The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival starts tonight and runs through October 18─here are ARThound’s favs
The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF38) is upon us─it kicks off this evening with two opening night films─Tom Hopper’s The Danish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight─ and an always opulent gala afterwards at Marin Country Mart. The festival runs full force (11AM to 10PM) for the next 10 days at several Marin venues, all within close range of Sonoma County.
Even with the catalog in hand, a 60 pager, redesigned to make it easier to figure out, it takes time and planning to decide which of the 170+ films and special programs to attend. Long-time programmers Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin and Karen Davis are so tuned in to our North Bay tastes, every film is a de facto good choice but I’ll point to some standouts.
I have a soft spot for world cinema that delivers a great story (the quirkier the better) and takes me to a (beautifully-filmed) place I’ve never been. I also love documentaries that expose and inspire. There are always a handful of films from Cannes and some that represent foreign language Oscar nominees. As for the tributes and special programs, if you have the time, go to as many as possible. Every special program I’ve attended at this festival has been well worth the extra money and I’ve been inspired to do wonderful things as a result. In 2012, after seeing Luc Besson’s amazing bio-pic, The Lady, and hearing guest Michelle Yeoh interviewed about playing Burmese activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, I visited Myanmar for two weeks and experienced it on the brink of its transformation. I got involved with supporting a school and I visited Suu Kyi’s family home in a posh suburb of Yangon─it was surrounded a high wall─and left flowers in tribute.
These are my recommendations for this year’s not-to-miss films and events─
Embrace of the Serpent:
Thirty-four year-old Columbian director Ciro Guerra is no stranger to Cannes. His 2009 drama The Wind Journeys, which competed in the Uncertain Regard category, was filmed in some 80 locations all over Columbia and tracked a musician’s restorative journey to return an accordion. His Embrace of the Serpent took this year’s Directors’ Fortnight prize at Cannes which is the top Art Cinema prize and it’s Columbia’s submission to foreign-language Oscar category. Rich is the only way to describe the rare Amazonian languages you’ll hear and the exquisite black and white photography of fabled Amazonian landscapes. The story unfolds from point of view of European explorer and a Shaman who work over the course of some 40 years to search for a sacred healing plant. The thoughtful film delivers a fairly comprehensive critique of the destruction of indigenous cultures at the hands of white invaders. Cast member Brionne Davis in attendance. (Ciro Guerra, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, 2015, 125 min)
The first feature film shot in Myanmar and a first feature for it its director, Brian Perkins, too, Golden Kingdom is a prescient widow into the culture of this remote fabled land. This is the story of four young boy monks, all orphans (played by non-professional actors), who are left alone in a monastery in Shan State in Northeast Myanmar when their elderly head monk receives a letter and takes off on a journey. The film cleverly uses the Buddhist motif of pursuit of enlightenment and knowledge and traditional Burmese storytelling to explore the unknown and overwhelming new world the boys encounter as they decide to leave and venture out into the countryside, only to encounter a land that is still engaged in remnants of a violent separatist uprising. (Brian Perkins, US, 2015, 103 min) in Burmese (10/13 5PM; 10/15 2PM Sequoia 1)
When’s the last time you saw a film from Iceland or heard their language, Íslenska (Icelandic), spoken? Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams, winner of the Uncertain Regard Prize at Cannes, weaves the story of two brothers, both single and getting on in years, who compete fiercely each year for valley-wide recognition for having the best ram. They haven’t spoken in 40 years but are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to their hearts—their sheep. Shot in remote lush valleys of Iceland, with added color in the peculiar characters of the two brothers, the film is also infused with some Norse humor. (Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland, 2015, 93 min)
We’ve all heard of young girls cloistered away to protect their virginity and make them marriage worthy by their tradition-bound families. Here’s Turkish female director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s take on this. Mustang weaves a story of five young carefree Turkish girls, all orphans, who under the “protection” of their grandmother and uncle, are punished severely for being seen at the beach interacting with boys in what is interpreted as an indecent act by townspeople who report them. One moment they are free and then they are not. They are subjected to virginity tests, beaten and then essentially locked up until it is time to try and marry them off. They don’t go down without a fight though and thus the aptness of the title–these gorgeous young mustangs, with their amazing flowing hair, yearn for the very freedom that defines them. The filmmaker has crafted a potent critique of the suppression and demonization of female sexuality that is alive and well in Turkish society. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, France, Germany, Turkey, 94 min)
The message of Su Rynard’s riveting documentary, The Messenger, is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline. Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone. Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey. Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger. Whose song will we hear when they are gone? The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs. Director Su Rynard in attendance. (Su Rynard, Canada, France, 2015, 90 min)
Son of Saul:
First time director László Nemes’ Son of Saul (Saul Fia) is a Holocaust film that won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and everyone’s buzzing about. (Earlier this week, NPR’s Terry Gross devoted a full hour to the film, click here, to read or listen to her interview with the director.) The dark story is centered on Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is forced to assist the Nazis with the killings of Jews and the gruesome disposal of bodies afterwards. In exchange, he is given some special privileges. When he spots a young boy’s body that he believes is his son, he sets out to give him a proper burial. The film captures the organization and chaos of the camps like no other film has and, at its core, it is the story of one man’s brave rebellion and humanity. The camera rarely leaves his face in which there are worlds of grief. The story is based on the actual testimonials, the so-called Scrolls of Auschwitz. (László Nemes, Hungary, 2015, 107 min) image: MVFF
Amnesia Centerpiece Presentation, October 13:
An interesting take on a Nazi story and moral culpability by Swiss director Barbet Schroeder. Amnesia is set in picturesque Ibizia and the story involves a younger man’s attraction to an older woman, who is hiding the fact that she is German, and much more, from him. The young DJ tries to crack this hard nut by peeling away her layers. Writer/director Barbet Schroeder in attendance (Barbet Schroeder, Switzerland, France, 2015 96 min)
At RUSH but keep your eyes out in Bay Area theaters for─
The Assassin (Nie Yinniang) (Hou Hsia-hsien, Taiwan, 2015, 105 min) spectacular Ibizan landscape (Thurs 10/8 6:16 PM; Sat 10/17 8:30 PM─both screenings at Rush)
Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015, 118 min) (Sun 10/11 5:30PM; Wed 10/14 4 PM──both screenings at Rush)
The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, Australia, 2015, 118 min) (10/16 7PM; 10/18 11AM─both screenings at Rush)
Details: MVFF38 is October 8-18, 2015. Screening venues include: Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael); Century Larkspur (500 Larkspur Landing Circle); Lark Theater (549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur), Century Cinema (41 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera); CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Throckmorton Theatre (142 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.
Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. (Online purchases have a $1.75 per film surcharge). There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantages of getting your tickets on the spot, no service fee, and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept.19-Oct 7, 4–8 pm (General Public)
Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, 85 Throckmorton Ave, October 7, 11 am–3:00 pm; Oct 8-18, 10 am to 15 min after last show starts
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
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