By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Bust out of that suburban cineplex, wipe the Goobers from your mouth, and go see The Maid (La Nana), a really absorbing Chilean character study about a manipulative nana trying to find her identity in a well-off Santiago household.
In an interview at the Ace Hotel last week, I asked the film's talented director/co-writer Sebastián Silva if he would call the disturbed domestic passive-aggressive. Sort of, Silva said, "but she has so few elements to learn from since she's been trapped in this house. She doesn't know herself."
That's different from the Santiago-born Silva himself, who's way more in touch with his own fascinating personality quirks. Silva has been called passive-aggressive, not to mention dyslexic, and—not being schizo—he totally knows it. Fortunately, his ex-boyfriend, Pedro Peirano, helps him focus his ideas and structure his narratives, so Silva keeps him around as a writing partner, if not exactly a boudoir guest.
But why break up in the first place? "The passion was gone," he said, blithely. "I'm 30—I want to hang around with Eros a little more. At some point, I felt I was sleeping with a cousin." "In America, people fuck their cousins," I smirkily told him, "especially in the South." "Yeah?" he said, beaming. "OK, that's the place to go, then!"
Silva's already been to the West, of course. He spent time in L.A. chasing Steven Spielberg, "commanded by a mysterious Saudi Arabian character that I met in Chile." Don't ask—though Silva did manage to nab a kosher dinner on Pico Boulevard with Spielberg's mother.
And it's Silva's next movie, Second Child, that might really grab the biggies' attention. As he told me, "It's about a homosexual eight-year-old kid who falls in love with his godfather and then with the caretaker, a widowed black man. This film is proposing, 'What if parents are open that their kids might be gay from a very early age—like two years old'?" That would be good news for . . . a lot of people.
But does the boy have sexual feelings? "Yeah," Silva said. "The attraction is sexual, otherwise it wouldn't be attraction. But he doesn't want to give his godfather a blowjob—he wants to touch his leg. He wants to be close to him. The kid is not aware of his sexual feelings, nor is anyone in the film. That's for the audience to realize."
Eventually, the godfather tells the kid to "act like a man" and kill a fish—which sounds vaguely symbolic to me because gay men like to call women "fish." Silva had never heard of this, so I awkwardly had to explain: "They feel vaginas smell. It's completely misogynistic, though it's often said affectionately." "Well, dick smells like fish sometimes, too," Silva bravely offered. "All dirty genitals smell like fish—not just vaginas."
"I never noticed that," I nobly intoned. "You've clearly had more dicks than I have." Replied the Chilean charmer: "I don't bet!"
There is no possible segue here that would even remotely work with any dignity, so let me just abruptly move on to a whole other highly recommended art film. It's The Messenger, Oren Moverman's strong piece about the ethical dilemmas of a soldier (played by the magnetic Ben Foster) who's assigned to the army's Casualty Notification Office, whereby he and Woody Harrelson have to ring various people's bells and tell them their loved ones have died with their boots on. It's the kind of job that could make you even more passive-aggressive than a Chilean maid.
At a reception for the film, I asked frisky Foster if this will beat Avatar at the box office. "Yeah, if they do a 3-D version," he said, playing along. "Coffins coming at ya!" And how about a Messenger reality show—a sad one with the motto "When your bell rings, don't answer"? "If you want to come in on that," cracked Moverman, "we can pitch it. I also think Zombieland should have a sequel called Zombie Notification Unit." If so, it'll be another amazing year for Woody Harrelson.
A film within a film pops up in Precious—the one about the beleaguered 300-pound Harlem girl—when she and her hateful mother watch Sophia Loren in the Italian neorealist mother-daughter rape drama Two Women on TV. As director Lee Daniels explains it, "The argument on set was, 'Would these women be watching Two Women?' I said, 'Well, I am the women, so shut up.' "
A Sophia Loren–like presence in Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, Penélope Cruz acts with Loren in the upcoming musical Nine, but she exudes sheer Audrey Hepburn–ness in Pedro's movie about moviemaking, Broken Embraces, which closed the New York Film Festival. I hear the "va-va-voom" gal didn't get to speak much at the festival press conference, seeing as how chatty Pedro chimed in for her a lot. And at an amazing Paper dinner for him and his star at Casa Lever last week, Pedro was still cutely sociable, telling me I should see his film twice because "it's very complicated."
So is Madonna, who showed up in good spirits, clearly trying to become part of world cinema and, no doubt, telling Pedro, "Remember, I played Evita!" Inches away from her sat Beth Ditto from the Gossip—a new-generation rocker with a mouth that always roars. How was her Terminal 5 concert the night before? "Great," Ditto told me. "But I have a guilty feeling about kicking this kid out for calling someone a cunt." At least he didn't call her a fish.
Does she like Pedro's movies? "I've never seen them," Ditto admitted. "I tell you that because I'm not a poser. Everybody says, 'You'd die!' But I have ADD. I haven't seen any movies all the way through." Not even The Maid or The Messenger? "Well, The Wizard of Oz," she admitted. "The 70th anniversary DVD in high-def. But it did seem a little long."
On Broadway, the 49th anniversary production of Bye Bye Birdie is a mixed bag, with some engaging group numbers and bold choices. But while it's interesting to have the Ann-Margret character played by a young plain Jane who's only dreaming of womanhood, not so enchanted are the charm-challenged leads or Bill Irwin's playing of the Paul Lynde character as certifiably insane. Rising out of the cartooniness last Friday was Birdie's understudy, Robert Hager, who is a hip-swiveling delight. No wonder the regular Birdie recovered and returned the very next day.
The revival of David Mamet's Oleanna (where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain) gives us another two-character showdown à la A Steady Rain, this time about distorted claims of sexual harassment. (Mamet, who wrote the upcoming Race, could easily retitle this Rape and double-bill them as R&R). Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles act the stammery talkathon to the hilt—though I wanted to kill the dirty bitch with the cane who said I bumped into her on the way in.
And suddenly I was awash in lesbos as a judge at Murray Hill's Miss Lez Pageant at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, where the genitals smelled like potpourri. The amazing contestants were asked to deliver their platforms (like, "Leave no bacon behind"), perform a talent (from nipple-biting to bribing the judges with cupcakes), and answer a question from the panel (asked if she'd fuck Octomom, a butch contestant replied, "I'd need something tighter").
That last hottie, K.S. Stevens, won the grand prize of 100 bucks in singles, a cameo in a lesbian porn film, and a Hitachi magic wand ("the Cadillac of vibrators") in case she wants to hang out with Eros a little more.