Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service. This month’s column is a bit different, however.
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Once again, the Denver International Film Festival (DIFF) is upon us: this year’s festival runs from November 12–23, and it will feature over 200 films and 150 guests. I have chosen a few films to preview here, and I hope it helps in wading through the program. Enjoy!
Stations of the Cross (2014)
This German film from director Dietrich Bruggerman does not tread lightly. The story follows a 14-year-old Fundamentalist Catholic girl named Maria who wishes to follow Jesus’ footsteps in the stations of the cross on her way to ending her life. She believes she can prove her love and devotion to God, and in the process, help her younger, mute brother. It is all very heavy material, and the film treats its themes with patience and reverence. There is no condemnation of organized religion; rather, the film takes a hard look at the people populating the religion and how they can twist everything around for their benefit. It is also an exercise in style: the film is broken into 14 chapters—one for every station—and each chapter is shot in a single take. The net effect is that we get to sit with the film for long periods of time, making our own judgments about the action and the people. The great realist films (such as the Italian Neorealists) employed this technique to allow us time to observe life, without the weight of editing and the possibility of manipulation. Stations of the Cross delivers realism and intelligence in a way that is both wonderfully simple and deliciously complicated.
Viva La Libertà (2013)
This political satire from director Roberto Ando stars Toni Servillo (from last year’s Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, The Great Beauty) as Enrico Olivieri, the leader of Italy’s main opposition party. When Enrico goes AWOL in Paris after a particularly bitter defeat, his party installs Enrico’s twin brother in the post. The problem is that Enrico’s twin brother is borderline mad, and he takes to the post with vigor and a dash of insanity. It all adds up to madcap comedy, a biting satire on the state of politics in Italy, and a statement about political parties everywhere. While the film can border on the absurd at times, the performance of Servillo, playing both brothers, carries the day. After Stations of the Cross, you might enjoy some lighter fare!
Cows Wearing Glasses (2014)
When respected artist and professor Marso is told he is about to go blind, he begins to re-examine his life—a life that was full of professional successes but bereft of personal connections. He tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter and find some meaning in his new life, and he does so with humor and wit. This Puerto Rican film from first-time writer/director Alex Santiago Perez is quirky, witty, touching, and very human. Daniel Lugo stars as the cranky and thoughtful Marso, and he delivers a touching performance in this very well-written and smart film. Puerto Rico does not have a particularly virile film industry of its own, so it is encouraging to see such a solid film come from the island. We hope to see more such promising films.
El Critico (2013)
Tellez is a respected film critic who hates most films, especially romantic comedies. He believes the cinema is dying and most films are too formulaic and shallow. Then, after a chance encounter with a beautiful young woman, art and life begin to bleed into one another and his life becomes the romantic comedy he so despises. This is a clever and thoughtful film and a special treat for the cinephile. Yet another film from a first-time writer/director in Argentina, Hernán Guerschuny, it displays the steady hand of a seasoned, veteran director and includes excellent performances from the major players as well as the secondary roles. The mark of a good film/filmmaker can be found in the secondary performances, and the players here are all very good. The film also presents a unique style to accompany the substance. It all adds up to an interesting, thoughtful, and thoroughly watchable romantic comedy.
When Under Fire: Shoot Back! (2014)
This fascinating German documentary tells the story of the famous “Bang Bang Club,” four young photographers who went into the black townships of South Africa during apartheid. They wished to chronicle the widespread violence, and they were very successful in doing so. Their pictures became famous and were featured in magazines all around the world, thus putting pressure on the South African regime to end their institutionalized racist policies. Their work came at great cost, however, as one of the four was killed and another took his own life. The film is quite economical and tells the story in the past tense with the help of interviews and the actual photographs. It is a compelling story and a worthwhile documentary.
For all show times, consult the entire schedule at www.denverfilm.org.