Sunday 29 October 2023

AFI Fest: True stories

Travelling home to visit friends and family, it's helpful that I was born in Los Angeles! Not only does this offer a chance to escape to the sunshine during London's drearier seasons, but I can also catch up on film industry stuff while I'm out here. This trip coincided with AFI Fest, which is held at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, so I booked in to see five films (there were about 15 that I wanted to see!). Four of them had cast and crew Q&As, and as three of the films are based on true stories, the real people participated as well, which added huge emotions to the screenings. Photos are on the Insta feed (see below). Here are some comments, with full reviews to come...

Society of the Snow [La Sociedad de la Nieve]
dir JA Bayona; with Enzo Vogrincic, Agustin Pardella 23/Sp ****
Taking on another momentous true story (see The Impossible), Spanish filmmaker JA Bayona finds a visceral, authentically immersive path through a retelling of the 1972 plane crash that stranded Uruguayan rugby players high in the Chilean Andes. Through a series of harrowing events, the film pulls the audience into the emotional complexity of a situation far beyond what we can imagine. It’s bracingly involving, riveting and ultimately cathartic.

Me Captain

[Io Capitano]
dir Matteo Garrone; with Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall 23/It ****.
Taking a bracingly naturalistic approach, Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone traces the immigrant journey from West Africa to Europe, drawing details and perspective from real-life experiences. Intensely personal, the film finds global resonance in its specific story of a 16-year-old whose innate hopefulness is beaten and battered but never extinguished over the course of an astonishing odyssey. This gives the film a soaring humanity.

dir Ellen Kuras; with Kate Winslet, Josh O'Connor 23/UK ***.
Noted photographer Lee Miller is the subject of this detailed biopic, which centres on a pivotal period in time to deliver an emotional punch. Director Ellen Kuras approaches the story skilfully, finding clever resonance in several intense set-pieces, even if the script is never particularly ambitious with the material. And Kate Winslet delivers another powerfully invested performance as a complex woman who plotted her own course through life.

dir-scr Michel Franco; with Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard 23/US ****
Enormous issues ripple through this warm, complex romantic drama, adding unusual depth of feeling as characters confront the past and future. Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco never takes the easy route through the material, cutting in and out of scenes with an edgy style that leaves space for questions and contemplation. It’s unusually vibrant storytelling, rooted in the way experience and memory define our sense of identity, and not always in the most helpful way.

Evil Does Not Exist
dir-scr Ryusuke Hamaguchi; with Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa 23/Jpn ****
Both beautiful and challenging, this Japanese drama cleverly draws the audience in with an astute eye for details and characters that are hilariously deadpan in their interaction. Expanding on the evocative music of Eiko Ishibashi, writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi observes scenes with skill and insight, drawing out deeper meanings without us even realising it. So while the film feels somewhat enigmatic, it gets under the skin and lingers.

Also screened at AFI Fest and previously reviewed: ALL OF US STRANGERS (Haigh, UK); FINGERNAILS (Nikou, US); TIGER STRIPES (Eu, Mys); TOTEM (Aviles, Mex); MAESTRO (Cooper, US); THE BIKERIDERS (Nichols, US); 20,000 SPECIES OF BEES (Urresola, Sp); SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD (Hints, Est); ANSELM (Wenders, Ger).

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C R I T I C A L   W E E  K

There aren't many films on general release here that I'm interested in, and I prefer to spend time with my friends and family rather than watching screening links. So these are the only five movies I've seen all week, and I have no plans to watch anything in the coming week either. But you never know - I think Alexander Payne's The Holdovers might be on somewhere...

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