Another batch of capsule reviews from myself and Aaron Mannino, most Aaron…
A Place at the Table : What can I say. This film needs to be seen by everyone. These realities need to be shared, and the concern will follow. What follows concern must be action. APAT will horrify you with statistics that are given grounding and scope through actual human lives that endure Food Insecurity. It shows ways for people to get involved and what needs to be done on a fundamental level in order to generate real change. I don’t know about you, but the fact that 50 Million Americans don’t know how, where, or when they will get their next meal is enough to make me shudder. This film doesn’t blame YOU though. It empowers and it makes a difficult and complicated web of circumstances and policy digestible (pun intended). (AM)
A Royal Affair : What begins as something familiar, evolves into a complex relationship drama with a socio-political supertext. The two inform one another and affect one another. On the larger scope, ARA tells the story of the enlightenment making its way into 1760’s Denmark, one of the last vestiges of old-world feudal hierarchy. At the center of this context is Christian VII, his new queen Caroline who wedded into the royal family from England, and Johan Streunsee, the free-thinking physician brought on as Christian’s personal aid. Despite taking place in the 16th century, this film and its characters, even its visual style, feel very modern. More than that, it feels relevant because all the philosophical and political agendas of the enlightenment, as well as the burgeoning connectivity and communicability throughout Europe at the time, are are being reflected in this current era. The same contentions and hopes exist, and the world aches with the incongruity of its evolution. ARA is a complex human drama, tied to a complex political drama, and yet these realities are made accessible without feeling diluted. (AM)
After Lucia : This is the most difficult film I have ever watched. Bar none. It is also possibly the most significant film of this year. The camera is unflinching as trauma, all too real, all to relevant in the age of the bully, is delved in heaps upon Ale, a young teenager who relocates from Puerta Vallarta to Mexico with her restauranteur father after her mother’s death. When a boy films her and himself having sex at a party (and the video is shared), the once idyllic beginnings of her new life degenerate into a misery that can only have been captured on film. I will never see this again, for some of the same reasons I will never see Funny Games a second time, but I am glad to have seen it. Glad and shaken to the core. (AM)
Antiviral : Brandon Cronenberg, spawn of David, gives fans of his father exactly what they want in his first feature-length outing. Set in a clinical future where celebrity worship has reached humorously unbelievable extremes, celebrity virus dealer Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones channeling his inner Crispin Glover) gets a bit too close to one of his company’s clients and becomes a target for warring groups of rabid fans (at least that’s basically what happens, there’s a lot more to it). A ton of fun that is (hopefully) not meant to be taken too seriously; expect lots of squirm-inducing blood and that brand of old school body horror that fans of Cronenberg Sr. dearly miss. The poster sums it all up rather nicely. (EB)
Beyond the Hills : With his follow-up feature to 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, Christian Mungui has cemented a distinctive style that is both moderately paced and urgent. Mungui has no need to consult varied pacing or even music to affect his drama, in fact those methods would have ill consequence on his sense of drama-at-its-own-pace, and his sense of place. The urgency arises from the content itself, situational and emotional. BTH has a curious sense of time, which is matter of factly executed but also subliminally abstract. The narrative is chronological, however the coexistence of the ramshackle and isolated orthodox monastery that looks and feels old-world (as well as the lifestyles and practices of the sisters there), within that of modern Romania feels like the overlapping of two disparate time periods, as one might feel similarly about the Pennsylvania Dutch in modern Lancaster. And yet, these two worlds necessarily interact. That discrepancy is one of the most compelling elements of the story. Engrained in, and informed by, this dichotomy is the struggle of Alina, a deeply emotionally disturbed young woman who exhibits a possessive fever over her now devout friend (and former lover) Voichita. Alina has come to visit Voichita from an unpleasant stint in Germany and hopes to abscond with her, but Alina’s true heart is for Christ. The depictions of Alina’s mania and her brooding attitude against the lifestyle that has swayed her object of desire, are exemplary and authentic. As is the depiction of the contention between the sisters and priest wanting to help Alina, without forcing their way of life on her. (AM)
The Everything Will Be OK Trilogy : Even if you are familiar with Don Hertzfeldt’s more widely seen Rejected Cartoons, you will only have an inkling of what these three short works entail. Hertzfeldt has struck a powerful chord, combining absurdism, observational humor, and a Terrence Malick-like sense of life’s hurtful wonderment. We follow the life of Bill, a seemingly normal stick figure man in a hat, who’s normality rapidly dissolves and eventually leads us to the birth and/or death of the universe. I was laughing out loud within 5 seconds of it starting, and also found myself tapped on an emotional level. The 62min running time is more than enough for the rewards of these visually and aurally inventive stories to be extolled. (AM)
Here Comes the Devil : There’s a lot to like in this Mexican horror import from writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Penumbra). An excessive use of zooms, some unexpectedly matter-of-fact jolts, a few really fun supporting weirdos. Two siblings wander off into the hills and return changed much to the confusion of their parents who set out to solve the mystery at hand. There are intermittent scenes of effective suspense and some gore for that crowd, but it takes what feels like a really long time to get where its going, a destination that many will find unfulfilling. (EB)
Lost Highway : On immaculate 35mm. ‘Nuff said. (AM)
Seeking Asian Female : Narrated by its American-raised Asian female director, this documentary begins with her curiosity towards why certain white males obsess over Asian women. Rather than exploring this potentially interesting topic, the film instead follows the journey of a 60-year-old sales clerk and his mail order Chinese bride-to-be. The director inadvertently becomes both translator and marriage counselor for the couple and it’s interesting to watch their relationship evolve, but it’s difficult to shake the film’s general sense of exploitation, often hidden beneath playful jabs and unanswerable musings. A fitting addition to the Kickstarter generation of documentaries/documentarians. (EB)
Thale : Those hoping for another joyous, horror-tinged expedition into Scandinavian folklore a la Troll Hunter will be sorely disappointed. A noticeably low budget tale of two house cleaners who discover a mysterious young woman that is being hunted by both the government and her fellow creatures (she has, or should we say had, a tail). It sounds fun, but it’s all soooo booooring. Endless flashbacks, a single location that’s not the least bit visually interesting, mundane leads…let’s just leave it at that. (EB)
Cool, we should have another one of these by the Festival’s end.
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.