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His middle name is Groucho but his comedy is far from the Marx legacy that influenced his father, Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, and though some aspects of his films recall the French New Wave, do not call his style retro. Jonás Groucho Trueba’s films have modern concerns about love in a modern age. He also uses cinema techniques that push the against the medium’s boundaries to represent his themes with an equally fresh perspective.

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The last weekend of the Miami International Film Festival ended on a much stronger note than it began. I caught up with a strange, gruesome film that was not without merit. I saw a brave choice for the award bestowed by the Miami Future Cinema Critics. I attended a second career tribute ceremony to another important director who had his start on the world cinema stage thanks to MIFF. After a closing night and awards party on Saturday night, I rushed out for one last day of screenings with daylight savings suddenly in effect. The pair of marine life-themed films were by turns powerful and poetic.

As this post goes up, so does my report for the “Miami New Times” on the festival’s tribute to Spanish director Fernando Trueba, Friday night. You can read that portion of my weekend by jumping through the publication’s logo for its arts and culture blog “Cultist”:

cultist banner


The following weekend began with the intimate but creepy home viewing of a film that had been recommended to me by both my colleague at “the Miami Herald,” Rene Rodriguez and the festival’s director, Jaie Laplante. Mexican director Sebastian Hofmann explores some twisted subject matter both thematically and viscerally in his feature debut, Halley. Halley04Shot in Mexico City, the film follows a security guard aching to quit his job at a local gym where everyone from body building professionals to obese elderly types work on their various physiques. The guard, Alberto (Alberto Trujillo), seems quite ill, as revealed early in the film. He tends to huge, festering wounds on his body that never seem to heal and even plucks maggots burrowing just below his skin.

The debut feature by Hofmann dwells on a man trying to deal with the fact he is a living corpse. He allows the camera to linger for long moments, as Alberto tries to keep everything as neat as possible in his apartment, including polishing his silverware and dusting every nook of a model train. He also allows the camera to hover on some of the most grotesque wounds the viewer might care to have to stare at on the big screen.

The film gives no explanation for Alberto’s disease, only focuses on his drive to carry on despite his rotting body.halley By not concerning himself with exposition as much as juxtapositions with society moving along with ignorant non-concern, save for a sympathetic and solitary morgue worker (Hugo Albores), the film elevates its concept beyond cruel, indulgent gore to social statement. I heard from someone who grew up in Mexico City that walking past a collapsing man in the subway with nary a reaction is commonplace, lest you believe the director is exaggerating.

Hofmann wants to work beyond pure horror for horror’s sake and rattle the complacency out of the viewer. Instead of trivializing the zombie medium, he is working it back to its social origins and the shell-shocked, post-Vietnam world of the creators behind such watershed zombie movies by George Romero. Forget Warm Bodies, this might be the most human zombie movie ever created.

Beijing Flickers and awards night

As publicized by MIFF, the awards broke down as such, which were announced at a ceremony in Downtown Miami’s historic Freedom Tower:


Knight Grand Jury Prize: So Much Water (Tanta agua), produced by CTRL Z FILMS, Uruguay, by Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge (Uruguay/Mexico/Netherlands), will receive $15,000 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Double award winner Ana Guevara. Photo courtesy of MIFFIf the film’s sales agent, Alpha Violet of France sells the film to a US distributor within 30 days, that US distributor will also receive $15,000.   If not, the additional $15,000 will be added to CTRL Z FILMS’ prize.

Grand Jury Best Performance: The cast of A Gun in Each Hand (Una pistola en cada mano), by Cèsc Gay (Spain)
$5,000 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Grand Jury Best Director: Ana Piterbarg of Everybody Has a Plan (Todos tenemos un plan)(Spain/Argentina /Germany)
$5,000 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge for So Much Water (Tanta agua) by Ana Guevara andLeticia Jorge (Uruguay/Mexico/Netherlands)
$5,000 USD cash prize awarded by the Jordan Alexander Ressler Charitable Fund

Knight Grand Jury Prize:

Gideon’s Army, by Dawn Porter (USA)gideons_army

$10,000 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Solo, by Guillermo Rocamora (Uruguay / Argentina / Netherlands / France)
$2,500 USD cash prize sponsored by Lexus, official automotive sponsor of MIFF
The Swimming Pool (La piscina), by Carlos Machado Quintela (Cuba/Venezuela)
A $2,500 USD cash prize sponsored by Lexus, official automotive sponsor of MIFF
Special recognition by the jury goes to Villegas, by Gonzalo Tobal (Argentina/Netherlands/France)

Best Short Film: “Anna and Jerome”, by Mélanie Delloye (France)
$2,500 USD cash prize awarded by the University of Miami

Beijing Flickers (You-Zhong), by Zhang Yuan (China)

There were two grand winners of this year’s Lexus Audience Award voted on by festivalgoers throughout the Festival:
7 Boxes (7 cajas) by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori (Paraguay)

Gideon’s Army, by Dawn Porter (USA).

* * *

Beijing Flickers-thumb-630xauto-36171

Of these winners, the only one I saw during the festival was Beijing Flickers, a movie about a ragtag group of social misfits in Beijing who become friends over their shortcomings. I applaud the group of young critics who wanted to pass the award to something else beyond a too-easy nominee like, the Oscar-nominated No, which remains a fine film, as well. I had a great time mentoring Justin James of the group (read more about the program here, an article by Miami Art Zine writer Michelle Solomon).

I was supposed to catch After Lucia later that night, but it had sold out. I will be placed in contact with that film’s director, so I do not miss it. So far it has not secured U.S. distribution.

Blackfish and Leviathan

Sunday was the true last day of the festival and included a pair of movies I had heard good things about. Blackfish trains its lens on killer whales in captivity and the cover-up of tragedies involved in maintaining their display at aquariums for entertainment. blackfish stillSeveral former trainers recount their own naiveté and firsthand encounters with tragic or near tragic interactions with the animals at sea parks, as the film builds to the most current incident: the death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010 at Sea World Orlando.

The film introduces these men and women as they freely admit their own ignorance to the dangers of these animals, even though they were hired to swim with them. None have any education in marine biology. As the viewer learns more about the animals in the film, you have to wonder whether anyone who knows more about these whales than these trainers would ever enter a tiny pool with these beasts, which can weigh upwards of four tons.

No working trainer would comment in the film, much less Sea World or its spokesperson. 000_shamooThose who do comment are the ex-trainers who sometimes speak tearfully of the tragedies that changed their minds about their former jobs. Then there is the testimony of a man who actually hunted whales for captivity in the 1970s. He also breaks down in tears over the horrors he and his crew committed to capture young whales and rip them from their families. A spokesperson for OSHA, the worker’s rights group who sued Sea World in order to keep trainers safe, offers the most sober testimony against the logic of placing trainers in the water with these whales.

Balance is hard to find as no one currently working with whales comes on camera to speak in favor of these shows. But the silence of the opposing voice, depicted in a single intertitle at the end that states Sea World refused repeated requests to be interviewed for this documentary, speaks volumes. KillerWhalesBLACKFISHAs this is a co-production with CNN, one hopes the story will spread beyond the film festival.

Though some science feels missing, the film makes a strong case against the display of these wild animals for entertainment purposes. It’s easy to not look behind the bliss in the smiles and laughter of a crowd enjoying orca shows, but at what cost to not only these beasts, but to the men and women who risk their lives to “play” with them? As one talking head in the film notes, one can only hope that at some point in the future these shows will disappear as a sign of our former barbarism.

My last day at the festival ended with another marine life documentary of a very different sort: Leviathan. 1350625625-leviathan1It featured little bias in its depiction of a giant shipping vessel, as its narrative was allowed to flow as wild as the ocean waves that surrounded the ship’s hull. There were no voice overs or interviews. The only narrative conceit was establishing the film with quotations from the Book of Job 41, which clearly inspired the film’s title (read it here).

Beyond the biblical reference, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel seem to say something rather ambivalent about harvesting the ocean’s sea life, though using breathtaking imagery. With specially designed cameras that hang from masts and roll around on the ship’s deck, the images captured by these cameras are born from the same randomness as the nature that created life in the primordial pool of the ocean. The human factor comes in the selection of edits and how they are strung together. Its associative cuts came slow and languorous. They sometimes feel harsh, from exterior to interior changes in setting, or almost imperceptibly smooth, from the ship’s deck to below the waves.

The key is to hold long shots so as not to manipulate the scenes too much and allow the viewer to engage on a level that can feel as entrancing as the ebb and flow of the ocean itself. Some viewers might find themselves a bit seasick with not only the motions but also the close-ups of the bloody prepping of the dead or dying fish. 1920_leviathan-4The directors allow their mobile cameras to roll around the ship’s deck with fish carcasses, giving you the POV of the lamentable critters, as you stare into the gray eyes of the bloated corpses.

In a cinematic world that rewards concrete narratives, some may be frustrated by Leviathan, but if you arrive with an open mind and a curiosity for some of the most unique views of a fishing crew in action, you may find yourself properly riveted. The filmmakers do not make it easy, though. At one point they place a camera in the ship’s mess hall where one fisherman gradually dozes off to a TV showing “The Deadliest Catch.” The camera lingers only on his face as his eyes gradually close to a voice over fishing for drama on the Discovery Channel’s “reality” show. leviathanThere’s a cut to a couple of commercials and a return to the drama, but by then the fisherman has checked out. It’s a witty little statement against the stagey quality of so-called reality TV and the superficiality of narratives. Leviathan is about the visceral, and you can practically smell the grotesque oozing off the screen.

There were some walkouts during the screening and others seemed glad to leave when the credits rolled. Still, a handful could not seem to get enough and remained to the very last of the film’s 87 minutes, when, after the credits and dedications, a night scene of a barely visible flock of gulls over the dark waves gave a reprise of the film’s listless quality.


With that, the festival ended on a high note for this viewer. Some of these films will return to South Florida, and I shall provide a head’s up on this blog, as they see release in South Florida and distribution to other part of the US or the world. Thanks to MIFF for inviting me to attend the festival and experience these screenings on them, not to mention the chance to meet several great filmmakers, some of whom expressed an interest to return to this blog for individual profiles.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Day 8 of the Miami International Film Festival was probably one of the most reverent days as far as centerpiece events at the festival. It involved a tribute to Fernando Trueba, a Spanish director who burst onto the world cinema stage with an Oscar-winning film that debuted at MIFF in 1994, Belle Epoque. Above, you will find the original video tribute by local artists Buzzeye and Gabo that opened the night at the Olympia Theater without an announcement.

I shall not go into details of last night right now, as I am saving them for a piece scheduled to appear in “Cultist,” the art and culture blog of “Miami New Times,” on Monday. Suffice it to say that the video above was not the only surprise of the night.

Trueba’s new film, the Artist and the Model, had its US debut that night. It has already picked up distribution by the Cohen Media Group, who was represented at the screening by the distributor’s founder. The more I reflect on the film, the more I like it, as it stands as a beautiful testament to art, its process and how it transcends the mortal beings who create it.

For now, more film. In this week’s “Miami New Times” more reviews appeared in print, including one by this writer. Here’s a link to the capsule reviews, some films will have their final screenings this weekend, as the festival draws to a close (jump through the “New Times” logo for reviews on Venus and Serena, Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury, Pietà, the Crash Reel and Vinyl Days):

Miami New Times logo

Today, on the agenda are the following two films (I also hope to catch up on some home-viewing):



I am also playing mentor to one of the film festival’s “future cinema critics,” Justin James. He reviewed Beijing Flickers, among others in this blog post. As for After Lucia, the Herald’s critic warned me that I’d be having problems with him if I don’t like it. He can thank himself for raising my expectations. We shall see. The trailer looks powerful:

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

post_tenebras_lux_ver4_xxlgDay 7 of the Miami International Film Festival included some very interesting meetings with a couple of smart filmmakers and discussions with some rather brilliant film watchers after a screening of one the festival’s more daring films: Post Tenebras Lux.

The afternoon began with a lovely lunch with none other than Whit Stillman, a man whose work in independent cinema in the 1990s heyday of my movie-going remains unforgettable. I plan to have an article about our conversation on this blog where he and I both reconsider Damsels in Distress together, and talk a lot about my somewhat negative review (‘Damsels in Distress:’ Stillman dumbs it down after almost a generation in hiding).

The man came across self-effacing and very open to criticism, despite feeling a bit heartbroken that the film did not play as long as he had hoped in theaters. He seems quite invigorated to be working again and shared some great ideas for follow-up films in confidence. So you will just have to wait and see, but I, for one, am looking forward to what this director has to offer.

He is at MIFF as part of the jury for the Knight Ibero-American Competition. Whit Stillman on set of Damsels. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsStillman said he is not allowed to comment on his job at MIFF as the jury continues to screen films in what may be the festival’s most important competition. But we still had a lot to talk about over lunch and coffee. Part of our conversation will be revealed in what will surely be one of the more interesting articles on this blog.

The only screening I could fit in yesterday was Post Tenebras Lux (Latin for “After the darkness, light,” a term lifted out of the Book of Job) at the intimate O Cinema, which is playing host to some of the more challenging films of the festival in its “Visions” category. Post-Tenebras-LuxThe fourth film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas demands a relaxed, open mind well aware of the boundaries of cinema and in search of something fresh. The cinephile with a distinguished taste looking for something new in the forms of narrative structure and framing will leave a film like this invigorated. Those looking for something traditional will only feel disappointed. I heard a lot of grumbles about the length of the film, as many never felt engaged by it. One person scrawled “This is the worst movie ever!!” on O Cinema’s chalkboard “Everybody’s a Critic” wall.

In my opinion: the film oozed a vibrant vital energy in search of an impactful delivery of a social message many will not be happy to hear. Reygadas, who also wrote the screenplay, juxtaposes vignettes of a small town in the lush forest landscape of Mexico, possibly Valle de Bravo, bookended by a rugby match in the UK. Consider the Jungian principal of synchronicity, and the narrative conceit should feel easier to accept, as both settings will illuminate the other in an incongruent but impactful manner. For the most part, the film follows an upper-class family that remains as humanly flawed as the rest of town’s denizens in the lower classes, yet social constructs result in an impenetrable division that comes to a head in a violent encounter as banal and distant as Reygadas dares conceive.

The film opens with an evocative if startling exterior scene at dusk. A little girl stomps through a muddy meadow as a pack of dogs run back and forth around her,Post-Tenebras-Lux-Cannes-Image harassing a herd of cows, some of which attempt to breed. The child, who must be about 3 years of age, is monosyllabic, uttering words like “doggie,” “Cow” and what will be soon be revealed as the names of her immediate family. She sloshes around, fascinated by the mushy ground, as the dogs zip around her and nip at the agitated cows. The sky looms dark with gray clouds pregnant with rain and rumbling electricity. The opening scene carries on long enough in what seems a single take to turn from dusk to pitch black and only the sound of animals and the child’s startlingly playful voice resonate from a darkness broken up by flashes of lightning.

The next scene is not even worth spoiling. Suffice it to say a presence of evil is revealed in the family’s home, which takes its time to establish itself, so it might echo and illuminate the following scenes that range from violence to animals, subjugation of men and the environment and degradation of love. This is not any easy film to experience. It shouldn’t be so it might have the impact of a slap in the face to what Reygadas may just consider an ignorant, complacent society.

Despite many grand landscapes, Reygadas subverts many of the images by the use of a lens that refracts the edges of the image leading to a doubling or sometimes quadrupling of the frame’s edge, creating an invisible if suffocating boarder around the people he has focused his camera on. Post-Tenebras-LuxPost Tenebras Lux is a darkly poetic wake-up call about people who have lost their humanity and could very well continue to lose it should they allow themselves to succumb to complacent entitlement.

It was the first transcendent film of the festival (you have to break down and recreate the rules of cinema for such experiences) and led to some great conversations with friends I found in the audience. Later that night, I met with the subject of the following two articles I wrote:

Brady Corbet was relaxing in an indoor cabana at Niki Beach for one of the festival’s after parties. We drew him away with chit-chat about film, including Post Tenebras Lux, which, despite a bias he admitted to having (he considers the director a friend), he still loved. Robert Bresson is a clear influence in the film, so his appreciation makes sense. Corbet will host a very special one-night only screening of the Bresson classic Au Hasard Balthazar 936full-au-hasard-balthazar-postertonight as part of MIFF (get tickets; this text is a hyperlink).

He also offered a rather banal reason for why his new film Simon Killer did not appear in the festival line up: the studio, IFC Films, may have grown tired of pushing the release date further back for festival appearances. However, a little bird told me it is scheduled to appear at a local art house in South Florida. Stay tuned to this blog for the official announcement and hopefully an interview with Corbet.

As much as I would like to see a 35mm print of Au Hasard Balthazar, tonight, I will cover the tribute to Spanish director Fernando Trueba for the “Miami New Times,” which will include a one-night only screening of his new film, the Artist and the Model. THE ARTIST AND THE MODELExpect pictures and a narrative of the night’s events on that publication’s “Cultist” blog on Monday (weekend means time for a break for some writers). If you want to go tonight for this tribute to one of the festival’s more consistent contributors, visit this link for tickets.

Meanwhile, Post Tenebras Lux will screen on more night, Sunday, for those looking to catch a bold, daring film at MIFF (click here for tickets).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)