Emerging from opening night of the East Lansing Film Festival, I was still sorting out my wildly mixed feelings toward Tilda Swinton's "I Am Love." Then someone summed things up: "This is what you expect when you go to a film festival"
It is ... which is why I love the ELFF (which just started), even when one of its movies mildly disappoints. There are plenty of places to see movies that have obvious plots and people; at a film fest, you face the happy prospect of a surprise, good or bad.
"I Am Love" clearly surprises. Its core plot would fit neatly into a 12-minute, overwrought opera. That's surrounded by almost two hours of elegant dealings between people who have much money and few emotions.
The plot crawls along, giving us plenty of time to read the English sub-titles. Then the movie ends so abruptly that the audience didn't react, still unsure that it was over.
There were great touches -- elegant settings ... Swinton's deeply nuanced performance ... a wonderful music track by John Adams, who is best known for operas; the sort-of-final scene uses all of that brilliantly. Then again, there were lots of empty moments, before the final rush.
It was an odd experience, but worth going to. If you have a film festival near you, give it a try. If you live near East Lansing, check out the festival details (www.elff.com); here are notes on a few things I saw in advance:
-- Animated: These two delights are being shown at Celebration Cinema. "The Secret of Kells" (1 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday), combines a magical Irish story and gorgeous artwork. "Sita Sings the Blues" (3:30 p.m. Sunday) tells a folk tale from India, using stunning artwork, wry commentary and, often, 1920s songs.
-- Homegrown features: There are four feature-length, scripted films in the Lake Michigan Film Competition, Saturday in MSU's Kedzie Hall. "Fairview St." (1 p.m.) shows off Michael McCallum's impressive talent as an actor and a film-noir director, but is hampered by having the character do some extremely unlikely things. "Bilal's Stand" (3:30) has uneven acting, but tells an involving story that's basically from real life. "Annabelle & Bear" (6:30) is sometimes a delight, thanks to the perfect casting of massive Curt Mastoff and 3-year-old Olivia Walby. "The Dream Play" (9:30) is gorgeously filmed and acted, while trying to make some difficult shifts in time and reality.
-- Another scripted film: "The Happy Poet" is an ultra-dry story about a rarely happy poet who starts a vegetarian food stand. It's interesting in its own slow, droll way. (9:30 p.m. Friday, Snyder-Phillips Hall, then 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27, Celebation).
-- An interesting night: Both Saturday shows at Snyder-Phillips are worth catching. "Tibet in Song" (6:30 p.m.) is a documentary that mixes politics and gorgeous settings, while focusing on traditional music. The eight films in "Short Films II" (9:30 p.m.) include two from cartoon master Bill Plympton -- one of them the superb "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger" -- and the offbeat "Black Ops Arabesque." The latter -- from former East Lansing High quarterback Nathaniel Eyde -- has five fun minutes of danger and dance. This package repeats Tuesday (Oct. 26) at Celebration.
-- A specialized documentary. Before going to "Kitchen Conversations," make sure you really (I mean REALLY) like cooking and cooks.