Chinese Theatre 3, 10:00 pm

Selecting Debussy's Claire de lune as supporting music for a film about a young man's interrupted quest to cross the Mexican border for the US is typical of the inventiveness in Rigoberto Perezcano's tender yet ironic opera prima. To love your characters as much as Perezcano isn't pandering, but instead is a deliberate act of human connection through cinema, one particularly poignant in a world brutally divided by a mammoth border fence. Andrés (Harold Torres) simply wants to cross it, but he is no simple man, as a shop owner (Alicia Laguna), her friend (Luis Cárdenas) and her employee (Sonia Couoh) soon discover when he seeks refuge with them in Tijuana. Perezcano bypasses the easy choice of turning this into a farce, and instead uncovers each character's subtle dimensions. Nothing surprises, though, quite like an ending that catapults NORTHLESS to the level of a genuine triumph. –Robert Koehler

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