Enigmas and heartaches at Miami Film Festival GEMS 2018

Several of the most acclaimed festival screeners arrive on our shores this weekend for Miami Film Festival GEMS, an autumnal amuse-bouche for cineastes who can’t wait until March for the full MFF experience.

Among the items airing at the Tower Theater: actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife and Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski’s followup to his Oscar-winning 2014 Ida. Capernaum and El Angel, Cannes Jury Prize winner and Un Certain Regard favorite, respectively, will get airings too. Thursday’s opening night film was Birds of Passage, Columbia’s entry for the 2019 Foreign Language Academy Award. Given that GEMS has screened Call Me By Your Name and Certain Women in previous years, this prequel to MFF isn’t a mere addendum; its programming has equaled and sometimes surpassed the spring festival’s.

Below are reviews of two films I screened. I’ll join critics Juan Barquin, Hans Morgenstern, and Rubén Rosario for a panel discussion on Lee Chang-dong’s Burning moderated by Lauren Cohen. Hope to see you there.

Click here for Rubén Rosario and Juan Barquin and Hans Morgenstern’s coverage and reviews.

Click here for full schedule. Continue reading

Miami Film Festival — Fin

And now, to quote Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, we are almost at the end…

Ashes/Cenizas
DIRECTOR: Juan Sebastian Jacome
WHERE AND WHEN: Sunday, March 18 at 3:30 p.m., Coral Gables Art Cinema

Living at the foot of an active volcano would give most people pause, but in Ashes the rumbling of chronic family drama presents a greater threat. In Ecuadorian writer-director Juan Sebastián Jacome’s second film, the ashes of the title rain as gently as a light snowfall. Needing refuge, Caro (Samanta Caicedo) packs her things and turns to an estranged father Galo (Diego Naranjo). She hasn’t forgiven him for abandoning her mother and by all accounts moving on without a hitch.

Jacome and cinematographer Simon Brauer don’t lack for invention. A lovely shot alludes to the famous window moment in Citizen Kane when Agnes Moorehead’s anguished mother watches the son she’ll never see play in newly fallen snow. Although set in Quito, Ashes could take place in Pompey or Krakatoa; the use of a rotary phone adds to the film’s sense of existing outside time and space.  These elements can’t prevent Ashes from succumbing to predictable catharsis; whether it involves the volcano I’ll let audiences guess.

Winter Brothers
DIRECTOR: Hlynur Pálmason
WHERE AND WHEN: Sunday, March 18 at 6:15 p.m., Regal 18.

Among the festival’s oddest wonders is this submission, which swept the Danish Film Academy’s awards last year. Brothers Johan (Simon Sears) and Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) toil in a limestone mine, the backdrop of which evokes the wintry, taciturn isolation of a D.H. Lawrence story set among colliers. Writer-director Hlynur Pálmason makes the audience work at comprehension: the audience has to pick the figures out of first the darkness of the mine, then the blanched processing plant, whose acrid fumes are no less poisonous than Emil’s bathtub hooch, brewed from chemicals stolen from the plant.

Then a coworker falls ill after drinking Emil’s concoction, an interrogation which coincides with several rather melodramatic strands. But what stands out in Pálmason’s feature debut is the juxtaposition of landscape and pathology. This low-key Brothers Karamazov pits the ruggedly handsome Johan against the damaged Emil, for whom the only exercise in pleasure is mimicking the poses in a VHS recording of rifle positions. Thanks to the atonalities of Toke Brorson Odin’s score and the affectless performances, Winter Brothers often plays like the study of how a terrorist is born, albeit on a lunar surface far from the sun.

Miami Film Festival 2018 — Part three

Two of the festival’s best realized films play tonight.

Cocote
DIRECTOR: Nelson Carlos de los Santos
WHEN and WHERE: Thursday, March 15 at 9 p.m, Regal 18.

This fascinating hybrid of religio-ethnic documentary and superbly quiet fictional meditation on revenge and familial obligation is the debut of Dominican writer-director Nelson Carlos de los Santos, a distillation of a childhood memory based on an encounter with a fellow who worked at an aunt’s house:

One day, after an absence, he showed up and his aunt asked if he resolved everything. “Unaltered, he said: ‘No, nothing. I did to him what he did to my dad, I cut his neck,’” De los Santos recalled.

But there’s nothing this po-faced about Cocote. Continue reading

Miami Film Festival 2018 – Part Two

Trying to keep one’s private space while the family chomps at the bit unites the two films I’ve reviewed today, playing at Miami Film Festival 2018.

Heaven Without People
DIRECTOR: Lucien Bourjeily
WHEN AND WHERE: 6:15 p.m. at Regal 18.

We cringe at the thought of political arguments during holidays. Josephine (Aka Joujou) hopes to avoid them as she hosts Easter Sunday lunch for her sprawling family in Beirut. That’s not what happens in theater director Lucien Bourjeily’s feature film debut. It takes a while to sort everyone out, and Bourjeily’s camera is content to hover, to capture moments of tension as they appear and dissolve like swells. Continue reading

Latin American socioeconomic turmoil one of the themes of Miami Film Festival 2018

March in Miami means the Miami Film Festival, this year celebrating its thirty-fifty year. Thanks to MFF, Pedro Almodovar, Hector Babanco, and Alfonso Cuarón, among others, made a toehold in the United States. In their GEMS series every fall, A Certain Woman and Call Me By Your Name also enjoyed among their first American screenings. Like last year, I’m part of the jury handing out the Rene Rodriguez Critics Award to one outstanding film in the Official Selection.

Over the next few days I’ll post reviews of some MFF selections. What strikes me is that so many entries concentrate on a Latin America in which the abyss between rich and poor had deepened. It isn’t just that global economic trends have worsened matters for these countries; it’s that the trend lines aren’t in their favor. Continue reading

‘Faces Places’ an elegy to a vanishing France

Near the end of Faces Places, muralist JR remarks to Agnès Varda, “You’re playing the wise grandma.” A legitimate point, for what stifles my enjoyment of Varda’s amiable documentary is the sense that the audience must adore the puckish octogenarian as she crisscrosses the French countryside for fascinating lives and faces deserving of commemoration on the sides of houses and public buildings. And why not, you might ask. After a remarkable career directing exacting fiction films (Cléo de 5 à 7, Le Bonheur, Vagabond) and personal documentaries (The Gleaners and I, The Beaches of Agnès) – hell, the existence of Faces Places in 2017 – Varda might’ve earned it. But as expressive as her and JD’s people are, they’re objects, not subjects.

Framed as an ongoing dialogue between the director and JR, Faces Places has a warmth heretofore unknown in a Varda film. If The Gleaners and I was an ode to the textures of French topography, Faces Places is its equal. What B roll: sunflowers, dells, mountain towns. Varda’s instincts – filming her people as part of the land that made them – are right on. And her people are at work, always at work.  In Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban, and the ghost village of Pirou-Plage, Varda interviews those left behind by modernization: the postman who doesn’t get enough to eat, the wives of factory workers. A farmer who tends his two thousand acres by himself. Vincent the bell ringer, photographed with his legs in motion suspended in air. Jeanine, the final occupant in a formerly vibrant mining town. A dairy farmer who burns off the horns of his goats to keep them from fighting. Awful but cheerful, Elizabeth Bishop once wrote.

In keeping with its elegiac spirit, Faces Places ends with a visit to an old friend. Fifty-five years ago, Varda, her husband Jacques Demy, Jean-Luc Godard, and his actress/wife Anna Karina lunched on Sundays at a crêpes restaurant in Montparnasse. Godard, reneging on the appointment, consents only to leaving the briefest of notes. A fitting moment: the director well into his eighth decade incarnates a self-effacing modernity, a contemporary devoted to recording the now as it recedes by milliseconds into the past.

Faces Places screens at Miami-Dade College’s Miami Film Festival GEMS 2017.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is an unabashed romp

What might make Call Me By Your Name the first wide release film about two gay men fondling each other to attract audiences since 2005 is that it presents itself as an idyll: Armie Hammer is Oliver, a graduate student summering at an Italian villa owned by the Perlmans (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) while helping Mr. Perlman, a professor of archeology, with translations and an awful lot of swimming in the rivers and drinking. Seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falls in love with Oliver, without embarrassment and shame – at first. This is refreshing.

As he demonstrated in A Bigger Splash and I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino loves filming the activities of gods, in their spectacular human forms, condemned to interact with stunned mortals. For its first hour, Call Me By Your Name is opulence porn, aka a Merchant Ivory film (James Ivory wrote the original script), albeit one that understands movement and camera work. What a leisured life: bike trips to town for cigarettes, trysts with local girls, allusions to seventeenth century French poetry, and – foreshadowing a later, infamous scene familiar to fans of the novel – peach trees.

“I’m gonna talk in etymologies,” Oliver cracks to the Perlmans conversations one of their first conversations. Shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom with an awareness of the play of August sunlight on bare male skin and the texture of thick humid flybuzzed air as fine as Nester Almendros’ early seventies work for Eric Rohmer, Call Me By Your Name studies the etymology of adolescent male desire, the way that submission can be as satisfying as release if it’s all that’s available. Unlike his lugubrious counterpart in André Aciman’s novel, Guadagnino’s Elio is a conniving horndog, necessarily bisexual, able to mimic Busoni playing Liszt playing Bach on the piano – a true man for all seasons. The resourceful Chalamet, best known for Interstellar, is a pleasure to watch; it’s his movie. Elio wants Oliver, period, and Chalamet’s beautifully physical performance – legs tossed over chairs, bare toes curled on stones, his eyes watching his parents’ boredom with the chicanery of Italian politics in the eighties, licking Hammer’s mouth and squeezing his scrotum – in an exercise in submission. Two heavyhanded elements are nits: Sufjan Stevens’ contributions and Stuhlbarg’s expert but too-good-to-be-true last act monologue.

Call Me By Your Name screened at Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival GEMS 2017. It will open in South Florida in December.

Miami Film Festival — Final day treats

Fourteen films later and I still only scratched proverbial surface. As Miami Film Festival winds down I want to remind readers that they can catch Cargo and Embargo this afternoon for their second and final screenings. I’m also pleased that Harmonium, my pick for the Rene Rodriguez Critics Award, won on Friday.

Embargo
Director: Jeri Rice
Where and When: Regal 18 at 4 p.m.

Framed by the 2002 trip by director Jeri Rice as part of the Center for Women in Democracy, Embargo explains the bloody history between the United States and the island ninety miles from Key West that until November 2016 was ruled by America’s most persistent foreign gadfly. When the documentary follows the rise young lawyer Fidel Castro Ruz as the leader of the Moncada barracks raid and through his imprisonment, successful coup against Fulgencio Batista in 1959, and two-year honeymoon with the American press, it treads on familiar ground. Even the moth-eaten fiction that JFK opposed the national security state gets resurrected: although Robert Kennedy, Jr. says on camera regarding the Bay of Pigs farrago that his uncle “would not risk American lives for a CIA fantasy,” he ignores the CIA fantasy, egged on by his brother, named after a forager.

With the aid of smart talking heads like researcher Peter Kornbluth, Democratic Party operative Frank Mankiewicz, and chief of staff to Colin Powell and cable news fixture Lawrence Wilkerson, however, Embargo pieces together the extent of American culpability in this fifty-two-year psychodrama: the nexus of the Dulles brothers, Richard Nixon, and the mob; former CIA chief and future vice president and president George H.W. Bush’s protection of terrorist by any other name Luis Posada Carriles; and the Bush II administration’s bluster about nations that harbor terrorists while Carriles moved freely around South Florida exhibiting his paintings.

Imagine for a moment Embargo debuting at MFF in 1997 or even 2007. Every local news station and paper would have aired charges and counter charges by the Cuban exile community. Now I predict audiences will greet it with the respect it deserves. Although it gets soupy at the end — images of smiling Cuban faces and an appearance by, jeez, Ted Sorensen, a mummy treating the scripts he wrote for Kennedy like Montaigne did Aristotle — Embargo gains resonance at a fraught moment when liberals embrace the intelligence community as never before.

————

The Unknown Girl
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes
Where and When: Regal 17 at 6 p.m.

Distinguishing a great film by the Belgian brothers (La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, The Kid on the Bike) from the okay (Lorna’s Silence, Two Days One Night) and the one that splits the difference (L’Enfant) is fruitless. Their characteristic hand held camera work and over the shoulder and POV shots give urgency to their contemporary scenarios. The Unknown Girl is a landmark — an outright bore, the first in the Dardennes’ extraordinary career.

A bored Adèle Haenel plays Jenny Gavin, a general practitioner who with the help of her tapped out intern Julien has to deal with an emphysema and epileptic in the opening sequence. Hence her reluctance to admit a woman whom she doesn’t see but Julien does. Then she learns the woman, a twentysomething of possible Gabonese descent, is found dead by the side of the expressway. The key witnesses, including a teen, refuse to come forward. Jenny investigates the case herself, to the irritation of the police inspector (Ben Hamidou).

Dardenne regulars like Jérémie Renier offer relieved support in a film that doesn’t explain why Jenny is obsessed with the victim besides her own guilt, and Haenel’s performance is no relief. Accustomed to Dardenne scripts that are so tight as to be schematic, I was baffled why certain characters shared information with Jenny at either the right or wrong moments. Meanwhile The Unknown Girl’s most promising element hovers like an inconvenience: Olivier Bonnaud as Julien, with an expression as hostile as a fist, says the hell with medicine and returns to rural life, prompting a visit from Jenny that trembles with unspoken possibilities.

————

Cargo
Director: Kareem J. Mortimer
Where and When: Regal 17 at 8:15 p.m.

It’s about time that a feature explored the politics of human smuggling; Cargo, however, also limns the realities with which citizens of a rapidly polarizing geo-economics climate must deal. The debut of Kareem J. Mortimer stars Occupation‘s Warren Brown as Kevin, an aging pretty boy and commercial fisherman in the Bahamas who did time for cocaine trafficking and can’t seem to put a foot right with his embittered wife Berniece (Persia White) and the child he claims to love. Desperate for cash to pay for his sick mother’s nurse and his kid’s tuition, he learns about the quick turnaround in picking up Haitians and Jamaicans.

But Cargo isn’t satisfied with white man problems. An affair with refugee Celianne (Gessica Geneus) uncorks the tension between the locals most of whom are black and menials, and scions of Bahamian gentry. Kevin’s son, after all, attends a private school run by whites. His maid lives in constant fear that Kevin or Berniece may take her papers and call immigration authorities on a whim. As the noose tightens around him, Kevin takes more risks, becoming ever more stupid and detestable; to Mortimer’s credit he doesn’t soften our reactions either. In the last twenty minutes — a sea voyage from the Bahamas back to Haiti — the cheapness of human life has rarely been shown so mercilessly in modern cinema.

Miami Film Festival – Part Five

Are We Not Cats?
Director: Xander Robin
Where and when: 3/8 at O Cinema Miami Beach, 9 p.m.

“A sort of giddy, slacker spin on Cat People,” the online summary avers, and I hope the writers had the Val Lewton original in mind, not the deluxe, sodden 1981 remake. Too short to wear out its welcome, Are We Not Cats? wears its irony as loosely as a scarf as it tells the story of Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson), a scruffy New Yorker who over several winter days reveals how deeply his trichotillomania runs. Trichotillomaniacs pull out their hair on compulsion, as opposed to festival audiences who might do so after sitting through the last twenty of Robin’s eighty-minute feature.

For a while, though, Are We Not Cats?, based on Robin’s short film, is amusing. Homeless after his Russian parents’ abrupt move to Arizona, Eli holes up in his van, sullen – what on earth is a white boy to do? On a delivery job he meets Kyle (Michael Godere) and Kyle’s girlfriend Anya (Chelsea LJ Lopez), a girl whose air of kooky merriment bears a suspicious resemblance to the Kate Winslet of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind if Winslet’s character weren’t suffering from trichophagia. Their courtship in a fetid basement is a battle royale: clump by clump he tears off his hair while Anya eats hers. Had Robin scored this moment to Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” it couldn’t have been funnier. Not funny: Robin’s halfhearted stab at Cronenbergian fascination with punsihing the human body. Matt Clegg’s talent for lighting disgusting interior spaces and the dirtier parts of deep winter is a plus.

———-

El Amparo
Director: Roberto Calzadilla
Where and When: 3/9 at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 6:45 p.m.

In 1988, twelve fishermen from the eponymous village in Venezuela, thought to be guerrillas, were murdered by the military. Roberto Calzadilla’s film wisely doesn’t show the massacre itself – instead, prefatory events reveal these men as the usual scruffy bunch of local drunks and amiable ne’er-do-wells who talk shit over aguardiente and sass the women. How survivors Chumba and Pinilla tell their story to skeptics and wrestle with the moral complications of false confessions and bribery forms the crux of El Amparo, a solid drama best when showing the collision of bureaucracy at its most brutal faces off against country wiles (often I thought it should have been sneakier). After an opening sequence set in a bar shot with the severity of a Tsai film, El Amparo settles for the usual handheld realism, which works fine in a confrontation between a honest local police chief and a colonel who wants to jail the survivors for slandering the armed forces. As the scene builds it’s impossible to predict what will come next.

Miami Film Festival – Day Four

Readers will hear more about Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World as 2017 unfurls.

———-

Afterimage
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Where and When: 3/6, Regal 17, 7:30 p.m.

When Andrzej Wajda died last October, the obits didn’t exactly pile up. Despite their availability in typically sparkling Criterion editions, the Polish director’s films deserve rediscovery for their commitment to linear narrative. While contemporaries experimented with or abjured storytelling altogether, Wadja saw Kanal, A Generation, and Man of Iron as rebukes to a communist system based on lies. This is how the truth should look, these films suggested.

Afterimage is a fitting epitaph, for better or worse. This account of the hounding of artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski has no fat. Or ambiguity. A professor in Lodz’s School of Visual Arts, Strzeminksi refused to kowtow to Soviet realism, at its apogee or nadir at the beginning of the 1950s; he correctly judged it kitsch. Bit by bit the Polish Communist Party exacted revenge, first by stripping him of his school duities, then not issuing vouchers for food, and, in a final indignity, refusing to let him purchase art supplies. The situation’s inherent pathos gets Wadja off the hook several times. It’s not that Afterimage lacks nuance or doesn’t find a form commensurate with Strzeminski’s radical art: it’s that Strzeminski remains an ideologue, a symbol of resistance — obstinately so.

———-

It’s Only the End of the World
Director: Xavier Dolan
Where and When: 3/6, Coral Gables Art Ciema, 9:30 p.m.

Few directors drive filmcrit colleagues into a frenzy as much as Xavier Dolan does — a frenzy that his slim, minor output hardly warrants. The French Canadian has one excellent film: 2010’s Heartbeats, one of the few movies about hedonistic twentysomethings to position explicit homo lust as locus; Heartbeats suggested that lust of any kind has no meaning without queerness stimulating it or provoking it. Considerably less frantic, It’s Only the End of the World nevertheless imports his usual preoccupation with Tolstoyan family dynamics into an adaptation of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play. It’s not a total success, but Dolan continues to experiment — fruitfully, fitfully.

From its smothering widescreen closeups to the putatively magical realist ending in which a cuckoo precipitates Louis (Gaspard Ulliel of Saint Laurent, who won a César Award for this performance) stepping out into dense golden light to the accompaniment of Moby’s “Natural Blues,” It’s Only the End of the World tests audience patience. Visiting his family to break the news about an illness allows Louis, playwright and gay, to re-imagine himself as the passive receptor of thirty years of angst. He has never met his younger sister (Léa Seydoux). His older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), a mean, sardonic blowhard, is responsible for most of the tension; Louis’ presence disgusts him. Antoine’s wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard, wan) is more sympathetic.

It’s Only the End of the World‘s sensual centerpiece, a heterosexual fantasy by a curtain, takes sexual ambivalence too far. But in the film’s would-be climax, set by a window, mother Martine (Nathalie Baye) reminds Louis of his responsibilities to the family. “Still living in that gay ghetto?” she hurls at him. Martine smokes, Louis pouts. It’s a draw. The film should have ended there, not with the cuckoo hooey.

Miami Film Festival — Day Three

A Belgian film by two masters and a Cuban example of one hoping to be are two examples of how Miami Film Festival offerings address immigration and life as lived by citizens of oppressive regimes.

———-

The Unknown Girl
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes
Where and when: 3/5, O Cinema Miami Beach, 9 p.m.; 3/12, Regal 17, 6 p.m.

Distinguishing a great film by the Belgian brothers (La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, The Kid on the Bike) from the okay (Lorna’s Silence, Two Days One Night) and the one that splits the difference (L’Enfant) is fruitless. Their characteristic hand held camera work and over the shoulder and POV shots give urgency to their contemporary scenarios. The Unknown Girl is a landmark — an outright bore, the first in the Dardennes’ extraordinary career.

A bored Adèle Haenel plays Jenny Gavin, a general practitioner who with the help of her tapped out intern Julien has to deal with an emphysema and epileptic in the opening sequence. Hence her reluctance to admit a woman whom she doesn’t see but Julien does. Then she learns the woman, a twentysomething of possible Gabonese descent, is found dead by the side of the expressway. The key witnesses, including a teen, refuse to come forward. Jenny investigates the case herself, to the irritation of the police inspector (Ben Hamidou).

Dardenne regulars like Jérémie Renier offer relieved support in a film that doesn’t explain why Jenny is obsessed with the victim besides her own guilt, and Haenel’s performance is no relief. Accustomed to Dardenne scripts that are so tight as to be schematic, I was baffled why certain characters shared information with Jenny at either the right or wrong moments. Meanwhile The Unknown Girl’s most promising element hovers like an inconvenience: Olivier Bonnaud as Julien, with an expression as hostile as a fist, says the hell with medicine and returns to rural life, prompting a visit from Jenny that trembles with unspoken possibilities.

———-

Santa & Andres
Director: Carlos Lechuga
When and Where: 3/5 at MDC’s Tower Cinema, 9 p.m.

Between the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, North America heard little about Cuba. Its citizens had every reason to believe Fidel would live forever, and if not el jefe, then his security apparatus. A homosexual and a writer when it was dangerous to be both, Andres (Eduardo Martínez) writes a novel from his forced banishment in el campo. Surveilling him is Santa (Lola Amores), assigned by the local party satrap. He writes a novel, she lugs a chair. Their conversations form the basis for Santa & Andres, a ponderous little film whose scenario doesn’t get shaped or prodded by director Carlos Lechuga.

The freshness of the performers is its prime virtue. Its second virtue is getting at how regimes impress themselves on a populace too bored to resist (when you must stand in line in tropical heat, resistance is an exoticism once read about in a textbook). Amores plays a woman with little clue what a writer does except what the Castro regime has told her. The absurdity of the assignment is not lost on her. Their relationship deepens after Andres’ mute lover beats him senseless, requiring Santa to dress his wounds and listen to his views on art. This is the Cuba that broke Reinaldo Arenas; that sentenced him to prison in nightmarish conditions; that figuratively (and literally in some cases) grabbed him and hundreds of thousands of others by the collar and expelled them as undesirables, as offal.

Miami Film Festival 2017 — Sneak Peek, Part II

Going on, feeling strong, to quote Beck. Here are three more films to check out the next few days at Miami Film Festival 2017.

Cargo
Director: Kareem J. Mortimer
Where and When: 3/5 at Regal 17, 6:30 p.m.

It’s about time that a feature explored the politics of human smuggling; Cargo, however, also limns the realities with which citizens of a rapidly polarizing geo-economics climate must deal. The debut of Kareem J. Mortimer stars Occupation‘s Warren Brown as Kevin, an aging pretty boy and commercial fisherman in the Bahamas who did time for cocaine trafficking and can’t seem to put a foot right with his embittered wife Berniece (Persia White) and the child he claims to love. Desperate for cash to pay for his sick mother’s nurse and his kid’s tuition, he learns about the quick turnaround in picking up Haitians and Jamaicans.

But Cargo isn’t satisfied with white man problems. An affair with refugee Celianne (Gessica Geneus) uncorks the tension between the locals most of whom are black and menials, and scions of Bahamian gentry. Kevin’s son, after all, attends a private school run by whites. His maid lives in constant fear that Kevin or Berniece may take her papers and call immigration authorities on a whim. As the noose tightens around him, Kevin takes more risks, becoming ever more stupid and detestable; to Mortimer’s credit he doesn’t soften our reactions either. In the last twenty minutes — a sea voyage from the Bahamas back to Haiti — the cheapness of human life has rarely been shown so mercilessly in modern cinema.

———-

The Dark Wind (Reseba)
Director: Hussein Hassan
Where and When: 3/5 at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 6:30 p.m.

It was a dark wind that hit us

The Dark Wind begins with a betrothal ceremony of Reko (Rekesh Shabaz) and Pero (Diman Zandi) — a fleeting glimpse of happiness before war tears apart a weary people. A region largely unscathed during the Iraq War of the 2000s, Kurdistan has been pummeled by ISIS in the last five years, particularly the Yezidi, despised by ISIS for betraying Islam. When militants invade Shingal, Pero is abducted and, her fiancee and villagers learn later after saving her in Syria, raped. How her relatives react is part of the dilemma delineated by director-writer Hussein Hassan in his third feature.

Crude and occasionally monotonous, The Dark Wind depends on battle sequences between Kurdish peshmerga and ISIS for movement. But Hassan doesn’t forget that Pero is subject as well as object. Thanks to Zandi’s often silent performance as Pero, The Dark Wind turns into a tale of two cultures, tribal and militaristic, who still recoil from the idea of a woman’s sexuality. Reko understands, but he’s one man against a family. A shot of Pero, walking towards the camera, wearing an expression on which defiance fights sullenness, sears itself in the memory long after the credits roll.

———-

Embargo
Director: Jeri Rice
Where and When: 3/7 at MDC’s Tower Theater, 6:30; and 3/12 at Regal 18, 4 p.m.

Framed by the 2002 trip by director Jeri Rice as part of the Center for Women in Democracy, Embargo explains the bloody history between the United States and the island ninety miles from Key West that until November 2016 was ruled by America’s most persistent foreign gadfly. When the documentary follows the rise young lawyer Fidel Castro Ruz as the leader of the Moncada barracks raid and through his imprisonment, successful coup against Fulgencio Batista in 1959, and two-year honeymoon with the American press, it treads on familiar ground. Even the moth-eaten fiction that JFK opposed the national security state gets resurrected: although Robert Kennedy, Jr. says on camera regarding the Bay of Pigs farrago that his uncle “would not risk American lives for a CIA fantasy,” he ignores the CIA fantasy, egged on by his brother, named after a forager.

With the aid of smart talking heads like researcher Peter Kornbluth, Democratic Party operative Frank Mankiewicz, and chief of staff to Colin Powell and cable news fixture Lawrence Wilkerson, however, Embargo pieces together the extent of American culpability in this fifty-two-year psychodrama: the nexus of the Dulles brothers, Richard Nixon, and the mob; former CIA chief and future vice president and president George H.W. Bush’s protection of terrorist by any other name Luis Posada Carriles; and the Bush II administration’s bluster about nations that harbor terrorists while Carriles moved freely around South Florida exhibiting his paintings.

Imagine for a moment Embargo debuting at MFF in 1997 or even 2007. Every local news station and paper would have aired charges and counter charges by the Cuban exile community. Now I predict audiences will greet it with the respect it deserves. Although it gets soupy at the end — images of smiling Cuban faces and an appearance by, jeez, Ted Sorensen, a mummy treating the scripts he wrote for Kennedy like Montaigne did Aristotle — Embargo gains resonance at a fraught moment when liberals embrace the intelligence community as never before.