I’m back with a few quick blurbs about the films I screened during days 4 and 5 of the 2013 Nashville Film Festival.
Part of the Kurdish cinema series, IN THE LION’S DEN explores the paths of two young men in post-Hussein Iraq. One signs up for the U.S. backed Iraqi National Guard, the other a resistance cell. Both fight out of loyalty to family and country. I really loved this movie. My only quibble is that it seemed a bit too influenced by Hollywood war films in the use of music and editing. 4/5
I really wish I had screened Xavier Dolan’s directorial debut I KILLED MY MOTHER before screening LAURENCE ANYWAYS. It would have primed me for his unique voice. In I KILLED MY MOTHER, the 19 Xavier writes, directs, and plays a character based on his high-school self, a gay son living with the mother he despises. This is easily one of my favorites of the fest. I wonder if the film’s economical style was a product of necessity. Perhaps with LAURENCE ANYWAYS, Xavier was given a larger budget that resulted in too many song cues distracting from the drama and an overlong run time. With I KILLED MY MOTHER, I see why people laud him as a young auteur. 5/5.
THIS IS MARTIN BONNER won a Sundance Audience award. I have never in my festival experience loved the film that won the popularity contest. In this case, I can’t say that streak is broken. I enjoyed THIS IS MARTIN BONNER, but I was a little put off by the opening scene, in which a prisoner-rehabilitation counselor tried to sell the program to an inmate who will be released in less than a year. The prisoner sees a picture of Jesus on the back of the brochure and wisely asks if religion is part of the program. The counselor gives him the usual line about “spirituality” being one of the principles but that the inmate doesn’t “have” to believe in God. The inmate recognizes the Trojan horse in the deal and turns down the program. I’m thinking, “Good move.” At this point, the camera follows the counselor to his car, and I think, “Oh man. They picked the wrong protagonist!” True, the film ends up being a very personal story about counselor Martin Bonner’s new life in a new city that never seems to advocate Christianity. And yet it’s hard for me to suspend my extreme dislike for religious prisoner-rehabilitation programs that offer assistance with a catch, effectively turning prisons into proselytizing grounds. They offer a loaded hand to people who are in a very vulnerable place with very few choices. You may argue that has nothing to do with the film, and you’d be right, but nevertheless, it was constantly in the back of mind. 3/5.
I was really looking forward to FLICKER, the Swedish absurdist comedy about employees at a large communications company. The trailer and reviews made me hopeful for something out of fellow-Swede Roy Andersson’s playbook ala SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR or YOU, THE LIVING. But I was aiming too high. FLICKER is a fun but forgettable comedy with weirdness that seems too aware of itself. 3/5.
I had to miss the last ten or so minutes of Joe Swanberg’s ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY because it started late and I had another film right after. I enjoyed the character piece about about a mid-life mid-level actor struggling to find connection in southern California. Lead actor Jane Adams wrote the script with Swanberg. There are many touching moments, in particular her conversations with her aspiring actor niece. 4/5.
The documentary PERSISTENCE OF VISION tells the story of animator Richard Williams’ 25+ year quest to complete his masterpiece THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER. Beat down by his compulsive perfectionism, a lack of funds, new technology, and Disney’s similarly-themed Aladdin, THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER was taken over by investors and rushed to completion. The resulting film, which added forgettable musical numbers and scenes that did not match the original animation, is nothing like the film Williams envisioned. PERSISTENCE OF VISION can be heartbreaking to watch, even when you sometimes feel that Williams’ stubborn perfectionism is what did the film in. It should be required viewing for all aspiring artists. 4/5
Sarah Polley’s documentary STORIES WE TELL is absolutely mesmerizing, masterfully-constructed, and easily one of the best films of the fest. Polley interviews family members and family friends in order to discover who her real father is. What does it mean to be a “real” father? Is he the one who donated half his genes or the one who raised you? That’s one of the many questions raised in this filmic interrogation. Actor/writer/director Sarah Polley is only 35 and already an auteur. 5/5