Anthology films are never great, but are usually at least interesting, so I was surprised when this one started out great. But of course it was just front-loaded, and got less great as the other episodes appeared. Didn’t realize at the time that the great one was by Ermanno Olmi (a director who, like Ronald Neame yesterday, has done a couple criterion-dvd-released movies that I know nothing about). Was less of a straightforward story than the other two – an important-seeming older guy leaves business meeting and boards train with this woman’s help, then sits in the dining car thinking about writing the woman a letter, thinking about falling in love with her, all the while surrounded by other passengers incl. a bunch of army and security guys. Doesn’t sound like all that, but I really dug it, balancing the tense (because of the army guys) train ride with the flashbacks and an almost-love story, seemed very beautifully done.
In the third part, Loach lowers the class level a few more notches (after the woman in Kiarostami’s piece had already knocked it down a little) portraying three excitable young men with shit jobs who have been saving up to see this soccer match in Rome. On the train, one shows off his soccer ticket to a refugee kid, who takes the opportunity to swipe his train ticket. The soccer kids realize what has happened – do they demand their ticket back themselves, have the train personnel mediate, or let the cute kid and his poor jail-threatened family keep the ticket then run away from the cops at the station while fellow soccer fans run interference? The latter, and valuable lessons about humanity are learned by all. Actually I found it pretty lame, a crappy version of the triumphant ending of Offside. A valuable lesson about humanity is learned at the end of the first segment as well, the man getting a glass of milk for the mother of a baby in the standing-room section – not the highlight of that segment, but still less hacky than this one’s ending.
In the center slot, Kiarostami shows a kid assigned (through some community service program) to assist a general’s widow, a horrible woman who steals one man’s seat but does not steal another man’s cell phone, and gets into unbudging arguments with both of them. Meanwhile our kid is trying to have a surreal conversation with a young girl who remembers him from his hometown – he never noticed the girl before but she’s a friend of his younger sister. The conversation seems like she’s telling him about someone else, as if he doesn’t remember his own past, but maybe she remembers his past from a different angle; she only knows the parts he had been ignoring. We don’t get much about this guy in the present, what he’s like, but finally the widow gets to be too much and he hides from her somewhere on the train, letting her exit confused without him (with baggage help from the cellphone-argument man, a minor version of the Valuable Lesson About Humanity).
An alright movie – not much innovation in story or composition or anything else, but I’m glad I watched it, and I might make Katy check out that particularly moving first segment sometime if she’s got a half hour to kill.
On the DVD: a 40-min behind-the-scenes doc where we learn that it took a while to come up with the transitional segments to join the three main pieces. That’s something I could’ve been told in under forty minutes, thanks.