Each month the Indie prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film or series available on DVD or an instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and movie reviews.
November is Denver International Film Festival month, and so our column takes a break from the normal reviews as we look at several selections from the Festival. For a full program, check out the Denver Film Society’s website at denverfilm.org.
The Last Family (2016)
This film comes to us from Poland and first-time director Jan P. Matuszynski. Like many of the great Polish films of the past few years, the cinematography is gorgeous, the acting is excellent, and the pacing is perfect. It also has a wonderful sense of humor and endearing characters who are both quirky and interesting. In short, the production values are all stellar.
Based on a true story, the film chronicles the life of Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski and his family—Zdzislaw, wife Zofia, and his son Tomasz. The film’s events were taken from Beksinski’s own family videos, photographs, audio recordings, and paintings. This is a masterful debut film from a talented new director. We will see more from him.
Plays 11/3, 11/4, and 11/5.
One Week and a Day (2016)
This gem from Israel and director Asaph Polonsky debuted at Cannes and won several awards at the Jerusalem Film Festival. More a character study than a visual feast, the film tells the story of Vicky and Eyal, finishing the last day of shiva for their recently-deceased son. The film takes place over the course of two days—the last day of shiva, and the first day following. As Vicky tries to get back to normalcy with work, errands, and shopping, Eyal struggles with his son’s death from cancer.
This is the type of comedy that does not have us laughing out loud. It is more cringe-worthy and poignant that outright funny. The opening scene speaks to that dynamic: we see Eyal engaged in what seems to be a tense game of ping-pong, only to find that his opponent is an 8 year-old boy. Eyal celebrates as if he were a worthy victor. The scene sets the tone for the film and leads us into Eyal’s life.
Plays 11/3, 11/6, and 11/7.
Old Stone (2016)
Another debut film, this one from Chinese-Canadian writer/director Johnny Ma. The film tells the story of Lao Shi, a taxi driver who accidentally hits a motorcyclist. The hit-and-run laws of China is a polemical issue: if the victim dies, the person need only pay a small fine; if the victim lives, however, that person must pay all of the medical bills. The crowd around Lao Shi urges him to flee the scene so he does not get in trouble. When medics do not arrive, however, Lao Shi attempts to do the right thing and takes the man to the hospital himself. That’s when his trouble starts.
The man falls into a coma and Lao Shi is forced to pay the medical bills. As the bills mount, he is ushered through a callous and indifferent legal and insurance maze that forces him to become increasingly desperate. The style of the film changes along with Lao Shi’s predicament: Neorealism turns into Film Noir. Of course when we think of Noir and taxis, Taxi Driver comes to mind. This is not Taxi Driver. But it could be.
Plays 11/9 and 11/12
Off the Rails (2016)
This debut documentary from Canadian director Adam Irving tells the story of Darius McCollum, a man with Asperberger’s syndrome who had a fascination with riding mass transit—a fascination that got him into major legal trouble over many years. As a young boy, he loved riding the trains of NYC, and conductors even taught him how to operate the trains. A joyriding charge when he was 15, however, disallowed him from working for the transit authority. He then went on to continually impersonate conductors, earning him over 30 arrests and 23 years in prison.
While the film stays close to McCollum, it also enters political territory at times: arguing for more mental health care support in our society. The film is best, however, when it is intimate with McCollum and it concentrates on his story. It is a fast-moving documentary, mirroring the fast-moving trains of his obsession. This is one doc you don’t want to miss at the Festival.
Plays 11/3, 11/5, and 11/6.
This is another debut feature film: this one from director Maisie Crow. And don’t be surprised to see this up for an Academy Award. It tells the story of the last abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi through three primary figures: the director of the clinic, a prominent anti-abortion figure in Mississippi, and a young mother who finds she is pregnant.
While these three figures get plenty of screen time, the film also delves into the religious, historical, economic, social, and racial issues surrounding them. It is a dense film for its economical 92 minute run time. Director Crow, with just two shorts to her credit, shows a masterful touch as she puts together an intricate film about a polemical issue.
Plays 11/3, 11/5, and 11/6.