MIFF 2018 - Part 3

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Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

DAY 5

Zama

Day five kicked off with Zama, the latest film from Lucrecia Martel. Martel is an acclaimed Argentinian director and Zama represents her first film in nearly a decade. It’s an adaptation of a book from the 1950 about an 18th Century Corregidor who is stuck in a remote South American village and unable to secure a transfer to a better location in the Spanish Empire. The film is unique in that it almost defies classification; it’s a period drama that is also sometimes a dark situational comedy. It’s a visual and aural experience. It is also something of a head trip. Narratively, the film is fractured and disjointed, almost like a stream of consciousness. The end result is a kind of dream state that slowly descends into a waking nightmare, as if David Lynch were filtered through Terrence Malick’s The New World. After the film, Santiago Gallelli, one of the producers, took part in a Q&A.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

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Prepare to hear a lot about conversion therapy in the second half of 2018. This is the first of two major films that are dealing with the subject this year, the other being Joel Egerton’s Boy Erased. This film is set in 1993 and stars Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role of a teenager who gets sent to a gay conversion therapy camp. The camp is led by the domineering Dr Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her converted brother Rev. Rick (John Gallagher Jr.). Cameron takes some time to adjust to her circumstances at this camp, and there is some humor to be found in her not having the “right” reactions at awkward social interactions, or simply not knowing how to react to something. And there are some light-hearted moments of teens being teens, including a great one where a group of them are working in the kitchen and start singing “What’s Going On” by 4 Non Blondes.

As the film progresses though, it becomes more and more blunt and serious about the struggle of this place that is attempting to turn these kids into something that they are not and the harm it is causing. As a Christian, it was a hard film to sit through; just because what someone is trying to do is well-intentioned does not mean it can’t also be incredibly misguided and harmful. There’s a bit of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest feel to this film in that eventually you begin to seriously doubt whether the people in charge truly have the best interests of the kids at heart and whether there is any way out for them. I hope this and Boy Erased begin to cause some introspection among believers.

After the film, three members of the state legislature and a rep from the Maine ACLU held a discussion about the recently passed state bill than banning conversion therapy in Maine, which was just vetoed by the governor. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is scheduled for release in theaters in early August.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Being There

When I mapped out my schedule for this festival, I made a concerted effort to see mostly new releases. Every year, though, the festival shows a handful of classics. With the showing of the Hal documentary, they’re also showing a few of Hal Ashby’s films too. Being that I have never seen Being There before, but knowing its reputation, I decided to make the time for it here. I was not disappointed. It is a brilliant piece of satire right up there with the best work that Peter Sellers has ever done. Seller’s simple portrayal of Chance the Gardner/Chauncey de Gardner is brilliant. Chance is the epitome of a man-child. Shirley MacLaine is also great in this film. I knew very little about this film going into it other than the broadest of strokes, that a simple, plainspoken man is taken for a wise and sage person. I had no idea it was going to be so satirical, that Chance is actually so simple-minded, but dresses so nice that people just assume he is rich and knows what he is talking about and assign more depth to his words than are actually there. It’s a brilliant, brilliant film that is still relevant.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

DAY 6

The Queen of Fear

Another Argentinian film, this time around it is a bit of a passion project. Valeria Bertuccelli is the lead actress, the writer, and the director. It’s a bit of a character study, and though not necessarily autobiographical, does apparently pull from Bertuccelli’s knowledge of the business. Her character, Robertina, is a renowned theater actress and is about a week out from another stage performance. She’s also a bit eccentric in her approach to performing and the demands her method places on her agent and the theater create tension and uncertainty for everyone involved. She quickly drops everything and flies out of Buenos Aires to spend some time with an old friend who is dying of cancer. The film has moment of comedy, moments of personal drama, and few possible strands of horror involving power outages at her home and her dog acting oddly. A very affecting film, a woman was left in tears at the end of our viewing saying that she had never experienced anything like that before. One of the producers, the same one who was here for Zama, also participated in a Q&A afterward.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

I knew the name Sandra Bland. I certainly could tell you the broadest of details about her story: a black woman, arrested in Texas, found dead after being held in custody for three days, death by hanging, a suicide. I’m sure a few of the other details I could have recalled prior to seeing this documentary. What becomes abundantly clear from watching this documentary is that not enough is known about Sandra Bland’s life. I liked that the documentary does in fact focus on the life and death of Sandra Bland. The documentary has a lot of behind the scenes footage involving her family and their lawyers meeting as it happened, a surprising amount of access really. And it is respectful to both sides, devoting time to the sheriff and the DA of Waller County in Texas. The family remains suspicious of the circumstances of her death. The Waller County officials maintain that nothing wrong was done on their part, though they failed her because she died in their custody. The majority of the evidence suggests her death was a suicide, but there are some odd details that don’t fit neatly into a tidy explanation. And it certainly doesn’t excuse away the fact that this woman ultimately should not have been arrested in the first place, with the arresting officer needlessly and unequivocally escalating the situation. Cut it any way you want, justice was not served for this woman in a multitude of ways. A sobering documentary about a subject that has not lost any of its potency or relevancy in the last few years. It will come out on HBO at some point and is almost sure to be an Oscar contender.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Scott and the Secret History of Hollywood

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This was an uneasy documentary that is full of salacious details that are sure to titillate. However, it’s also a humanizing film. It delves into the sordid history of Hollywood and the story of Scotty Bowers, a man who arranged secret rendezvous with many of the biggest Hollywood stars back in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. Scotty ran a gas station nearby one of the Hollywood lots where he provided people to the stars for a small fee. Most of the trysts were homosexual in nature, behavior that could kill an actor’s career if it were exposed during the era of the Hays Code, morals clauses, and vice cops. Scotty, now in his 90s, published a book of his and others’ escapades back in 2012 after everyone else had died, and while almost none of it is verifiable with hard evidence, his stories are validated by others in interviews. It is at times a very unsettling film, particularly in light of the #MeToo movement and when Scotty says in no uncertain terms that he was molested as a child and sees nothing wrong it. But the film takes a non0judgmental approach to all of it. Much like how Scotty says he tells the stories of his deceased friends because it humanizes them, this doc presents Scotty Bowers in all his humanity, a WWII veteran haunted by his experiences who tried to provide happiness to people, for better or for worse. A challenging film to be sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars