Posthumous_Poster_2-724x1024With her feature film debut, Posthumous, which had its North American premiere at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, indie writer/director Lulu Wang says she set out to find a fine balance between drama and comedy. The film follows out-of-work reporter McKenzie Grain (Brit Marling) who investigates her suspicions about a supposed posthumous exhibition for an at-best mediocre artist, Liam Price (Jack Huston). It doesn’t help that the gallery owner, Daniel S. Volpe (Lambert Wilson) is a twitchy bundle of nerves whenever McKenzie asks her nosy questions.

Wang says she wanted to allow the situations to speak for themselves, so she instructed the actors to bring a sort of gravitas to their performances that doesn’t amp up the jokes but, rather, brings them down to earth. “We weren’t going for the jokes, but the humor was in the situation or with the camera work,” says the filmmaker. “I talked to my DP a lot about that, about the framing and how we can use the camera to highlight the lightness of the situation. I wanted the characters to be dramatic because I feel like, in my life, I can be very dramatic. People I know can be very dramatic about their situations, even though from the outside it could look very ridiculous, so I wanted the actors to know that they were not in a comedy.”

P0sthumous Posthumous Film GmbH 20.10.2012,  day 06 scene 3 Kaleb and Daniel chatting. Persona  Daniel Volpe 		(Lambert Wilson) Persona  Kaleb 			(Nikolai Kinski) McKenzie and Erik chatting. Daniel joins them. Persona  McKenzie Grain 	(Brit Marling) Persona  Erik Adler 			(Alexander Fehling) McKenzie in conversation with Ben. Persona  McKenzie Grain 	(Brit Marling) Persona  Ben 				(Tom Schilling) photo: Stefan Erhard

As with many independent movies, there were a few false starts. There were periods Wang thought that the film was greenlit and ready to begin production, and various production designers came and went. What could be disheartening to some allowed the director to get to know her film’s setting better: the city of Berlin. Wang, who lives in Los Angeles and grew up in Miami, says she spent somewhere around two to three years scouting locations in Berlin with different production designers, staying in the city for months at a time. She eventually came to fall in love with the city. The film features a bright color palette, reflecting the lightness of the film’s drama and humor. When asked about the film’s high-contrast, brilliant quality, she says, “Berlin really helps with that … Usually they shoot World War II movies in Berlin. We didn’t feel like there were that many movies in the mainstream that have really captured the artistic nature of Berlin.”

She says the capital city of Germany is much brighter than most would think. “Even in the restaurants they’ll have pools of light,” she notes. “They create spaces using light, and that’s what we tried to do also. My DP and I would talk about orange and blue light or green light for the night scenes and how to create corners and more dimension with lighting.”

Posthumous Posthumous Film GmbH 01.12.2012,  day 31 scene 76 STUDIO / LIAM Liam is hard at work. Persona  Liam Price		(Jack Huston) photo: Stefan Erhard

She also notes Berlin is an amazing city for art, and the film is rich in capturing that. Art not only figures into the movie’s plot, but it appears throughout the film in many settings, not just in Liam’s studio or Daniel’s gallery. “I love the amount of art on the streets,” says the director. “It’s much more diplomatic. There’s a balance of what’s being seen on the street and what’s being shown on the galleries’ white walls, and there’s also a lot of pop up spaces. People are really utilizing abandoned buildings to create a restaurant or gallery.”

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You can read more about Wang’s casting coup for her first feature as well as the old-time films that inspired her after jumping through the logo for Miami New Times art and culture blog “Cultist,” where I wrote much more about my chat with Wang ahead of her film’s Friday premiere at the Miami International film festival:

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Posthumous has on more screening at MIFF, today, Saturday, March 14, at 4 p.m. at the Cinepolis in Coconut Grove. Tickets are $13. Call 844-565-6433 or visit this link for tickets.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Voice-Over-poster_webIt’s not easy to communicate when you’re family, and Chilean director Cristián Jiménez finds a compelling way to illustrate that in Voice Over (La Voz en Off). Though only his second feature, the director reveals a more natural, earthy style compared to his still quite marvelous feature debut Bonsái. With his 2011 film, adapted from the novel by Alejandro Zambra, the narrative jumped back and forth through time in a sometimes disorienting manner that paid off by film’s end. Though a bit of a departure for the filmmaker, he has produced no less compelling a film with Voice Over, which follows various narrative streams as it examines the dynamics of an extended family.

Anchoring the story are two adult sisters, Sofia (Ingrid Isensee) and Ana (María José Siebald), deeply entrenched in a passive-aggressive rivalry. Ana is married with an infant child, Sofia divorced with two children, Roman and Alicia, ages approximately 8 and 10. Sofia works from home as a voice over actress and needs her kids to not only turn on her equipment but also read text messages from their father because she has taken a “disconnection vow.” voiceAna has moved back home from France, as her new French husband needs financial assistance while he works on translating a book. Meanwhile, the sisters’ mother (Paulina García) and father (Cristián Campos) have entered a tumultuous period in their 35-year-old relationship. He wants to take a break from the marriage and uses the same explanation Sofia used to explain the dissolution of her marriage: “It’s like food that has been left out of the refrigerator to rot.” Sofia takes umbrage, ordering him not to tell that to anyone because they will all think she gave him the idea to separate.

Voice Over is filled with humor that feeds off that special emotional baggage that only comes with years of family life. It never feels like these relatives are at the others’ throats. A profound — though often turbulent — love still permeates their behavior. The film walks a nice tightrope of affection and rivalry among these loved ones. Appropriately, it’s more primal between Sophia’s children. The two play “teacher,” which the mother encourages. In this game, Alicia helps her little brother learn to read. However, when the adults are not looking, she relishes the opportunity to “punish” her little brother when he mispronounces words with smack to the head that smashes his face into the book. This dichotomy manifests itself in more subtle ways between family members in often hilarious, familiar ways.

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The performances have a warm, natural quality, reflected by the film’s distant, omniscient handheld camera work by Inti Briones. Jiménez, who co-wrote the scrip with Daniel Castro, is more interested in the family unit and its dynamics rather than focusing on personal, emotional issues. It’s the chemistry of the players that keep the film funny and interesting from start to finish. The movie’s title also works better in its native language, as the film shows great interest in how the family communicates through behavior, from the physicality of the children to the passive aggressive rivalry between the sisters. Sofia and Ana also gossip about rumors of what their father may have done to upset the status of the family, reflecting on what appears to be incriminating early retirement and rumors of sexual harassment or that he might be gay. The drama is all about ghosts and baggage, and as we learn by the film’s end, nothing is ever as complex and banal as the truth.

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Though I have seen four films since my previous post (Day 1 of film going at Miami International Film Fest: a test of the preposterous), Voice Over is the only film I can write about, for now. It was a lovely movie and should see a return to theaters in the States some time later this year, as it will be distributed by Outsider Pictures. In the past two days, I have attended three screenings as a juror for the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award. I cannot comment on those films. However, it’s interesting to note that Voice Over‘s director won the prize at the 2012 Miami International Film Festival for Bonsái. So far, the films the jury has seen includes Cut Snake, from Australia; Love at First Fight (Les combattants), a Florida premiere from France; and 3 Beauties, a North American premiere from Venezuela. Monday afternoon, I also sat down with the director of Posthumous, Lulu Wang, a graduate of Miami’s New World School of the Arts, for an article that will appear shortly in the Miami New Times. That film is having its North American premiere at the festival on March 13. I’ll leave you with the trailer:

Hans Morgenstern

The Miami International Film Festival provided a preview screener for Voice Over for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)