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AFIDOCS Reviews Part Two

Saturday was a full day, and I had not thought I was choosing films with a theme, but at the end of the day I realized it was a day about strong women. And it was a day of mostly strong filmmaking. Sunday, the final day of the festival turned out to be a day of films about the importance of community. And when it was all over, I was exhausted, but as usual my head is now full of ideas and new heroes, and I’m very thankful for the Girl Power on the screen.

AFIDOCS Reviews Part One

Another Year at AFIDOCS. Four days of back to back documentary films in Washington, DC (and Silver Spring, MD, though we stayed downtown this year.) We’ve been going since 2014 and each year has a different feel. Mainstream Chick and I saw a few together, but quite a few films only one of us saw, so check back to see her takes, or head to the Cinema Clash Podcast for our post-fest discussion. This time the festival felt pared down, though there were some amazing films.  I was particularly interested in the films about women and girls and was not disappointed. There were a few happy surprises and I was left with a lot of questions and inspiration.

Lost in Paris Review

And the award for this year’s best slap-stick movie goes to … Lost In Paris, hands down! And though I’m not really a fan of most modern slap-stick, I loved this film. In it librarian Fiona (Fiona Gordon) who lives in the icy north of Canada receives a letter from her favorite Aunt who lives in Paris asking for her help, so she jumps at the chance and heads to France only to find Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva) MIA. And then after losing all her possessions in an accidental plunge into the Seine, she meets kooky hobo Dom (Dominique Abel) who decides to help her find Martha, whether she wants him to or not. He is smitten. She’s desperate.

The Women’s Balcony Review

Right now is a great time for Israeli cinema. In the past month I’ve seen The Wedding Plan and Past Life, and now comes The Women’s Balcony. (And Wonder Woman Gal Gadot is an Israeli, too.) And what do they all have in common, besides speaking Hebrew? They’re all about strong women. And they’re all worth seeing.

Past Life Review

Set in Jerusalem in 1977 and based on a true story, Past Life is a tangle of secrets. Safe in Israel after escaping the Nazis during World War II, Dr. Baruch Milch (Doron Tavori) has raised a family and is a successful gynecologist. But when his youngest daughter Sephi (Joy Rieger) is invited to Berlin to sing at a concert, his peaceful life is turned upside down. A Polish woman (Katarzyna Gniewkowska) accosts her and tells her that her father is a murderer. Back at home, she doesn’t immediately tell him about the experience, but she does tell her older sister Nana (Nelly Tagar) who’s a liberal journalist and who is determined to get to the truth of the story. The sisters have never really talked with their Holocaust survivor parents about their wartime experiences, and their sudden interest uncovers painful and sad memories and exposes the sisters’ unspoken emotions regarding their father. And throughout the girls’ investigation, you have no idea which way it’s going to go, but you can feel that Sephi is truly afraid of what she’ll find.

God of War Review

In this historical epic from China, you get it all – Samurai, Pirates, Shaolin Warrior Monks, battles galore, and kick-ass female fighters, too. Based on a true story, during the Ming dynasty (the 16th century) China’s coast was being invaded by pirates. They were pillaging and terrorizing the local communities and the Emperor was not pleased. He sent army after army to take them on, but they were usually out-manned and out-maneuvered. Then a young general by the name of Qi Jiguang risked his life and reputation on some outside the box strategies that his wise superior Yu Dayou allowed him to pursue. And they kicked those pirates out once and for all. God of War is a pretty faithful and action packed retelling of that story. Gordon Chan (known for Jackie Chan and Jet Li flix) directs, so you know it won’t be just a bunch of dialogue in subtitles.

The Wedding Plan

In this fun little chick flick from Israel, Michal (Noa Kooler) is finally getting married. She has the fiancé, the wedding hall, and has invitations ready to go out for the big day. But just when it seems she’s destined to become a married woman, her groom decides he doesn’t really love her. Devastated, she heads to a matchmaker and starts dating a series of men, thinking that one of them must be her intended. And she doesn’t cancel her plans to get married on the eighth night of Hanukkah, so she has a month to find Mr. Right. Being an Orthodox Jew, she puts it in God’s hands to find her a husband by the day of the wedding. Of course, everyone thinks she is totally nuts!

Cézanne et Moi

Cézanne et Moi offers a view of a friendship that spanned nearly a lifetime. It’s the story of the bond formed in an Aix-en-Provence childhood between two great artists of the late 19th century, painter Paul Cézanne and writer Émile Zola. Surprisingly devoid of paintings and writing, it’s mostly about the men’s relationship. There are warm moments you recognize as signs of a deep friendship but also painful scenes of betrayal. Not terribly deep, it’s an entertaining trip through the Paris art world as the world is leaving behind the Impressionists, as seen by one of the great post-Impressionists whose work was not yet recognized for its greatness and a writer on the rise.

Toni Erdmann

This father-daughter dramedy/farce from German director Maren Ade may clock in at 162 minutes, but I never got bored and it certainly didn’t drag. The film starts with a familiar premise, but doesn’t go to the sentimental or obvious places you’re expecting. It pits Ines (Sandra Hüller), an über-focused young corporate consultant, against her semi-retired dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek) who just loves a good gag or practical joke. He drops in for an unannounced visit with Ines and tries to get her to loosen up and have a life, and all she wants is for him to go home so she can get back to business. Though it does lead to a happy ending, the journey is full of absurd scenes and uncomfortable moments.

Frantz

French writer/director François Ozon has made some of my favorite films these last few years. With The New Girlfriend, In the House,  and Potiche he’s shown himself to be very adept with comedy and unusual situations. But with his new film Frantz, he enters the realm of historical drama and shows he is equally skilled in more serious films. A semi-remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, it’s set just after the first World War, in a small German town. It’s the story of Anna (Paula Beer), a beautiful, young German woman whose fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) died in the war and Adrien (Pierre Niney), a sad young Frenchman, who comes to town having been close friends with Frantz in Paris before the war. She discovers him as he is laying flowers on Frantz’s grave, and he becomes a source of happy memories for her and for Frantz’s grieving parents.