Three Reviews: The American Friend + Transit + No Fear, No Die

The American Friend (1977, dir. Wim Wenders)

Last month I attended a screening of The American Friend held at the Museum of the Moving Image, played in tribute to the brilliant Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who passed away in February. I am a fan of Ganz from way back, having first seen his peerless performance in Wings of Desire on TCM thirteen years ago (I remember distinctly that I was soon to graduate from junior high at the time; I felt as though I were on the precipice of exciting changes in my life). As a devotee of Ganz and Wenders, having seen many titles from both men’s filmographies, it was especially gratifying to see this unique crime drama on the silver screen.

In this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel Ripley’s Game, Ganz portrays Jonathan Zimmermann, an expert art restorer and picture framer in Hamburg, Germany who has been told that he has terminal leukemia. Worried as to how his wife Marianne (Lisa Kreuzer) and son Daniel (Andreas Dedecke) will fare when he is gone, when an opportunity comes along to earn a fortune from mysterious businessman Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) by acting as a hitman and killing a couple of men, Jonathan reluctantly agrees to the job. Making matters even more complicated, Jonathan is tangled up in shady transactions with Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), an American art dealer who traffics in forged works. Eventually, Jonathan’s associations with Minot and Ripley collide in perilous situations, including a pair of murders on a train and a climactic shootout at Ripley’s decrepit mansion.

One could describe Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper as the stars of the film, but just as vivid is the cinematography by the late, great Robby Müller, who had already worked with Wim Wenders on a number of previous films and went on to lens many classics/cult classics by Alex Cox (Repo Man), more by Wenders (Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World), William Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A.), Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Mystery Train, Dead Man and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai), Andrzej Wajda (Korczak), Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark) and Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson). I mention all of these directors to highlight how respected Robby Müller was, truly a master of his craft. His technical prowess is evident throughout The American Friend, as in the famous shot of Jonathan trying to match up the edges of a painting’s frame, the incorporation of neon green lighting in shots of Ripley playing billiards in his German countryside home (here and here) and the stunning shot of clouds reflecting in a boardwalk as two vehicles race each other to a beach in the final scenes.

Story-wise, The American Friend’s occasionally confusing plot does not measure up to the all-time best cinematic version of a Patricia Highsmith thriller, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 take on Strangers on a Train. Moreover, The American Friend is a little too long, clocking in at 125 minutes. Despite these issues, Wenders’ film establishes a compelling mood for its viewers. And obviously there is a strong draw for cinephiles thanks to his quirky casting of many of the smaller roles, using celebrated directors, actors and even a singer. Appearances include Nicholas Ray (sporting his late-in-life eyepatch), Samuel Fuller (chomping on a cigar, of course), Peter Lilienthal, Daniel Schmid, Sandy Whitelaw, Jean Eustache, Lou Castel, David Blue and Rudolf Schündler. The American Friend is a meditation on the collaborative nature of art – both paintings in the film and, for Wenders, the creation of the film itself – and his use of cult favorite director Nicholas Ray is a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s assertion that “le cinéma, c’est Nicholas Ray.”

Transit (2018/2019, dir. Christian Petzold)

Rotten Tomatoes can’t be right all the time. Transit, the latest drama by German filmmaker Christian Petzold and currently the recipient of a 96% Fresh rating on the aforementioned website, was a massive disappointment when I caught an afternoon screening at Lincoln Center recently. Starring Franz Rogowski, whose resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix has been noted by many critics, Petzold’s film (an adaptation of a 1944 novel by Anna Seghers) was designed for our current political climate, yet it never gives the audience the benefit of being able to think for itself.

The Seghers novel follows the tale of refugees trying to escape Europe during World War II, but in recreating this narrative, Petzold made the decision to film it in modern-day settings with clothing, cars and everything else typical of the year 2018. This aesthetic choice is meant to underscore the sad timeliness of Seghers’ story, observing the threat of fascism now as well as then, but one can never entirely get over the not-quite-this, not-quite-that flimsiness of Petzold’s storytelling trying to exist in two time periods simultaneously.

At its core, Transit relates most strongly to the concepts of identity and memory made malleable by circumstance. Rogowski’s Georg, who flees Germany for the sunny port of Marseille, France, assumes the identity of a writer to whom he was supposed to deliver some personal letters, having discovered that the fellow committed suicide only after arriving in France. Posing as the distinguished author, Georg locates the man’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer), who has no idea that her husband has killed himself. The couple fall for one another despite their unusual predicament, with each trying to figure out the other’s plans for obtaining transit visas for Mexico.

Marie and other supporting characters flit in and out of Georg’s daily existence, intended to be important yet never making the requisite emotional connections needed for viewers to care about the outcomes of their subplots. This issue has nothing to do with acting, however; it is due in large part to Petzold’s overuse of narration. He never gives either Georg or the audience a moment to rest. Yes, this is deliberate since our protagonist is a man on the run and therefore Petzold wants to highlight the claustrophobic nature of his stop in Marseille, but it is impossible for anyone watching the film to reach a conclusion about a character’s psychological state when, as soon as the dialogue pauses in a scene, the narrator jumps in to explain what emotion is being depicted and what thoughts are informing a character’s mindset. Even worse, sometimes the voiceover redundantly describes actions we are already seeing unfold unscreen, e.g., “The neighbors stood in the doorway, staring.”

Hans Fromm’s cinematography is often visually appealing, although Petzold’s drab palette interferes with it. At the film’s denouement – a truly memorable last shot – I was glad to be rid of these characters, which is the surest sign of a film’s failure. A viewer should always be intrigued by the question of what might come next. As soon as the credits started, the inclusion of an upbeat rock song felt like one last slap in the face, a suggestion that maybe nothing that had occurred over the past hour and forty minutes should have been taken seriously.

No Fear, No Die (1990, dir. Claire Denis)

Before last Monday night, I had never seen a film directed by one of France’s leading auteurs for the past three decades, Claire Denis. Fortunately, I was able to make time for a screening that was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s retrospective, “Strange Desire: The Films of Claire Denis.” Hailed as the most complete collection of her work ever to be shown in the United States, No Fear, No Die was a real coup since the film has never been available on Region 1 DVD and I’m not sure how many times, if ever, it has been shown since its New York theatrical run in the summer of 1992.

Two of France’s finest actors, Isaach De Bankolé and Alex Descas, play Dah and Jocelyn, black immigrants – the former from Benin, the latter from the West Indies – who are forced to make ends meet by training roosters for cockfighting in the back room of a shabby restaurants run by a middle-aged white gangster, Pierre Ardennes (Jean-Claude Brialy). Very neo-noir meets Frantz Fanon: the two protagonists struggle against the racial and economic constraints of their situation, including tangling with a blonde femme fatale in the form of Pierre’s alluring wife, Toni (Wings of Desire’s Solveig Dommartin), and more nastiness from Pierre’s son, Michel (Christopher Buchholz), who is having an affair with his stepmom behind his father’s back. Dah and Jocelyn want to last in the racket just long enough to pay off their debts before moving onto the next job, but Jocelyn can’t relinquish his childhood memories of Martinique, where Pierre knew his mother. The scheme unravels for everyone.

I have read that the films of Claire Denis tend to be focused far more on atmosphere than on plot, but I found plenty of both in this drama. The cinematography by Pascal Marti, the jazzy score by Abdullah Ibrahim and the eclectic soundtrack – the best cut being Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” – perfectly complement the story’s tensions. I can’t wait to try another Claire Denis film as soon as possible, as well as more films featuring Alex Descas, whose performance in No Fear, No Die is riveting and heartbreaking.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: April 2019

Actress Sheila Munyiva and director/screenwriter Wanuri Kahiu on the set of Rafiki, 2017. (Photo: AwardsWatch)

Here are thirty-two new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this April, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.


APRIL 5 (NYC), APRIL 19 (LA): Blowin’ Up (dir. Stephanie Wang-Breal)The Village Voice’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Jason Bailey: “‘It’s called blowin’ up when you leave a pimp,’ explains former sex worker Kandie, and it’s easier said than done: ‘You can’t just walk away. There is no walking away.’ This insightful and informative documentary from director Stephanie Wang-Breal intertwines two strands: women like Kandie, telling their simple yet devastating stories, intercut with fly-on-the-wall footage of the human trafficking intervention court in Queens, where sex workers are brought — not to be charged and sentenced, but to receive help and forgiveness. Wang-Breal exhibits a Wiseman-esque institutional curiosity, fascinated by the process of this court and the people who spend their days there. She’s also interested in the exploitation of these young women (all of them Asian American or African American) and in the question of why police so often opt for quick arrests of workers, rather than an actual investigation of their exploiters. The characters are riveting and the photography is casually stylish, but the real highlight is the urgency of the work Wang-Breal captures.”


APRIL 5: Catching Sight of Thelma & Louise (dir. Jennifer Townsend)Cinema Village synopsis: “Powerful, bold, and authentic, Catching Sight of Thelma & Louise captures the truth of women’s experience in the world. It revisits the journey of Thelma & Louise through the lens of viewers who saw that iconic film in 1991 and shared intimate, personal, stories at that time.

“The same women and men were tracked down 25 years later. What has changed in their responses to the film over time? What has changed in the way women are treated by the world?”


APRIL 5 (in theaters & on VOD): Division 19 (dir. S.A. Halewood)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Division 19 is set in a future where the burgeoning need for social control has led to mass-criminalization. With jails overflowing, Head of Central Control Lyndon (Linus Roache) has brought in a data-warehousing specialist Neilsen (Alison Doody) who has turned the jails into online portals allowing citizens to monitor felons, voting on what they eat, wear, read, watch and when they fight.

“By far the most popular and downloaded felon is Hardin Jones unknowingly utilized 24/7 to sell everything from jeans to beans. When Jones escapes, he wants just one thing: His anonymity. But a group of crypto-anarchists who have taken on the State need his influence to help their cause. Hardin isn’t interested. He just wants off the radar. Until he finds out Nelsen is planning on rolling Panopticon TV out to a whole new town. And the first resident of this new experiment town, will be Hardin’s brother, Nash (Will Rothhaar). Hardin knows his only option is to enter Division 19 and risk recapture in order to save his brother from the kind of scrutinized existence he barely survived himself.”


APRIL 5 (on digital & on VOD): My Days of Mercy (dir. Tali Shalom-Ezer)Variety’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Dennis Harvey: “A lesbian romance stretching across bitterly divided death-penalty political lines might sound like a recipe for case-pleading dramatic contrivance, but it’s handled with plausible restraint and delicacy in My Days of Mercy, Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer’s first U.S. feature.

“Her acclaimed prior 2015 Princess was a disturbingly intimate portrait of unconventional domesticity edging toward quasi-incestuous abuse. It showed high promise, but there’s still a sense of surprise in how well Shalom-Ezer navigates the very different focus and milieu of Joe Barton’s astute screenplay here. Produced as a vehicle for co-starring friends Ellen Page and Kate Mara, Mercy serves them both well, with critical support likely to help the film find an audience despite its challenging themes.

“The Moro family are first glimpsed on what appears to be a vacation, but in fact is something very different: driving their ancient RV to yet another vigil amongst death-penalty foes (and advocates) outside a prison where another convict is about to be executed. Maternal eldest sibling Martha (Amy Seimetz) is the literal and figurative driving force behind these road trips, with 22-year-old Lucy (Ellen Page) a more ambivalent participant, while grade-school-aged brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell) is too young to have much opinion one way or the other. It takes a while for us to suss out their mutual dynamics, not to mention what got them here — the longtime Death Row residency of their father Simon (Elias Koteas), who was found guilty of murdering their mother eight years ago but maintains his innocence.

“There’s an uneasy co-existence at such events between the ‘enemy’ camps, with little interaction if little overt hostility. So it seems like an invisible line-crossing when nonconformist Lucy finds herself making friends with cheerleader-ish Mercy (Mara), who’s on the other side: Her father has agitated for the execution of a mentally disabled man who killed his off-duty longtime police partner. The two young women’s fledgling relationship continues later via online contact between their respective Ohio and Illinois homes, then jumps from flirtation to romance when Lucy commandeers the RV to rendezvous at another gathering.

“But there remains something furtive and dangerous about their connection. Shalom-Ezer limns several fairly explicit sex scenes with the tension of possibly getting ‘caught.’ it’s not just that the protagonists are semi-defying their families by seeing one another. Their liaison also reveals how needy small-town outcast Lucy is, while Mercy reveals suspiciously little about her own circumstances. Moreover, the latter is in a position to offer legal advice that might finally exonerate the Moro’s incarcerated dad — or, conversely, might cement his guilt. All these factors, plus the presence of Brian Geraghty as a lawyer who’s become involved with Martha over the long course of Simon’s appeals, exacerbate imbalances in a fragile household that’s been in a kind of suspended animation since one parent died and another ‘went away.’

“Barton finds drama not just in individual characters, but in the variably grieving and/or angry cultures that grow around a hot-button political issue like the death penalty. Wisely, his script defers from stacking the deck in one direction or another, thought the sharply observed dialogue does make room for arguments on both sides. More central, however, are the non-polemical rhythms of Midwestern life, which are captured with assured detail by Shalom-Ezer and her major below-the-line collaborators, notably production designer Maya Sigel.

“Page, in the middle of a very busy year (beyond this premiere and The Cured, TIFF venues are wallpapered with posters for the imminent Flatliners remake), gives one of her best performances in a tailor-made role. Mara is fine as a character whose elusiveness ultimately transcends plot device. Seimetz excels as a woman who’s held it together under duress for so long she may no longer know how to live in a state of non-crisis. Supporting roles are very well cast.”


APRIL 5: PM Narendra Modi (dir. Omung Kumar) (DP: Sunita Radia)AMC Theatres synopsis: “The film showcases Modi’s remarkable courage, wisdom, patience, dedication to his people, his acumen as a political strategist, his leadership that inspired a thousand social changes in Gujarat and later India. It traces his childhood in the 1950s to his meteoric rise in the corridors of politics, as a four-time serving Chief Minister. The film culminates in Modi’s overcoming all the obstacles to create and lead one of the most fascinating and successful election campaigns in world politics in 2013-14.”


APRIL 5: Reinventing Rosalee (dir. Lillian Glass)Cinema Village synopsis: “Rosalee Glass, a former Holocaust survivor taken prisoner to a Siberian gulag during WWII transforms her destiny. In her 80s she begins an acting career, in her 90s wins a Senior beauty pageant and dares to ride Alaskan Sled dogs at 100.”


APRIL 5 (streaming on Netflix): Unicorn Store (dir. Brie Larson)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Sheri Linden: “Fearlessly treading into potential snowflake territory and the perennial American indie theme of Being True to Yourself No Matter How Out of Step With the Mainstream You Are, Brie Larson embraces her inner sparkly child as the star and helmer of Unicorn Store. Beginning with its straight-dealing, truth-in-advertising title, this is a film that takes candy-colored metaphors seriously. But it’s also a deadpan comedy whose droll glance at conformity is heightened by the masterfully off-center contributions of Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Hamish Linklater and Mamoudou Athie.

“Though the screenplay by Samantha McIntyre, whose TV credits include Married and People of Earth, ultimately conforms quite plainly to formula and grows less interesting as it proceeds, there’s a gutsiness to Larson’s headlong leap into material that walks a fine line between risky fantasy and feel-good reassurance. For the most part, she navigates the tonal shifts effectively, but while some pieces of the comic puzzle hit the mark, others — like the titular shop, overseen by a tinsel-adorned Samuel L. Jackson — strain for whimsy. Through it all, though, in Larson’s forthright performance as well as in the movie itself, there’s a percolating intelligence beneath the naïve surface.

“Larson plays Kit, a socially awkward, arts-and-craftsy innocent whose exuberant creations get her tossed out of art school, where minimalism is the inviolable creed. With ace work from production designer Matthew Luem and costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier, Larson uses visual schemes to terrific comic effect: Against Kit’s rainbow explosions, there’s the all-black dress code of her disdainful instructors, and then the forlorn earth tones of the parental home where she retreats in disgrace.

“Her parents, nerdy do-gooders who run a program for teens called Emotion Quest, are played by Cusack and Whitford with spot-on fretful cheer. Their gingerly yet intrusive attempts to shake Kit out of her funk are fruitless, but a TV ad does the trick with its promise of Temporary Success — existential joke and the name of the temp agency that lands Kit an office-drone gig at a PR agency.

“The movie puts a mildly distinctive spin on the endlessly fertile subject of the idiocy of office life. Kit’s co-workers include the requisite meanie (Annaleigh Ashford) and, less predictably, a sweetly supportive assistant (Martha Macisaac). Linklater’s leering oddball of a VP, taking an intense interest in Kit and her career advancement, ups the unreality quotient with his bizarre intensity and the lightning speed with which he promotes Kit; in no time at all she’s got her own office and has been tapped to make a presentation for the Mystic Vacuum account (sometimes this PR company seems more like an ad agency).

“Kit may give that presentation her multicolored, glitterific all, but none of this corporate creativity makes her heart sing — especially not after she’s summoned by a mysterious invitation to a place called The Store, and offered the chance to realize a childhood dream by becoming the proud owner of a single-horned mythical beast.

“Marked by a pink neon sign, devoid of merchandise and manned by Jackson’s cartoonish huckster, The Store is a warehouse space with a low-rent Lynchian vibe, occupying a zone somewhere between the id and the ego. If the execution doesn’t quite live up to the concept, that’s probably because the bewigged Salesman, with his unmistakable SLJ-ness, appears liable at any moment to veer into a Capital One spiel. But Kit’s visits there set in motion the suspense factor, such as it is, over the reality of the promised pet.

“To claim her unicorn — a creature who will ‘love you forever’ — Kit has to prove herself worthy by building a proper stable for it, and enlists the help of a seemingly random hardware store employee, Virgil. Played by Athie, who lent a note of gentle mystery to Patti Cake$ and portrayed Grandmaster Flash on the recently canceled series The Get Down, Virgil is a character so offhandedly real that he makes many of the plot’s more canned twists and reversals work. Through Kit’s friendship with him, the story’s concerns with trust, leaps of faith and the importance of creative connection find their most persuasive expression.

“Larson, who first encountered McIntyre’s screenplay as an auditioning actor (she didn’t get the part; the production never got off the ground), effectively draws out the story’s comic oddities and poignant undercurrents. Brett Pawlak’s fuss-free camerawork and Alex Greenwald’s score, with its touches of melancholy carnival jangle, are in sync with the director’s straightforward approach. But as the movie proceeds, a lot of the observational satire, wonderfully precise in the early going, gets stuck in neutral, the jabs not landing. As punchlines, the kale and quinoa of Kit’s health-conscious parents are as stale as last year’s groceries.

“In Mom and Dad’s therapy-speak, though, and their expectation that a group of Emotion Quest campers will ‘sit in your truth,’ McIntyre and Larson tap into territory that’s not only zingier but also more complex and rewarding: fiction as a way into the heart of things. As flat or unwieldy as Unicorn Store can be at times, Larson invests Kit’s love of all things bright, pastel and shiny with an affecting urgency, and ensures that her spirit animal is no gimmick.”


APRIL 5 (in theaters & on VOD): The Wind (dir. Emma Tammi)Nitehawk Cinema synopsis: “A devastating scene sets the stage for a haunting account of demonic terror on the American frontier in the 1800’s. Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) and Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) welcome a couple, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) from Illinois, who take up residence in a nearby abandoned cabin. Not long after, Emma fears she is being hunted down by an evil spirit who wants her unborn baby and violently succumbs to her mania. This event reawakens Lizzy’s buried memories of her encounters with the demons on the land and when Isaac leaves to accompany Gideon back to Illinois, Lizzy is left alone to wage battle against the evil on the land.

“Emma Tammi’s narrative feature debut makes astoundingly effective use of the American Western frontier. The wide open, barren and desolate wastelands combined with the atmospheric sounds of the elements and unrelenting gusts of wind (or are they whispers from the dead?) create a sense of helplessness unmatched by the claustrophobia of a haunted house and makes a strong case that we need more western horror films in our lives.”


APRIL 7: Mistresses (dir. Elena Hazanov)AMC Theatres synopsis: “One day three girls – a nurse, a student and an actress – accidentally met in a bar. They found out that all of them just broke up with their boyfriends, who happened to be married. At first they decided to take revenge. But when they reach their goal, the girls have an idea: they would use their wit and skills to help other women and punish their husbands who cheated on them. Because there are thousands of girls just like them.”


APRIL 9 (on digital & on VOD): Savage Youth (dir. Michael Curtis Johnson) (DP: Magela Crosignani)Slamdance Film Festival synopsis by Craig Parish: “The lives of six troubled teens in a racially-divided small town take a violent turn over drugs and broken hearts. Based on true events.

“Michael Curtis Johnson’s explosive follow-up feature to 2016’s Hunky Dory is a brutal examination of doomed youth exiled to society’s edge. Laced with expressive tirades turned performance art and tortured moments of intimate despair, this painfully truthful portrait of scorched America devours itself fully, without looking back.”


APRIL 12: After (dir. Jenny Gage)Voltage Pictures synopsis: “Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Anna Todd and read over 1.6 billion times, After is the newest YA phenomenon in the vein of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

“A dedicated student, dutiful daughter, and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart, Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) enters her first year of college with grand ambitions for her future. She lives a controlled life with a strong sense of who she is, and who she ought to be.

“Her guarded world opens up when she meets the dark and mysterious Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, and plentiful tattoos, Hardin is the wild, brooding rebel that Tessa would typically shun. And she does – until she finds herself alone with him late one night at the lake, drawn by his magnetic energy…

“As Tessa experiences her first taste of freedom, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening that will change her forever. Finding her voice and an inner passion she never knew she had, Tessa realizes there will always be the life she had before Hardin, and then everything…AFTER.


APRIL 12: Girls of the Sun (dir. Eva Husson)Landmark Theatres synopsis: “Somewhere in Kurdistan, Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani, Paterson, About Elly), commander of the ‘Girls of the Sun’ battalion, is preparing to liberate her hometown from the hands of extremists, hoping to find her son who is held hostage. A French journalist, Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot, My King, Polisse), comes to cover the attack and bear witness to the story of these exceptional warriors. Since their lives have been turned upside down, the Girls of the Sun find themselves fighting for women, life and liberty. Inspired by a true story, this suspenseful drama is written and directed by Eva Husson.”


APRIL 12: High Life (dir. Claire Denis)The Guardian’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Charles Bramesco: “In 2001, the French film-maker Claire Denis performed a full vivisection of the vampire film with Trouble Every Day, a philosophical, ambiguous take on the usual tropes of horror. She rendered the building blocks of an often schematic genre frightening and alien through novel formal techniques. Instead of lurking monsters jumping out to spook the audience, the camera often sneaked up on its subjects, while her narrative resisted convention at every turn in pursuit of loftier ideas about existence and transformation. The average Dracula fan might have thought they had wandered into a parallel dimension.

“Seventeen years and six features later, and everything old is new again. Denis has turned her sights on sci-fi, reconfiguring its familiar components to create a startlingly fresh engagement with the question of what it means to be human. It’s the genre’s most done-to-death topic, yet she brings something truly original to the conversation. Her answer, as the spectacular High Life tells it, has a lot to do with achieving orgasm.

“Bodily functions abound in this captivating journey through the void of space. Lactation, ejaculation and gestation clue the viewer in on what Denis might be getting at through an elliptical story, in which an eclectic cast play a collection of death-row inmates forced to cohabitate on a self-sustaining station in orbit. Their assignment – to explore black holes in the hopes of harvesting their rotational energy for the citizens of Earth – is sold to them as an opportunity for heroism. However, it’s not long before they realise that they’re all but guaranteed to perish in the process. Mission drift sets in, and the on-board doctor, Dibs (Juliette Binoche in a French braid of Rapunzelian proportions), starts conducting experiments of her own with captives Monte (Robert Pattinson) and Boyse (Mia Goth).

“This film’s fleet 110 minutes contain too many shocks and amazements to be spelled out here. Suffice it to say that Denis proposes the erotic drive as the fuel to use when there’s nothing left to live for. In the negative zone beyond the stratosphere, depicted as a physical glitch humankind was never meant to explore, severe isolation returns the brain to its basest biological capacity. Every day is a battle to stay sane (less apparent among Denis’ feats here is that she has casually constructed a remorselessly honest look into the psychological ramifications of incarceration), so extreme, bizarre measures must sometimes be called on. With an achievement of this calibre it’s hard to resist hyperbole: High Life contains the single greatest one-person sex scene in the history of cinema.

“The brilliance of Denis’ films, with their arresting imagery, tends to creep up on viewers hours or even days later – the film critic Manny Farber dubbed this class of work ‘termite art.’ But her astral epic also offers a more immediate appeal – situated, as it is, in the iconic corridors of Alien and the like. Using faintly retro technological interfaces and sleek production design she smuggles in her musings on memory and being. If Tarkovsky got away with it in Stalker, then why not her? She courts the comparison early on, reproducing a noted shot of a dog in a river, and then amply earns it by establishing a fluid slipstream between Monte’s past, present, and future. Where does Denis get off, making a film so densely theoretical and superficially satisfying? Though, on second thought, High Life is a thesis on exactly where (and how) Denis gets off.

“It’s always risky when an overseas master tries their hand in English language with Hollywood actors. Denis surmounts the challenge with exemplary finesse, holding on to her intelligence and the skill with which she executes it, while playing to the flashier pleasures of big-budget American product. No matter where she goes – to the furthest reaches of the known universe, or the fringe boundaries of semi-reputable genres – a Claire Denis film is a Claire Denis film. Accept no substitutes.”


APRIL 12: Little (dir. Tina Gordon Chism)Universal Pictures synopsis:Girls Trip’s Regina Hall and ‘Black-ish’s’ Marsai Martin both star as Jordan Sanders — Hall as the take-no-prisoners tech mogul adult version of Jordan and Martin as the 13-year-old version of her who wakes up in her adult self’s penthouse just before a do-or-die presentation.

“‘Insecure’s’ Issa Rae plays Jordan’s long-suffering assistant April, the only one in on the secret that her daily tormentor is now trapped in an awkward tween body just as everything is on the line. Little is an irreverent new comedy about the price of success, the power of sisterhood and having a second chance to grow up — and glow up — right.

“Will Packer, blockbuster producer of Girls Trip, the Ride Along franchise, and ten movies that have opened No. 1 at the U.S. box office, including Night School, No Good Deed and Think Like a Man, brings an all-new perspective to the body-swap comedy.

Little is directed by Tina Gordon (writer, Drumline) with a story by Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) and a screenplay by Oliver and Gordon, based on an idea by teen actress Martin. The film is produced by Packer and his producing partner James Lopez and by Kenya Barris (Girls Trip, ‘Black-ish’), and is executive produced by Preston Holmes (Night School), Hall, Marsai Martin and Josh Martin.”


APRIL 12: The Most Dangerous Year (dir. Vlada Knowlton) (DP: Lulu Gargiulo)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “As a dark wave of anti-transgender ‘bathroom bills’ began sweeping across the nation, The Human Rights Campaign called 2016 the most dangerous year ever for transgender Americans. Filmmaker Vlada Knowlton captured the ensuing civil rights battle from the perspective of a group of embattled parents – including herself and her husband, parents of a young trans girl — fighting to protect their children from discriminatory laws in their home state. While Knowlton passionately follows the story of anti-transgender legislation, the heart of the film lies in the stories of the families who accept and support their kids for exactly who they are.”


APRIL 12: Teen Spirit (dir. Max Minghella) (DP: Autumn Durald)Bleecker Street Media synopsis: “Violet (Elle Fanning) is a shy teenager who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor, she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition. Driven by a pop-fueled soundtrack, Teen Spirit is a visceral and stylish spin on the Cinderella story. The film also stars Rebecca Hall, Zlatko Buric, and Agnieszka Grochowska.”


APRIL 12 – APRIL 18 (U.S. premiere engagement of a 50th anniversary 2K restoration, screening in the retrospective “Wild Things: The Ferocious Films of Nelly Kaplan” at NYC’s Quad Cinema): A Very Curious Girl (dir. Nelly Kaplan)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Also retitled Dirty Mary, Kaplan’s breakthrough film engages in dark and surreal humor and showcases Bernadette Lafont (The Mother and the Whore et al.) as Marie, a suddenly orphaned young woman who learns to use her village’s hypocrisy to her own advantage—sexually and otherwise. As Kaplan notes, the movie is ‘the story of a modern-day witch who is not burned by inquisitors; it is she who burns them.’ With Michel Constantin (The Inglorious Bastards).”


APRIL 12: Wild Nights with Emily (dir. Madeleine Olnek) (DP: Anna Stypko)IndieWire’s SXSW review by Jude Dry: “Madeleine Olnek’s movies may be an acquired taste, but the woman knows how to write a catchy premise. Her three feature films — all madcap comedies with absurdist leanings — include lesbian aliens looking for love, lesbian hustlers picking up women outside Talbot’s — and now, lesbian Emily Dickinson traipsing across her Amherst lawn after a tryst with her sister-in-law, her petticoats flung about her head. That’s the premise of Wild Nights with Emily, and to say that they just don’t make movies like this anymore would be grossly inaccurate: It’s hard to imagine anyone making this movie other than Olnek.

“Using Dickinson’s letters and poems (with permission from Harvard University Press), Wild Nights with Emily paints a much sunnier portrait of the poet than that of the reclusive spinster terrified of publication. Instead, the film imagines a lively woman forced to hide a lifelong love affair whose work was mostly rejected by a literary establishment that would embrace it after her death.

“Continuing a fruitful post-‘Saturday Night Live’ indie film career (she won an Indie Spirit Award last year for Other People), Molly Shannon is brilliant and warm as the literary icon. The movie begins with a lecture given by Dickinson’s first publisher, Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz, in a rare comedic turn), who spins the yarn of the reclusive Dickinson with a syrupy grin and pink flat-top hat. Mabel’s narration is a necessary reminder of the Dickinson that the world knows, and its inaccuracy is hilarious when juxtaposed against this vivacious and joyful version, known here simply as Emily.

“Though it is certainly a comedy, Wild Nights with Emily is anchored by a surprisingly touching love story between Emily and her friend from childhood, Susan Gilbert (Susan Ziegler). Their teenage romance develops during 19th century sleepovers that would make 21st century parents blush. (Young Emily and Young Susan are played by Dana Melanie and Sasha Frolova.) Soon, Emily is heartbroken to learn about Susan’s secret engagement to her brother, but softens when Susan explains her plan for them to be together. Sure enough, Susan and Austin (Kevin Seal) build their house right next door to Emily’s, and a lifetime of early morning scurrying across the lawn ensues.

“Olnek takes every opportunity to showcase Emily’s poetry, sprinkled into the film in voiceover and graphic text. We see Emily scribbling lines on the back of a cake recipe that she stows away in her hair, and sending missives across the lawn to her constant champion and reader. The notion that she never sought publication is challenged by a meeting with the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, the bombastic blowhard T.W. Higginson (a note-perfect Brett Gelman), who dashes her hopes by suggesting she title her poems and use more rhyme. Meanwhile, it appears that ‘reclusive’ Emily was really only reclusive around Mabel, and that was because she was having sex with Austin in Emily’s drawing room.

“Olnek’s films are feminist statements on several levels, most significantly in the way that she casts so many compelling women, from romantic leads to character bits. The young actresses Melanie and Frolova are both excellent, and Olnek secured memorable turns for Jackie Monahan and Lisa Haas, stars of the only true lesbian hustler comedy, The Foxy Merkins.

“Shannon keeps her natural zaniness just below the surface as Emily, but brings ever so much mirth to Olnek’s humorously formal 19th century dialogue. An accomplished theater actress and repeat player in Olnek’s films, Ziegler is the perfect match for Shannon, and their chemistry elevates the comedic premise into an undeniably compelling romance. It’s a joy to watch them fall sideways into bed together, tumbling on guests’ coats while hiding from the party downstairs. Their devotion drives home the film’s ultimately political message, and elevates the poignant final image to poetic heights.

Wild Nights with Emily may be Olnek’s most political film to date, one that could forever change the narrative of the world’s most famous woman poet. In her director’s statement, Olnek writes: ‘The idea that she wrote without wanting to be published exonerates the world that prevented her voice from being heard and also plants the idea that for women, it is wrong to desire recognition.’ With that in mind, here’s hoping for many more movies like Wild Nights with Emily—though Olnek is definitely one of a kind.”


APRIL 17: Breakthrough (dir. Roxann Dawson)20th Century Fox synopsis:Breakthrough is based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s (Chrissy Metz) adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost. But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up. Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John’s recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction. From producer DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven) and adapted for the screen by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds) from Joyce Smith’s own book, Breakthrough is an enthralling reminder that faith and love can create a mountain of hope, and sometimes even a miracle.”


APRIL 17: Hail Satan? (dir. Penny Lane) (DP: Naiti Gámez)IFC Center synopsis:What is The Satanic Temple? Is it a religion? A cult? Performance? Acclaimed filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon) gains unprecedented access to this enigmatic movement, which has grown to over 100,000 members around the world in just five years. Hail Satan? explores the Temple’s fight for equality, its focus on community, and its devilish sense of humor. In an era when founding principles and institutions can’t be trusted to work on behalf of all people, these progressive Satanic crusaders advocate to save the soul of a nation.


APRIL 19 (LA), APRIL 26 (NYC): Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (dir. Pamela B. Green)Zeitgeist Films synopsis: “Alice Guy-Blaché was a true pioneer who got into the movie business at the very beginning—in 1894, at the age of 21. Two years later, she was made head of production at Gaumont and started directing films. She and her husband moved to the United States, and she founded her own company, Solax, in 1910—they started in Flushing and moved to a bigger facility in Fort Lee, New Jersey. But by 1919, Guy-Blaché’s career came to an abrupt end, and she and the 1000 films that bore her name were largely forgotten. Pamela B. Green’s energetic film is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation. Narration by Jodie Foster.”


APRIL 19: Daddy Issues (dir. Amara Cash)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Maya (Madison Lawlor), a 19-year-old queer pixie, spends her days working on her art and cyberstalkng her insta-crush, the sexually fluid fashion designer, Jasmine (Montana Manning). One night Maya boldly meets Jasmine IRL, there’s an insta-spark and the two begin an inspiring romantic relationship that gives Maya her first taste of true love and Jasmine the inspiration she needs to jump start her career. It’s all gumdrops and fairytales until Maya discovers Jasmine’s in a co-dependent relationship with a neurotic sugar daddy (Andrew Pifko). What started as a dream come true turns into a beautiful nightmare.


APRIL 19: Family (dir. Laura Steinel)The Hollywood Reporter’s SXSW review by John DeFore: “A self-improvement-through-childcare comedy exposing the hitherto unknown potential of the Insane Clown Posse to enable young girls’ emotional growth, Laura Steinel’s Family introduces an 11-year-old girl ready to run off and join the Juggalos. Playing the career-minded jerk stuck temporarily with caring for the kid, Taylor Schilling colors within the lines of the Bad Fill-in-the-Blank misbehavior genre, with a performance that is less debauched than self-centered to the point of criminal negligence. Enjoyable despite its familiarity, the pic has commercial appeal well beyond the Faygo-guzzling demographic.

“Schilling’s Kate is her workplace’s requisite pariah — the one who says what she thinks without checking to see who might be standing behind her. Her tactlessness is so extreme she isn’t even welcome at office celebrations (though the call of cake is too strong for her to ignore). She’s the kind of career striver who has not only rejected the notion of starting her own family but has practically deleted siblings from her memory banks as well. When she gets an emergency call from her nearby brother (Eric Edelstein), she has to be reminded where he lives, and she certainly doesn’t remember the name of his pre-teen Maddie (Bryn Vale). But Maddie’s grandmother is dying, and her parents need one day to go move her into hospice; though Kate puts up a fight, she agrees to watch Maddie for the night while they’re away.

“Even the briefest stay away from her tidy apartment life requires suburban compromises Kate is unwilling to make: She can’t bring herself to shut the garage door at the request of the family’s next-door neighbor Jill, the kind of capital-M Mom who has the neighborhood association’s bylaws memorized. (A high-strung Kate McKinnon is ideal here, over-friendly with an undercurrent of I will rip your eyes out.)

“Kate is late to pick Maddie up from ballet, of course, and catches the stout child, in her ballerina garb, practicing kicks in the dojo next door. Sensei Pete (Brian Tyree Henry) has been happy to have her as an unofficial karate student for weeks; over dinner, Maddie explains that her parents are pushing her to be more feminine and fit in at school, where she is bullied.

“This is a topic on which Kate can commiserate without feeling she has made an emotional investment. Asking to see pictures of the girls who torment her, Kate has fun eviscerating them: This one has boobs but will be fat before long; that one has a lazy eye — who the hell are they to mock a chubby nonconformist?! Cautiously questioned by the girl, who admires this confidence but feels nothing of the sort herself, Kate reveals a baseline truth: ‘I hate myself, but I still feel like I’m better than everybody else.’

“When this overnight babysitting gig stretches out to a week, Kate has to juggle watching the kid with her work responsibilities, seeing for the first time what life is like for the colleagues she disdains. Steinel succinctly justifies some of Kate’s antisocial behaviors with scenes at the office: When she invents a ‘family emergency’ to excuse being late for a meeting, the men in the room look sideways at her, as if she might be about to go baby-crazy on them; and an enthusiastic young hire who wants Kate to mentor her (Jessie Ennis) is all too ready to go drinking with clients if Kate needs to meet with Maddie’s teacher at school.

“One of Kate’s neglectful moments leaves Maddie in the company of a kid (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido) who calls himself Baby Joker and loves the Insane Clown Posse. As he tells her about the Juggalos, who have formed an entire society-rejecting lifestyle around the band, Maddie decides she has found her people. Soon she’s putting on scary facepaint and doing tricks with spit.

“Vale has a plainspoken stubbornness that highlights the unreasonableness of the rules Maddie’s expected to live by, making it easy for Schilling to connect the kid’s plight to Kate’s. Their quick but incomplete bond is easier to buy than the adult/kid pairings in some similar films, and Steinel doesn’t push it until a climax set at the infamous Gathering of the Juggalos. There, the film has fun with the subculture’s notoriety in funny if credibility-stretching ways, concluding that, whatever their outward signs of mayhem, ‘once you get past all that, they’re really kind of sweet.’ Mini-interviews with real-life Juggalos over the closing credits cements the film’s obvious message: When the world treats you poorly, Family is wherever you find it.”


APRIL 19: Fast Color (dir. Julia Hart)’s SXSW review by Brian Tallerico: “One of the big stories on the first Saturday of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival was that the biggest theater at the event featured four films in a row that were introduced by their female directors. Uncoincidentally, I was there for all four—having already covered the fourth, Blockers, in a separate review—and it was a rollercoaster of a day in terms of quality, but there was a definite buzz in the spacious, historic Paramount Theater. Most refreshingly, all of the films—even Blockers—felt like the product of confident, empowered voices that had something to say that you might not have heard before. One film in particular reworks arguably the most glutted genre of the modern era into something new, empowering, and original. It’s a remarkable, important piece of work.

“That film is Julia Hart’s stunning Fast Color, a tightwire-act of a film that’s ostensibly a superhero origin story while also feeling like it’s about us mere mortals at the same time. Fast Color isn’t quite post-apocalyptic but it’s near-apocalyptic. Hart’s script (co-written with Jordan Horowitz) imagines a world in which it hasn’t rained in years. We finally did it. We broke the planet. Crops have died. Water is more expensive than lodging. Everything looks broken. In this world, we meet Ruth (the radiant Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman on the run. She has bloody marks on her wrists as if she’s been restrained, and she hides from human contact. She checks into a seedy motel in the middle of nowhere and has a terrifying seizure. As she does so, a part of the world that never has earthquakes feels the plates shift.

“It turns out that Ruth comes from a legacy of women who have what could be called superpowers. On the run from people who want to exploit her powers—the authorities/chase aspect of the film reminded me of Midnight Special at times, another emotional sci-fi movie that I love—Ruth makes her way to a home she fled years ago, where we meet her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). We learn that Ruth left when her powers became too dangerous for her stay, keeping the seizures at bay with drugs and booze. And we learn that Bo and Lila have powers too.

“As a parent of three, I can attest that children create a stunning mix of empowerment and abject fear, often in the same moment. As cheesy as it sounds, you can look into your child’s eyes and feel like you can do anything. They will give you the strength to do anything. You can also be stricken with fear that you will do something wrong. That you will misuse this power you have been granted. In a nutshell, this is Ruth’s story—that of the power given her by motherhood and how she runs from it, only to realize how important it is in the end. As Hart pointed out in her Q&A, and the film makes crystal clear, Fast Color is a superhero film about creation and not destruction. Nearly every MCU movie ends with a massive battle that takes hundreds of lives and destroys cities—destruction for arguable salvation. Fast Color imagines a world in which power heals and creates instead, and it’s beautiful to behold.

Fast Color comes from a lineage of masterful films that uses sci-fi to tell relatable, emotional stories, but it also feels remarkably fresh. Much has been written recently about how films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther have redefined the superhero genre and forever changed the landscape. My hope is that enough people see Fast Color to include it in the conversation in the same way.”


APRIL 19 (NYC/LA), APRIL 23 (on VOD): Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (dir. Lukas Feigelfeld) (DP: Mariel Baqueiro)BFI London Film Festival synopsis by Michael Blyth: “A haunting meditation on witchcraft and insanity, set in 15th century Austria, which offers a visceral and truly unique horror experience. Young Albrun lives with her mother in an isolated mountain hut. Life is hard enough, but when her mother falls gravely ill, Albrun is left traumatised and alone. 15 years later, Albrun has a child of her own, but with no husband in sight she is ostracised from her small community. As she forms a tentative friendship with a local woman, dark memories and psychotic delusions infiltrate Albrun’s thoughts and the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. Although reminiscent of acclaimed period chiller The Witch in its heady fusion of mounting paranoia against a pagan backdrop, this hypnotic debut is quite a different beast. More abstract in its storytelling and lyrical in its approach, it owes as much to the cinema of Tarkovsky as it does the horror genre.”


APRIL 19: Little Woods (dir. Nia DaCosta)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Cara Cusumano: “Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is just getting by in economically depressed Little Woods, a fracking boomtown in North Dakota. She has left her days of illegally running prescription pills over the Canadian border behind her, eyeing a potential new job that would finally break her out of the small town. But when her mother dies, she is thrust back into the life of her estranged sister Deb (Lily James), who is facing her own crisis with an unplanned pregnancy and a deadbeat ex (James Badge Dale). On top of everything, the two find they have only one week to settle the mortgage on their mother’s house or face foreclosure. As both bills and pressure mount, Ollie faces a choice: whether to return to a way of life she thought she’d left behind for just one more score. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s debut is an emotionally-charged small-town thriller that weaves timely themes of economic downturn and the opioid crisis into its intimate story of two sisters just trying to get by. A lived-in film anchored by an authentically drawn sibling bond, Little Woods speaks to both the big and the small of the working class struggle in rural America.”


APRIL 19 (NYC), MAY 3 (LA): Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu)Film Movement synopsis: “Bursting with the colorful street style & music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture, Rafiki is a tender love story between two young women in a country that still criminalizes homosexuality. Kena and Ziki have long been told that ‘good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives’ – but they yearn for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls encourage each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, Kena and Ziki must choose between happiness and safety.”

“Initially banned in Kenya for its positive portrayal of queer romance, Rafiki won a landmark supreme court case chipping away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation. Featuring remarkable performances by newcomers Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva, Rafiki is a hip tale of first love ‘reminiscent of the early work of Spike Lee’ (Screen Daily) that’s ‘impossible not to celebrate’ (Variety)!”


APRIL 19 (streaming on Netflix): Someone Great (dir. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) (DP: Autumn Eakin)From a Refinery29 article by Kaitlin Reilly: “Written and directed by Sweet/Vicious creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Someone Great stars Gina Rodriguez and Lakeith Stanfield as a couple dealing with the end of their nine-year relationship. As Rodriguez’s Jenny looks back on the end of an era, and prepares to move for a new job in San Francisco, she recruits her best friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise) for a wild night out in New York City.

“For those who know the LCD Soundsystem track ‘Someone Great’ (about a breakup with, well, someone great) you may think you know where this movie is going. While most romantic comedies (including Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Set It Up, and The Kissing Booth) are about the couple finding their way back to one another, Someone Great is about Jenny finding herself.


APRIL 24: Carmine Street Guitars (dir. Ron Mann) (DPs: Becky Parsons and John M. Tran)Film Forum synopsis: “The mystique of the Greenwich Village as a haven for bohemians, artists, and musicians lives on (just steps from Film Forum) at Carmine Street Guitars: Rick Kelly and apprentice Cindy Hulej build handcrafted, one-of-a-kind instruments from wood salvaged from the city’s defunct buildings. (Unfazed 93-year-old mom Dorothy keeps the books and answers the phone.) Nothing looks or sounds like Rick Kelly’s guitars, which is why they’re embraced by Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, among others. A week in the life of the shop features visits from its devoted clientele: Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Band), Kirk Douglas (The Roots), Eleanor Friedberger, Nels Cline (shopping for Wilco bandmate Jeff Tweedy), jazz guitarists Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, and filmmaker/composer Jim Jarmusch.”


APRIL 26 (in theaters & on VOD): Body at Brighton Rock (dir. Roxanne Benjamin) (DP: Hannah Getz)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “Wendy (Karina Fontes), a part-time summer employee at a mountainous state park, takes on a rough trail assignment at the end of the season, trying to prove to her friends that she’s capable enough to do the job. When she takes a wrong turn and ends up deep in the backcountry, she stumbles upon what might be a potential crime scene. Stuck with no communication after losing her radio and with orders to guard the site, Wendy must fight the urge to run and do the harder job of staying put — spending the night deep in the wilderness, facing down her worst fears and proving to everyone – including herself – that she’s made of stronger stuff than they think she is.”


APRIL 26: Chasing Portraits (dir. Elizabeth Rynecki) (DPs: C. Peter Dutton Jr., Catherine Greenblatt, Slawomir Grunberg, Dave Hynek, Tony Kaplan, Alex Maroney and Don Moran)New York Jewish Film Festival synopsis: “After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, artist Moshe Rynecki left his collection of more than 800 paintings and sculptures notable for portraying the everyday life of Polish Jews with friends around Warsaw for safekeeping. But after he was killed in Majdanek, the Rynecki family lost track of the vast majority of them, and they were dispersed among collections around the world. Decades later, his great-granddaughter Elizabeth enlists the help of historians, curators, and private collectors to uncover the extraordinary path of Moshe’s collection. Chasing Portraits is a rich and compelling documentary about one woman coming to terms with her family’s legacy and her place within it.”


APRIL 26: If the Dancer Dances (dir. Maia Wechsler) (DPs: Eric Phillips-Horst, Alex Rappoport, Victoria Sendra and Scott Sinkler)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Choreographer Merce Cunningham profoundly influenced dance through his boldly experimental productions. On the eve of his centennial, several of his former collaborators continue his legacy by producing a new staging of his dramatic 1968 piece RainForest with members of the Stephen Petronio Company, imbuing it with a contemporary freshness. This documentary reveals the intricacies of staging Cunningham’s work and his enduring influence amid the personal stories of those who give their lives to the dance.”

On Surrealism, Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses



Last month, the Brooklyn Academy of Music screened a pair of films as part of their ongoing series “Beyond the Canon,” intended to start conversations regarding the places that certain features have both in and out of what we consider “mainstream” storytelling. On a double bill with Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992), BAM first showed Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), a unique drama from Japanese director Toshio Matsumoto. The film has the status of a cult classic owing to its central character being a transgender woman (as portrayed by legendary cabaret performer Peter), but the film bears the noticeable influence of avant-garde auteur Maya Deren. Whether deliberate or not, the overlap between Roses and Deren’s landmark short Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) shows the significance of surrealism in twentieth-century cinema.


Though Maya Deren died eight years before the theatrical release of Funeral Parade of Roses, I suspect that she would have been totally enthralled by Toshio Matsumoto’s bold, experimental narrative. In both films, a female protagonist lives through events (and relives the memories of events) in a relentless loop. Although Roses has somewhat more structure in the sense that the main character, Eddie, acts and reacts to present-day experiences, her reminiscences of the formative moments that shaped her are observed in a fractured jumble of images. As in Meshes, time is depicted as a fluid concept rather than a chronologically organized record, those remnants of the past resurfacing in Eddie’s mind in juxtaposition with present-tense situations.


The fragility of time in Meshes and Roses lends itself to surreal, dreamlike imagery. In the former, the viewer never knows for sure which of the scenarios being illustrated are real or imagined, while in the latter, memories reemerge in flashbacks that might be described as Eddie’s daydreams or, alternately, as the camera’s own vault of recollection. Matsumoto plays with notions of fiction and nonfiction, effortlessly sliding from the performed demonstrations of his written characters to documentary vignettes of the actors and other interview subjects in talking head segments, and then back to dramatizations again.


Murder also connects the two stories, putting violence at the forefront of each protagonist’s personal journey by making her the facilitator of carnage. Although bloody death is the end for both Roses’ Eddie and Meshes’ “Woman,” they similarly wield sharp blades as a means to commit defiant acts. In Meshes, the Woman brandishes a butcher knife to protect herself against a male intruder in her house, but she ends up dead herself; in Roses, Eddie’s final action at the conclusion of a rebellious life is to stab her own eyes out, a nod to the Electra complex given her earlier killing of her mother and a later affair with a man who is revealed as her long-lost father.


These protagonists (and actors), raised in two markedly different eras and cultures, explore the possibilities and limitations of depicting female-identified bodies. Deren exerted power over her own image by directing herself (in partnership with co-director and then-husband Alexander Hammid), investigating the boundaries between portraying her imagined self and creating a compelling piece of fiction filmmaking. Presumably, though, Deren had more agency over the her body in Meshes of the Afternoon than Funeral Parade of Roses’ Peter had in character as Eddie – did he ever object to all the shots of Eddie in the shower or in bed with a lover? – and I wonder if any study would (or should) be complicated by how young Peter was during filming, only sixteen; how fine is the line between empowerment and exploitation? Should an appreciation of Matsumoto’s film remark only on its groundbreaking support of transgender characters as human beings rather than stereotypes, ignoring potential concerns over the actual underage (as well as cisgender) body being utilized for trans representation?


These questions surrounding Funeral Parade of Roses are not meant to detract from the impact of Matsumoto’s film but to inspire a dialogue regarding its pros and cons. Roses and Meshes of the Afternoon end in tragedy for the women at the heart of their tales, but along the way they encourage discussions about sexuality and gendered violence that continue to be provocative talking points for the more progressive audiences of today.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, dir. Peter Weir)











Like another of Peter Weir’s 1970s films set in his home country of Australia, The Last Wave, the drama Picnic at Hanging Rock (adapted by Cliff Green from the novel by Joan Lindsay) is suffused with a haunting aura, asking us to contemplate the riddles of the unexplained. Neither film is sad, exactly, but they are deeply unsettling, even more so thanks to Weir’s refusal to give his audiences the typical kinds of resolutions that would probably be demanded of an American director.

Set on Valentine’s Day in 1900, which is at the end of Australia’s summer, Picnic at Hanging Rock poses a disturbing question: how and why did three students and a teacher from an all-girls school vanish without a trace while on a day trip to the title geological formation? Of the subgroup that was drawn to climbing further up the difficult paths to cliffs and caves, only Edith (Christine Schuler) saw the disappearance of Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Irma (Karen Robson), Marion (Jane Vallis) and Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray). There is no satisfactory explanation as to where the quartet went, all seemingly under Hanging Rock’s strange and magnetic spell while Edith was able to escape and run back to the others.







Those who are left to puzzle over the mystery are faced with the terrors of the unknown. Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), the domineering headmistress who sent her schoolgirls on the fateful excursion, struggles to cope with the aftermath of a situation she cannot control; tenderhearted housemaid Minnie (an early role for Jacki Weaver) pities the lost souls; French instructor Mlle. de Poitiers (Helen Morse) is tormented by the memory of the girls saying goodbye before ascending Hanging Rock; another student, Sara (Margaret Nelson) – an orphan who is treated with disdain by Mrs. Appleyard – agonizes over the loss of her roommate, Miranda, with whom she is clearly in love. Finally, there are wealthy Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) and stableboy Albert Crundall (John Jarratt), local teenagers who were among the last to see the pretty trio of students before they went missing. The tragedy looms large in the minds of these young men, one of whom has an unexpected connection to a member of the hiking party.







Were the girls and Miss McCraw swallowed up by Hanging Rock? What secrets do the boulders possess, or what peculiar brew of science and faith? The incident appears to be a metaphor for sexual awakening and the concept of a “loss of innocence,” but what else does it imply about young girls who are lead (or lead themselves) astray? There is an eerie, supernatural tone to Picnic at Hanging Rock, leaving its enigmas lingering in the stillness of the hot summer air. For that reason, the movie is both frustrating and engrossing. Photographed exquisitely by Russell Boyd and using Gheorghe Zamfir‘s pan flute composition “Doina: Sus Pe Culmea Dealului” as the key theme on the soundtrack, Picnic is a film that will stay with you long after it is over.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: March 2019

Director/screenwriter Julia Hart (l.) and actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw on the set of Fast Color, 2017. (Photo: Tumblr)

Here are twenty-two new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this March, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

MARCH 1 (streaming on Hulu): I, Dolours (dir. Maurice Sweeney) (DP: Kate McCullough)POV Magazine review by Chelsea Phillips-Carr: “In 2010, former Irish Republican Army member Dolours Price gave a series of interviews, under the agreement that they could only be released after her death. Most famous for her involvement in the bombing of London’s Old Bailey in 1973, an attack which injured hundreds of people and killed one, Dolours’ story is expanded upon in Maurice Sweeney’s documentary, where reenactments illustrate her words as she details her childhood, radical experiences, incarceration, and beyond.

“With such controversial subject matter, I, Dolours has all the appeal of being let in on a secret. Intimately, we gain access to forbidden knowledge, the indulgence of gossip being grounded by the severity of real events. Dolours is an engaging speaker, and her passion comes through as she recounts her upbringing within a staunchly republican family, as well as her determination and commitment to fight for the rights of her people.

“But Sweeney’s doc takes an impartial perspective. The film allows Dolours to discuss her life as she sees it. We hear what drove her to acts of terrorism, and how she could justify violence, rationalizing her radicalism. We also watch, with great sympathy, as she is put into prison, taking on a 200-day hunger strike, which is extended by force-feeding. Simultaneously, we receive the facts of the violence she participated in, especially the ‘disappearing’ of other IRA members deemed to be traitors or informers. In particular is the killing of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten. Archival footage of her bewildered children is horrifying to contemplate especially after hearing Dolours’ description of personally driving the condemned woman to the place where she would be executed.

“There is discomfort in this whiplash of perspectives. In showing both sides bluntly, I, Dolours is able to depict ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland as an incredibly complex set of issues. The film shows understanding and compassion towards Dolours’ republicanism, and never portrays Britain as faultless in the conflict. It equally shows the violence of the IRA (towards innocent people, towards their own people), and does not allow these acts to be justified by the greater struggle for Irish independence. In this way, I, Dolours is able to handle a loaded issue with respect, treating its source with dignity but without falling into reverence, exploring the history without accepting it.”

MARCH 1 AND AFTERWARD (select cities) (also VOD & digital): Level 16 (dir. Danishka Esterhazy)IMDb synopsis: “Sixteen-year-old Vivien is trapped in The Vestalis Academy, a prison-like boarding school, keeping to herself and sticking her neck out for no one. Until she is reunited with Sophia — the former friend who betrayed her. Together the girls embark on a dangerous search to uncover the horrifying truth behind their imprisonment. Soon running for their lives, the girls must save themselves or die trying.”

MARCH 1: Mapplethorpe (dir. Ondi Timoner) (DP: Nancy Schreiber)Samuel Goldwyn Films synopsis: “Robert Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) is arguably one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Mapplethorpe discovered himself both sexually and artistically in New York City throughout the 70’s and 80’s. The film explores Mapplethorpe’s life from moments before he and Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) moved into the famed Chelsea hotel, home to a world of bohemian chic. Here he begins photographing its inhabitants and his new found circle of friends including artists and musicians, socialites, film stars, and members of the S&M underground Mapplethorpe’s work displayed eroticism in a way that had never been examined nor displayed before to the public. The film explores the intersection of his art and his sexuality along with his struggle for mainstream recognition. Mapplethorpe offers a nuanced portrait of an artist at the height of his craft and of the self-destructive impulses that threaten to undermine it all.”

MARCH 1 (LA): This Magnificent Cake! (dirs. Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels)GKIDS synopsis: “An official selection at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, Toronto International Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival, This Magnificent Cake! (Ce magnifique gâteau!) is an unforgettable work of stopmotion animation exploring the bitter milieu of Belgium-occupied Congo. In the late 19th century, keen to compete with other European imperial powers on the continent, King Leopold II of Belgium proclaimed, ‘I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.’ The subsequent occupation of the Congo would come to attract a contingent of servants, merchants and miscellaneous bourgeois driven by everything from insatiable greed to existential fear. From the intimate stories of these characters — many of whom pass through a luxury hotel in the middle of the jungle – emerges a greater narrative concerning the imperialist mentality. In a film by turns surreal, darkly comic and brutal, directors Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef ultimately turn their critical gaze on the colonists themselves in a work of stunning, mysterious beauty.”

MARCH 8: Captain Marvel (dirs. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Set in the 1990s, Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that follows the journey of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes. While a galactic war between two alien races reaches Earth, Danvers finds herself and a small cadre of allies at the center of the maelstrom.”

MARCH 8: Gloria Bell (dir. Sebastián Lelio) (DP: Natasha Braier)Variety’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Peter Debruge: “Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell is the second film this year to end with the Laura Branigan song ‘Gloria’ — the kind of high-energy empowerment anthem that recasts its leading lady in a different light — the other being Netflix’s recent Gloria Allred docu Seeing Allred. Speaking of recasting leading ladies, it also happens to be the second of Lelio’s films to close with that song, although there’s a perfectly good explanation for that: Gloria Bell is a nearly scene-for-scene remake of the A Fantastic Woman director’s 2013 single-woman drama, this time in English and featuring Julianne Moore in the role that earned Paulina García the Berlin Film Festival’s best actress prize.

“Many were skeptical when the project was announced, much as they were to the news that Jack Nicholson might star in an American version of Toni Erdmann, and yet Moore insisted in this case that if she were to play the role, Lelio must agree to direct. And so we get a film that shares the original’s generous view of the title character — of all its characters, really — along with a great many of its creative choices. But even with the same director and nearly the same script, Gloria and Gloria Bell are hardly the same movie, in the way that no two stagings of Hamlet can be the same when cast with different leading men. And it’s easy to imagine audiences who showed no interest in a Spanish-language version of this story responding to what Moore does with the role when A24 releases it.

“No one ever asks Gloria Bell her age (rather, they pose that more complimentary of L.A. questions, ‘Have you had work done?’), though the still-gorgeous fiftysomething has perhaps a decade left till retirement, and has been divorced for roughly a decade from husband Dustin (Brad Garrett), now remarried (to Jeanne Tripplehorn), with two grown kids (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius) whose slightly expanded roles are one of the film’s improvements.

“As before, Gloria Bell opens in a singles bar — the kind that caters to those who no longer get carded — where Gloria, who loves to dance, sits alone at the bar with her back to the audience. She’s not exactly the type who stands out in a crowd, and yet the camera notices her — which is precisely the thing that sets Lelio’s sensibility apart from other filmmakers.

“It’s a simple fact of modern society that in their 20s, people naturally tend to be egotists, perceiving themselves as the center of the universe, whereas Gloria has reached the point at which she doesn’t really see herself as the main character in her life anymore, instead defining herself in relation to others — as a parent, friend, or co-worker. Lelio corrects this, turning the attention back on this fantastic woman, in much the same way he recognized a Chilean trans character as the rightful protagonist of his Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman.

“There’s a risk that such sensitivity can come across as patronizing, which sort of happens in the 2013 film. One can almost feel a younger Lelio asking the audience to acknowledge the sheer humanism displayed in making a movie about a sad, single-again mid-life woman. Maybe that’s reading too much into the original Gloria, although the tone is softer here, more relatable — which, of course, is the point: not panhandling for pity but inviting identification with three-dimensional characters who’ve started to question whether they’re still entitled to the kind of hopes and dreams younger people take for granted.

“That’s true of not just Gloria but also fellow divorcé Arnold (John Turturro), a paintball enthusiast who picks her up at the club one night, enjoys a tender connection back at her place (there is sex, though Lelio recognizes that the afterglow is more meaningful for both of them), and shyly calls her up a few days later, after wrestling with the question of whether he deserves to feel the emotions she awakens in him. Moore is great in the movie, uncovering — and sharing — all sorts of new facets to Gloria’s character, but Turturro is a revelation, taking what was always a frustrating role (Arnold’s still too attached to his needy ex-wife and daughters, who are constantly calling him, and it’s a drag to watch Gloria competing for his attention) and recognizing what that character is feeling as well.

“But even if Turturro finds soul in the male part, Gloria Bell remains one of the great female-led films of the 21st century, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors — which explains why Moore would be so keen to remake it. The actress’s fan base loves when she goes slightly over the top, gnashing her teeth at the pharmacy counter in Magnolia or bowling in a Valkyrie costume in The Big Lebowski, but she’s a master of subtlety as well, and here, the challenge is to see ourselves in a character who prefers to blend in. Even at the club, she’s a bit of a wallflower (though it’s interesting that Gloria is nearly always the one to initiate contact with others), though Lelio adds a few nice scenes at work and home (where a neighbor’s hairless cat keeps showing up uninvited) while still managing to deliver a film that’s eight minutes shorter overall.

“Although García and Moore were born in the same year (under the same sign!), Lelio is more mature now than he was when he made the original film, and he brings that experience to the project in small but crucial ways, namely by shifting ever so slightly the points when audiences are invited to laugh, more often directed at other characters than at Gloria herself. Meanwhile, he treats quiet, private glimpses into her life — singing to outdated pop songs in the car, hand-washing her undergarments in the sink — with what’s best described as dignity.

“The same goes for the nude scenes, which hardly feel as revealing as the places Moore goes to explore Gloria’s insecurities and later, the strength she finds to be independent. The character’s look (she wears two pairs of oversize spectacles, one red, the other blue) has been toned down somewhat, as has the film’s overall style — still elegant yet not nearly so surface-oriented, replacing the nightclub gloss of the original with a warmer pastel glow from The Neon Demon DP Natasha Braier (who could certainly have outdone the original in the other direction, if Lelio had wanted it). A remake like this is something of an anomaly, but it would be fascinating to explore the character with other actresses in additional countries — say, Cate Blanchett in Gloria Down Under or Isabelle Huppert in Gloria de France — with each new ‘cover’ undoubtedly finding fresh notes.”

MARCH 8 (in theaters & on VOD): I’m Not Here (dir. Michelle Schumacher)Raindance Film Festival synopsis by Harry Heath: “A man struggles with the tragic memories of his past to make sense of his present, but soon realizes that time isn’t the enemy he thinks it is. Having cut himself off from the world, Steve (J.K. Simmons/Sebastian Stan) can no longer run away from the demons of his past. Nothing will silence the voices in his head. With his world coming apart, Steve hopes he can twist his reality and change his fate. He connects the events of his life to discover how he ended up alone and broken but maybe there is still hope. Through the perspective of Steve, a morally complex man, the film is about the choices that we make and how for many- this path can be out of fear disguised as practicality. The characters Michelle Schumacher and Tony Cummings have constructed tell us a lot about our existence, most needing motivation to do anything and that we struggle to learn anything without desperation. In life we ponder too much over the bigger moments, but often forget to cherish the smaller, more beautiful moments that are displaced throughout. The film is an ablution of sorts. Steve is cleansing himself of all his regrets and mistakes, letting us witness those re-lived, many images burning on the retina long after. It is a film that is both lyrical and deeply grounded in its character work, a balancing act that is phenomenal to behold. It is never preachy nor moralising. Whilst there is memorable dialogue throughout, it is what is unsaid that resonates. It’s the look of a morally complex man when his wife is unphased that she has been caught having an affair. It’s that nervous glance of a child when being asked to choose between his parents. The film does not impose but presents us with a question, if there was multiple versions of yourself, possibilities infinite, which decisions and memories would you keep?”

MARCH 8: Island of the Hungry Ghosts (dir. Gabrielle Brady)Museum of the Moving Image synopsis: “Located off the coast of Indonesia, the Australian territory of Christmas Island is inhabited by migratory crabs travelling by the millions from the jungle towards the ocean, motivated by the cycles of the moon for hundreds of thousands of years. This seemingly idyllic paradise is also home to asylum seekers held indefinitely in a high-security detention center hidden in the island’s core, where trauma therapist Poh Lin Lee attempts to support them in a situation that is as unbearable as its outcome is uncertain. As Poh Lin and her family explore the island’s beautiful yet threatening landscape, the local islanders carry out their ‘hungry ghost’ rituals for the spirits of those who died on the island without a burial, and remain lost and wandering throughout the jungle. Visually ravishing and emotionally gripping, Gabrielle Brady’s debut feature mines the terrain between raw observation and collaborative performance, resulting in an utterly unique artistic exploration of a singular place. Winner Best Documentary, 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.”


MARCH 15-21 (NYC’s Metrograph Theater): The Juniper Tree (dir. Nietzchka Keene)Metrograph synopsis: “Shot in 1986 and starring a 21-year-old Björk (then the frontwoman of the Sugarcubes and not yet an international superstar) as a woman fleeing with her sister from the persecutors who put their mother to the torch for crimes of witchcraft, The Juniper Tree was the debut film by the late Nietzchka Keene and an evocation of medieval life rife with harshness, fervor, and free-floating terror, with DP Randy Sellars capturing majestic, often otherworldly Icelandic landscapes in breathtaking black-and-white, returned to their original luster thanks to this new restoration. Experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill provides the dream sequences in this ravishing rediscovery, a feminist fairy tale that evokes Bergman and Tarkovsky while being at the same time unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

MARCH 15: The Mustang (dir. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre)Variety’s Sundance Film Festival review by Owen Gleiberman: “Matthias Schoenaerts has always been a bit of a conundrum: a brilliant actor in the body of a supermodel bruiser. Maybe that’s why, even though he’s from Belgium, he has long been drawn to a certain kind of rough-and-tumble American art thriller — like The Drop, or the criminally overlooked Blood Ties (where he was mesmerizing as an outer-borough lowlife), or last year’s Red Sparrow, in which he played a Russian intelligence officer with a lurid gleam that made him seem like the cutthroat son of Vladimir Putin.

The Mustang, set in a remote prison compound nestled in the Nevada desert, is by comparison a much more lyrical and restrained movie. It’s about the bond between a hardened prisoner and a wild horse, and it’s been made, by the first-time director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, in a style of great-plains minimalism that feels, at times, like it’s trying to be a cousin to The Rider. The Mustang isn’t as good, but it’s a touching and original piece of bare-bones sentimental humanism, and Schoenaerts is terrific in it.

“He plays a man named Roman Coleman, with a shaved head and a biker goatee and a stoic glare, who’s behind bars for reasons that The Mustang holds back on revealing. For a while, we figure that he’s a stone-cold sociopath. But it’s part of the film’s tricky balancing act that Schoenaerts comes on like some spiritually lobotomized death-row version of Dwayne Johnson and still cues us, at every turn, to look for the soul within.

“An opening title informs us that there are 100,000 wild mustangs still roaming the U.S., but that their numbers are dwindling as land becomes privatized and the animals are captured and even euthanized. That could be a movie right there, though it isn’t this one. The Mustang is about the wild horses that are caught and sold for auction after being put through a program in which they’re trained by prisoners. (The program really exists; we see stills from it at the end.)

“Roman, seated opposite a smug anger-management therapist (Connie Britton), is about to re-enter the general prison population of the Northern Nevada Correction Center after having spent a lengthy stretch in solitary. He has no interest in joining the incarcerated horde (‘I’m not good with people,’ he says, in what seems to be the movie’s biggest understatement), and he shows no signs of connecting after he gets assigned to shovel out the prison’s makeshift stockade.

“But then Myles (Bruce Dern), the gnarly old coot in charge of the program, orders Roman to go in and break one of the horses. Roman has no luck at it, and that’s because this is a standoff between not one but two imperious beasts. At one point, he actually slugs the horse. But it’s only after a fit of screaming and arm-waving, with Roman doing anything and everything he can to establish a boundary, that de Clermont-Tonnerre comes up with an exquisite shot that’s as startling as it is moving: a dramatic low angle, with Roman sitting there, defeated, next to a slice of empty sky, the space suddenly filled by the horse’s head, which swoops down for a nuzzle. And Roman, ever so mildly, nuzzles back. From that moment the film has us in the saddle.

The Mustang isn’t a wordless movie, yet there’s so little in the way of substantial dialogue that the entire script feels like it might be 12 pages long. At times, that’s frustrating; The Rider, for all its luminous poetic Western stillness, had plenty of meaty exchanges. Yet there’s a design to the movie’s quietude. The Mustang wants to immerse us in the silence of that rarefied space where man and animal connect. The movie is less about a convict who becomes a horse whisperer than about a horse who becomes a convict whisperer.

“Roman does have a strand of outside life: a daughter, Martha (Gideon Adlon), who is pregnant and comes to visit him, but only so that he’ll sign a release allowing her to sell the house her grandmother left them. Her bitterness at Roman heightens the film’s central question: Why is Roman in prison? When we learn the answer, it seals his aura of violence and, at the same time, undercuts it. It leaves room for a shard of hope. And it’s Roman’s training and riding of that horse, who he names Marcus, that cracks hope open into possibility. The Mustang has an arc you can trace, but you will not, I promise you, predict the final shot, and it’s a beauty — a tearjerker as delicate as they come.”

MARCH 15: Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (dir. Katt Shea)Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: “After the death of his wife, Carson Drew (Sam Trammell) decides to leave Chicago behind and make a fresh start with his daughter in River Heights. But for 16-year-old Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis), life in a small town is mighty dull. She longs for excitement, adventure, and the chance to make a difference. Nancy gets that opportunity when she is asked to help solve the ghostly activity at the Twin Elms mansion. Can she help explain the creaking footsteps, exploding lightbulbs and the ominous creature? Is it the handiwork of high-school bully Derek Barnes (Evan Castelloe)? Or is it possible that the ghost of original owner Malcolm Colfax is back for revenge? Recruiting her best friends George (Zoe Renee) and Bess (Mackenzie Graham), along with local ‘mean girl’ Helen (Laura Wiggins), Nancy Drew is on the case!”

MARCH 15: Wonder Park (dirs. Jason Feiss, Robert Iscove and Clare Kilner)CinemaBlend synopsis:Wonder Park tells the story of a magnificent amusement park where the imagination of a wildly creative girl named June comes alive. One magical day, June is running through the woods to find her way home where she discovers an old rollercoaster car and climbs inside. She suddenly finds herself in Wonderland, an amusement park she had created in her mind and put aside. All of her rides and characters are brought to life but are falling into disarray without her. Now, with the help of her fun and lovable park characters, June will have to put the wonder back in Wonderland before it is lost forever.”

MARCH 20: Buddy (dir. Heddy Honigmann)Film Forum synopsis: “Heddy Honigmann, who has had retrospectives at MoMA and the Centre Pompidou, is the ne plus ultra of documentary filmmakers. With Buddy, she turns her unerring eye to the relationship between dogs and people. Forget the ubiquitous ’emotional support dog,’ everyone’s favorite companion. These six pooches do amazing things: they open and close drawers, turn their mistress over in bed, remove paper from the computer printer, push a syringe into flesh, put on a woman’s socks, and pull up her blanket. They soothe a veteran with PTSD and a severely autistic child. With characteristic reserves of warmth and humor, Honigmann gives the dogs equal face time – a film about love, courage and trust, both human and canine.”

MARCH 22 (in theaters & on VOD): Out of Blue (dir. Carol Morley)IFC Films synopsis: “The hunt for a killer draws a detective into an even larger mystery: the nature of the universe itself. Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) is an unconventional New Orleans cop investigating the murder of renowned astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), a black hole expert found shot to death in her observatory. As Mike tumbles down the rabbit hole of the disturbing, labyrinthine case, she finds herself grappling with increasingly existential questions of quantum mechanics, parallel universes, and exploding stars—cosmic secrets that may hold the key to unraveling the crime, while throwing into doubt her very understanding of reality. Awash in dreamlike, neo-noir atmosphere, this one-of-a-kind thriller is both a tantalizing whodunnit and a rich, metaphysical mind-bender.”

MARCH 22: Roll Red Roll (dir. Nancy Schwartzman)The Hollywood Reporter’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Frank Scheck: “If there’s a more hideous phrase in the language than ‘rape culture,’ one would be hard-pressed to name it. Nancy Schwartzman’s documentary Roll Red Roll examines the phenomenon through the prism of the infamous 2012 rape of a teenage girl by the star players of a Steubenville, Ohio, football team. The film, which recently received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, documents the case in such a powerful fashion that your feelings of outrage will persist long after the movie is over.

“What’s truly scary about the incident at the film’s center is how many similar but ignored cases must exist. This one, which took place in a town whose biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of Dean Martin, came to light mainly through the endless social media posts of the perpetrators and their enablers that exposed the horrific crime.

Roll Red Roll begins with audio excerpts from a sickening recording in which we hear male high-schoolers laughing while making such comments as ‘She is so raped right now!’ and ‘This is the funniest thing ever!’ They’re talking about a girl identified only as ‘Jane Doe,’ who went to a series of parties, became increasingly inebriated and was sexually assaulted. We’re then introduced to the lead investigator on the case, Detective J.P. Rigaud, and the primary suspects, high school football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who were arrested a week later.

“The local police weren’t the ones to break the case, however. It was a crime blogger named Alexandria Goddard who caught wind of it and exhaustively combed through the students’ social media postings and republished the most damning of them online, including screen captures of many of their tweets. For her troubles, Goddard was reviled by the town, which closed ranks around its star football players, and was sued for defamation of character. Her work came to the attention of Rachel Bissel, an investigative reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose stories about the case brought it to national and international attention.

“The film includes extensive excerpts from the videotaped interrogations conducted by Rigaud with a number of students as well as the football coach, who seems more intent on protecting his players than getting to the truth. He tells the detective that he didn’t suspend Mays and Richmond because it would have made them look guilty.

“The hacking group Anonymous later became involved, blasting the cover-up being perpetrated by the town and publishing a leaked video online featuring several of the male students making fun of the victim and cackling over what happened to her. The group subsequently organized a protest rally in which several women revealed their own harrowing tales about being raped.

“The filmmaker relates the story with compelling tension, with a few surprises toward the end, including the revelation of charges being filed against four Steubenville High School officials involving an earlier incident that had gone unreported and an incident from blogger Goddard’s past that provides insight as to her passionate feelings about the case.

Roll Red Roll, the title of which refers to the slogan of the high school football team about which the town seems ridiculously obsessed, doesn’t simply elucidate the facts behind the particular case at its center. It provides a powerful depiction of the blame-the-victim culture that has so long dominated the national discussion about rape and which only now thankfully seems to be receding. Although there’s clearly a long, long way to go.”

MARCH 22: Slut in a Good Way (dir. Sophie Lorain)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Matt Barone: “Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard) couldn’t be happier about her relationship with her handsome boyfriend (Alexandre Cabana). But during a moment of intimacy, the teen’s beau drops a bomb on her: He’s gay. She is crushed. So, along with her best friends—the sassy spitfire Mégane (Romane Denis) and the quieter Aube (Rose Adam)—Charlotte seeks distraction at a toy store. There, the three girls are charmed by the young, male employees and quickly land jobs alongside them. Charlotte, still heartbroken, starts flirting—and having casual sex—with a few of her new coworkers. Initially, she loves her new freedom. Others around her, however, feel differently, leading them to smear Charlotte’s name and challenge her newfound sexual empowerment.

“With the vibrant and hilarious Slut in a Good Way, filmmaker Sophie Lorain, a veteran actress in her native Quebec, reframes the raunchy teen-comedy formula with an honest, adolescent woman’s point-of-view. The edgy comedy and finely drawn characters, both courtesy of Catherine Léger’s razor-sharp script, allow Lorain to masterfully explore the complexities of young love and the double standards placed on women of all ages. As provocative as its title suggests, Slut in a Good Way pulls no punches.”

MARCH 27: Working Woman (dir. Michal Aviad)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Jane Schoettle: “There has never been a better moment for a film like Michal Aviad’s Working Woman. Set in Jerusalem, this crisp, absorbing drama tracks an all-too-familiar trajectory in which female ambition is met with male abuse of power.

“With three young children to look after and her husband’s restaurant struggling to break even, Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) feels lucky to have landed an assistant position with a luxury real-estate development firm. She quickly proves her worth and is rewarded with a lucrative promotion.

“Yet Orna’s advancement is accompanied by unwanted advances from Benny (Menashe Noy), her boss. Benny’s transgressions are initially insidious — a suggestion regarding her clothing or hair — and incremental enough that it doesn’t immediately occur to Orna that she’s ensnared in a Faustian pact. With every professional triumph Orna is forced to contend with another, more aggressive come-on. She needs to tell someone — but will others feel she is complicit?

“Much of the brilliance of Working Woman is located in its details, which imbue the film with vital complexity. Orna is smart and resourceful, but she’s no superhero; she has doubts and fears. Benny can be smug and entitled, but he also makes Orna feel genuinely valued in a way that her husband, absorbed with his own stress, does not.

“The good news is that while Aviad has crafted a realistic, layered narrative, she also manages to leave us with more than a kernel of optimism.”

MARCH 29: The Brink (dir./DP: Alison Klayman)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “When Steve Bannon left his position as White House chief strategist less than a week after the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally in August 2017, he was already a notorious figure in Trump’s inner circle, and for bringing a far-right ideology into the highest echelons of American politics. Unconstrained by an official post — though some say he still has a direct line to the White House — he became free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker, turning his controversial brand of nationalism into a global movement. The Brink follows Bannon through the 2018 mid-term elections in the United States, shedding light on his efforts to mobilize and unify far-right parties in order to win seats in the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections. To maintain his power and influence, the former Goldman Sachs banker and media investor reinvents himself — as he has many times before — this time as the self-appointed leader of a global populist movement. A keen manipulator of the press and gifted self-promoter, Bannon continues to draw headlines and protests wherever he goes, feeding the powerful myth on which his survival relies.”

MARCH 29: Fast Color (dir. Julia Hart)’s SXSW review by Brian Tallerico: “One of the big stories on the first Saturday of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival was that the biggest theater at the event featured four films in a row that were introduced by their female directors. Uncoincidentally, I was there for all four—having already covered the fourth, Blockers, in a separate review—and it was a rollercoaster of a day in terms of quality, but there was a definite buzz in the spacious, historic Paramount Theater. Most refreshingly, all of the films—even Blockers—felt like the product of confident, empowered voices that had something to say that you might not have heard before. One film in particular reworks arguably the most glutted genre of the modern era into something new, empowering, and original. It’s a remarkable, important piece of work.

“That film is Julia Hart’s stunning Fast Color, a tightwire-act of a film that’s ostensibly a superhero origin story while also feeling like it’s about us mere mortals at the same time. Fast Color isn’t quite post-apocalyptic but it’s near-apocalyptic. Hart’s script (co-written with Jordan Horowitz) imagines a world in which it hasn’t rained in years. We finally did it. We broke the planet. Crops have died. Water is more expensive than lodging. Everything looks broken. In this world, we meet Ruth (the radiant Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman on the run. She has bloody marks on her wrists as if she’s been restrained, and she hides from human contact. She checks into a seedy motel in the middle of nowhere and has a terrifying seizure. As she does so, a part of the world that never has earthquakes feels the plates shift.

“It turns out that Ruth comes from a legacy of women who have what could be called superpowers. On the run from people who want to exploit her powers—the authorities/chase aspect of the film reminded me of Midnight Special at times, another emotional sci-fi movie that I love—Ruth makes her way to a home she fled years ago, where we meet her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). We learn that Ruth left when her powers became too dangerous for her stay, keeping the seizures at bay with drugs and booze. And we learn that Bo and Lila have powers too.

“As a parent of three, I can attest that children create a stunning mix of empowerment and abject fear, often in the same moment. As cheesy as it sounds, you can look into your child’s eyes and feel like you can do anything. They will give you the strength to do anything. You can also be stricken with fear that you will do something wrong. That you will misuse this power you have been granted. In a nutshell, this is Ruth’s story—that of the power given her by motherhood and how she runs from it, only to realize how important it is in the end. As Hart pointed out in her Q&A, and the film makes crystal clear, Fast Color is a superhero film about creation and not destruction. Nearly every MCU movie ends with a massive battle that takes hundreds of lives and destroys cities—destruction for arguable salvation. Fast Color imagines a world in which power heals and creates instead, and it’s beautiful to behold.

Fast Color comes from a lineage of masterful films that uses sci-fi to tell relatable, emotional stories, but it also feels remarkably fresh. Much has been written recently about how films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther have redefined the superhero genre and forever changed the landscape. My hope is that enough people see Fast Color to include it in the conversation in the same way.”

MARCH 29 (in theaters & on VOD): The Field Guide to Evil (dirs. include Severin Fiala & Veronika FranzKatrin Gebbe and Agnieszka Smoczynska) (DPs include Meryem Yavuz)Seattle International Film Festival synopsis: “From the producers of the cult horror anthology series The ABCs of Death comes a phantasmagorical exploration of myths, lore, and folktales featuring nine of the most talented international filmmakers working in genre film today. Revealing the stories created to explain mankind’s darkest fears, The Field Guide to Evil tasked each talented director with revealing a folktale that has captivated and frightened their homeland and interpreting it in their own unique style. Representing Austria are Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (SIFF 2015’s Goodnight Mommy), who tell of an ancient demon that punishes those who engage in the cardinal sin of forbidden love. Agnieszka Smoczynska (SIFF 2016’s The Lure) presents Poland’s ‘The Kindler and the Virgin,’ grotesquely illustrating a man’s quest for power, while Calvin Reeder (The Rambler) reveals America’s cannibalistic humanoids known as ‘Melonheads.’ India’s Ashim Ahluwalia (Miss Lovely) takes a black-and-white journey inside a palace of horrors, while British-born, Hungary-based Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) tells a fetishistic story of lust and envy in the style of a silent film made using 1960s Kodachrome film stock. Finally, there are twisted tales from the depths of Hell that feature a Christmas goblin from Greece’s Yannis Veslemes, a mouse demon from Germany’s Katrin Gebbe, and a devilish goat from Turkey’s Can Evrenol.”

MARCH 29 (LA), APRIL 2 (on digital & VOD): In Reality (dir. Ann Lupo) (DP: Nadine Martinez)Austin Film Festival synopsis: “Ann (Ann Lupo) is consumed by the fantasy of finding true love, but just when she thinks she’s found it, she is friend-zoned. The disappointment of rejection sends her into an obsessive downward spiral that tests the limits of her sanity and the strength of her closet friendship. In order to reclaim her bearing on reality, she confronts her overgrown fantasies by making a film about the experience. The result is a vulnerable, hilarious, and vibrantly stylized investigation of love.”

MARCH 29: A Vigilante (dir. Sarah Daggar-Nickson)Den of Geek’s SXSW review by David Crow: “There is something tired about the vigilante fantasy, that often masculine and oh, so American dream of rugged individualism aggressively exercising its Second Amendment rights to act mighty. In the 1970s, it might have felt like a cynical escape from helplessness, but today it often resembles a delusion clung to by those who refuse to help their fellow man—or woman. This is why Sarah Daggar-Nickson and Olivia Wilde’s A Vigilante packs such a subversive punch. Not only does first-time writer and director Daggar-Nickson reimagine a reductive reverie into one of harrowing, feminine empowerment, but she does so in a way that is wary of violence, even while using it to defang the type of toxic masculinity that has long wallowed in all those Death Wish sequels.

“By fixating on a captivating and utterly ferocious turn by Olivia Wilde as a woman who tries to do to abusers in a single visit what they do to their wives and children over a lifetime, there is an intimate sorrow and authenticity to the film that intentionally deflates any attempts at popcorn thrills. Instead it finds something rawer and more challenging, especially when the limbs actually start to snap, and the fantasy of revenge stops feeling so abstract.

“In the film, Wilde plays Sadie, a woman who is haunted by a past that remains obscured for most of the picture’s running time, and yet is immediately understandable and unsettling. You can know her story by simply studying the scars and burn marks on her back, or the fury on her face. When Sadie tells the first man she forces on-screen to sign over his house and bank account to his wife that ‘I want to kill you,’ there is no doubt in the audience’s mind that she is telling the truth.

“Sadie was a victim of domestic abuse, attacked and dehumanized by her husband (Morgan Spector), who was a survivalist that beat his wife and son before disappearing into the wilderness. With nothing left to live for, Sadie found solace and eventually a purpose by sharing her grief with other survivors of domestic abuse in group therapy. In turn, she gets the idea to use her own survivalist training to channel her anger against any men who abuse their wives and children. She won’t kill them, but she’ll certainly put the fear of death into them, as they had done to Sadie and so many like her over generations.

“All of this has the obvious hallmarks of an action-thriller fantasy, and while the movie certainly reaches for taut suspense by its third act, the picture avoids every inclination to tell a straightforward piece of escapism. Sadie’s story is revealed non-chronologically and via an intimate character study that keeps the camera mostly glued to Wilde’s eyes. Violence is brutal, ugly, and often out-of-frame. And rather than being driven by plot, A Vigilante is propelled by Wilde’s intense gaze, whether toward her past or the board she is about to smash over a lecher’s head.

“In her best film work since Meadowland, Wilde is practically hypnotic as a woman who is too human to be a superhero, but may yet develop the eventual cult following of one. Unglamorous and devoid of makeup and pretension, Wilde’s performance is often sparse and minimalist, just like her film, which details her anger and anguish in equal measure. The picture defies the well-worn vision of a ‘lone gunman’ making a difference by taking a more feminine approach at understanding its heroine. She finds strength in community and culture via talking things out in a quietly believable support group, which includes a warm Tonye Patano as the counselor. We also live with the bruises and pain that lingers on Sadie; she may be stoic while on the hunt, but the movie is more interested in following her home as she has to cope with the aftermath.

“When the sequences of brutality come, they’re often visceral but again more focused on how it effects the character. The film opens with Sadie in makeup and a wig coldly dealing out punishment to a husband who she threatens will die if he ever comes near his (soon to be) ex-wife again. And it ends on a purely savage and almost elemental showdown, but in between the violence is a blur that is more of an extra texture in the film’s portraiture instead of its focal point.

“Narratively, A Vigilante misses the full cohesion that often bedevils first-time films, including an overreliance on unveiling Sadie’s precise motivations almost exclusively through conversations in group. The obvious intention is to recreate the experience of hearing survivors grapple with their grief, but the film’s ending thus feels somewhat disconnected with much of the rest of the picture as a consequence. Some of the emphasis also being on how Sadie interprets the world causes it to be unclear what is happening out of frame during several crucial moments. However, these flaws that trouble many other first-timers at film festivals are largely smaller imperfections in a movie that is soberly and unflinchingly of our moment and has a very sharp axe to grind—one that finds its target too.

“As the kind of movie that is sure to make the blood boil for those who’d call abusers men of ‘true integrity and honor,’ A Vigilante is an unsparing rebuttal tailor-made for our time, and sadly all times. It is easy to seek out for the wish fulfillment, but the mark it leaves is painfully real.”

Ranking the Films of 2018

Better late than never: here is my list of all the new films I saw between 2018 and running over into the first two months of 2019. As always, I missed some titles that I intended on catching before the Academy Awards ceremony – including Annihilation, BlacKkKlansman, Burning, Cold War, Destroyer, Free Solo, Green Book, Halloween, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, If Beale Street Could Talk, Leave No Trace, Mary Queen of Scots, On the Basis of Sex, Private Life, RBG, Roma, Shoplifters, Tully, Widows and The Wife – but I still saw a lot of exciting filmmaking, as you’ll see when you scroll down through the post. Enjoy!


1. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)


2. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller)


3. The Party (Sally Potter)


4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville)


5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)


6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman)


7. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Susan Johnson)


8. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)


9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)


10. Shirkers (Sandi Tan)


11. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Ol Parker)


12. Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu)


13. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)


14. Nancy (Christina Choe)


15. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)


16. Allure (Carlos Sanchez and Jason Sanchez)


17. What Haunts Us (Paige Goldberg Tolmach)


18. Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino)


19. Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti)


20. Blockers (Kay Cannon)


21. Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer [with Dexter Fletcher, uncredited])


22. A Simple Favor (Paul Feig)


23. Searching (Aneesh Chaganty)


24. Life of the Party (Ben Falcone)


25. The Feels (Jenée LaMarque)


26. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)


27. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)


28. Oh Lucy! (Atsuko Hirayanagi)


29. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (J.A. Bayona)


30. Hotel Artemis (Drew Pearce)


31. Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle)


32. Skyscraper (Rawson Marshall Thurber)


33. Book Club (Bill Holderman)


34. The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra)


35. Half Magic (Heather Graham)


36. I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein)


37. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)


38. Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)


39. Come Sunday (Joshua Marston)


40. Boy Erased (Joel Edgerton)


41. Venom (Ruben Fleischer)


42. Set It Up (Claire Scanlon)


43. Pacific Rim: Uprising (Steven S. McKnight)


44. Anything (Timothy McNeil)


45. Flower (Max Winkler)


46. Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio)


47. Freak Show (Trudie Styler)


48. Itzhak (Alison Chernick)


49. 12 Strong (Nicolai Fuglsig)


50. Fifty Shades Freed (James Foley)


51. The Female Brain (Whitney Cummings)


52. 10×10 (Suzi Ewing)


53. A Kid Like Jake (Silas Howard)

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: February 2019


Director/screenwriter Shelly Chopra Dhar (center) and cast members on the set of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, 2018. (Photo: BizAsiaLive)

Here are twenty new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this February, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.


FEBRUARY 1 (in theaters & on VOD): Braid (dir. Mitzi Peirone)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Matt Barone: “Lifelong best friends Petula and Tilda have been making ends meet by dealing drugs in New York City. But when a random drug bust results in them losing $80,000, they’re left with no choice but to flee town to evade both the police and their pissed-off dealer. Their hideout location is obvious: a mansion occupied by childhood friend Daphne, an agoraphobic heiress who teeters on the edge of sanity. At first, Petula and Tilda think they’ll just need to entertain Daphne’s seemingly playful world of make-believe; however, they soon come to realize Daphne’s mental state is, to put it lightly, wildly disturbed. What begins with innocent role-playing and dress-up quickly devolves into torture, madness, and bloodshed.

“Genre fans on the lookout for bold new filmmaking voices need look no further than first-time writer-director Mitzi Peirone. With the visually lavish and narratively head-spinning Braid, Peirone makes one hell of a first impression, applying a dizzying sense of dream logic and an uncompromisingly feminist edge to a Gothic, almost fairy tale-like psychological horror. Braid plays by no one’s rules but Peirone’s own. It’s one of the most eye-opening and wickedly singular genre film debuts in years.”


FEBRUARY 1: Daughter of Mine (dir. Laura Bispuri)Quad Cinema synopsis: “In rural Sardinia, 10-year-old Vittoria (Sara Casu) has been raised by practical Tina (Valeria Golino) and her partner, only to learn that her biological mother is the village’s free-spirited party girl Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher). Tensions continue to mount between the two mothers when Angelica finds herself in financial trouble and claims the girl as her own. This vibrant, sunswept neorealist drama from director Laura Bispuri (Sworn Virgin) is a piercing inquiry into the trials and joys of motherhood.”


FEBRUARY 1 (streaming on Netflix): Dear Ex (dirs. Chih-Yen “Kidding” Hsu and Mag Hsu)San Diego Asian Film Festival synopsis by James Paguyo: “Song Zhengyuan’s (Spark Chen) death has been difficult to process for his wife, Liu Sanlian (Ying-Xuan Hsieh). Only months earlier, Zhengyuan came out as gay and left his family to be with his partner, Jay (Roy Chiu). Sanlian’s anger reaches a breaking point when she discovers Jay is the the sole beneficiary on her husband’s life insurance policy and to get the money, she has to strike up a relationship with the man he was in love with. To complicate matters, her teenage son Chengxi (Joseph Huang), frustrated with the adults in his life, runs away from home and moves in with Jay, uninvited and unwanted, to learn more about the mysterious relationship his father had with this other man.

“What initially begins as a story of grief and betrayal slowly reveals a touching exploration of acceptance and sacrifice. Chengxi may be a typical moody teenager, but he is also a child confused about the world in which he finds himself. Sanlian lashes out in a constant state of pain, while Jay channels his grief by unexpectedly caring for Chengxi in his own way. At times heartbreaking, ironic, and playful, Dear Ex looks at the complexity of three people who must navigate strange living arrangements, fresh grief, and new definitions for love.”


FEBRUARY 1: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (dir. Shelly Chopra Dhar)AMC Theatres synopsis: “Some love stories are not simple, Sweety’s (Sonam Kapoor) is one such story. She has to contend with her over-enthusiastic family that wants to get her married, a young writer who is completely smitten by her, a secret that she harbors close to her heart and ultimately the truth that her true love might not find acceptance in her family and society. Resolving these issues proves hilarious, touching & life changing. Welcome to the most unexpected romance of the year!”


FEBRUARY 1: Miss Bala (dir. Catherine Hardwicke)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) finds a power she never knew she had when she is drawn into a dangerous world of cross-border crime. Surviving will require all of her cunning, inventiveness, and strength.”

FEBRUARY 5 (on digital & VOD): Anywhere with You (dirs. Hanna Ladoul and Marco La Via)Cineuropa synopsis: “Amanda (Morgan Saylor) and Jake (McCaul Lombardi) are in love and want to start a new life in Los Angeles. Will they make the right decisions? The first 24 hours of their new life will take them all around the city, bringing them more surprises and frustrations than expected.”


FEBRUARY 8 (in theaters & on VOD): Berlin, I Love You (dirs. include Dianna Agron, Massy Tadjedin and Gabriela Tscherniak)Cinema Village synopsis: “The latest installment of the Cities of Love franchise (Paris, je t’aime / New York, I Love You / Rio, Eu Te Amo), this collective feature-film is made of 11 stories of romance set in the German capital – with each segment handled by a different director.”

FEBRUARY 8 (in theaters), FEBRUARY 26 (on DVD): Holiday (dir. Isabella Eklöf)Fantastic Fest synopsis by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas: “Pretty blonde Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) is the epitome of mainstream attractiveness, and is invited to join her Danish criminal boyfriend Michael (Lai Yde) on a no-expense-spared summer holiday on Turkey’s idyllic Turquoise Coast. The young woman’s presence requires her to take on the role of a human trinket, a girl-shaped bauble whose inclusion in the titular getaway with Michael and his colleagues comes with unspoken expectations and demands. And she knows it.

“The feature film debut of Swedish director and writer Isabella Eklöf, Holiday is marked by a fashion magazine gloss with its aesthetic of hyper-commodified femininity. The look of the film feeds shrewdly into a fearless critique of what happens to a young woman who has been objectified to the point where she can only understand her own identity through the very terms of her objectification. At the heart of the film lies an undeniably brutal rape scene that makes explicit the until-then ambient, rumbling suggestion of violence and threat that surrounds Sascha: as a young woman in this man’s world, violence is not just a possibility, but a day-to-day reality.

“The neon-colored bikinis, nightclubs, fancy drinks, and crystal-clear swimming pools lie in sharp contrast to the dark revelations of Sascha’s journey, sparked into action when she meets free-spirited Dutchman Thomas (Thijs Römer). In the hands of a less capable, thoughtful, and original director, this scenario could easily collapse into the terrain of the cliched love triangle trope, but Eklöf knows the world is never so simple or clear-cut for women in situations like Sascha’s. Rather, violence becomes viral — a way of maintaining the status quo, even if that comes at the loss of agency and the acceptance of an identity that transcends two-dimensional commodified womanhood.

“Like so much in Eklöf’s film, the title is both an invitation and a provocation: HOLIDAY is no escape, but rather an unflinching, urgent, and desperately important statement about the world so many young women find themselves in.”


FEBRUARY 8 (streaming on Netflix): ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (dir. Kelly Duane de la Vega)Tribute Magazine synopsis by Alexandra Heilbron: “Sam Cooke is profiled in this episode of the documentary series featuring famous stories about music’s impact on society. The most influential black musician of the Civil Rights Movement, Sam Cooke advocated for the rights of his fellow black musicians. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding his shooting death include theories that he was robbed and ‘trick-rolled’ by a prostitute. But many believe he was targeted by music industry moguls with links to the mob who wanted him dead for emerging as a totem for black musicians’ rights.”


FEBRUARY 8 (in theaters & on VOD): Untogether (dir. Emma Forrest) (DP: Autumn Durald)The Hollywood Reporter’s Tribeca Film Festival review by John DeFore: “A handsome relationship drama about four fantastic-looking people whose interior lives are something of a wreck, Emma Forrest’s Untogether has its share of life/art parallels beyond the fact that the sisters at its core are played by real-life siblings Lola and Jemima Kirke. That excellent bit of casting, along with that of co-stars Ben Mendelsohn (the director’s ex-husband) and Jamie Dornan, should make the debut feature considerably more attractive to indie distributors, who will also respond to its smart, uningratiating screenplay and polished look.

“The Kirkes play Andrea (Jemima) and Tara (Lola), daughters of a deceased musician who evidently left them both a Los Angeles house and left Tara some daddy issues as well: She has lived here for a while with a much older man (Mendelsohn’s Martin) who was himself a two-hit wonder musician long ago. Now Andrea has come to stay with the couple, a year into recovery from heroin addiction and many years past the publication of her only novel.

“Andrea falls into a relationship with the much more successful Nick (Dornan), a physician who struck gold with a memoir about an affair he had while doing volunteer work in the Gaza Strip. Declaring from the start that he’s emotionally unavailable, Nick enjoys having Andrea on call, watching her dance for him in vintage lingerie (the script is oddly attentive to her retro wardrobe) and, in an echo of Dornan’s most famous role, sometimes tying her up with silk stockings. Though their personality defects aren’t identical, the two are enough alike to fall into something like doomed love.

“Meanwhile, though Martin is more emotionally mature than one expects a midlife rocker to be, Tara needs something beyond their relationship. A Jew who’s never participated in religion, she discovers a congregation led by a rabbi (Billy Crystal’s David) who radiates moral integrity; she begins spending free time at his synagogue, being carried away by the music. Kirke is persuasive as a woman so ready for deeper meaning in life that she may latch onto the first big idea she encounters.

“An early cross-cutting sequence hints at Forrest’s intent to mix things up for these rootless characters: Tara lingers after hours with David, listening to his earnest talk of social justice and activism; Andrea takes Martin to an insufferable book party after he casually points out some of the things wrong with her life. The film hops back and forth between the conversations, showing the sisters attempting to connect with moral or professional aspirations that their love lives may be hindering.

“The story’s least engaging character, Nick, hovers outside the moral orbit of the others, but Forrest has plans for him. A controversy awaits that will make his interactions with Andrea more meaningful, and whether they point toward a healthy relationship or not, the script pulls its elements together pleasingly in the end.

“Forrest started off as a music journalist, and occasionally seems to go out of her way to shoehorn some personal favorites into the plot. It’s eyebrow-raising, though of course not impossible, that 30-ish Andrea quotes the Manic Street Preachers (a band whose fans lean considerably older) and plays late-period Siouxsie and the Banshees on the bus; when the film needs to reveal the presumably decades-old song that made Martin a star, it appropriates an excellent 2007 composition by Austin’s Okkervil River that is probably too meta to fit the character or his period.

“But the film’s emotional intelligence gets it past the occasional false note, and the strength of its central performances keeps us engaged even when the characters themselves might not deserve our sympathy. ‘Untogether’ here isn’t a reference to relationship status as much a verdict on whether our protagonists have their acts together. Though they’re far from settled when the credits roll, they’re at least more pleasant to be around.”


FEBRUARY 13 (NYC), FEBRUARY 15 (LA): Birds of Passage (dirs. Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra)The Playlist’s Cannes Film Festival review by Jessica Kiang: “We humans have a mania for classification. We divide things into epochs and eras — Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous; Elizabethan, Victorian, Edwardian. We draw borders around regions, cutting rivers in half, like the flowing waters care, and creating nations so notional that a sneeze in one can bury a town beneath an avalanche in another. We boil sprawling cultures and variegated ethnicities down to single words, the better to pop up on census forms with a little checkbox next to them, waiting for your x. And if we’re not careful, if we’re not frequently reminded of their artificiality, we can start to see those divisions as real and defined. With the stunning Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra did a mournfully psychedelic job of exploding that misconception a little, imagining the tragedy of colonialism as a long, drawn-out process more defined by the inevitable transformation of an ancient way of life than its annihilation, as though the modern era was hallucinated into being by a past that, as Faulkner said, is not dead; it is not even past. And with Birds of Passage, the new film Guerra co-directed with his Embrace producer and partner Cristina Gallego, that beautiful and strange project is continued and expanded upon, into the troubled and often violent Colombia of the late 20th century, an era when airplanes and mirrored sunglasses and foreign exploitation commingled with the beads and silks and superstitions of tribal life, and gave rise to the phenomenon we recognize today as the Colombian drug trade. This is an absolutely extraordinary film.

“On one level it is easier to embrace than Embrace, given that it unfolds as a kind of dynastic rise-and-fall story, a Colombian Godfather spanning the late ’60s and ’70s, divided into 5 lyrically named chapters, or ‘cantos’: Wild Grass, The Graves, Prosperity, The War and Limbo. It starts, as do most such epics, with a young man who craves social betterment. Here it is Rapayet (José Acosta) the nephew of a respected ‘word messenger,’ who exists on the periphery of the Wayuu tribe of northern Colombia, and wants to consolidate his standing by marrying the beautiful Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a young Wayuu woman to whom we’re introduced in a glorious billow of blood-red silk and face paint during her ritual ‘coming out party.’ Reluctant to give Zaida’s hand in marriage to someone not in the inner circle, her mother Ursula (a blazing Carmiña Martínez, giving us the best ruthless clan matriarch since Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom) sets a near-impossible dowry. But Rapayet, along with his loose-cannon friend and business partner Moises (Jhon Narváez) makes a deal with some Peace Corps soldiers, stationed in the area ostensibly as a bulwark against communism, but really just looking for a regular supply of weed. And with a few quick flips, Rapayet has not only made the money to meet Zaida’s dowry, he’s made the connections that will soon make his extended family the most powerful in the region.

“But not everyone is as level-headed as Rapayet. The alijuna (outsider) Moises quickly becomes a trigger-happy liability and later Ursula’s younger son Leonidas (Gredier Meza), a dyspeptic brat of a child, will grow up into a sociopathic, cruel, bottle-blond Crown Prince, a kind of Colombian Commodus, giving the family dynamics of Birds of Passage the dimensions of a Greek tragedy. And throughout it all, Ursula and Zaida are beset by portentous dreams in which their children’s faces wear shrouds, and Rapayet is haunted by the yoluja (ghost) of the friend he betrayed in the name of family honor.

“The Coppola parallels are writ large, but the early portion also owes a great deal to the Scorsese of Mean Streets in its depiction of the bonds of brotherhood among low-level hoodlums on the make, while the film is also saturated with imagery from genre westerns — John Ford doorway silhouettes and Sergio Leone widescreen vistas that echo with sussurating crickets and the screeching of unseen animals, as well as with the exotic instrumentation and pounding tribal percussion of Leonardo Heiblum’s uncanny score. But in the ethnographic strangeness that lurks in the corner of every frame, there is also something of Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, and not since Zhang Yimou’s House of the Flying Daggers has there been a film more sensuously dedicated to the texture and colors of richly dyed fabrics and traditional textiles.

“DP David Gallego (who also shot Embrace and Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch and must surely now be counted among our foremost working cinematographers) finds explodingly colorful compositions that embody the tension between old and new, and between the often tacky trappings of Western-style new money, and the untameable natural world with which the Wayuu used to live in harmony. The greatest example is the folly of Rapayet’s flashy mansion, looking like something out of the ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,’ standing white, spare and architect-designed on baked earth cracked like pottery glaze, with the hot, crazy-making desert wind blowing ceaselessly though even its interior corridors.

“By locating this story within the indigenous population who become as much the architects of their own downfall as the Westerners they supply (who only exist on the periphery of this film), Guerra and Gallego along with screenwriters Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde, have written Colombia’s tribal history back into the story of Colombia’s conflicted present. The Wayuu here are neither exploited innocents nor backward savages, but flawed humans indulging recognisable human instincts of greed and rapaciousness, and who have a hierarchical social system in place that is not so exotically alien that it cannot be easily crossbred with Western-style wealth and corruption. And so Birds of Passage is not squeamish about violence, and does not ignore the bigger sociological and geopolitical forces at work. But it does march to its own, slow, chantlike rhythm, depicting not a clash, but a continuity where colonialism seeded capitalism, which in turn bred conflicts in which ethnic Colombians were as complicit as they were victimized. The lack of sentimentality is startling.

“And that clear-eyed revision of accepted history has resonance far beyond the borders of Colombia. You do not have to have Wayuu ancestry, or any connection to the region to understand the broader implications of this epic story of haunted druglords and ruthless power grabs that are partly predicated on traditional beliefs and shibboleths. Guerra and Gallego’s film is no dusty period piece, it is wildly alive, yet it reminds us that no matter how modern we are, there are ancient songs our forebears knew whose melodies still rush in our blood. We are not creatures of one era or another or of one place or another, we are only ever birds of passage between our mythic pasts and our unwritten futures, being tossed around by the wind.”


FEBRUARY 15 (streaming on Netflix): The Breaker Upperers (dirs. Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek) (DP: Ginny Loane)Variety’s SXSW Film Festival review by Amy Nicholson: “Got a thousand bucks and a yen to be single? Call The Breaker Upperers, two nihilistic New Zealand best friends and roommates who will knock at your soon-to-be ex’s door, hand them your watch, and announce you drowned. Writer-director-stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami play Jen and Mel, who committed exclusively, if platonically, to each other 15 years ago when they found out they were dating the same man. Now, both are so soured on love that their hearts have curdled, making it easy to stick fake pregnancy bellies under their shirts and shatter strangers’ lives.

“Too bad for lovelorn rubes who here look like fools, but hooray for audiences discovering that the Wellington comedy scene has launched a female version of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. (Waititi signed on to executive produce.) The Breaker Upperers has the increasingly familiar patter of Kiwi comedy: dogged naivety, nervous politeness, hazy thoughts that trail off like vapor.

“Their business takes on all kinds of clients: straight, gay, male, female, old and angry, and young and stupid. Their newest client, 17-year-old rugby jock Jordan (Boy star James Rolleston, all grown up), can’t understand why his temperamental girlfriend Sepa (Ana Scotney) didn’t realize he broke up with her using emojis. He texted her a broken heart and a thunder cloud — take the hint. He’s as dumb as, well, pretty much every other character in the film, and he falls in love with Mel on sight. ‘Is that short for Melon?’ he asks. Sigh. But when Mel and Jen interrupt his game to give Sepa the bad news, Mel can’t help staring lustily as he swigs a soda in slow-motion and then sensually pours the fizz all over his head.

“That’s the kind of surrealist touch that makes The Breaker Upperers sparkle. It sputters along with an alt-world logic where a sucker like grief-stricken Annie (Celia Pacquola) truly believes her husband is at the bottom of the sea, not partying it up in Brazil. Annie will blunder back into Mel and Jen’s lives causing a minor crisis of conscience — or really, the realization that one of them still has a conscience — and along the way, she’ll set a penis hat on fire, blurt out too much about her gynecological health, and scramble Jen’s brain by putting on a ’90s Celine Dion karaoke ballad that will cause the cynic to hallucinate walking arm-in-arm with her ex (Cohen Holloway). In flashbacks, we see van Beek allow her face to soften. She plays most of the film on edge, accusing Mel of breaking company rules she’s just invented on the spot in order to make sure her only friend sticks with her. Someone’s got to be there for the awkward dinners with her sex-mad mom who refuses to frame pictures of Jen solo because her singleness makes her sad.

“Van Beek and Sami are clearly banking their careers on their debut feature helping them become known names in America. (They’ve both cameoed in What We Do in the Shadows and Eagle vs Shark, but, as Sami joked after the film’s SXSW premiere, you’d only spot her if she wrote down the timestamp.) Even so, they’ve let their film feel marvelously shaggy around the edges — their personalities pop — until after a whiplash-funny first hour, they play it safe with an everyone-gets-a-hug Paul Feig-style climax. (The movie literally ends with a soul train.) Still, it’s a terrific showcase for the duo and their entire cast, which, besides a pop-up bit from Clement, is curated from a local talent pool that Hollywood has yet to spelunk. After this, it should.”

FEBRUARY 15 (in theaters & on VOD): Patrick (dir. Mandie Fletcher)Time Out London review by Olly Richards: “If you’re not dog mad then there is absolutely nothing for you here. If you are then you’ll ‘aw’ and ‘ooh’ yourself silly at Patrick, a very gentle, quite adorable little film that essentially boils down to the story of a pug helping a sad teacher compete in a fun run.

“Beattie Edmondson (daughter of Jennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmondson) plays Sarah, whose life is, she thinks, not going well. Her boyfriend has left, her parents think her work as a comprehensive teacher makes her a failure and she’s starting to think they might be right. She also somehow lives in a huge flat in Richmond on her teacher’s salary, which withers your sympathy somewhat. Sarah’s misery is made worse when her late grandma bequeaths her Patrick, a very badly behaved pug. Sarah hates dogs, but perhaps Patrick can change all that…

“The dog, or in fact dogs, who play Patrick are, frankly, BAFTA-worthy. He’s a character that packs the charisma of a much larger beast into his tiny, wrinkly body. Credit for that, of course, should really go to director Mandie Fletcher (Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, ‘Blackadder’), who’s made a selection of well-trained tricks look like a performance. Patrick’s presence serves as a boost to every joke in the script, making them all just a little funnier because his presence is so delightful. He’s surrounded by a cast of excellent comic actors – Jennifer Saunders, Tom Bennett, Adrian Scarborough, Gemma Jones – but they’re all mere support. The pooch is the star.”


FEBRUARY 15: The Unicorn (dirs. Isabelle Dupuis and Tim Geraghty)Anthology Film Archives synopsis: “This extraordinary, years-in-the-making documentary grabs hold of a truly unique central figure: outsider musician Peter Grudzien, the one-man musical force behind ‘The Unicorn,’ which has been described as possibly the first openly gay country album. But country doesn’t begin to describe the dizzying range of music included on this 1974 release. Peter composed, performed, and recorded ‘The Unicorn’ entirely in his childhood home in Astoria, Queens, and sold the 500 pressed copies out of a suitcase on the streets of the city. Despite this unpromising genesis, the album was rescued from oblivion and re-released in the 1990s, prompting the music critic and collector Paul Major to declare it the ‘greatest New York LP since the first Velvet Underground or first New York Dolls.’

“By the time filmmakers Isabelle Dupuis and Tim Geraghty encountered Grudzien, though, mainstream recognition remained elusive, with Peter himself living a marginalized and paranoia-fueled life in Queens with his forbidding, nonagenarian father, Joseph, and his schizophrenic twin sister, Terry. The Unicorn immerses us in Peter’s life, a hermetic world transfigured by his musical talent and stubborn resilience, but full of shadows both real and imagined.

The Unicorn is at once an invaluable act of cultural excavation, an unforgettable character study, and a cracked family portrait in the vein of Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb. But while it may superficially resemble other biographical documentaries, it’s unusually alert to the messy contradictions and intermingling of creative inspiration and mental psychosis that characterize its remarkable subject, his even more unhinged family members, and by extension American culture itself. Ultimately it’s a powerful depiction of a troubled soul for whom music represents a vitally important survival mechanism in the midst of a difficult existence.”

FEBRUARY 22 (in theaters & on VOD): The Changeover (dirs. Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie)New Zealand Film Commission synopsis: “Based on the acclaimed novel by Margaret Mahy, The Changeover tells the story of Laura (Erana James), who loses her little brother in earthquake-scarred Christchurch. A decrepit old man (Timothy Spall) marks the child’s hand with a noxious stamp. Jacko (Benji Purchase) sickens quickly while the man grows younger. The doctors insist Jacko needs a bone marrow transplant — and Laura is the only donor. But Laura becomes convinced a mysterious older boy (Nicholas Galitzine) can help her ‘change over’ and become a witch, defeating the evil spirit sucking the life out of her brother.”

FEBRUARY 22: The Competition (dir. Claire Simon) (DPs: Prisca Bourgoin, Pierre-Hubert Martin, Aurélien Py and Claire Simon)DOC NYC synopsis: “In this Venice Film Festival winner, director Claire Simon goes behind closed doors during the months-long admissions period at France’s most selective film school, La Fémis, where thousands of hopefuls apply for only 40 available slots. The state-run institution, which teaches aspiring filmmakers their craft through handson training with working professionals, also turns to the latter to evaluate applicants. Simon captures entrance interviews and candid discussions among the selection committee, creating a revealing portrait of an institution and its gatekeepers.”


FEBRUARY 22 (streaming on Netflix): Firebrand (dir. Aruna Raje)PopSugar synopsis by Corinne Sullivan: “Following the success of her National Award-winning Marathi-language film Ventilator, Priyanka Chopra teamed up with director Aruna Raje for another Marathi production, which follows a successful lawyer and sexual assault victim (Usha Jadhav) as she tackles difficult cases, as well as intimacy issues with her architect husband (Girish Kulkarni).”


FEBRUARY 22 (streaming on Netflix): Paris Is Us (dir./DP: Elisabeth Vogler)Netflix synopsis: “Dreams and reality collide as a young woman (Noémie Schmidt) navigates a tumultuous relationship and rising social tensions, protests and tragedies in Paris.”


FEBRUARY 22 (streaming on Netflix): The Photographer of Mauthausen (dir. Mar Targarona)From a Cineuropa article by Alfonso Rivera:El fotógrafo de Mauthausen, which is based on real life events and was written by Alfred Pérez-Fargas and Roger Danés,stars Alain Hernández, Macarena Gómez and Richar Von Weyden. The film narrates how, with the help of a group of Spanish prisoners who lead the illegal organization of Mauthausen, Francesc Boix, an inmate working in his photo lab, risked his life to plan the release of some negatives that would demonstrate to the world the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the hell that was the Austrian concentration camp. The photographs they managed to save were decisive in condemning Nazi officials in the Nuremberg trials in 1946, where Boix was the only Spanish witness.

“The producer of El cuerpo and The Orphanage and director of Secuestro [Mar Targarona] stated ‘I was very moved when I read about the story of Francesc Boix and the 7,000 republicans who were in Mauthausen, which is not a very well-known historical event in Spain. It is shocking to see Boix testify in the Nuremberg trials and point out the executioners, evidently demonstrating that they knew what was happening in those camps. It is a historical example in which criminals were brought to justice thanks to the courage of a few. I wanted to honour those heroes and all the victims of Mauthausen with this film.'”

FEBRUARY 23 (airing on HBO at 10:00 pm): O.G. (dir. Madeleine Sackler)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Loren Hammonds: “Jeffrey Wright delivers a powerful performance as a maximum-security prison inmate named Louis, who, 24 years after committing a violent crime as a young man, finds himself on the cusp of release from prison, facing an uncertain future on the outside. He encounters Beech (Theothus Carter), a newly incarcerated young man who offers him much needed-friendship, though it’s not without unfortunate complications. The younger inmate echoes of his older counterpart, stirring instincts within Louis that had long been buried beneath a tough exterior. Sackler’s film is a taut prison drama that follows the seemingly mundane countdown of days before Louis’s release, until, almost imperceptibly, it transforms into a thriller, suddenly crackling with intensity. Filmed on location in an actual maximum-security prison with inmates participating as actors, the film lays bare, with remarkable realism, the very specific complexities of existing as an incarcerated man in America. Sackler’s background as an esteemed documentarian influences her first fiction film, a portrait of a proud yet regretful soul at a crossroads.”