Once again, I had the pleasure of attending two of my favorite film festivals in 2013 – The Wisconsin Film Festival and the LA Film Fest. I have neglected to post about some of the great movies I’ve encountered at both of these events, so I figure now is as good a time as any to do so. There’s a fair amount of ground to cover thanks to some excellent film programmers out there, so I’m going to tackle each festival in separate entries.
Let’s start with the festival of my Packer-proud home state.
It was a fast and furious fest weekend when I headed back to Wisconsin this past April. Less than a month into my new job, I didn’t have much vacation time to spare, so I took a red-eye flight on a Thursday night (red-eye = good in theory, horrible in execution) and arrived in Madison on Friday morning. I stopped at Mom and Dad’s for a quick shower and then I was off to see the first of four films for that day. The multiple screenings continued through Sunday – with friends and family joining me here and there – and I absorbed the finest cinematic offerings from America’s Dairyland before flying back to Los Angeles early on Monday morning so I could report to work. Yes, I’m getting too old for that kind of travel.
Of course, it was totally worth it, though.
In my usual laziness, I have borrowed each recommended movie’s synopsis from the respective festival’s film guide. Fear not, though. My deeply profound analysis is included, too. Ready your brains.
Highlights from the 15th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival:
ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY – Marie is a middle-aged actress in Los Angeles with a successful enough career that allows her to have a nice apartment on the beach where she can swim and surf every day. When she’s visited by her beloved, recently engaged niece Faye, Marie begins to reflect on her non-existent love life, her choice of remaining in an industry that has little need for actresses over 40, and even her place in the universe.
What?!? A film featuring a lead character who is <GASP!> a WOMAN IN HER FORTIES?!? Isn’t that an endangered creature of cinema? Luckily for the audience, the endangered creature in co-writer/director Joe Swanberg’s lovely, subtle film is played by the wonderful actress Jane Adams (who also receives co-writing credit). ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY is one of those quiet, observational films that doesn’t follow a traditional story format, but remains captivating nonetheless thanks to the intelligent, contemplative exchanges between its characters. And, yeah, it’s refreshing to see a forty-something woman well represented – hell, represented at all! – on the big screen.
A HIJACKING – Out in the Indian Ocean, a Danish freighter is hijacked by Somali pirates. The pirates demand a $15 million ransom from the corporation who owns the boat, launching a series of increasingly suspenseful negotiations. The pressure mounts as days stretch into weeks, and with each foiled bargain the situation grows more volatile for the pirates, crew, and corporate lawyers alike.
Admittedly, I saw this film on Saturday night (midway through my movie marathon weekend) after an entertaining, cocktail-soaked family dinner. In the darkened Sundance movie theatre, I may have experienced droopy eyelids every now and then. But that is by no means a reflection of this taut, tense thriller. With an eye for realism, writer/director Tobias Lindholm expertly captures the growing dread of both those held captive on the hijacked boat and those desperately negotiating from the boardroom.
KAUWBOY – With his country-singer mother apparently on tour in the U.S., Jojo lives alone in The Netherlands countryside with his father. A security guard, Dad comes across as a man of few words, volatile and violent. When Jojo discovers an abandoned baby crow in the woods, he finds solace in caring for the little bird, which is even more vulnerable than he is. But his father has a very strict rule: Plants and animals do not belong in the house.
A lonely boy? A fragile bird? An intimidating father? Yeah, I knew going into this film that I’d probably need an entire box of Kleenex to get through it. And I was right. (Good thing I stuffed my purse beforehand.) But every emotion I experienced during the movie – joy, anger, heartbreak, relief – was earned honestly by Dutch filmmaker Boudewijn Koole. In fact, KAUWBOY is one of the most exquisite films I’ve ever witnessed, gorgeously shot and anchored by the fearless, raw performance of Rick Lens as Jojo. It’s moving without feeling manipulative. The film still appears to be making the festival rounds, but let’s hope it gets released soon. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer: KAUWBOY TRAILER.
NEXT UP: The LA Film Fest!