Mark your calendars: the Denver Film Festival runs from November 2 to 13 this year. Block the dates, schedule the babysitter, warm up by watching some great movies and shows, and look for my recommendations in next month’s column. Once tickets go on sale, however, a must-see at the festival is Klondike, a Ukrainian film that I was fortunate to see at the Berlin Film Festival in February. It will be the Ukrainian entry into the Oscar category for Best International Feature, and in my opinion, it is the best film (of any category) that I have seen so far this year. In conjunction with my own Department of English at MSU Denver, we are bringing director Maryna Er Gorbach to the festival. Stay tuned for more details, but if you see only one film this year, make it Klondike. Ticket packages are on sale now, individual tickets will be available later in the fall at denverfilm.org. I hope to see you there.
This month, I preview one new film, The Woman King, and one of the best shows on TV over the past decade, The Handmaid’s Tale. In honor of Klondike, women of color, oppressed women anywhere and women/mothers all over the world, I urge you to see these beautiful works of art. All three are difficult, brutal and sad, but also fulfilling, uplifting, and important. Enjoy.
The Woman King (2022)
Simply put, this film is a winner. It is no simple production, no simple story and no simple feat of filmmaking, yet the result is dense, provocative, and dazzling. Starring Viola Davis as the fierce warrior Nanisca, it tells the story of the East African kingdom of Dahomey and the women warriors who help defend it. Set in the 1820s, the times are changing for the Dahomey, and the American slave trade is one of the major factors. The traders strike a deal with a neighboring tribe, and it seems likely that the Dahomey will be obliterated by the larger, well-funded, well-armed, and ruthless killers. Based on a true story, the sprawling production gives us everything we want in a great movie. And so much more.
While Viola Davis does Viola Davis things, the entire cast is up to her (very high) standard. Lashana Lynch as Izogie steals every scene she’s in, oscillating between sweet big sister, fiery warrior, and tenacious teacher. She takes the young, wayward Nawi (played by a snappy Thuso Mbedu) under her wing and turns her into one of the best fighters. Sheila Atim as Amenza, Nanisca’s second-in-command, is also dazzling as Nanisca’s confidante and sounding board. John Boyega as King Ghego shakes off his Star Wars boyish naivete and gives a strong performance as the King of the Dahomey. If you have kept up with these pages, you know I believe that a stellar secondary cast is the mark of a great director, and we have that here in Gina Prince-Blythewood.
Beyond the acting, however, the overall production is top-notch. The direction and staging are outstanding, and corralling such a large cast with so many battle sequences is no easy task. Prince-Blythewood handles it all marvelously. The cinematography is both beautiful and brutal, giving us the bloody battles and the serenity of the landscapes. Those landscapes and the magnificent colors pay homage to the great African director Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese legend who highlighted the plight of African women in many of his films. Here, the women are no longer the depraved, however; if it were an actual word, they would be the praved.
I rarely review movies that are already out in the theaters before the first of each month, nor movies that mainstream outlets cover. This inspiring movie, however, is the rare exception that dazzles in both the art houses as well as the multiplexes. It is important and political but is also just damn fun.
You will enjoy this if you liked Moolaadé, Black Panther, and/or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 6—Hulu)
For those who have not yet seen the show, now is the perfect time to start. For those of you who have followed along, now is the perfect time to rewatch the final episodes from last season to prime you for this one. There were only a few episodes available to preview at press time, but it is clear that the show delivers on its past promise and continues the epic saga.
Spoiler alert: with Commander Waterford out of the picture, the season is shaping up to be a battle of wits and wills between June and Serena. The first episode telegraphs it, and joyously so for faithful watchers. Seeing the fantastic Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski duel is one of the show’s highlights. The spectacular production values that have been a show staple also soldier on. Is there a return to Gilead in the offering? Stay tuned.
“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.”
You will like this if you enjoyed the first five seasons.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D. is a Film and Media Studies Professor at MSU Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter. For more reviews, search The Indie Prof at FrontPorchNE.com.