Chief Film Critic
Last year, I attended my first film festival. The Maine International Film Festival (MIFF) is a 10-day event in Waterville, ME run by the Maine Film Center. It is hosted at two locations: The Railroad Square Cinema, a small three-screen theater that is one of the rare independent theaters in the northeast, and the Waterville Opera House, located in the heart of downtown Waterville. When I attended MIFF last year, I could only do two days, but I made the most of them, seeing a maximum of seven films over those two days. I so thoroughly enjoyed my experience that I was determined to come back this year for more.
In fact, I purchased a full festival pass, took a week of vacation from work, and made a 10-day reservation at a local Airbnb. And so it is that I am attending MIFF for the duration, from opening night on Friday the 13th to Sunday the 22nd. My plan is to blow it out and see the maximum number of movies possible, a slightly daunting number of 32. In addition, there is also a nearby theater chain, so I may even find time to sneak over there to catch Skyscraper on Monday or Tuesday. Regardless, my focus for the next ten days is on MIFF has to offer 3-4 times per day across 4 screens. My plan with this space is to share my festival experience by pairing up the 10 days into 5 posts with mini-reviews and any other anecdotes I may be inclined to include.
All week the start of my vacation at 3pm Friday was taking forever to arrive. As it turns out, Friday itself went quite fast and my vacation was upon me almost before I knew it. I had already packed my 2016 Ford Focus, purchased just a week ago, so I hit the road and set off for Waterville as soon as I was out of work. Waterville is just north of Augusta, which is about where Maine stops being Southern Maine (where I live) and becomes Central Maine. The trip took about an hour and a half and I made it to my Airbnb location with zero problems, dropped my stuff off, and made it to Railroad Square Cinema with time to spare for the first of many films I will be seeing over the next ten days.
The Third Murder
The Third Murder is a 2017 Japanese film by Hirokazu Koreeda. Koreeda recently won the Palm d’Or at the most recent Cannes Film Festival for another film of his, Shoplifters. The Third Murder is a legal drama about a lawyer, Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama), defending a man named Misumi (Koji Yakusho) who confessed to a murder of his boss. Shigemori is a defense lawyer who at the beginning of the film cares less about the truth and more about what is best for the defense of his client. The arc of the film is about his slow 180 degree turn to caring only about the truth in this case. There are several factors involved in this. For one, Misumi’s story is continually changing. There is the mysterious involvement of the teenage daughter of the victim, Sakie (Suzu Hirose) who has a notable limp, is harboring secrets and is of a similar age to Shigemori’s own daughter. Also, Misumi was previously convicted of a double murder 30 years ago and the judge who presided over it was Shigemori’s father. The truth ultimately proves elusive in this film, like a shell game. Koreeda leaves the film in a place where there is a likely explanation for what really happened, but not one that leaves the viewer 100% certain. It’s a deliberately paced film about the nature of truth, the judgment of others, and the lies people tell themselves so they don’t have to see reality. A bit too ponderous at times.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Pascal Plante, Fake Tattoos is a film from Quebec about a teen named Theo (Anthony Therrien) who meets Mag (Rose-Marie Perreault) after a show on his 18th birthday. They strike up an intense relationship almost immediately. Recent events in Theo’s life are causing him to move away at the end of summer with his sister who lives four hours away, so they make the most of the time they have together in Quebec. They bond over talking about music, tattoos, and life in general while Theo’s home life is strained, though the reason is not fully revealed until late in the film. In some ways this film is like a punk rock version of Before Sunset.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This film was comes from Paraguay and is directed by Marcelo Martinessi. The film is mainly about Chela (Ana Brun), a heiress who has lived for 30 years with Chiquita (Margarita Irun), also a wealthy heiress. Chiquita is about to go away to jail on charges of fraud, leaving Chela to learn to fend for herself and tend to matters normally handled by Chiquita. They begin selling off their possessions to help make ends meet. During Chiquita’s incarceration, she begins driving her neighbor to weekly card games with her friends. Its in doing this that she meets Angy, a younger and vivacious woman that Chela takes a interest in and begins to come out of her shell. Brun’s gives a nice performance as a woman who is proud and unwilling to accept handouts and aid from her friends who care about her, but then she begins receiving tips for driving these older ladies, meets Angy, and begins to loosen up. The strain on the relationship is more pronounced for Chela than Chiquita, and the impression is given that this is perhaps the first time in her life that Chela has had to figure things out for herself in any meaningful way. While this is not a film that I loved, it is the type of film I am happy to experience at a festival like this, because under normal conditions it is not the type of film I would be exposed to.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Puzzle is a film from director Marc Turtletaub, a man who has produced a number of popular indie films over the last decade, including Little Miss Sunshine. This drama stars Kelly Macdonald as Agnes, a stay at home mother who has doted on her husband and her two sons for years. Given a 1000-piece puzzle as a birthday present, she puts it together rather quickly and easily. Discovering that she might have a talent for it, she crosses paths with Robert (Irrfan Khan). Seeing her capability, he enters them into a competitive puzzle tournament, where the winners have the opportunity to go to Brussels to compete for a world-wide championship. After living so much of her life for others, Agnes begins to find space for herself and her own thoughts and own opinions, leading to tensions with her husband (David Denman) at home, and potentially into a blossoming relationship with her partner Robert.
There are subtle ways that the film shows Agnes slowly coming out of the sheltered life she has inhabited for so long. At the beginning of the film, she is putting up decorations for a birthday party and then playing hostess to everyone at the birthday party, even putting out the cake, only for it to be revealed that it is in fact her own birthday party, the absurdity of which she accepts because it is just what is expected and what everyone is used to. She tolerates her husband’s snoring a little less with each passing minute of the film. She is a completely different person by the end. The family dynamics between Agnes, her husband who owns a body shop, one adult son who hates working at said body shop, and a second son (who is about to graduate high school but may or may not want to go to college) feel very believable in their routines.
Khan brings a lot of charm to his role, but it is Macdonald’s film and she is so good. Even though I have my problems with some of the decisions characters make in this movie and disagree with some of the decisions the story takes, Macdonald’s performance wins me over enough to recommend this film. She makes a strong case here that she is one of the most underutilized actresses in the film business today.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Speaking of underutilized actresses, can we talk about Emily Mortimer for a minute? She is such a consistently good actress and yet she rarely gets a lead role in a film. Here, she does get the lead and gets a chance to shine. Florence Green (Mortimer) is a quietly confident and driven woman who has a simple desire to own and operate a small bookstore in a small town in mid-50s England. That apparently run counter to the desires of Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), a rich and influential woman in town who wants to see the building turned into an arts center. Bill Nighy also appears in this film as a reclusive town resident who becomes Florence’s first customer and becomes a huge fan of Ray Bradbury. He is delightful as always. It’s disarming to see Clarkson plays a scheming villainous role. Mortimer really brings the emotional weight of the film toward the end. The film teases a final faceoff between Florence and Violet, but sadly never pays it off. Still an overall enjoyable film.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Invisible Hands
Another film I would probably never have seen if not for this festival. This is a documentary of a musical artist, Alan Bishop, who was in a band called Sun City Girls, an experimental rock band formed in 1978. This film focuses on 2012-2014 as he is living in Egypt forming the band The Invisible Hands with three younger Egyptian musicians. They spend much of their time practicing, performing a few gigs, and translating Alan’s songs from English into Arabic. All the while, the Arab Spring is unfolding in the streets around them. There are some interesting aspects to this film, but it is a bit of a mess and a little self-indulgent. The film tries to tie the lyrics and the music to the events as they happen, but there seems to be a lack of focus overall. Still, it touches on some interesting aspects of how well music translates from one language to another and what can be lost in the process.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars