There Is No Evil – Well, I guess I wanted to start my festival off with something pretty heavy and I found it in this Iranian film, co-produced by Germany and the Czech Republic. Written and directed by Mohammad Rasoulof and the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, this film is divided into four stories set in Iran all dealing with the brutal death penalty sentences that are given out without regard by the authorities. Each of the stories deals with different very distinctive human themes, the first story focusing on a man’s devotion to his family, the second following an executioner who has lost his ability to make these prisoners anonymous like as his co-workers do, the third on how the grief is dealt with in these situations and the fourth focuses on the estrangement of familial bonds that are a direct result of the second story. Beautifully shot and always thoughtful in its repose, Rasoulof leaves you with so much food for thought when the final credits roll.
Last And First Men – So it looks like the next type of movie I wanted to cross off the list immediately was the “hard to unpack” film but this is one I was certainly looking forward to as it was the directorial debut of one of my favorite composers, Johann Johansson, who passed sadly away two years ago. His arrival as a feature filmmaker definitely leaves you for a thirst for what he could have created beyond this as this film presents itself as a documentary shot in black and white with narration from Tilda Swinton but only at first as we slowly realize that the aged stone structures and landscapes we are seeing are of a world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and all that there is left is to beam essentially the codex of humankind to the ethos of the galaxy. The film’s tone comes off as artistically scientific and evoked feelings of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in its visuals mixed with a side of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Knowing how gifted of a composer Johansson is, it’s not hard to feel that this film was completely drafted to the ominous tone in his mind. This movie is definitely a hard sell to any casual viewer.
Special Actors – This is definitely the shift in tone I was looking for and after the last Shin’ichirô Ueda, the incredible One Cut Of The Dead which I caught at the festival three years ago, this is one of my most anticipated films of this year’s collection. Leaving the one-take zombie cinema for a more narrative approach, Ueda still keeps the twists and turns alive for this story of Kazuto, a shy and afflicted young man who has a lifelong dream of becoming an actor, but has been suffering from a special medical condition where he faints and collapses when he gets nervous. His brother presents him with an opportunity to take his hopes and put it into guerrilla-style acting that puts him in real situations to coerce, con or, in the film’s major case, disrupt scams. Ueda is taking an almost Fight Club Project Mayhem styling and using it to juggle multiple themes in it, always keeping you on your toes, and on a shoestring budget. It doesn’t equal up to his last effort but it was a fun ride.
No Ordinary Man – In one of the most effective and soul-bearing documentaries I have seen in recent memory, directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt and writer Amos Mac explore the life of American Jazz musician Billy Tipton who, moments after his death was revealed to be a woman living as a man by his son which then resulted with his family being paraded all over tabloid television as a rating grabbing freak show. In this film, Tipton’s story is reimagined and performed by trans artists as they are brought together in an audition like situation to paint a portrait of a posthumous trans hero and relate their stories to the struggle Tipton went through in his era. The filmmakers also go to Tipton’s son Billy Jr. to reconcile a complicated and contested legacy that has informed his entire adult life without seeing the boundaries his father had broken for trans and non-binary around the world. This documentary was thoroughly fascinating and informative, my first great doc of the festival.
Merkel: Anatomy Of A Crisis – Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t live in Germany or that the orange tyrant we know as Trump is so large and looming over North America but I have to say that I consider Dr. Angela Merkel as one of my favorite leaders on the planet and not just from the cold shoulder she gave to previously mentioned Cheeto Mussolini. This film kind of boosted up that view and also, in small moments, gives the softer side to the German Prime Minister as it follows her decision in the fall of 2015 to open the borders for refugees and how it divided the opinion of the country, some praising the moral stance, others criticizing the surrender of sovereignty. On the outside, it all appeared to be well-planned activity but in reality, it was a policy of muddling along, chance, trial and error, a hair’s breadth from spinning out of control and taking down Merkel’s entire administration with it. The film shows the power struggles and playing against each other that ensued in the time of leading up to the final decision in a way that feels almost surgical in its depiction. If you enjoy a good heady political drama then you will love this one.