Tag Archives: MFF

Miami Film Festival 2019 — Van Dieman’s Land and Kael

On the sixth day of Miami Film Festival, the standouts include a documentary on the most influential American film critic of the last fifty years and a sophomore effort by a director who makes an impressive aesthetic advance.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, dir. Rob Garver.

For critics who come to their trade late in life, the example of Pauline Kael still illuminates. After several decades of stalling as a playwright during which she resorted to supporting daughter/lifelong companion Gina James as, among other things, a seamstress, City Lights offered her a chance to review Limelight, one of Charlie Chaplins odd, dreadful talking films. If this has become the prevailing judgment, credit Kael — or blame her. Rob Garver’s affectionate documentary charts the film critic’s rise from radio and McCall’s to a twenty-year berth at The New Yorker, where her review of Bonnie and Clyde acted as a defibrillator after Bosley Crowther’s dismissal had put the Warren Beatty-Arthur Penn collaboration in cardiac arrest.

Peppered with testimonials from Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell, who can afford to be generous because Kael had retired before she could scowl at their movies, What She Said eulogizes a moment when a monoculture comprising a handful of critics could rattle a few less ill-letttered distributors and Hollywood producers. Kael was as much a part of the remarkable sexual and political openness of American movies, Garver’s documentary argues, as Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Bernando Bertolucci, and so on. Missing from What She Said, however, is what she didn’t say about Chantal Akerman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and other directors less dependent on kiss-kiss bang-bang. I suspect we know.

WHEN AND WHERE: Thursday March 7, 7:15 p.m. at Silverspot Cinema

The Nightingale, dir. Jennifer Kent.

The Nightingale‘s first thirty minutes contain the most stomach-churning violence I’ve seen in a film in a couple years. I won’t add spoilers, but viewers should know what they’re in for in this adaptation of Kristin Hannah’s novel set in 1825 about Clare (a poignant, intense Aisling Franciosi), who watches her family get slaughtered by British troops in her home in Van Dieman’s Land, now Tasmania. An Irish convict like many of the island’s residents who has worked off her sentence, Clare has to endure the contempt and sexual assault from the officer in charge of those men, Lt. Hawkins (Sam Claflin, unrecognizable). Her thirst for vengeance sends her on a cross-country journey in pursuit of Hawkins before he reaches Launceston: he’s after a promotion. She joins forces with an aborigine tracker (Baykali Ganambarr).

Writer-director Jennifer Kent also made the horror film The Babadook, but The Nightingale is by some distance the more accomplished work. Every shot shows a mastery over the material. Radek Ladczuk captures the moistness of the forests; even in the sunlight he suggests a sense of danger. She understands the violence done by the colonizers over the conquered, and the striations of class among the colonizers themselves; if more universities had courses devoted to post-colonial cinema, The Nightingale would deserve prominence alongside Lucrecia Martel’s recent Zama and James Gray’s Lost City of Z, and Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God. There’s a sense in which, however, that The Nightingale runs out of movie; the mix of sentimentality and violence in the last third is hard to stomach. Still, Kent has made a film that’ll shake audiences.

WHEN AND WHERE: Thursday, March 7th, 9:15 p.m. at Silverspot Cinema; Saturday, March 9 at 6 p.m. at O Cinema Miami Beach

Miami Film Festival 2019: Opening night

Since its debut in 1984, Miami Film Festival has served as the premier showcase for Latin and Iberian American filmmakers, and its timing during the moribund post-Oscar pre-spring season could not be more auspicious. This year new films by Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper, Carlos), Jia Zhangke (Mountains May Depart, Still Life), and Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise the Red Lantern) stand alongside fare by local directors — more than one hundred-seventy documentaries, features, and short films. Opening night documentary This Changes Everything examines the impact of #MeToo on a recalcitrant Hollywood.

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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…

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.

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