Mogul Mowgli – Let’s just make it al clear at the get-go. If I see Riz Ahmed’s name attached to a film I immediately become very interested in it because he is one of the best emerging talents of this generation and the projects he picks are always so fascinating. This new film feels very closely connected to Ahmed and his experiences growing up in the United Kingdom dealing with race and culture as a British Pakistani, following him as a rapper on the cusp of his first world tour that is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break. Learning his lessons the hard way, he realizes that the way he was living his life in excess of ego and forgetting the culture of what made him have slowly deteriorated his soul and his being, leading him to this unfortunate fate. Riz’s performance in this film is riveting and gives dramatic focus to the monkey on his back while we observe him like a living fish tank. That last wistfully triumphant moment in this movie will go down as an unforgettable cinematic moment for me this year.
Lapsis – On the outside of this film it just looks like a man laying cable to provide money to help his sick brother but there is something so much bigger at the heart of this sleepy pseudo-science fiction film that has a real headiness to it. The film follows Ray, a delivery man struggling to support himself and his ailing younger brother, who suffers from a crippling narcoleptic disorder that is running rampant across the world. Getting the nudge from a scheming friend, he takes a strange job in a strange new realm of the gig economy laying cable across the wilderness, connecting devices meant to change the technological future of man. As he journeys further into the forest, he comes across Anna, another cabler who has a deeper insight into the company they are employed by and the endgame to their work. This film is deeply subtle and feels like you the viewer must fill in the blanks a bit but to that end, it still feels wildly satisfying at the finish.
Undine – I am here for any collaboration between actress Paula Beer, one of my favorite international actresses in the last ten years and writer and director Christian Petzold, who she did her last film with, Transit, an excellent film that also co-starred this film’s lead, Franz Rogowski from the one-shot thriller Victoria. This film has Beer starring as the title character Undine, who works as a historian lecturing on Berlin’s urban development but when the man she loves leaves her, the ancient myth of her name catches up with her and, to satisfy the fable of which she believes she is based on, she has to kill the man who betrays her and return to the water. This film is fascinating and intimate, possibly my favorite work that Petzold has done, and a story that keeps you guessing until the finale. The third act is layered in a way that only accomplished filmmakers cand pull off and Petzold does it with a flourish that is jawdropping.
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President – Trying to squeeze in a last couple films, this documentary was on my radar since the announcement of the festival titles as Jimmy Carter is always a president that I had a lot of respect for and one that still continues to do great work through humanitarian and charity causes as well as building houses with his bare hands. The film comes from CNN Films by way of director Mary Wharton and follows Jimmy Carter and journey from the country town of Plains to being the governor of Georgia to becoming the thirty ninth U.S. president and one who openly embraced rock ‘n’ roll the whole way. With interviews with Willie Nelson, the surviving members of the Allman Band, Bob Dylan and more, a fascinating portrait of not only a great but stifled president but a fantastic human being is painted. In this time leading up to one of the most important elections in U.S. history, this film was definitely a breath of fresh air.
Siberia – Rounding out this year’s festival with something weird, metaphorical and from the very unique and volatile brain of filmmaker Abel Ferrara through the conduit of Willem Dafoe and I’m still trying to make heads or tails of it. The film had Dafoe as a bartender in the middle of the Siberian wilderness, dishing drinks out to fur drapped inuit, dogsleds containing elders and pregnant women and more, although, none of it is real. Ferrara uses this landscape to traverse the subversive nature of dreams and, from what I can glean from this film, nightmares. The film feels to me like its set on a sort of purgatorial landscape with heaven on one side and the drop off to hell on the other with Dafoe’s character Clint being magnetized to the latter. There were points of this film that reminded me of Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built where you get the slow realization in the subplot that Bruno Ganz is escorting Matt Dillon’s character to the depths of hell. I’m still trying to make a uniform sense of this but it was incredibly jarring at many points and ends with a guttural death metal roar. Fascinating stuff.