LOS ANGELES, Oct 12, (RTRS): If the fake-moviemaking ploy from “Argo” were repurposed to disguise a drug-smuggling caper, it might inspire a comedy like “Very Big Shot,” a slyly amusing feature debut from Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya. Beginning as a hard-boiled crime drama, the movie gradually reveals a more satirical intent, commenting on what it sees as untapped potential in the Lebanese film industry. (The director Georges Nasser, whose 1957 film “Ila Ayn” is said to have been the first feature from Lebanon to screen at Cannes, briefly appears as himself.) Whether this smile-inducing but not gut-busting pic itself lives up to that breakout potential will depend on the varied critical reaction across territories.
The plot centers on Ziad (Alain Saadeh), a Beirut drug dealer; in a rough-hewn prologue that starts in medias res, his brother, Jad (Wissam Fares), takes the rap for him after a killing. When Jad is released five years later, Ziad wants to leave behind their lifestyle to open a restaurant with him, an idea that has Jad less than enthused. Meanwhile, a botched drug-transport run likely intended as a setup has left Ziad with a stash of the amphetamine Captagon. It would be enough to set them up comfortably, if only Ziad had a way of transporting it.
Inspiration arrives in the form of Charbel (Fouad Yammine), a filmmaker who regularly buys cocaine from the family’s pizza-delivery joint. In an early scene, Charbel complains that Lebanon’s movie industry has “many talents, but only few opportunities to explore.” (“Name one actor here that can be compared to Sylvester Stallone,” a tablemate scoffs.) Ziad catches a glimpse of Charbel’s latest documentary and, from it, learns of an Italian production company that purportedly attempted to smuggle drugs in film canisters. When Ziad gives it a shot, he discovers that he needs a permit to avoid a scan.
And so “Very Big Shot” becomes a movie about the making of a movie, with Ziad funding Charbel’s passion-project screenplay as a front. All of the filmmaking work is designed to ensure that their deception raises as few suspicions as possible, Ziad insists, though Bou Chaaya and Saadeh (a fierce, deadpan presence who also co-wrote) make comic hay out of continually raising the shoot’s stakes and professionalism.
Drawing on his enforcement skills, Ziad warms to the role of a hardass producer, mandating casting and script changes that, a la “Bullets Over Broadway,” may actually be improvements. The awkward complications — the film at one point stars Charbel’s unfaithful wife (Alexandra Kahwaji) and Ziad’s other brother, Joe (Tarek Yaacoub), her lover, as a couple — provide “Very Big Shot” with most of its funniest moments.
Somewhat awkwardly proportioned, “Very Big Shot” eventually broadens its satirical aims to encompass violence and politics in Lebanon. (The provocative final note, as abrupt as the opening, may have a specific local resonance that doesn’t quite play abroad.) Drab, desaturated visuals hint at a work of harsh realism — a bit of misdirection, considering the movie’s ultimate goals. By contrast, Bou Chaaya leans too heavily on a repetitive, jaunty score by Michel Elefterides.
Top prizes at the Busan Film Festival were shared between Iranian director Hadi Mohaghegh’s “Immortal” and Kazakh director Yerlan Nurmukhambetov’s “Walnut Tree.”
Prizes for the New Currents competition section were announced Saturday morning and selected by a jury headed by Taiwanese actress, director and screenwriter Sylvia Chang.
The awards were formally presented to the winners Saturday evening at a closing ceremony ahead of the screening of Chinese film “Mountain Cry.” The closing ceremony took place under the rain and with attendees wearing rain jackets.
Kurdish singer Helly Luv performed “Revolution,” a song from Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi’s “A Flag without a Country.” According to Kim Ji-seok, the festival’s executive programmer, the festival had kept Luv’s performance under wraps until the very last minute, as she has repeatedly threatened by the Islamic State. “Revolution” conveys a message of peace and anti-war, as well as anti-IS. New Currents winner Hadi Mohaghegh also sang a song, instead of an acceptance speech.
Festival organizers said that it welcomed 227,000 visitors, a slight increase on last year. Over its ten day span, the festival hosted celebrities including Hou Hsiao Hsien, Leos Carax, Harvey Keitel, French actress Sophie Marceau and Korean star Yoo A-in.
“Immortal” is the story of an old man who repeatedly attempts suicide from a guilty conscience. “Walnut Tree” is the story of a wedding comedy that shows up everyday life in a small village. It is Nurmukhambetov’s first feature .
LOS ANGELES: Don Cheadle’s eight-year journey to make “Miles Ahead,” his film inspired by the life of Miles Davis, culminated in the movie’s world premiere screening at the New York Film Festival Oct 10, and its very first audience gave it a response any filmmaker would envy. At least half the crowd stood, and many of those who did cheered enthusiastically.
“That felt a lot better than throwing up on my shoes, which is how I felt earlier tonight,” cracked Cheadle, who co-wrote, directed and stars in the film.
“You really felt the energy,” agreed Cheadle’s co-star Emayatzy Corinealdi, who plays Frances Davis, Miles’ first wife. “You felt the love.”
Or, as succinctly put by fellow cast member Keith Stanfield, “It was dope.”
Davis’ family also turned out for the film’s premiere, including Frances Davis herself and the musician’s nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr.
It was Wilburn who started the ball rolling on the project during Davis’ posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. “I got asked, ‘Who do you want to play your uncle?’ and I said ‘Don Cheadle.’ Never met him!”
Or, as Cheadle laughingly tells it, “I was basically told I was going to do it.” It turned into a passion project — a jazzy, nonlinear tale that eschews the usual check-the-box biopic structure in favor of a more freeform story that matches Davis’s music, with a cast that also includes Ewan McGregor and Michael Stuhlbarg.
“To tell the truth, if this project had gone away years ago, I would have been relieved,” Cheadle admitted. “It was just so daunting. But then something shifted. It started to feel like a mandate. I had to make this film.”
And the response from that first audience made it all worth it. “It was what we were hoping for,” said Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics, which Bernard said will release the film in the spring. “And its spot in the New York Film Festival puts it at a level of awareness that you couldn’t buy.”
“Oh, and just a note, which I think is wonderful,” he added, “Toronto turned it down!”