Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
Burt’s Buzz (2014)
This is slightly lighter fare for early summer: the story of Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz. This is an oddly fascinating look at an unlikely businessman and the roller-coaster life he has led. How this man became one of the most iconic images in modern business is interesting, sometimes heartbreaking, and overall, quite astonishing.
Shavitz is a semi-recluse living in a small house (with only cold running water) on 33 acres of pristine land in Maine. He was a native New Yorker, became a photojournalist there in the 1960s, then abruptly dropped out of society and moved to upstate New York before landing in Maine. He learned beekeeping and carved out a living for many years selling honey out of the back of his car. He met a divorced mother of two, Roxanne Quimby, and they started a business that would eventually hit the billion-dollar mark. But not while they were together.
They started the business in 1984, and Quimby forced Burt out of the business in 1993. Quimby eventually sold her share in 2007 for $176 million, and the company was then later sold to Clorox for $800 million. Shavitz never saw numbers even close to these.
The story is fascinating, but the man is even more fascinating. Ruminating on his lost love with Quimby or his lost millions with the company, the only time he shows any real emotion is with the loss of his former dog. He seems to be a walking contradiction—at times refusing to leave home yet he relishes the attention of adoring crowds. All seem to think something greater lies beneath the surface but is not allowed to come through. Perhaps what we respond to is something most of wish to be but are not: insouciance to the material world. Maybe.
You will like this if you enjoyed Man on Wire, Searching for Sugarman, and The Tillman Story. Starts June 6 at the Sie Film Center.
Like Someone in Love (2013)
Abbas Kiarostami is one of the world’s greatest directors. Born and raised in Iran, he made films there until 2010, when two of his close friends—and fellow filmmakers—were imprisoned because they were seen as threats to the state. He left Iran and now makes films abroad: his first, Certified Copy (2010), was set in Italy, and his latest film, Like Someone in Love, is set in Japan. It turns out that he is just as brilliant outside his native Iran.
His style can be described as oblique, symbolic, ambiguous, and poetic. He poses questions that are not always answered, his camera stays immobile for long periods as we are allowed to observe rather than be manipulated, and you always get the feeling that everything can blow at any minute.
The story centers around pretty university student Akiko, who also moonlights as a high-priced call girl. At the beginning of the movie we hear her voice but we do not see her right away. She is in a crowded Tokyo restaurant and the camera takes its time getting to the subject. Akiko’s suspicious, jealous, and possessive boyfriend Noriaki is pestering her to marry him, to “save her from the jungle.” Except the jungle is where they all live.
She is sent off to meet a client who turns out to be an old retired university professor (Takashi) who wants to make her soup instead of going to bed. When they do go to bed, is it just to sleep? The next morning Takashi insists on driving Akiko back to school, whereupon they run into Noriaki. Noriaki thinks that Takashi is Akiko’s grandfather, but then offers to help fix a faulty belt in Takashi’s car. Will he find out the truth about Takashi?
The ending is the surprise, and where we are all left guessing and questioning. How much do we really know about each other? What lies just beneath the surface? Where do we really learn about life, and from whom? These are some of the simple questions posed by the film, but there are many more. If you like the kind of film that explains everything, this is not for you. If you like poetry, long periods of observation and contemplation, and characters who are hard to read, then this lovely film is exactly for you.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Bicycle Thieves, Upstream Color, and/or The Thin Red Line. Available on Netflix.
This film, along with all other films I’ve reviewed, may be found at the Sam Gary Library. Look for the Indie Prof display at the end of the DVD racks.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.