Sunday, November 16, 2014

AFI FEST 2014: Day Two

AFI FEST 2014 is a wrap, 73 features and 45 shorts screened across eight (8) days. This year I highlighted 24 films I found to be a high priority, of those 24 films I caught 15 of them. In order to give a fair amount of coverage to the 15 films viewed across five (5) days, I've broke my festival coverage down by day(s) including a brief review of each feature.

Day Two:
directed by Sara Adina Smith
"The Midnight Swim" is an interesting and hypnotic piece of filmmaking. Shot in a quasi documentary point-of-view style, the drama takes on a near cinéma vérité approach. Writer and director Sara Adina Smith weaves the story between three sisters each coping with the loss of their mother in their own ways and a local legend surrounding the lake their now deceased mother lived on. Actresses Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur and Aleksa Palladino each deliver engaging characterizations that convey the varied individuality amongst siblings. Their collective performances furthermore feel natural to the hierarchy families can often undertake. Smith's approach to mourning is delicately balanced across the three sisters and their instinctive portrayals. There's a stirring harmony between the sisters' bonding and coping I really appreciated.
The Midnight Swim excels at magnetizing mystery. Sara Adina Smith is wise to create a local legend, that while may not sound real, feels like something a local town could have drummed up over the course of a few generations. I found myself reflecting back on local legends we had in my home town; an escaped convict from a nearby prison who tormented and murdered a family, a satanist group who resided way back in Carbon Canyon, or other local legends friends had shared with me over the years from their own home towns. Like those legends I grew up with, the legend of the Seven Sisters Smith creates here is potent and used sparingly enough it doesn't lose its significance.
Walking away there's a refreshing affection that The Midnight Swim doesn't pigeonhole itself in one genre. The film has moving ability to focus on sisters reconciling while simultaneously teetering between reality and fantasy. Sara Adina Smith with her debut feature, proves she has a voice I want to hear more from in cinema.

directed by Eskil Vogt
"Blind" is the most absorbing film I watched at AFI FEST 2014. It has a lot to say about our perception of others. Our fears and insecurities of how others perceive us. Also how our imagination and fantasies can get the best of us at times. The film, which won the Berlin International Film Festival, is curt while being sincere. It is equally dismal, hysterical, titillating, and scandalous. It is a triumph to say the least.
Quick judgement could perceive the film as nothing more than another provocative example of misogyny in cinema. That a woman's worth is measured by her ability to cater to the male gaze, but that is selling the award winning script short. Writer and director Eskil Vogt has done a tremendous job crafting a tale about an author, after going blind, that tried to maintain her identity, sanity and memories foremost. Vogt embraces the mindset of a person who is losing grip with their perceptions of reality. Without the use of sight, Ingrid starts to suffer as little things begin to change or slip from her memory. Her memories create new realities or fantasies, that are thrilling to watch play out. People or characters that would have once been fleshed out, now become boiled down into tropes and stereotypes.
Vogt's drama is not fixated on catering to the male's gaze, however it is focused on wrestling with the vulnerability in loss of a sense. A sense that I couldn't imagine losing. I went into this film simply based off the terrifying thought of losing my eyesight. Just like the central character Ingrid, I am a visual person and my perception of what life would be like without that sense, could easily fall prey to my worst fears and insecurities.
Ingrid, sublimely played by Ellen Dorrit Petersen, begins to question not only her own sanity, but another big part in her life; her marriage. Does the loss of her eyesight effect her ability to maintain a happy marriage? A question that seems natural, notably with regards to the state of her marriage and mind of a person who is trapped in a web of pity. Self doubt is sure to set in with the loss of such a powerful sense. Especially with the stakes being so high in their relationship, it only compounds the perception further. Vogt dabbles plenty in the cynicism of vulnerability throughout Blind, although his film ultimately has a charmingly optimistic outlook. Finally, love it or hate it, this is a film that at the very least opens up conversation. It is a film that will have you talking. Talking about relationships, individuality, perception, imagination, reality and how they can all blend together under the right circumstances.

directed by Damián Szifron
"Wild Tales" is designed for reaction. Writer and director Damián Szifron cooks up six wild tales that will have audiences reacting in shock and laughter. Wild Tales excels stringing together six stories that are undeniably relatable. A flight on a passenger airplane, a rundown diner, a flat tire, a vehicle being towed, a reckless driver, and a wedding reception. Where these tales go, on the other hand, isn't very rational but strangely comforting. How does one confront an uncomfortable situation? Szifron shows you six times over that sometimes people act irrationally, each amplifying to an unbelievable conclusion.
Wild Tales is the kind of romp that is best seen with a crowd. It is the built for laughs and more than supplies them. While the faint of heart may be weary at the prospect of shock, Szifron's take on social hardships totally makes up for any fears going in. This is a fun two hours even if you are a little squeamish. A perfect "midnight" movie.

directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement
If you've enjoyed episodes of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords" and aren't nauseated by vampires or werewolves just yet, you are in luck; "What We Do in the Shadows" is a hilarious "documentary" from frequent Kiwi collaborators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Much like Christopher Guest's mockumentary films "Best in Show" or "A Mighty Wind," What We Do in the Shadows toys around with a particular group of people, here the subjects are out of touch vampires trying to remain hip in modern society. The entire cast is a riot. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have a great comedic sense that lends itself wonderfully to this world. Waititi has moments that are so funny I had to resist from laughing too loudly as to not seem obnoxious in the theater. This is not to say the crowd wasn't also loud, but I felt myself cackling to the point my sides hurt from bits used. Audiences can rest easy knowing they are in the hands of wildly entertaining comedians. Performers that know all about timing and taking a gag for all its worth. These comedic collaborators have audience bursting with laughter while the vampire flat mates squabble over mundane chores like the dishes.
What We Do in the Shadows is set for release early next year at the end of February and I highly recommend seeing it with a group of friends. It is the kind of comedy that you will want to see again and again.

That's a wrap on my coverage from Day Two at AFI FEST 2014. In case you missed it, check out my coverage of Day One here.