Well, it’s over. 6 long days and 17 worlds later. Here goes -
Top 8 Best Films of AFI Fest 2016 in Katelyn’s opinion:
#8 - Layla M.
A teenager from the Netherlands gets passionate about Radical Islam and leaves her old life to join the fight for the cause by getting married and moving to the middle east, but only to find herself forced to play housewife. Another side to the crisis of Isis, of women getting sucked into the “fight” for Islam that ends up being a fight for their lives. It is less about politics and more about the poor, misunderstood choice this young woman decided to make in her state of rebellion.
This girl truly believes she is doing the right thing to support her religion and her beliefs while blindly ignoring the dangers of who she’s associated with. The reality of her new world gets in the way of what could have been a good marriage for Layla, leaving her empty handed and eager to go back home. Well-acted by everyone in the cast, including Nora El Koussour (Layla) and well-written.
#7 - Harmonium
The lives of a Japanese family change tragically when an old friend of the husband comes into their lives. My friend Diego said, “This film is about how men come into women’s lives and fuck everything up.” Thought I didn’t read it that way when I watched it, it is a good interpretation of what the story is about. We see the perspectives of the adults in the film, the husband, Toshio and his wife, Akie and the long ago friend, Yazaka, who was just released from prison for killing a man 20 years ago. As a favor, Yoshio lets him stay at their place and work for him without bothering to ask Akie if she minded. But just as soon as the Yazaka becomes acquainted with their daughter and her music lessons, Akie begins to like him more than her stoic husband who is keeping a secret from her about his involvement with the murder. As we focus more on the mother’s perspective, she gets closer to this man and farther away from her husband. Their recklessness proves costly in the end. This is a film that is well paced and has a good balance of mystery and drama, leaving you with the ultimate tragedy. It does get a bit dramatic towards the end.
#6 - After Love
An intimate look into the lives of a couple on the verge of divorce and forced to live together while raising their twin daughters. I like watching films like this, from time to time. These films are the everyday situations that are common among modern humans and are sometimes depressing because you know, life. This film is centered on the most difficult time in the marriage of Marie and Boris. They are separated yet have to live in the same house because Boris cannot afford to live on his own without an architect job to work on. Marie hates Boris. She cannot stand anything he does, yelling at him and getting angry when he is around. Boris is somewhat taking advantage of Marie, not really looking for jobs and getting in the way of her time with the girls to get closer as a family. The girls misbehave in retaliation with their parents constant fighting making it more difficult for the two to handle the situation. It’s mostly set in their apartment and front yard. We see a personal view on their relationship that follows them to the end. It’s got a real life situation without being over-glamorous with the drama or the romance. It’s blunt.
A week in the life of Paterson, a bus driver/poet living in Paterson, NJ with his girlfriend and her dog and writing his poems about the simple things in life. Paterson lives his daily routine of getting up around 6:15 in the morning, walking to work, driving the bus while keeping an ear out for interesting conversations and coming home take his girlfriends dog for a walk and a stop at the bar. He writes his poems throughout his routine, while on break or down in the basement, and we see the words flow onto the screen, as he recites them.
Paterson repeats his days in the same routine, even up to fixing the mail post that questionably goes slant by the time he gets home, and doesn’t seem quite happy with life until routine slips up, things go wrong and he becomes lost. It is a poetic film with symbolism to make it feel special. I thought there’d be more interactions with the bus patrons but the film largely rests on Adam Driver’s shoulders who plays the heavy burden quite well. It’s a film that most anyone in America can relate to, as we all live in our repetitive daily routines and strive to find the beauty in them.
#4 - The Comedian
A former TV sitcom legend struggles and competes to get back into his comedic roots when everyone wants to associate him with his sitcom character. Robert De Niro played his role as a take-no-shit, rowdy comedian to perfection. His comedy had timing and his jokes, mostly dirty, were hilarious. The writing (this film had 4 writers!) gave a good mix of comedy and competition with Jackie Burke (De Niro) and his long-time fellow comedians (e.g. Charles Grodin). Leslie Mann gave us a lighter side with Burke, adding a twist of drama to a film that didn’t really need it. Her part of the story kind of drags on towards the end and distracts us from the character’s main goal, to be a successful comedian again and as a 2 hour film, it could be cut a good 20 minutes that is more sensible for a comedy. Even so, I found it surprisingly enjoyable and I laughed my ass off! De Niro almost fooled me into thinking that he had been a comedian since the beginning of his career. Maybe because I had no expectations (When was the last time De Niro had a good role?), I enjoyed it more.
A poor North Korean fisherman (^Nam) unintentionally drifts his boat over to South Korea and all hell breaks loose. They suspect him of being a spy because he saw their military station. He goes on a roller coaster ride of torture, interrogation, abandonment and imprisonment all with the determination to make it back home to his family in NK. It certainly doesn’t help that SK government won’t allow anybody from NK to go back to that horrible place, offering conversion. This is a drama that is propelled by plenty of suspense to make you worried if he is ever going to be able to go back. You feel for Nam. He is trapped in a society he never knew about til now, one that is very tempting but has enough flaws in it not worth losing his family for. It’s the twist at the end that really gets you because it’s pretty fucked up. I ain’t telling, you must see for yourself!
#2 - Hunter Gatherer
Ashley gets out of jail and moves back home, ready to pick up where he left off, only to find the love of his life in love with another man. But he is determined to make things right and win her back. He befriends a young man, Jeremy who helps him buy off and shuffle refrigerators to the landfill and performing other odd jobs to make extra money. I really enjoyed the beauty of this film, the acting, the writing, the music, the cinematography. We see Ashley’s thoughts float across the screen. He isn’t a very likable person in a moral way but his naive and quirky personality pops out and his friendship with Jeremy enhances the lightheartedness of the film. It depicts a beautiful side of South LA we have never seen before in films, or rarely seen, where it isn’t about violence, gangs, rape, murder, drugs, etc. and it becomes almost like a character in the film. I also liked it for it’s serene tone which can feel liberating after watching so many intense stories. Also, Andre Royo was perfect! (I really need to see The Wire.)
#1 - Divines
Dounia is poor and dreams of prosperity. She and her best friend get acquainted with a local drug dealer who takes Dounia under her wing. Dounia and her friend play the dangerous game of making money while taking a few hits to the face, fighting against anyone who tries to stop her. She blindly risks everything she loves to have a life she never had. The basic story isn’t something to brag about as it is a typical coming of age for french movies, the poor kid becomes a rebel against their hardships to make a better life for themselves and sacrifices more than they offered. The French are very emotional. Angry. Passionate. Everything is so serious! This film is a train ride of emotions, happy and sad and anxious and shocked. It is wonderfully shot with clever camera moves to bring us in on the moment. One of my favorite scenes is when Dounia and her friend are waiting in a vacant lot for a deal to go down. Bored out of their minds, Dounia pretends to be driving her new Ferrari, her friend joining her for the ride, pretending to pick up a hot blonde guy and speeding away. The camera is placed right in front of them and moves them both along fluidly as if they were in a car. This film is solely worth watching just to see Oulaya Amamra’s (Dounia) performance. Very impressive. You can watch it right now on Netflix!
*Godless was an interesting watch, cinematographic-ally and acting wise. A caretaker for the elderly and her boyfriend steal old folks IDs, selling them off to high public officials who take advantage. But after the boyfriend scares an old woman too far that she dies and finding a new friendship with an old choir man, Gana starts to have a change of heart for the old folks. It has a dark, wintry look that sets the tone for the entire film. The actress who plays Gana does a great job and propels the film. But the ending brought disappointment as it tried to show us what was going on through someone else’s perspective of a different situation to… add symbolism, I think. -_-
*It’s Only the End of the World is a big perrier bottle filled up with wild, angry french emotions that a wound up family felt the need to pour out in response to a close relative’s return home. It was too much bickering and not enough story. It’s a bit slow paced and you end up a little exhausted in the end. I did like how they ended it and how it made me feel about my own family. Also, it’s amazingly acted by the whole cast and shot beautifully.
*Always ShineA thriller set on two struggling actresses and best friends who battle it out for jealousy and revenge. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the last ten minutes or the confrontation but what I saw of the film I enjoyed. It has an American Psycho feel to it and I’d bet this was somewhat influenced by that film. Mackenzie Davis pulled off the psycho-bitch friend filled with envy, jealousy and rage at the other girl who gets more attention than she does. Worth checking out.
*The OrnithologistIs he schizophrenic or did he die and end up in limbo? That’s what you keep asking yourself as the film goes on, as it gets weirder and weirder. This being the first film of the festival for me, I was a bit anxious for it to be good and I found myself judging every minute of it, trying to analyze what it all means, making things a bit frustrating.
*Kati Katiis what they call the spiritually guarded sanctuary that a group of young African adults find themselves in. Is it Heaven or is it Hell? They don’t know. This sounds like a thriller but it presented itself as more of a mystery drama. I thought the characters had potential but they fell flat with the story. I still enjoyed it for its mystery.
The Meh Pile (short criticisms):
-Dark Night Boring. Uneventful. Terrible title.
-Live Cargo Two separate
conflicts connected by location- just doesn’t make for interesting movie. Lack of character development.
-The Eyes of My Mother If you like really gross gore/horror and characters without much substance. It wasn’t horrible.
-Wulu A very flat version of your typical gangster/drug runner can’t-resist-the-money-and-get-in-lots-of-trouble kind of film, set in West Africa.