"Hanoi meets Mississippi"
Prod & dir. Marlo Poras
During what he calls "the American War," Mai's father, a successful Hanoi businessman, fought against the foreigners. Hoping now to enroll his adolescent daughter in an American college, he sends her to the United States for her senior year of high school. "To me, America is all the movies I grew up with," says Mai just before departing Vietnam. If she had ever seen a movie at all like Mai's America, she might have stayed in Hanoi. The seventh entry in the fifteenth season of P.O.V., PBS's weekly summer series of nonfiction films, Mai's America will be broadcast locally by KLRN-TV on Tuesday, August 6 at 10pm or August 8 at 4:30am.
Mai is a perky, adventurous teenager, but she hardly seems prepared for Meridian, Mississippi, where she is ultimately placed. Her hosts, Don and Susan, call themselves "rednecks," and no viewer would dispute the call. Unemployed and depressed, they seem interested in Mai only when she does something odd, like pour ketchup on salad. After six months, she switches to a more congenial family of black Baptists. Mai befriends a local transvestite named Chris and a South Vietnamese refugee named Tommy, part of an expatriate community from which she feels more estranged than from the rednecks. "I don't think I'll ever be a typical Vietnamese woman," declares Mai, whose sojourn in America as recorded by Marlo Poras suggests that nothing in culture is ever either typical or simple. — Steven G. Kellman
"Ancestor to Memento"
Dir. and writ. Christopher Nolan; feat. Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan, Dick Bradsell (R)
The 2001 Sundance hit Memento seemed to come out of the blue: a novice filmmaker handling a twisted, hard-to-follow tale that would give more experienced directors fits, and delivering it to us in a way that, while enigmatic, made sense. Turns out, the film wasn't so out-of-nowhere. Director Christopher Nolan had made one film already, a short feature called Following, that also plays with the way in which the audience encounters information. Less audacious than his second film but surprisingly assured, it's a fun look at how Memento took shape.
Our anonymous protagonist is a jobless would-be writer who decides to make a hobby out of following strangers at random, observing their lives for "material." In short order, one of his targets turns the tables on him, pulling him into the world of breaking and entering, which fits the writer's voyeuristic interests to a T. This footage is intercut with glimpses of the young man's future, in which he's black and blue in a business suit, and we are forced to guess what's happening to him — much as he set events in motion by wondering what was going on in strangers' lives. What we know for certain is that he's courting danger by trying to woo the occupant of one of the homes he's burgled.
Like Memento, this is a riff on the themes of film noir, so Nolan's low-budget use of black-and-white film and slightly unpolished actors seems appropriate. Throughout he displays the kind of confidence with his cast and camera that tends to get first-timers noticed; arguably, its main handicap was its running time, which is 20 minutes shy of traditional feature length.
Because of that runtime, TPR has thrown in a short by Canadian eccentric Guy Maddin. Maddin's tales are obstinately strange and distant, with a distinctive quasi-retro style and a sense of humor that lurks just beneath the surface. Art-film addicts should get a special kick out of seeing something like this on the screen of a S.A. multiplex. — John DeFore
TEXAS PUBLIC RADIO'S CINEMA TUESDAYS:
THE HEART OF THE WORLD
Tuesday, August 6
$10 members, $12 non-members
AMC Huebner Oaks
Following and The Heart of the World available on DVD from Columbia/TriStrar and Zeitgeist, respectively.