The splendid Tickets, new on video, is a set of three short films sharing an Italian rail-car setting, by an international trio of renowned veteran directors. It's also a sort of hope sandwich: two pieces about overcoming narcisissm and selfishness wrapped around a mordant comedy about death.
The opener, by Ermanno Olmi, follows an elderly pharmocologist. He's traveling alone to a favorite nephew's birthday party, but daydreaming about his own childhood and especially about the younger woman who made his travel arrangements and treated him kindly. Recurring background characters gradually populate the foreground, and the pharmacologist trades reverie for humanism.
Olmi, 75, is an Italian maestro best known for 1978's The Tree of Wooden Clogs; his contribution here is elegant and affecting, but it's also the least interesting of the three. Abbas Kiarostami, long one of Iran's premier filmmakers, directs the middle segment: A young man accompanies an hilariously disagreeable old woman on a trip to her army-general husband's memorial service. His trajectory changes when he meets a flirtatious teen-age girl he knew when she was a child.
Kiarostami's comic touch might surprise those who know him by the poetic sorrow of Taste of Cherry (1997) or the drier humor and dreamlike passages of And The Wind Will Carry Us (1999). But Kiarostami's characteristic long takes are as judicious as his timing is precise, and the short's denouement, a brutally concise take on "life goes on," is potent indeed.
The most crowd-pleasing segment, and the funniest, is the last, done in the earthy signature semi-documentary style of Britain's Ken Loach. On the way to see their football club play Roma, three young working-class Scots -- accents thick enough to earn subtitles -- come to suspect that their disastrously missing train ticket was stolen by the young Albanian boy they've just befriended. Loach (Riff-Raff, Raining Stones) is spot-on here, the lads' vulgar verbal byplay a counterpoint to larger issues of open-mindedness and charity. Meanwhile, the Albanian boy's family -- the only supporting characters to play significant roles in two Tickets segments -- are onscreen for just a few minutes. But Loach depicts them aptly, too, with just the right blend of pathos and dignity.