- Chief Film Critic
Take a look at the final couple of days at MIFF 2018!
Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable
Garry Winogrand was a prolific street photographer beginning in the 50s until his death in the 80s. This documentary from director Sasha Waters Freyer is a fascinating insight into his work. When he died, he had left thousands of rolls of film undeveloped. It’s also insightful in how photography is analyzed and perceived by the experts in the industry. Winogrand’s photographs are complex and layered and beautiful. The doc delves into his personal life as well, talking about his three wives and his three children. It’s an illuminating documentary that is part of the PBS American Masters series, so keep an eye out for it on PBS, which a quick Google search says will be September 2018.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
A 20-year-old, hearing-impaired man named Adam (Magnus Mariuson) is faced with a difficult crossroads in his life at an early age. His mother, who was big in the techno scene, drank to the point of permanent, irreversible brain damage resulting in her being placed in a home. Her wish years ago was to have Adam kill her if she ever ended up in any situation like that. Faced with the prospect of fulfilling his mothers wishes and looking at an uncertain future as well, Adam struggles with what to do. At the same time, he also meets Vanessa, a slightly older and pregnant woman with whom Adam may have a future with. This is a small but evocative film that comes in at a lean 72 minutes. Mariuson is the son of the director, Maria Solrun, and both were at the festival (along with a producer) and participated in a Q&A after the showing, mentioning that it was made for about $25,000, was filmed in her apartment, and was filmed without a script. A unique filming experience.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Every once in a while, I see a movie that hits me in just the right way and I thoroughly enjoy it because what is on screen is so unexpected and so creative. That was my experience with Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras). It’s a Brazilian film from co-writers/directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. A pregnant woman hires a nanny to stay with her in advance of the baby being born. They develop a strong bond over the weeks and months leading up to the delivery, but there is also something strange and mysterious about the pregnancy. Frankly, the less said about this film the better. I went into it almost totally blind, knowing only that it was a mixture of horror, romance, and musical. There’s an animated sequence even. It’s a film that defies genre. It’s a film with aspects that reminded me of other films (Rosemary’s Baby, An American Werewolf in London, Pet Cemetary), but is also original enough to make me wonder why I had never seen a film quite like this until now. It’s supposed to be getting a limited release in the US on July 27th. Seek out this movie. Also, Juliana Rojas was in attendance and participated in a Q&A after the film. Sadly, I could only stay for a few minutes because the last film of the day that I was attending was starting shortly after. But I left this film energized and wanting to share it with the world.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Dream of Illumination
This film comes from Japan. It’s a black and white film from director Thunder Sawada. It’s a quiet and understated film, but there is a lot going on underneath the surface of this film. It mainly concerns a man and his daughter. He is a real-estate agent in a small village who is a little pushy. His daughter is a senior in high school deciding whether to attend college or not. The story also involves the former mayor of the town, a woman whose father helped on the campaign of the former mayor, and a woman who used to live in the town but moved away. Slowly over the course of the film we discover that they are tied together by a tragedy, as is the real-estate agent. While this is the main element of the story, in the grander scheme of things, it is also a film about modernization coming to the countryside of Japan, changing demographics, and a country in transition.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Children Act
Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own 2014 novel and directed by Richard Eyre, The Children Act is an adult drama about High Court judge who has to rule on whether a Jehovah’s Witness who is nearly 18 can refuse a blood transfusion. That is the basis for the story, but there is much more to the story. The judge, portrayed by Emma Thompson, is in a struggling marriage with a husband, played by Stanley Tucci. It’s not that their marriage is deteriorating, it’s that it has become more like two good friends living together. He wonders where the love has gone, she… doesn’t have much to say about the matter, she is too busy with work. Simply put, her work has gotten in the way too often for too long. Her decision has consequences she does not anticipate. Fionn Whitehead also stars as the teen refusing the blood transfusion. This is a well-made drama. The world did not need convincing that Emma Thompson was a talented actress at this point, but it’s a helpful reminder. There need to be more leading roles for her and others like her. I thought the film went to some borderline awkward places, but overall it handled everything that happens in a respectful manner.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
First off, this is a beautiful film. It travels up the Yangtze River from Shanghai to the river’s source. Along the way, a son is dealing with the loss of his father, attempting to take over the responsibilities of his fishing boat, and reading poetry out of a book he finds on the boat. At nearly ever port along the way, he also encounters a woman named An Lu, a mysterious figure whose appearance also seems to change the further up the river he travels. The film is almost worth seeing purely for the visuals, from the Three Gorges Dam to the river cutting a cavernous path between mountains, it is a sight to behold. But the story it is telling does not follow as clear a path as the Yangtze River. Rather, it is as murky as the water of the Yangtze. It’s not until the end, when the work “dakini” is mentioned in a poem does anything begin to resemble making sense. The plot is too opaque to fully enjoy. It’s also very plodding in pace. But, boy, some of those visuals.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Support the Girls
The closing night film from director Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) was this comedic drama about a group of women working for a sports bar called Double Whammies that accentuates the curves of their waitresses. The manager of the bar is Lisa, a terrific performance by Regina Hall. Her approach is to foster a sense of family between everyone on her staff, something everyone more or less buys into. That family concept is poked and prodded over the course of a day where she decides to throw a spontaneous car wash to help raise money for one of her waitresses who got into some serious domestic problems with her boyfriend the previous night. Between the cops trying to get a would-be thief out of the air vent, getting the cable back up and working for fight night, managing her staff and placating her boss, and marital issues at home, it’s a trying day to say the least. But the comradery of the staff that shines through when things are toughest.
Hall’s Lisa is flanked by her two most loyal waitresses portrayed by Haley Lu Richardson and Shayna McHayle. Richardson is one of the more promising young actresses of the last few years and McHayle is a rapper turned actress who has gone by the stage name Junglepussy. Support the Girls is not a high stakes film, but it’s a simple, sometimes poignant slice of life film about a slightly marginalized section of American society that rarely gets portrayed in movies. The obvious reference point for me was Waiting…, but this film is less of an adolescent, raunchy comedy than that film. And even though this film is set in a sports bar where they emphasize brews, boobs, and big screens, the camera doesn’t objectify the women. In fact, the one girl that is trying to be “too sexy” for the job is continually told to tone it down as she makes a fool of herself. Overall, it was an enjoyable film and a nice cap to the festival.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Every year, the festival honors someone in the film industry. In the past they have honored Terrence Malick, Ed Harris, Gabriel Byrne, Lauren Hutton, Glenn Close, and Roger Deakins just to name a few. This year, the honored Dominique Sanda, a renowned French actress. Sadly, I was so focused on new releases that I did not find time to see any of her films that were screened at the festival, but I certainly plan to seek them out in the coming weeks and months.
Before Support the Girls was screened, the festival announced the Audience Favorite Award, the only film award given out at the festival. I happened to see all four of the top finishers:
4th Place: Modified
2nd: Good Manners
1st: The Children Act
Personally, my Top 5 MIFF 21 Films would look like this:
4. Mademoiselle Paradis
2. I Am Not a Witch
1. GOOD MANNERS
I saw 32 films in 10 days. I loved every minute of it. I’m shocked how quickly the 10 days passed. I absolutely plan on going again next year. And I’d encourage anyone reading this to check out their local area and see if there is any kind of film festival that plays in nearby. If there is, go check it out a bit. It’s a wonderful experience that exposes you to all kinds of different treats that you definitely would not find at the major cineplexes. I mean, where else might you stumble across a hidden gem from Brazil that ends up being one of your favorite movies of the year? You never know what you might discover!