Movie Diary 12/1/2019

Impressions from serving on the FIPRESCI jury at the 68th Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg, a festival dedicated to first-or-second-time directors.

Under the Turquoise Sky (KENTARO, 2019). Our winning film, a deft, confident Japanese-Mongolian production about a spoiled young man entering the wilds of Mongolia in search of a family connection. In a past time this film would absolutely find a healthy arthouse reception in the U.S., but are we still in a time like that? (And yes, the director spells his name with capital letters. He said he’d never won anything before.)

For Those Who Don’t Read Me (Yan Giroux, 2018). A French-Canadian film about a brusque, hard-drinking poet who (thanks in part to a grungy performance by the disheveled Martin Dubreuil) comes to resemble the last honest man in Quebec, and possibly the world. Some very amusing episodes; the film is nearly a screwball comedy about what happens when someone goes through life without the ability to flatter other people.

Magali (Juan Pablo Di Botonto, 2019). From Argentina: A woman (Eva Bianco) returns to her village to reclaim her adolescent son. Not the most original idea, but the central performance, the locations, and the hints of folk magic are beguiling.

Lonesome Collectors (aka Noches de Julio, Axel Muñoz Barba, 2018). A very intriguing one from a Mexican filmmaker to keep an eye on, a little bit of Buñuel-meets-Almodovar in the story of a young man who breaks into apartments out of a fetish for connection. Could there be someone out there for him? There could.

Good Morning Son (Sharon Bar Ziv, 2018). An Israeli family tends to their comatose son, an injured soldier. This skillfully made film hints at various subtexts that never quite get explored, but perhaps that’s the point – and the son’s unconsciousness may be as relevant as those sleeping soldiers in Cemetery of Splendor.

Holding Positions (Laura Mahlberg, 2019). From Germany. I like this kind of movie, a black-and-white series of impressions that disposes of narrative in favor of quick hits and anecdotes. But in this case, the movie’s 75 minutes could use just a little more incident to fill out its promising container.

On the Roof (Jirí Mádl, 2019). A Czech comedy about a Communist-era grump who takes in a Vietnamese immigrant. “Crowd-pleasing” would be an understatement here. It should do very well.

Rona, Azim’s Mother (Jamshid Mahmoudi, 2018). Set in the Afghan community in Iran. The story is about emigration, illness, and bureaucracy, and it’s a strong piece overall, if perhaps a little indebted to the example of Asghar Faradi.

The Grizzlies (Miranda de Pencier, 2018). A young white teacher comes to an Inuit community, certain he’ll make a difference; it’s more complicated than that. A feel-good film based on a true story, this one connects the dots in an easy-to-guess way.

The Swing Maker (Da Xiong, 2018). An elliptical and enigmatic Chinese film, handsomely wrought in black and white. Whatever it is, this is a decent try at something.

The Roar (Chun-hao Chan, 2018). Kind of a Taiwanese Taxi Driver here, with a promising set-up and some excellent faces on screen. This was a film-school diploma film, and suggests an ambitious filmmaker on the verge of something interesting.

And there’s more, for tomorrow.