Mid-week Roundup

Tuesday, April 19

Phantom of the Open (Craig Roberts, 2021, United Kingdom, 106 min) — 4:00PM @ Egyptian

Photo courtesy of SIFF

The positives of Phantom of the Open are that it’s funny and features strong acting from Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins. The negatives are that the plot follows familiar beats in this tale of a man who became a winner by being a loser.

Based on a true story, Maurice Flitcroft entered the British Open in 1976 with hardly any experience and set the record in the qualifying round for the worst score ever recorded there. Banned from entering again, and unable to enter a golfing club as an amateur because he had claimed professional status at the Open, he disguised himself as a Frenchman named Gerald Hoppy in order to enter the 1978 Open, leading the police on a wild goose chase involving a golf cart when he was discovered. He entered several more times, with the ends credits listing off the final three aliases he used (including Arnold Palmtree). In his final interview (at 76), he said he had one more British Open in him.

The familiar beats follow the eldest son Michael (who is his wife Jean’s son from before she met Maurice). He’s more serious about having a career than either his dad or his identical twin stepbrothers, James and Gene (who end up becoming world disco champions). At work, his dad is a crane operator, while he has a managerial position. He’s ashamed at his dad’s antics, which are embarrassing him at work. And yes, this goes exactly where you think it will by the end.

In this film is a lesson about not being afraid to go for your dreams. Sometimes you’ll end up like Flitcroft and fail miserably at it (though don’t worry, this film has a proper happy ending). Sometimes you’ll end up like his sons and win a championship. But the important thing is that you tried. This film adds some nice fantasy sequences when Flitcroft indulges in his golf dreams, but otherwise, it fails to reach for the stars.

Wednesday, April 20

The Red Tree (Joan Gómez Endara, 2021, Colombia/Panama/France, 94 min) — 9:30PM @ Uptown 2

Photo courtesy of SIFF

North American Premiere

Taking place in Colombia in 1999, this film begins with Eliécer (Carlos Vergara) singing to a bird. We then see a young girl at a funeral. This girl is Esperanza (a name that means “Hope”), and she is the result of an affair between Eliécer’s father Nolasco and a younger woman named Cristina. After the funeral (which he doesn’t attend), Eliécer is tasked with taking the girl to her mother in Bogotá, which is far from the village of Rincón del Mar, where Eliécer lives. When he finds out he doesn’t have enough money for bus fare, he, Esperanza, and a local boy named Toño (who wants to go to Bogotá to be trained by a famous boxer there) end up paying for rides, having run-ins with the military and rebels, and getting stranded at places along the way. Esperanza has brought along Nolasco’s gaita, which Eliécer knows how to play, and which ends up getting them out of at least one sticky situation.

The film is solid, and the cinematography is gorgeous, but it’s a film that you’ll be happy you saw, but not notice you missed. Amazingly enough (as we found out during the Q&A), Shaday Velasquez — who plays Esperanza — has no formal training as an actor.

Q&A

Once the credits started, I leapt from my right-most seat on the left-hand side, down two rows to the left-hand side of the center seats so that I could get a better shot of the guests with my camera. So, of course, the two guests and the interviewer stood off to the right, in the dark.

Director Joan Gómez Endara (on the left) and actor Carlos Vergara (on the right)

But they almost didn’t come back. They had flown in that day and were jet-lagged, and so had left before the movie ended. Conflicting reports made us think there wouldn’t be a Q&A, but then they arrived, and the interview began. Unfortunately, I had to catch a bus and the Q&A went long, but I stayed as long as I could and documented the following. Also, while the director answered mostly in English, Vergara answered only in Spanish, and the moderator had to translate all his questions — or at least would’ve had to if most of the audience didn’t ask their questions in Spanish (did I mention how much I love living in a multilingual city?).

Endara had introduced the film as “being a little piece of Columbia, a little piece of my heart,” and many of the questions went into specific details about the pieces of Columbia and his heart that are in the movie. For example, Toño took some eggs from an iguana early in the film to sell later, so the first question from the audience (in Spanish) was what was the significance of the eggs? Endara said it was more about the innocence and naivety of the character, as Toño thought the eggs were valuable, but how valuable were they?

Prompted by the moderator from Seattle Magazine, he talked about the symbolism in the movie, from the gaita being a fusion between indigenous Columbian culture and African music to Esperanza keeping Eliécer and Toño “fused” together.

Speaking of Esperanza, Vergara said working with her, a non-actor, was like “learning the craft (of acting) all over again.” Endara followed up by saying they looked for girls for that role in schools, and it took them 2-3 months to find her.

Endara talked about balancing the film between the conflict in Columbia and the relationship between the characters. For Vergara, it was a balance between the paternal side and protecting against violence from the outside.

The next question (which I believe was also in Spanish) wanted to know what the significance of the red tree is, since the legend of Nolasco making his gaita from it is not true (in fact, gaitas are made from a different type of tree). As it turned out, the film was originally called The Song of the Rhythm of Eliécer, which didn’t really capture the feel of the movie. Trying to find a more relevant title brought Endara out to the countryside, where he saw the red tree. The more he dug into the color red, the more symbolism it revealed, such as the color of blood.

The last full question I was there for was asked in English. Someone wanted to know if there was a personal connection to the film. Endara said he has a personal relationship to it, and then I wrote down “similar story of fathers who abandon sons,” so see if you can figure out whether that means his father abandoned him or he knows similar stories about fathers abandoning their sons in real life. At that point, I was focused on how much longer I could stay and not miss the bus. I left as Vergara was talking about believing in the artistic process, though whether this was in relation to the previous question or something else, I have no idea. Hard to keep things straight when you have other things on your mind, like getting home.