PFF2015: Capsule Reviews Part 1

The 24th annual Philadelphia Film Fest may be drawing to a close, but there are still wonderful films playing this weekend that I highly recommend you catch on the big screen. The three films reviewed below, Dheepan, the Palme d’Ore winner at this year’s Canne Festival, Mustang, the bittersweet coming of age story of five young Turkish women, and The Boy and the Beast, a delightfully humorous tale of a brash mentor and his angsty teenage mentee, all have screenings Saturday or Sunday. For tickets and the most updated times and locations for screenings, please visit


In a film torn straight from today’s headlines, Dheepan follows what one person will do for the chance of a better life. Dheepan is a Tamil fighter who lost everything in Sri Lanka’s civil war. In order to gain passage to Europe, Dheepan poses as a deceased family with “wife” Yalini and their “daughter” Illayaal. The three are strangers, brought together by circumstance in a refugee camp. When they first settle in a housing project outside Paris, we watch as they struggle to understand their new surroundings as well as each other. Each character has their own motives at first, and it’s only as the film progresses do we see each separate plan for the future coalesce into one that holds the three of them together. Director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, The Prophet) masterfully chronicles both the trials and small victories that immigrants face when they first arrive in their adopted homes. Whether it’s an endearing conversation between Dheepan and Yalini about understanding the intricacies of French humor (or lack there of), or framing the family’s tenuous, and at times violent, situation in France in light of the war torn land they left, Audiard paints his characters in black, white, and every color in-between. This is as much Yalini’s story as it is Dheepan’s and instead of sidelining her as a pawn that gets Dheepan to Europe, her arc may be the most interesting, if not the most central, in the film. Sri Lanka is never far behind, and Audiard makes sure we, like the characters, never forget it. What makes the difference is Dheepan, Yalini, and Illayaal’s ability not to outrun their past, but how the past shapes the changes necessary to ensure their future together.

Dheepan is playing at the Ritz East on Saturday, October 31st at 4:40pm.



There are many corners of the world where the spirit of young girls is routinely bruised by conservative oppression. In Mustang, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven sets her debut film in her homeland of Turkey, and follows the beautiful relationships and struggles of five sisters as they come of age. The film is a symphony of metaphor, indelibly weaving the complex tapestry that is cultural expectation with the untamable fire that lives in all young people who know zero limitations. After an innocent beach gathering with a group of male classmates sets off the girls’ grandmother and uncle, the youngest, Lale, watches as each further transgression plummets the sisters further into a prison within their own home. The punishments begin deceptively harmless enough as the girls are forced to endure endless lessons in homemaking, and wear the same “shapeless, shit-colored dresses” as their grandmother. But things take a darker turn when the walls surrounding their bedrooms are made higher and bars are placed on the windows as leering boys and painted messages on the roadway bring further scandal to the family. The final blow is leveled on the two eldest girls, Sonay and Selma, as they are quickly married off. It’s at this point that Ergüven paints five different scenarios, five different paths that sprout from the same genesis but lead each girl on different journey. For a debut film, I was impressed with how Ergüven’s camera is able to capture the energetic and youthful vibrancy that radiates from these girls. Even their hair, worn loose and waist-length sways and flips with endless motion in each frame. There is a scene where all the girls together lying on the floor, their limbs tangled in each other as they move like one giant mass over the floor. It’s the language of film in the purest sense, and it’s used to great effectiveness by Ergüven’s eye. There is great sadness in Mustang, but also profound hope as we watch Lale (played by a very memorable Günes Sensoy) attempt to be the agent of her own destiny.

Mustang is playing at the Ritz East on Sunday, November 1st at 7:30pm.


TheBoyandtheBeast-posterThe Boy and the Beast

I may be unveiling some severe ignorance here, but in recent years Japanese animation has become synonymous with studio Ghibli in my mind. So imagine my surprise upon seeing The Boy and the Beast (dir. Mamoru Hosoda) and loving the hell out of it! The film’s core philosophical journey is a poignant one that shows runaway Kyuta as a hollow, angry child rebelling from what he needs most, friendship and guidance. Luckily for him, his mentor, the cocksure beast Kumatetsu is a sobering picture of Kyuta’s future should he continue to believe he can deal with life’s hardships alone. It’s through their journey together that each character attains the missing piece that makes them whole again. Yet the plot evolves from a mere mentor/mentee, “odd couple” story into a third act that goes into some dark places. There’s some blatant Moby Dick symbolism that comes into play that came on a little strong for me personally, but I would love to learn more about it’s use and interpretation from a Japanese perspective. Above all, I loved this film’s ability to balance the drama of the story with humor, much of it coming in the form of bickering between Kyuta and Kumatetsu. It’s the type of arguing that only two people who are exactly alike, and care for each other can possibly muster and it plays brilliantly in front of a crowd. The supporting characters are also sources of great wisdom and wit. The animation technique is not quite on par with that of Ghibli (I don’t think there’s a better animated 2-D film than The Wind Rises), but there are some impressive shots during the films more climactic scenes, and the characters movements are well interpreted. This is the only animated feature playing at the festival, and it is a wisely chosen selection.

The Boy and the Beast is playing at the Ritz East on Sunday, November 1st at 12:15pm.

Author: Jill Malcolm

Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.

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