Sunday, January 04, 2015

PSIFF ’15: Beti and Amare

Amare is sort of like Jeff Bridges’ Starman, except he has a prominent set of fangs. He just might need that chomping power. Of all the places he could fall to Earth, he finds himself in Ethiopia during the 1936 Italian invasion. Fortunately, he will soon meet a terrestrial guide to learn from and perhaps protect in Andy Siege’s fable-like Beti and Amare (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Beti has already been brutalized by the war, but she is not talking about it. Her mother sent her to stay with the grandfather she hardly knows, believing she will be safer in the remote desert. However, the area is patrolled by a trio of self-proclaimed “protectors,” whose like Beti has ruefully seen before. They definitely take notice of her too, making her highly vulnerable when her grandfather must leave to buy new livestock.

Thanks to some quick thinking, Beti is able to temporarily forestall the dubious militia men. Into this tense environment lands an egg with a passenger inside, like Mork from Ork, but the visitor Beti names Amare has the consciousness of a child. At least he is a quick learner, instinctively resourceful, and sports a mean set of canines. Confrontation is obviously inevitable, especially when an Italian soldier stumbles into the film.

Reportedly produced on a $7,000 budget, B & A is an admirably scrappy little film. Granted, Siege’s Spartan aesthetic and minimalist desert locale make virtues of necessities, but bringing in a period science fiction film for less the five figures is impressive any way you slice it. Just imagine what he could do with an extra grand. Clearly, he has a passion and talent for filmmaking (and he is credibly intense and loathsome playing the Italian), but it would not kill anyone if he picked up the pace a little in his next film.

So maybe there is a little bit of slack in B & A. Regardless, Hiwot Asres performance as Beti is remarkably brave and honest. Siege also has an amazing eye for visual composition, mixing black-and-white with color for striking effect. He even stages bizarrely stylized dream sequences that look like the product of Georges Méliès on an acid trip.

Admittedly, B & A is a little rough around the edges, but Siege’s execution is so strangely distinctive, he earns the benefit of the doubt. After all, it is about as underdog a film as you are likely to see at a major festival. Recommended for those looking for something different, Beti and Amare screens this Friday (1/9) and next Sunday (1/11), as part of this year’s PSIFF.