One of my favorite things about where I live is the Montclair Film Festival that takes place in the first week in May. It started four years ago as a single weekend event with the tagline “like Sundance, only Jersier.” This year it is a ten-day event with more than 75 features in three theaters, most of which play to full houses. Some of the most memorable movies I’ve seen in those four years were at MFF, including 20 Feet From Stardom, Belle and In a World
I don’t know why it doesn’t, like most film festivals, include “international” in the title. Maybe they don’t want to get stuck with the MIFF acronym. But there are several international entries and here’s some of them.
Le Dernier Diamant (The Last Diamond). The return of French film noir! The last diamond is the goal of an intricate high end heist. And the thief is the hero. But there is more than one thief and thieves being thieves, they go after each other. Who’s the cops and who’s the robbers? And oh-no! The thief is sleeping with the victim, who happens to be an attractive young woman. What’s happening here? Takes a while to figure out who is who, but it all makes sense in the end. Reviewers often use the term riveting for films like this. It is an edge of your seat sort of movie. I’ve now watched seven movies in six days and for me this is best of the fest so far.
Slow West. Imagine a Western with the pacing of a Terence Malick movie and toss in a script that’s akin to Natural Born Killers. That’s Slow West. The minimalist plot involves a young Scottish guy wandering through Colorado on horseback in search of the love of his life who apparently had to beat it out of Scotland and head west with her father. Along the way we encounter a priest who is a bounty hunter, a guy writing a book about aboriginal people who turns out to be a horse robber and of course a thieving murderer who turns out to be not such a bad guy after all. Not too many of the characters in this movie finish up alive. There is a quick recap at the end showing the shot up bodies strewn about in forest and field. How they made a movie in New Zealand about Scots in Colorado is beyond me. Odd, but worth seeing.
Que Horas Ela Volta (The Second Mother). I don’t know any Portuguese but I doubt that Que Horas Ela Volta translates into The Second Mother. Maybe the real title is something they were afraid us gringos would misinterpret. The movie is about social standing and mores and how what is the way of the world to one generation may not be of interest to the next. The second mother is a live-in nanny and housekeeper named Val who lives with a well-heeled family in Brazil. When her grown daughter who she hasn’t seen in 10 years moves in, she shows none of the deference her mother has spent her life observing. That’s fine with the men of the household. They have their own issues when it comes to appropriate behavior. But it doesn’t play well with the woman of the house, who is Val’s employer. The movie has some humor, some tension, and a couple moving scenes. But mostly it delivers a heaping dose of social awkwardness. In the end it concludes, in Val’s words, that “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
Durak (The Fool). It you suspect that a Russian movie called Durak would be stark and somber, you’re right, it is. Nobody smiles in this movie. They don’t speak to each other without shouting and generally address each other with the Russian equivalent of bitch or scumbag or whore. The fool is a fool because he refuses to look the other way in a world of drunkenness, domestic violence and corruption. Dina, aka the fool, is a sort of public service plumber. On being called in to fix a broken pipe he discovers that a building housing 800 persons is on the verge of collapse. He brings this to the attention of town officials who are conveniently all in the same place, blind drunk at a party. There they must choose between saving 800 lives or protecting themselves from exposure as the career criminals that they are. The prevailing theory of governance in this post-Communist society is best summed up by one of the town VIP’s: “There is enough of the good life to go around. If we divide it up evenly, nobody will get anything.” Dina’s reward for being the only guy around with a conscience is not what you would hope. This is not a movie too put a smile on your face. But it is an emotionally powerful and brilliantly told story.