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Orlando Weekly's guide to the 2013 Florida Film Festival

Central Florida’s annual festival of film and food returns for its 22nd year

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PUTZEL

★★

“Listen to the guilt. It’s like a GPS for the soul.” For Walter, those words ring true, but what else would you expect for a guy whose nickname is Putzel, or essentially “little putz” or “schmuck” in Yiddish? They are his guiding light in life, his blueprint for lowering his expectations, allowing his wife to cheat on him and resigning himself to a life as the manager of his family’s lox deli. Never mind that he has bigger dreams, such as summoning the courage to schlep himself far away from Manhattan’s Upper West Side and escape his domineering schmendrik (look that one up, my fellow goys) of an uncle.

Directed by first-timer Jason Chaet and written by Rick Moore, Putzel plays like a charming sitcom, one you can’t quite hate but can’t fully appreciate either. Its premise is promising, and Walter, played lovingly by Jack Carpenter, is not as annoying and uninteresting as his moniker would suggest. In addition, John Pankow and Melanie Lynskey, as Walter’s uncle and new love interest, add some honesty to the piece. But despite those characters’ moments of tenderness and one of the funniest sight gags you’ll see at this year’s festival, Chaet’s film is just too contrived to be anything more than a comedic diversion for viewers seeking mainstream entertainment.

Like its title character, Putzel perhaps deserves a bit more respect than it’s received here. However, it’s difficult to embrace a film that is a bit of a putz itself: sweet and well-meaning, but ultimately underachieving and easy to overlook. – CM

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RENOIR

★★★★

Most films labor furiously, trying to infuse every frame with passion. Renoir is content to sit still, creating effortless beauty in the style of its subject, painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

A French-language production set on the Riviera in 1915, this drama is both a love poem to Renoir’s art and a love triangle between the 74-year-old painter, his 21-year-old son Jean, and a beautiful but mysterious model who becomes the muse of both father and son. Set during World War I, Renoir unfolds in a tranquil part of France touched only distantly by conflict. This striking contrast between serenity and hell is heightened by the fact that Jean is convalescing, waiting to return to the butchery of battle.
“It’s us – old people, the infirm – whom they should send to the front, in the mud and the trenches,” Pierre-Auguste says, fearing the loss of both Jean and Jean’s older brother. Yet he can only truly express emotion through his paintings, which he continues to create despite crippling arthritis. “I still have progress to make,” he tells Jean. “I’ll carry on till I collapse.”

Director Gilles Bourdos and cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin have created a work worthy of its subject. Colors breathe and light glows almost as hauntingly as in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. But as with a painting that you admire at first glance, the film’s emotion – or lack thereof – fades after viewing. Perhaps it needed a bit less of Pierre-Auguste’s quiet beauty and more of the drama of Jean, who, after the war, became one of the world’s great film directors, producing such classics as The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion.

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