SHORT TERM 12 (Destin Cretton)
The closing night film Short Term 12, a grand jury and audience award winner at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, set at a group home facility, is all aces in all departments: storytelling, visual acuity, and performance. Brie Larson delivers a stunning central performance as a caretaker and counselor who is struggling with her own family issues, which help her connect with the kids, but which threaten to destabilize her own mental well-being.
This is a beautiful, charming piece of work, a definite must-see of this year’s festival. The film contains a stunning breakout performance by Keith Stanfield (who also starred in Cretton’s short film version of this feature), whose scene in which his character spontaneously performs a rap song about his life is a high point in a film that contains many of them.
(June 28, 8:30pm)
AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery)
This year’s opening night film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a Bonnie and Clyde-type outlaw couple in 1970’s Texas. Director David Lowery certainly gets the iconography right here, with a scenario heavily influenced by classic westerns and Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Lowery gets a crucial assist from Bradford Young’s gorgeously evocative cinematography. But though the look is there, the heart is missing, and there is a hollowness at its center which keeps us at an emotional remove from the characters or anything we see happening on screen.
Ultimately, and disappointingly, it all adds up to very little. But it certainly looks great on the huge new Steinberg Screen at the BAM Harvey Theater, where the opening night festivities were held.
IT FELT LIKE LOVE (Eliza Hittman)
Brooklyn in the summertime is given a dreamy, ethereally poetic look in It Felt like Love, a remarkable debut feature that is a bracingly unsentimental look at a young girl’s exploration of her own stirrings of sexual desire. This 14-year-old’s obsessive wish for sexual experience is one that she goes to extreme ends to achieve, spinning a web of self-deception and potentially dangerous behavior that provides a disturbing undercurrent to the images that float by us on screen. The rhythms of lazy summer days on the beach are beautifully captured here, suggesting a kinder, gentler version of Larry Clark’s Kids.
(June 21, 9:30pm)
MOTHER OF GEORGE (Andrew Dosunmu)
A frequent visual motif in Andrew Dosunmu’s pictorially stunning second feature involves blurry, indistinct figures slowly coming into focus. There are also odd framings, with characters placed off-center or cut off in the frame. Mother of George’s images, forming another wonderful showcase of the talents of ace cinematographer Bradford Young (who also shot Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), deeply reflect the alienation and isolation felt by its central character Adenike (Danai Gurira) a Nigerian woman brought to the U.S. to marry restaurant owner Ayodele (Isaach de Bankole).
The film begins with a gorgeously colorful traditional Yoruba wedding, but this pictorial beauty thinly conceals the subsequent situations of rigidly traditional values placing shackles on those compelled to practice them. Adenike is under severe pressure to bear a child, which mostly comes from Ayodele’s mother; and this becomes an all-consuming goal, and the manner in which she must achieve this brings tragedy to all concerned. The vibrancy of Brooklyn’s Nigerian beauty is given mesmerizingly vivid form in this remarkable film.
(June 22, 6:45pm)
MUSEUM HOURS (Jem Cohen)
Jem Cohen's latest is a visually and intellectually stimulating look at the Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna, and its surrounding environs, through the eyes of a museum guard (Bobby Sommer) and a visiting Canadian woman (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who meet by chance and explore the city together.
Cohen’s background is in experimental films and documentaries with a very strong sense of place, and a sharp, analytical eye, and Museum Hours, his first proper fictional feature, is no exception. Cohen's unique renderings of architecture and landscape makes this a riveting look at how art, and they ways in which we look at it and respond to it profoundly and irrevocably changes us.
(June 24, 9:30pm)
REMOTE AREA MEDICAL (Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman)
This documentary is a powerful indictment of the shameful situation in the U.S. of millions of its citizens having no access to affordable healthcare. The people of Bristol, Tennessee, who line up for hours at a temporary clinic set-up in a NASCAR speedway to see a dentist, get glasses, or take care of life-threatening health issues, are the very real human faces of this tragedy.
The titular organization, which started out deep in the Amazon rain forest, now has to curtail its global efforts because they're so overwhelmed with the need for healthcare in the U.S. Remote Area Medical is an often heartrending look at the Third World within American borders.
(June 23, 1:30pm)
WHITE REINDEER (Zach Clark)
In this decidedly odd Christmas story, Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) grieving her murdered husband learns many things she didn't know about him, and must radically rethink her relationship to the holiday season. As Suzanne wanders adrift, her world completely upended, she encounters strippers, swinger parties, caroling real estate agents, and learns to shoplift by lining her purse with aluminum foil.
The wild shifts in tone, ranging from solemn melancholy to absurdist dark humor, continually keep us off-kilter, and we're often not sure if we really should be laughing or not. However, there's enough compelling weirdness, and ultimately some appropriately life-affirming uplift to this scenario, to make it all enjoyable.
(June 23, 9:30pm)
HELLAWARE (Michael M. Bilandic)
This caustic art-world satire, receiving its world premiere at this year’s festival, centers on Nate (Keith Poulson), an aimless young man who lives in arch, jaded contempt at the pretensions of the lionized artists featured in gallery shows he goes to. Nevertheless, he longs to be a part of this world also; a You Tube discovery of a crude video by an Insane Clown Posse knock-off rap group becomes his ticket, he thinks, to art world success. He brings his best friend Bernadette (Sophia Takal) with him to rural Delaware to become a chronicler and exploiter of the subculture he finds there built around this group to create a photography gallery show featuring the outrageous lifestyle and behavior of the people he meets.
Bilandic humorously punctures the pretensions of artists’ exploitation of people in the name of “authenticity,” betraying a class-based sense of superiority that, for Nate, collapses with the film’s wickedly effective concluding punchline.
(June 22, 9:30pm)