weiner

The 33rd edition of Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival featured some strong movies, including at least a couple of films that this writer will remember by this year’s end as some of the best cinema had to offer in 2016. It might seem to early to recognize this, but when a movie makes you feel this way, it’s a rare and undeniable sensation. You just know when you see a masterstroke of cinema. That said, films that were not so inspiring were also easy to spot. Though, I can’t say I saw any all out stinkers this year.

Probably the most brilliant film of the final days of the festival was a documentary (to read about earlier films we’ve seen, check our previous article: The 33rd Miami International Film Festival – so far). Weiner follows disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, who was done in by his apparent compulsion to flirt and sext with young supporters. He resigned from his long-held seat in Congress in 2011, went into consulting work, but then made a bid for mayor of New York City, in 2013. The documentary looks back on this campaign, as it imploded due to the same kind of scandal that forced him out of Congress.

Weiner is a tragi-comic account on various levels. Filmmaker Josh Kriegman and his co-director, Elyse Steinberg, hold nothing back, while documenting the politician’s failed return to politics. It’s sad for the good intentions that inform his policy and for what he puts Huma Abedin, his wife and mother of their 2-year-old son, through, as the cameras relentlessly document every detail of the campaign falling apart, as yet another sexting scandal emerges. Yet Kriegman and Steinberg find the humor throughout. Every scene is brilliantly edited to heighten comic timing. In a Q&A after the screening, I asked Kriegman why he would use such a jokey tone to cut the film. He noted that he has known Weiner since before he married Abedin, a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton. Kriegman then went on to say the film’s tone was a reflection of his subject, noting Weiner actually has a sense of humor about it all. Although, Kriegman admitted, neither Abedin nor Weiner have seen the final film.

Josh Kriegman and Thom Powers

Thom Powers, the festival’s documentary programmer (pictured to Kriegman’s left on stage in the image above) said we were only the third audience to have seen Weiner, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year. It blew away critics and audiences at that festival, coming away with the Grand Jury Prize. Sundance Selects has since picked it up, and it will hit theaters in May.

Less likely to hit commercial theaters is The King of Havana, a rather grim story that unfolds in Havana (but was shot in the Dominican Republic) during the early ‘90s. It was known as a period of especially harsh destitution for the population of Cuba, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Agusti Villaronga’s adaptation of Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s novel follows Rey (Maykol David Tortoló), a young man who is sent to a juvenile prison after being falsely accused in the deaths of some family members. After he escapes, he embraces a hard scramble life on the streets of Havana and takes to his name (it means “king” in Spanish) despite it all, thanks to his only natural rich endowment: a large cock.

The gritty and episodic nature of the film recalls Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1981). There’s humor to be found, and the life and energy the lead actors bring to the film is incredibly charming, especially in the triangle of affection between Rey, his “wife” Magda (Yordanka Ariosa) and his transgender friend Yunisleidi (Héctor Medina). Some of the supporting performances, especially at the beginning, don’t measure up, however, setting up the film for an uphill battle to win over the audience’s suspension of disbelief. But it’s still a strong film, as it builds toward an inevitably tragic finale, punctuated by a disturbingly bleak end note for our hero.

Speaking of grim finales, the final film that I caught at the festival was Chronic by Mexican director Michel Franco, whose filmmaking style I fell in love with two festivals ago with After Lucia (Film Review: ‘After Lucia’ holds unflinching lens to bullying). With his first English language film, he stays true to his style, even opening the film from the view of a car dashboard. Though, here, the resonance of the shot is a bit diminished, considering the plot hardly involves a car, unlike After Lucia. The static, stationary shots focus on the complex personality of a nurse (Tim Roth) who assists patients in need of daily at home care. He seems to find great fulfillment in caring for these people, and the long shots capture that marvelously. However, there’s a profound loss of persona away from the patients, which oozes out of him in creepy ways. It’s a testament to both Roth’s performance and Franco’s style.

Franco was present at the screening, who spoke about getting to know the woman who took care of his grandmother in her final years. He said she inspired him to write the script. He said he met Roth at Cannes, when the actor was the president of the 2012 Certain Regard jury, which awarded its prize to After Lucia. He said Roth told him if he could make the nurse a man, he would be happy to play the role for free. And the rest was history.

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There were two more films I caught at the end of the festival that were less interesting though I would not exactly call them bombs. The closing night movie, The Steps by Canadian director Andrew Currie, featuring James Brolin, Jason Ritter and Christine Lahti was as predictable as it could be for a family drama that begs for its characters to connect and come to terms with their differences at the end. That doesn’t mean the journey to the film’s conclusion wasn’t sometimes fun. There were some hilarious moments that kept the film engaging to its warm and fuzzy ending. But it’s still just one of those minor movies that one will forget having seen, come next year.

Then there was the Spanish “comedy about life,” Truman, featuring a pair of Spanish language cinema’s most well-known actors, Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara. It’s an over-long, meandering film, featuring a pair of friends who argue with a modest, even tone. It speaks to a friendship between guys that hardly scratches their emotional surface, even when faced with the fact that one of them is dying. It’s an admirable premise, but it begs for a more distinctive touch in writing and directing by Cesc Gay. It never seems to rise to what is supposed to be a climactic touch that speaks to the film’s title, which refers to one of the friends’ dog. It’s a sweet film, at times, but like The Steps, not quite as memorable a movie.

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The awards were handed out on Saturday night. It concluded with a party in the posh Brickell area of Downtown Miami, where the audience award winners were tallied after the closing night film. The short film winner was “Tracks” and the feature film winner ended up being a tie between the Spanish comedy Spy Time and the Cuban drama The Companion. We’ll leave you with the breakdown of the other winners, from the festival’s penultimate press release, summing up one of the most exciting festivals I have seen or been a part of since I’ve been attending in the mid-1990s.

KNIGHT COMPETITION, presented by The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation

Jury members Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Selton Mello and Trey Edward Shults selected the winners.

  • Knight Grand Jury Prize: Dheepan (France), produced by Pascal Caucheteux and Jacques Audiard
  • Grand Jury Award Best Performance: Zhao Tao in Mountains May Depart (China)
  • Grand Jury Award Best Director: Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster (Ireland/Greece)

KNIGHT DOCUMENTARY ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, presented by The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation

The Award winner was selected by the Festival audience.

  • Queen of Thursdays (USA), produced by Jorge Alvarez, Orlando Rojas and Dennis Scholl

LEXUS IBERO-AMERICAN FEATURE FILM COMPETITION

Jury members Carlos Lechuga,Leticia Tonos Paniagua and Kenny Riches selected the winning film.

  • Paulina (La patota) (Argentina), directed by Santiago Mitre

JORDAN ALEXANDER RESSLER SCREENWRITING AWARD

Jury members Rosa Bosch,Jorge Guerricaechevarria and Diego Lerman selected the winner. This special award recognizes and supports first-time produced screenwriters. Screenwriters from all feature films in the Festival that have a first-produced feature screenwriter credited, compete for a jury-selected cash prize of $5,000, courtesy of the family of the late Jordan Alexander Ressler.

  • Lorenzo Vigas for From Afar (Venezuela/Mexico)

Earlier in the week, four other major Festival awards were presented:

Shorts Competition

The latest in films 30 minutes or less from around the globe, the jury-selected winner received a $2,500 cash prize.

  • “The Man of My Life” (France) directed by Melanie Delloye

MIAMI ENCUENTROS presented by Knight Foundation

The winning project in post-production received the Achievement Award, which includes a $10,000 cash prize.

  • The Candidate (Uruguay), produced by Micaela Sole and Daniel Hendler

Miami Film 2016 presented by The Related Group

Three prizes were awarded to Argentine films in development.

  • Diego Lerman for A Sort of Family
  • Gonzalo Tobal for Dolores
  • Camilla Toker for The Death of Marga Maier

CINEMASLAM

Jury members Carla Forte, Giancarlo Loffredo and Alouishous San Gomma selected the winner in the Miami student film competition.

  • “I Want To Beat Up Clark Peters” by Joseph Picozzi (University of Miami’s School of Communications)

Hans Morgenstern

Except for the photos of Weiner director Josh Kriegman in conversation with Thom Powers, all images were provided by the Miami International Film Festival. The festival also provided tickets to all screenings.

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

After Lucia poster EnglishA bold and important film debuted in Miami during the Miami International Film Festival in March that only recently found a distributor. The Miami Beach Cinematheque will host an encore, one-night only screening of the Mexican film After Lucia as the film continues to build word-of-mouth buzz ahead of what will hopefully be a wider release in art houses across the U.S. It’s a timely film, as After Lucia, a raw story about bullying gone awry, dwells on the self-perpetuation of violence within a prescient social landscape involving high-tech gadgets.

Every once in a while, as the news cycle turns, the media jumps on what feels like the same story of pretty young teenage girls crucified in social media for simply being victims:  Audrie Pott, Phoebe Prince, the recent Steubenville High School gang rape of a classmate that put some young, hopeful football players in jail. In the case of Pott and Prince it ended in suicide. And these are the stories that make it into the national media on slow news days. It’s become the sort of selective case of coverage for an epidemic. Like cases of missing children, it always seems to be happening but rarely becomes the focused, general interest of national news coverage.

In the Pott and Steubenville cases, the girls were raped and photos of their naked, incapacitated bodies were shared by other students on social media who judged with cold, primal distance, which only seems to enforce the Hobbesian view that man is inherently evil. cake045178What better stage of human growth to reinforce that theory but during that almost lycanthropic transformation from childhood innocence to jaded adulthood we call the teen years. Enhancing the matter further is the filter of cyber-space that encourages disconnection further with a sense of disembodiment that denies true, human, empathetic relations.

Those real-life cases mentioned earlier happen to be the ones the media had been obsessing over when After Lucia premiered in Miami at the Miami International Film Festival to a pair of sell-out screenings. What’s amazing is how unsensational After Lucia handles the topic but also goes beyond by looking at the filter of real life via technology like cell phones and social media, though they only appear as tiny props in the distance, focusing instead on human behavior as a result of interaction with these tools.

The film takes off cryptically, with a man picking up a car from a repair shop and then abandoning it in the middle of the street, the keys still inside. Director Michel Franco takes his time to reveal that this is the mournful Roberto (Hernán Mendoza) who lost his wife in a car accident, leaving him and his daughter Alejandra (Tessa Ia) to pick up their roots from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City. p_271415The title calls attention to the fact that the father and daughter at the center of the film are a family missing an important component: a mother. Already the odds seem stacked against them, as the despondent father can hardly keep it together while his daughter chooses to hold her school troubles to herself and not burden the father further.

Franco composes the film with small vignettes. It gives the movie a day-in-the-life quality more real than reality TV shows. And all these scenes demand attention for an insightful pay-off that comes toward the end, referencing the loss of Lucia that also ties in with the “share” culture of the Internet. Franco does not employ any extra-diegetic music, hardly cuts between characters in a scene (if at all) and most everything takes place in distant, medium shots.  Franco saves devices like close-ups for choice moments of emphasis like the instance Alejandra receives her first text message after she is emailed a video clip of her having sex with one of the boys at school that reads, “Hola, puta.” And it’s downhill from there in a drama that will test the limits of unflinching cruelty beset on Ale by the relentless young mob, filled with human, intriguingly complex characters.

Franco, who also wrote the screenplay, presents a stark perspective by allowing the story to unfold across brief, efficient scenes with a static camera often set in a corner watching. After-Lucia-3-e1365862455169The voyeuristic quality of these scenes implicates the audience, as the bullying and harassment only grows crueller and crueller. This is your world. Furthering that, what are you going to do about it? It’s about passivity that is reflected in various characters in the film. The despondent Roberto remains ignorant to the bullying of his daughter for much of the film. Ale hardly seems to stand up for herself. To a more unnerving degree, neither does anyone else. Others often join in with the remorseless gang of kids that closes in on this helpless young woman, following a sort of cold, reptilian call to eat the weakened. The cold, distant cinematic aesthetic only serves to enhance the horrific scenes that build toward a finale that may seem cathartic to some and hopeless to others.

Franco’s efficient filmmaking style forces the audience to use its own subjective judgments as to what exactly is wrong or right about what these characters are doing. As Shakespeare once wrote, “After-Lucia-Tessa-IaThere is something rotten in the state of Denmark.” A violent society is a violent society, whether it’s Mexico or the U.S. The lack of value for life stands out in After Lucia, especially in a shocking ending most will find difficult to fathom while still receiving a visceral thrill. That a film can play with such mixed emotions is testament to the director’s patient craftsmanship.

Franco plays with cinema in a deliberate fashion that recalls David Cronenberg’s work with A History of Violence and many of the films of Michael Haneke. He knows how to let a scene linger in order to allow the aftermath to settle under the skin of the audience. It ends on a stark, drawn out, minimalist note that places the responsibility on the audience to wake up and notice that violence begets violence. It’s a brilliant movie by a director who understands how to harness cinema’s subjective power to a level that invites self-reflection. The stark motionless, observational camera sitting in the corner of many scenes is meant to be us. How we react to the scenes is up to us.

Hans Morgenstern

After Lucia runs 103 min., is in Spanish with English subtitles and is not rated (mature teens would do well to attend, though). It plays in South Florida for one night only: Thursday, Oct. 10, at 9:30 p.m., at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, as part of the theater’s “Cinephile’s Choice” series. It premiered in South Florida at this year’s Miami International Film Festival, during which I was invited to a preview screening by the film’s French distributor, BAC Films. For updates on the film’s appearance in the U.S., follow its distributor, Pantelion Films, here.

Update: The movie went direct-to-video in the U.S. It’s streaming on Netflix now.

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