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November is Denver International Film Festival (DIFF) month, and so our column takes a break from the normal reviews as we look at several selections from the Festival. If you love films or you are just a casual fan, this is the best time of the year for film-going in Denver! DIFF takes place from Nov. 1–12 this year, and the selections are once again fantastic. There is something for everyone: big films with big stars, older films, and gems from all over the globe. I prefer the films we don’t get to see elsewhere very often: (slightly) obscure foreign films, documentaries, and shorts. I have included short reviews of such films. For a full program, check out the Denver Film Society’s website at denverfilm.org.
Under the Tree (Iceland—2017)
The films from Iceland have always struck me as very much the product of the island itself: dark, quirky, humorous, and insightful. Despite the intermittent harsh weather, there is an underlying warmth that pervades the people and the island, and that dichotomy comes through in most of its films. Under the Tree is no exception.
The story begins as Antli is summarily kicked out of his house and not allowed to see his daughter. He moves in with his parents in a seemingly tranquil suburb, but they have their own problems with a neighbor, about a tree. It seems the large tree is throwing shade on the neighbors’ house, and they don’t like it. They’ve asked for a trim. It is all wonderful black comedy that provides insight into our own daily lives and the increasingly smaller world around us. This is exactly what DIFF is all about: we get a peek into cultures and societies we rarely see, and art from that world which may otherwise go unnoticed. You should notice it.
Shows at 9pm 11/9, 7pm 11/10, and 9pm 11/11 at the Sie Film Center.
Quality Time (Netherlands/Norway—2017)
If the films of Iceland track closely to the country itself, the same may be said of Dutch films. This new film from director Daan Bakker is stylish, quirky, irreverent, and cool. It tells the story of four young, contemporary men, all of whom are having trouble adjusting to adult life: Koen, represented only by a dot on the screen, almost overdoses on ham and milk at a family reunion; Stefaan, who takes up photography after a crisis; Kjell, who time-travels back to his childhood; and Karel, who is abducted by aliens and comes back as a mutant. Seriously.
Shows at 6:45pm 11/10, 4:35pm 11/11, and 7pm 11/12 at the Sie Film Center.
Strad Style (USA—2016)
In recent years, documentaries have become more accessible, more diverse, and more interesting. It is a golden age of documentaries and film festivals benefit from the plethora of material. As viewers, we are the ultimate beneficiaries. Strad Style is a perfect example of this dynamic: the story concerns Danny Houck, a reclusive Stradivarius enthusiast from Ohio who has somehow convinced a famous European violinist to engage him in making a copy of the famous violin.
The film is at times maddening and at time suspenseful; it is equal parts confounding and alluring. Are we being manipulated? Is our curiosity warranted? And how in the heck did we even get here in the first place? Perhaps the film delves deep into our yearning to be the underdog and chase comet-like success. Or perhaps it is just folly. Sounds a bit like life to me.
Shows at 4pm 11/3, 9:15pm 11/4, and 6:15pm 11/5 at the UA Pavilions Theater.
This is a disarming and surprising short film from Iran, one of the most verdant national cinemas in the world today. It starts simply enough, and then takes a quick turn into shocking territory. All I can tell you is that the main character works for a company that touches up American photographs, making them suitable for distribution in Iran. In one scene, we see her covering up Angelina Jolie’s bare arms in a publicity still. We get few more details about her job, which in and of itself brings up a plethora of political, social, and religious issues. And that isn’t even the focus of the story!
Shows at 4:15pm 9/11 and 1:45pm 9/12 as part of the Shorts 4 Program at the UA Pavilions.
The Incident (USA/Lebanon—2017)
This student entry from Lebanese-American director Meedo Taha is a fascinating Rashomon-esque story of a man and woman who are arrested after an incident at a bus stop. The witnesses, a busload of women on their way to the mosque, all have different accounts of the incident. What really happened? It is left for us to decide in this strong short film that meditates on the nature of truth in a crazy world.
Shows at 1:30pm 11/10 and 1:30pm 11/11 at the Sie Film Center.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.