MIAMI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL’S FRENETIC FERVOR
With its usual glamour and excitement, The 33rd Annual Miami Dade College – Miami International Film Festival, “MIFF” (March 4 – March 13, 2016), once again brought film buffs and movie lovers, film directors, screenwriters, and actors, together to view and review 129 films from 40 countries. These independent and foreign language films, documentaries and shorts, covered an array of subjects guaranteed to stimulate the senses and please the crowds that packed several theaters around town, as well as the star-studded opening night gala and closing night celebration. Every film described in the catalogue sounded fabulous so Stewart’s and my biggest dilemma was deciding which of the many films to see. So, with our time limited and our desire to avoid traffic, we selected those playing at the Regal Theater on South Beach. These are a sampling of the films we saw. Surprisingly, our favorite turned out to be a made-in-America feature film with Academy Award winning Hollywood actors. Our ratings, based on the 1-5 scale (5 being the most loved), are personal opinions not reflective of other reviews.
Cemetery of Splendor – (Thailand, English subtitles). In Cemetery of Splendor, a new film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, an older Thai woman with one leg shorter than the other, volunteers her time to sit in a hospital room with soldiers who returned from the military with a strange sleeping disorder that causes them to wake for a short period of time before they suddenly fall back to sleep. A young psychic joins her and the film takes on a serene tone with repetitive visuals, including a few that totally escape my grasp of the culture and esoteric meanings of what the film conveyed. As a result I could not fully appreciate the intent and could not relate to the people or their sensibilities. Both Stewart and I rated this film a 1.
Memories of the Sea (Brazil, English subtitles), a short film directed by Thais Drassinower. At the wedding of his mother and her new husband, Fidel, a six year old boy, suddenly realizes that his father will not be returning home to him. A sweet film that has the potential of being full-length. Stewart rated this film a 2, I rated it a 3.
Restless Love (Brazil, English subtitles). Three best friends in their early thirties, Diego, who is gay, Micaela who is a lesbian, and Julia, who is straight, support one another as each one individually faces romantic-relationship issues. Written and directed by Vera Egito, the film, taking place in Sao Paulo, captured the angst and camaraderie on a universal level. The characters were all likable and easy to relate to. Not a great film, but easy to watch and enjoy. Stewart and I both rated this film a 3, although I thought it deserved a 3-1/2 (but did not have the 1/2 option).
The Meddler (American, English) starring Susan Sarandon, J.K. Simmons, Rose Byrne. This full-length feature film is about a widowed woman (Susan Sarandon) from Brooklyn, NY, who follows her single daughter to Los Angeles and meddles in her daughter’s life, as well as everyone else’s. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, this film does a great job capturing the essence of a mother-daughter dynamic in a way that had the entire audience laughing out loud throughout. Stewart and I both rated this film a 5.
Spy Time (Spain, English subtitles), directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera. This tongue in cheek spoof of Secret Agent type films is about Anacleto – a sausage farmer who has kept his identity as a renowned “secret agent” from his son, who is now 30, a security guard with a girlfriend who is bored with his dull existence. When a criminal escapes from his transport van and threatens to kill Anacleto and his son, Anacleto reveals his true profession to his son and his son joins him to help capture Vazquez, the criminal Anacleto had locked up over thirty years ago. This film had some very funny and clever scenes. Stewart and I both rated this film a 3.
Our Last Tango (Argentina, in English). Documentarian German Kral chronicles the seven-decade career of Argentine Tango legends Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves. Her life story, told wistfully by Maria Nieves now 80 years old, goes into her strong attraction and love for Juan Carlos Copes, her dance partner. Although they tried to be a romantic couple, according to him, he couldn’t stand being with her outside of their dancing and married another woman and had children with her. However, Maria, who never married said she doesn’t regret anything because the Tango fulfilled her. This film was repetitive and uninspiring, although some of the Tango dancing was nice to watch. Stewart rated this film a 1, I rated it a 2.
Two Friends (France, English subtitles), directed by and starring Louis Garrell as one of the friends, and Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as Mona. Mona, on conditional parole where she spends her nights at a prison where she must clock in and out, and her days working in a train-station sandwicherie, attracts two friends who physically force her off the train going back to her prison and coerce her into spending time with them. One friend is “madly in love” with Mona and slashes his wrists when she dismisses his advances and the other sleeps with her although his sexual orientation is dubious, even to himself. Although I’m guessing the film meant to show both humor and pathos, it’s disheartening to see two grown men so pathetically intertwined with one another’s misguided psyches. Stewart and I both rated this film a 1.
The Surprise (Netherlands – with Dutch, Belgian and Indian actors – English subtitles), directed by Mike van Diem, starring Jeroen van Koningsbrugge as Jacob and Georgina Verbaan as Anne. Jacob, the heir to a vast fortune who lives in extreme luxury, has no emotions; they shut down at the age of 4 when his father unexpectedly died. When his elderly mother dies, he (Jacob) sees no reason to continue his life and contracts with a “special” funeral home that terminates the lives of people who request their service. Offered different methods of death, Jacob chooses to be surprised. Then, at this funeral home, while selecting a coffin for himself, he meets Anne, a young woman who leads him to believe that she, too, signed up for this arrangement. Predictably, the two fall in love and then the twists and turns of this story come alive. I tried to see the humor in this Black Comedy, but the characters were not particularly engaging, the movie was too long and at times slapstick silly. Stewart and I both rated this film a 2.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (USA, English), a documentary (for HBO) directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey about the life of controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe from his rise to fame to his early death. From a Roman Catholic family living in Queens, NY, Mapplethorpe graduated from Pratt University as an artist. In 1970, using a Polaroid camera, Mapplethorpe began taking pictures of his friends and the S&M scene in New York. His large-scale highly stylized black and white photographs were shown in NY galleries and museums, and he achieved recognition and success for his shocking portrayal of homoeroticism – and fueled a national debate over the public funding of controversial artwork. The documentary provided some insight into Mapplethorpe’s self-centered personality, his family conflicts, and his friendship with legendary performer Patti Smith. Although Mapplethorpe started a multi-million dollar Foundation to promote photography as an art form and raise funds for AIDS research, Robert Mapplethorpe died from AIDS when he was only 43. The documentary showed many of the pictures Mapplethorpe was famous for, but it was too long and became tedious. Stewart rated this film a 1, I rated it a 2.
All in all, Stewart and I totally enjoyed being immersed in the world of fantasy, creativity and artistry. We look forward to the 34th Annual Miami Dade College – MIAMI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.