International features from this year’s Montclair Film Festival.
A Chiara (Italy)
Ask me what I thought of this movie after the first hour, and you’d get a completely different answer than you would after the second hour. It’s slow and plodding, until suddenly it isn’t.
Chiara is a 15-year-old girl living in an Italian village with one older and one younger sister, her mother and sometimes her father. She’d like to know why her father isn’t around more. And she’d like to know why somebody blew up her father’s car. And why there’s a bunker under her house. The answer she gets: “You’re too young to understand.” Her response is to figure it out herself.
Chiara, her father and two sisters are played by the same family of actors, the Rotolos. Swami Rotolo is especially impressive as Chiara.
What does she find? Herself. A15 year old who is fearless, focused and undeterred. A young woman who will forge her own path, make her own decisions and follow her life choices. Over and above what she finds and what her father does, it is Chiara’s coming of age that moves the viewer here.
A Hero (Iran)
Rahim is in prison for a debt. On a two-day leave he is presented by his girlfriend with a found bag containing gold coins. He eventually decides to return the bag and does so to it’s supposed owner. This seemingly heart-warming story of selflessness circulates out of the prison, on TV and in the news. Rahim is a hero. And things go south from there.
There are in fact no heroes in this movie. Just victims. You can’t separate the good guys from the bad guys. Everyone tells a version of the story with some truth, but some fabrication. And no one ends up better off than they started.
A Hero is an Iranian movie in Farsi. It is simply filmed with the cinematography amounting to neither an addition nor a distraction.
In this Iranian village it is a story of the impact of social media. Perception trumps truth online and we act with a eye toward our reputation. Rahim might be a hero, a liar, a victim or maybe he just exists in some gray area, like the rest of the movie.
Power of the Dog (New Zealand)
This movie is from New Zealand, but it’s set in Montana. Go figure. It’s 1926 and it’s still pretty much the wild West. Power of the Dog is about four characters:
Phil — One ornery cowboy. Supposedly he studied classics and graduated from Yale. Now he’s a rancher herding cattle, bullying and ridiculing everyone who crosses his path. He’s unwashed, uncouth and uncaring.
Rose — A gentle, friendly, pretty widow running a boarding house and cafe in whatever god forsaken place this is supposed to be. She has a 17 or so year old son who she is ultra-protective of him.
Peter — Rose’s son. Rail thin and effeminate of gesture. Surrounded by Marlboro men, he takes a lot of abuse. While the other guys are trying to ride standing up on horses, he’s making decorative paper flowers. Neither social nor communicative, but smart. Goes to medical school.
Henry — Phil’s brother. He’s calm, considerate and soft spoken. Had been riding with Phil for 25 years, which seems preposterous. Finds Rose crying after Phil is abusive toward Peter. Marries her.
These four live on the same ranch and the movie is about their relationships. For the most part, they prove to not be what you thought they were.
Jane Campion directed this film 28 years after The Piano, a film that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and three academy awards. I didn’t see all of the 75 movies that were part of the Montclair Film Festival, but from what I saw this was hands down the best. The western landscapes always look best on the big screen, but it’s also on Netflix and I strongly recommend it.
The Worst Person in the World (Norway)
Julie starts off in medical school. Deciding she’s more interested in souls than bodies, she switches to psychology. Then she uses her student loan to buy equipment and decides photography is her calling.
After college, things are no more settled. She goes through and walks away from two pretty serious relationships. She also walks away from a not-so-loving father. She wrestles with the question of whether she wants kids, then negotiates an unwanted pregnancy.
She is not the worst person in the world. She is a young woman who refuses to be led by others. She is ascertaining that she will be the one to make the call on her life decisions and the one to define what her life will be like, once she ultimately figures out what she wants her life to look like.
This movie is intimate, occasionally explicit, intense and emotional. Every issue is explored in depth, too much so at times. There’s also some classic European film family gatherings where all sorts of venom and resentment is bubbling up beneath the surface festive cheer. Renate Reinsve’s portrayal of Julie is the strength of the movie. She manages to be equally as convincing as an 18 year old as she is a 30 year old.