Fuel’ to the Fire


Tickell Proposes Biodiesel to Power Future of Energy

Australian-born Joshua Tickell’s “Fuel,” the Audience Award winner at 2009’s Sundance Film Festival, is one of the latest high-profile environmental documentaries to hit theaters. It can be viewed as sort of a follow-up to the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” documenting Al Gore’s climate change campaign. The informative “Fuel” provides more concrete details in proposing a solution to the environmental and political problems of addiction to fossil fuels — particularly oil — for our ever-increasing energy needs. Tickell suggests biodiesel as an answer because he says it can power existing diesel engines without expensive and time-consuming technical changes.

Compared to “An Inconvenient Truth,” which frequently felt like a glorified PowerPoint presentation, “Fuel” is more engaging and accessible. Despite the doom and gloom scenarios being laid out, the movie’s tone is pretty lively, enhanced by some snazzy graphics — much like Michael Moore’s work, though Tickell’s cinematic skills aren’t quite as polished. Also like Moore, Tickell tells his story in a very personal fashion. As a boy, he grew up in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” so-called because of the spills from oil refineries into the bayous, which he blames for his mother’s serious health issues, including nine miscarriages.

A longtime advocate for alternative energy, he spent a large part of the 1990s promoting the cause by driving his “Green Machine” — a “veggie van” powered by waste vegetable oil — around the country while following the band Phish on tour. Tickell’s passion is inspiring, but that also leaves the film with a rather one-sided perspective. He’s largely preaching to the choir when presenting his points, bolstered by appearances from environmentalists, politicians and celebrities. Nary a dissenting viewpoint is aired, leaving one to question how the film’s arguments would hold up under debate.

Note that the version of the film that played at Sundance sang the praises of corn-based ethanol. After the press decried the harmful environmental impacts of ethanol, which are perhaps comparable to those of oil, Tickell re-shot and re-edited parts of the film to focus on algae-derived biodiesel instead. Though perhaps a bit embarrassing, that critical scrutiny resulted in the theatrically released version of “Fuel” presenting a more soundly reasoned argument.

Fuel (English; 112 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 3.5 out of 5 stars

‘Paris’: City of Characters French writer-director Cédric Klapisch’s popular “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002) told the stories of seven university students from different European countries studying and living together in Barcelona, where they found commonalities in friendship and love despite differences in their native cultures and languages. Klapisch’s latest film, “Paris,” sort of expands on that concept to include diversity in terms of occupation, education and class within a small sample of Parisians.

The City of Lights depicted in “Paris” is illuminated by a French all-star ensemble cast that does a fine job, including Romain Duris, Juliette Binoche, Karin Viard, Fabrice Luchini, Mélanie Laurent and François Cluzet.

Pierre (Duris) must suddenly leave his job dancing at the Moulin Rouge when he discovers he has a life-threatening heart condition that requires a transplant as soon as possible. To take devoted care of him, his divorced older sister Elise (Binoche) puts her own career as a social worker on hold to move into his home with her three children, where they grow closer. Realizing his own mortality, Pierre looks down from his balcony at the city full of people unaware how fortunate they are to be alive.

Meanwhile, a baker (Viard) confronts her racism when she employs a North African immigrant. Comic relief is provided by professor Roland (Luchini), a historian of Paris, who is obsessed with a beautiful student, Laetitia (Laurent), stalking her with anonymous text messages proclaiming his love. Roland is also jealous that his younger brother Philippe (Cluzet) leads a more normal existence as an established architect who’s married and expecting a child. But Philippe has his own issues, illustrated by a nightmarish architectural vision.

The city — including its urban landscape — is an obviously commonality linking all the characters. Actually, Klapisch sees Paris as the film’s true main character. “Paris” works well as a pleasing travelogue revealing how the disparate, interconnected parts form a vibrant, living community.

Paris (French with subtitles; 129 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 4 out of 5 stars

What’s Behind Betty’s Blues In 1981, French auteur Jean-Jacques Beineix exploded onto the international cinematic landscape with the wild, colorful, flashy noir “Diva,” kicking off the “cinéma du look” movement. His sophomore effort, “The Moon in the Gutter,” was considered a misstep. But Beineix rebounded strongly with his third film, “Betty Blue” (1986), an adaptation of Philippe Djian’s novel. An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, the infamous tale of crazy love stood out for its rampant nudity and sex.

In 1991, Beineix re-edited 1986’s 120-minute release of “Betty Blue,” formulating a 185-minute “Version Integrale.” In 2009, that complete version was released for the first time in the United States as “Betty Blue: The Director’s Cut.” The result provides a deeper explanation behind the wild mood swings that are central to the psychological deterioration of the eponymous character Betty (Béatrice Dalle, making a remarkable screen debut). That more or less corresponds to the decline of her relationship with her lover Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade). Kudos go to the two lead actors for giving it their all in the service of such demanding roles.

Zorg, who toils by day as a handyman, is content enough living in a rundown bungalow that’s part of an aging beach resort. Then he starts a torrid affair with the stunning Betty, a mercurial waitress who soon moves in with him. After stumbling across Zorg’s long unpublished novel, Betty becomes its unrelenting champion. Zorg’s boss insists that Betty can only stay with Zorg if they paint 500 bungalows at the resort. Zorg agrees, if only to be able to keep Betty around. Betty’s not really down with the forced labor plan though, so she torches Zorg’s house and lays waste to his boss’s car. And so the lovers take off for Paris and more roller-coaster romantic adventures of this sort.

Betty Blue: The Director’s Cut (37°2 le Matin) (French with subtitles; 185 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., Oct. 2 4 out of 5 stars

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Repertory Notes

Please see International FilmClips for detailed listings available at press time.

AFI Latin American Film Festival The perennially well-attended AFI Latin American Film Festival continues through Oct. 12. Next up, the DC Labor FilmFest 2009 runs Oct. 13 to 19. On opening night, director Jennifer Baichwal presents “Manufactured Landscapes,” her documentary about Edward Burtynsky’s large-scale photographs of “manufactured landscapes” (such as quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and dams) — this time throughout China. The screening coincides with the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s exhibit of Burtynsky’s work. Also, the second edition of Noir City DC: The 2009 Film Noir Festival (Oct. 24-Nov. 4) brings film noir treasures to the big screen. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver

DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival The 10th annual DC Asian Pacific American (APA) Film Festival plays Oct. 1 to 10 throughout Washington. The opening night film at Landmark’s E Street Cinema is Annabel Park and Eric Byler’s “9500 Liberty,” followed by a reception at 575 7th St., NW. The closing night film is Tze Chun’s “Children of Invention,” followed by a reception, at the Goethe-Institut. www.apafilm.org

Arabian Sights Film Festival The 14th annual Arabian Sights Film Festival returns Oct. 9 to 18 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema and the National Geographic Society, showcasing films from Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Syria and more. Special guests include directors Maysoon Pachachi (presenting “Open Shutters Iraq” on Oct. 9-10) and Magdi Ahmed Ali (“Fawzeya’s Secret Recipe” on Oct. 13-14). (202) 234-FILM, www.filmfestdc.org/arabiansights

Freer Gallery of Art The US-ASEAN Film Festival continues Oct. 11 and 18, followed by “Bringing the World Home: The Global Film Initiative” screening Oct. 23 to Nov. 8. (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

National Gallery of Art From Oct. 3 to 24, “New Films from Hungary: Selections from Magyar Filmszemle” commemorates the 40th year of the annual Hungarian film festival. “The Silesian Trilogy,” the best-known work of Polish auteur Kazimierz Kutz, plays Oct. 18 to 25. (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film

Goethe-Institut From Oct. 5 to Nov. 30, “Wende Flicks: Last Films from East Germany” includes works made from 1988 to 1994 during the Wende, East Germany’s peaceful revolution before reunifying with West Germany. (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/kue/flm/enindex.htm

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.