Three capsule reviews from CIFF 2018 including my takes on Sofia, Animal and Vox Lux. I definitely enjoyed one of these, but was sadly mixed on two of the others.
Transit manages to be a film that is direct, simple and confidently tells a story that is fairly easy to comprehend once all the pieces come into play. Once you acclimate, what transpires feels like an old-fashioned drama in which the suspense derives from character interaction and decision-making that may or may not be selfish. In a way it reminded me of the strengths contained in a show like Better Call Saul, only streamlined into 100 minutes. We follow a desperate man during WWII, Georg (a superb Franz Rogowski) who is hired to transport a writer, his travel documents, and controversial novel from Paris to Marseilles.
Core of the World creates a dark and isolating atmosphere that is unique as it is unnerving. The film, which was directed by Natalia Meshchaninova, centers on Egor (Stepan Devonin), a veterinarian living at a remote Russian facility that trains hunting dogs. We learn that Egor had an unhappy childhood. Innocent with an open, honest face, he chases affection, much like the dogs he works with. Early on, Egor rehabilitates a mauled dog that his boss (Dmitriy Podnozov) wants him to put down, so we see Egor has a gentle heart an an affinity for the animals under his care.
Retablo is a beautifully-shot film from Peru that is undermined by the uglier parts of its narrative. The film’s title refers to the objects produced by master craftsman, Noé (Amiel Cayo), who is passing along the trade to his talented son, Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca). It was the promise of seeing these objects up close that lured me to this film, and in that respect, Retablo delivers. Peruvian retablos are intricate pieces of art that use colorful clay figurines to depict religious, historical, and everyday events.
Familiar struggles threaten to keep two women apart in this charming, queer coming-of-age tale set in Nairobi, Kenya. In the film, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is immediately taken with Kiki (Sheila Munyiva) when she spots her hanging out with friends, dancing in the streets. Right away, the two young women share a glance—the first of many as they subtly gauge one another and their own feelings.
Over the course of the next week or so, contributing writer Kate Blair and I will cover the festival through various capsule reviews of some of the featured films. There are a lot of great high-profile titles to look forward to as well. Here are just a few we will try to see though we will be writing up on a whole lot more!
BLUEPRINT is a film that keeps the bigger issues on more of a micro-level, focusing on one human being's plight as he struggles to be a better person. At the same time, Jerod Harris doesn't make his portrayal all that sympathetic. He cheats, drinks and even ignores his own child at certain points. But you sense the internal conflict within and the movie, which barely lasts 80 minutes, manages to pack a significant punch that serves as a wake-up call. This is the humanistic portrayal of what's going on in Chicago that I've been hoping for.
A Star is Born is a tale almost as old as Hollywood itself. Versions of the story have been released in 1937, 1954, and 1976, making us due for a 21st-century reboot. In fact, the roots of the narrative go back even further: George Cukor’s 1932 film What Price Hollywood? was similar enough that he passed up on the opportunity to direct the 1937 version, which eventually went to William A. Wellman. Cukor, of course, eventually signed on to direct Judy Garland in the 1954 version. Later, the 70s gave us the version which seems to have most directly inspired this movie.
Mobility is a challenge even in the day and age of recording music, spending time on a smartphone or reading the daily news on a laptop. Which is why I wanted to see a movie about the opposite of sitting still. 3100: RUN AND BECOME is a bit of breath of fresh air in the world of documentary filmmaking, even if it doesn’t instill a sense of awe that it aspires to. The film follows an unassuming Finnish paperboy, Ashprihanal Aalto in his determined attempt to complete the Self-Transcendence 3100 Miler, the world’s longest race, where he must run at least 60 miles per day for 52 days around a ½ mile sidewalk loop in New York City.
When sitting down to write a review, the last thing you want to implement is a cliche. However, once in awhile it is so apt that no better words or turns of phrase could be used. I’m of course referring to “style over substance,” in the case of MANDY which is the latest film from director Panos Cosmatos. Every so often, a viewer can settle in and accept the fact that a movie can simply be an experience of mood rather than a wholly original story. This would be the case for this particular film, in which I warmed up to its first hour only to find myself a bit distanced by the second, due to its familiarity of revenge movie tropes and gory screams of confrontation.