The best movies I saw at the Philadelphia Film Festival were undoubtedly Frantz and Suntan. I caught nine in total.
Frantz (Ozon, 2016)
Does the way this movie is made remind anyone else of Carol? There’s something so fluid and confident in the camera and blocking of both films. What feels at times like a genre piece is actually a drama, and Ozon’s film satisfies with small revelations throughout. What’s the difference between a revelation and a twist? Maybe that the latter needs to go against a formidable amount of given evidence while the latter just requires hidden exposition to come to the forefront. Ozon’s has lots of them, but there’s also subtle misdirection. If you were to watch only the first fifteen minutes of the film you might believe someone who told you that it was a horror film, a war film, a thriller, and so on.
It’s clever to set the film after WWI, not only for the anxieties between France and Germany at the time, but also for the foreboding mood that – historically – must suffuse the piece.
Suntan (Papadimitropolous, 2016)
Part Paradise: Love, part Lolita, Suntan is rigorous and doom-drenched. The film starts pretty locked off and, not unlike Frantz, has but a hint of the cold horror to come. Totally unlike Ozon’s film, that hint – a slow dolly away from our frozen protagonist – is not subtle.
Suntan starts largely locked off, and soon gives way to handheld. That handheld feels almost conventional and tried, so it’s a relief when the camera majestically cranes up, as happens at two crucial scenes in the third act.
The theater collectively gasped and cringed at the right moment towards the end. The first time I’ve been with a large group that did so spontaneously in some time.
The Net (Kim, 2016)
I love Ki-duk Kim. The Net doesn’t feel like one of his films. It’s kind of like Joint Security Area if done by…well I guess if done by Ki-duk Kim. It’s almost a comedy at first, and some of the look of it feels so video that it adds to what amounts to a certain bit of cheese.
Maybe that’s Kim’s strategy, because when the cheese comes undone it’s a pretty effective gut punch.
There’s a great performance at the core, and a commentary that spans North and South Korea in ways that feels fresh.
The Age of Shadows (Kim, 2016)
South Korea’s Bridge of Spies? I don’t know because I never saw that movie. But Jee-woon Kim’s new one would fit comfortably in Hollywood. It’s fun, fast, and he reminds you right off the bat that he’s no stranger to close-up violence.
The best part of the film is the opening – an extended chase scene that is stunningly blocked. The camera moves over rooftops and through alleyways in a way that’s always a little bit confusing but never lose-me-confusing. It’s a gleeful opening to a film that really takes pride in small details.
Boundaries (Robichaud, 2016)
I had a hard time with this film. This is such a crappy question, but nonetheless: who is it for? Clearly someone, since people seem to really like it. I found it distancing and without any of the rigor that films that want to be distancing and succeed often have. It also felt wayward and obscure. There’s the direct-to-camera opening, points that seem like maybe they’re supposed to be satire, lots of negotiations, and then a coda that feels unsure.
There’s at least one fantastic scene where one of the leads sings to a man in a hotel. Her performance and his reaction are spot-on. The rest left me a little bored. It felt like the small-town hijinx of a Bill Forsyth film but without a lot of the heart.
Apprentice (Boo, 2016)
I’m on the fence with this film. On one hand, it’s unexpected (but not in the way that that often means), confident, and slow-burning. On the other hand, it seems like there’s so much unexplored potential in here. I’m not talking about the violent kind, but rather the core relationships, especially between Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) and Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su). They’re both good, but Su is really awesome. He’s that actor that always has something more behind his eyes than he lets on.
One of the best parts of the film is a repeat hallway scene, shot from one end of the hallway – critically – in the second act of the film, and then from the other end in the third act. It’s really effective.
Graduation (Mungiu, 2016)
Not my favorite Cristian Mungiu film, but a really good one nonetheless. This film sticks with you. There’s something of Cache in it. Like some of his others, and others from the Romanian New Wave, it’s a slow build and a social commentary. The latter seems to be about the generational divide (and of course, a rather ineffective police force).
There are fantastic scenes in here – a great opening following sequence; a tense handheld at night in what looks like a rough neighborhood; a great sort-of fight scene.
Mungiu’s film is anchored by Adrian Titieni’s awesome performance as Romeo, a physician who just wants the best for his daughter and becomes an over-protective parent and a small-time criminal in the process.
I always admire Mungiu’s camera. Here there are some long takes, but it seems fewer than in Beyond the Hills.
The Eyes of My Mother (Pesce, 2016)
This isn’t really my kind of horror, but I see how it’d appeal to some. It’s distanced and methodical. I wonder if a lot of it was ADRed. There’s a weird feeling of audio-visual separation that runs through at least the first act (and mostly with Charlie (Will Brill)).
It’s very pretty with excellent cinematography from Zach Kuperstein. I liked the black and white photography.
I wonder if Nicolas Pesce is going for a Dead Ringers or The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears feel. It felt more to me like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Øvredal, 2016)
This was a really fun horror film. It’s funny to look at in comparison to The Eyes of My Mother. Not that someone can’t like both, but they’re two good representations of opposite ends of the horror spectrum. This one is – for better and worse at times – so much more engaged with its characters. I feel like The Eyes wants that lingering feeling of discomfort where The Autopsy is going for scares in the now. Different strokes.
I love Brian Cox and I haven’t really seen him in anything for awhile. He’s good here as Tommy Tilden the lead coroner on a corpse that is not what she at first seems.
The Autopsy does some of the standard stuff: set up scares early (bells on feet here) and use them later. It works, especially with a midnight audience.