A film festival isn't just a way to see movies; it is, inevitably, a film festival. If you show a hundred or so features, even if they're picked at random, they will seem to form patterns, echo one another, one-up each other in certain respects to even a casual viewer. What was a single movie one day might, the next day, appear the superior or inferior version of another. That, maybe even more than the opportunity to see films, might be the heart of festival-going. It's like the appeal of city life; the great thing about cities isn't how much you can find in them, but how much happens in going from one desitination to the next. One inevitably compares. So while on Saturday, Frederic Mermoud's Partners, which intercut a Gilbert Melki / Emmanuelle Devos policier in gray and brown with a mild case of l'amour fou in red and gold, was a film alone at the festival, just a good way to pass the time but nothing terribly special, it now seems like a cold and cynical synopsis of Eye of the Storm, Eduardo Valente's feature debut, a crime story in the same way Flight of the Red Balloon is a children's film.
Eye of the Storm is set, like The Quiet Man, at the outlands of an imaginary film noir. Ford at least showed us the boxing match that set his Irish story in motion; Valente cuts to black both times the unfortunate incident occurs (like in The Quiet Man, an accidental death, though in this case during hostage situation), but this isn't a clever attempt to create "mystery." Truth is, he's just not as interested in crime as he in non-crime: everyday lives, people talking with children and relatives, moments of tension that don't rely on guns but feel much more doomed than a standoff with a stranger ever could. Like in Partners, there are several stories occurring at different times connected by a lot of clever cuts—but whereas in Mermoud's film, the structure is a question of conceit, in Valente's you get the sense that the editing is a purely emotional matter. The three groups of characters come from different class backgrounds (a poor couple in love, a policeman raising a teenage daughter, a well-off family) and their actions occur at different times (leading up to the incident, a few weeks after, and several years later), but neither their differences nor their similarities are the subject here. It seems more as though the actors and their actions are color or brushes, and Valente wants the largest paintbox he can get so he can work more easily; expression here all comes down to what feeling five minutes of projected 35mm film should convey, regardless of where and what time the shots included might take place. One hopes that directors are interested in things other than clarity or continuity, and maybe because of this single-minded interest in feeling, Eye of the Storm is the least confusing or mysterious film the Chicago International Film Festival has screened so far.