One episode towers over the others in “Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet,” a multipart meditation on the passage of time from seven prominent international directors. With Victor Erice’s mesmerizingly poetic interlude “Lifeline” representing the most impressive 11 minutes of film unveiled in Cannes this year, pic is a must for buffs, although, like all omnibus features, overall quality is decidedly uneven. Further fest exposure is a given, with U.S. auds due for a look on Showtime this summer.
Fronted by a quote from Marcus Aurelius about time being a river that continually replaces one thing with another, German-produced package is stitched together with brief watery pauses between segments backed by a jazzy trumpet theme. Each seg runs between 10-12 minutes, and running time is padded out by eight minutes of end credits.
A good start is provided by Aki Kaurismaki’s “Dogs Have No Hell,” a typically idiosyncratic mini-mystery about a middle-aged man who gets out of prison, sells his shares in a company and announces that he’s heading off to Siberia to get married. Central scene, in which he convinces a woman to come with him, takes place in a Finnish rockabilly club. The Hitchcockian pacing, as the man endeavors to make his train, supplies nice momentum, and wrap-up provides a satisfying revelation as to what’s actually afoot.
Erice’s indelible segment is up second. Shot in black and white, the Spanish master’s gem proceeds by way of the gradual but exceptionally precise accretion of potent images, all to the accompaniment of rhythmically coordinated sounds but very little dialogue. Central figure is a tiny sleeping baby whose pajama shirt initially shows a small stain of blood; its mother is sleeping deeply nearby. The spot of blood around the baby’s navel quickly grows, it’s eventually noticed, and the scream “The baby is dying!” rouses the inhabitants of the Spanish farm, who spring into action in a beautiful and suspenseful finale.
In addition to the hypnotic effect created by the repetitive sounds of ticking clocks, dripping water and hand tools being used, ominous mood is heightened by judicious cutaways to a newspaper photograph of three Nazis, dated June 28, 1940, when German troops crossed into Spain from France at Hendaye in an attempt to push Franco into an alliance with Hitler. Unstated is the fact that Erice was born two days later, and the strong possibility that the baby is meant to be the director himself lends the film an extraordinary personal layer of meaning that nonetheless remains entirely irrelevant to the appreciation of his work here.
Werner Herzog’s “Ten Thousand Years Older” plays like a brief footnote to some of his earlier ethnographic docus and fictional explorations of South America, as it looks at the Uru Eus tribe, which he claims is the last native tribe in the Amazon to be have been discovered; “There are no longer any unknown people left on Earth,” the director intones. Footage from a 1981 docu covering the discovery of these Stone Age forest people receives a mournful followup visit by Herzog, who notes that many of natives have died in the interim — “They missed out on 10,000 years that could have given them resistance” to disease, Herzog says — and then spends some time with the tribe’s surviving leader and his brother, who snigger crudely about what it’s been like to have sex with white women, commentary that takes some of the wistfulness out of this sketch of a culture that so quickly vanished.
Jim Jarmusch’s “Int. Trailer. Night,” also in black and white, is a virtual wash-out, a thoroughly unimaginative and uneventful look at a young actress (Chloe Sevigny) spending 10 minutes in her trailer during a night location shoot. Wim Wedners’ “Twelve Miles to Trona” isn’t much better, as the director takes to the road again to accompany a young man (Charles Esten), who’s ailing and hallucinating, as he attempts to drive through the desert to the nearest hospital.
Restoring vitality to the proceedings is Spike Lee’s “We Wuz Robbed,” a barbed, rapid-fire, partisan, black-and-white docu that has various Democrats and aides to Al Gore recounting the moments surrounding the TV networks’ announcement that George W. Bush had won Florida and the presidency, Gore’s decision to concede and his staff’s last-second insistence that the vote was still too close to call. Mixed in are charges that voting procedures in Florida were rigged against black voters. Presentation is pacey, and exciting regardless of political persuasion, and bluntly accusatory, making it very good agit-prop.
Final episode, Chen Kaige’s “100 Flowers Hidden Deep,” aims for whimsical poignance but plays as just silly, as some furniture movers in quickly modernizing Beijing decide to humor a local looney who insists that all his personal effects must be carefully lifted and transported out of his old home, which apparently once stood on the site but is now a giant vacant lot awaiting construction crews. Comedy is obvious and forced, with Feng Yuanzheng wildly overacting as the old coot.