Saturday, October 22, 2016

25th Philadelphia Film Festival, Day 2: A Good Start!

All right, day two of the 25th Philadelphia Film Festival!

But wait. Where's day one at?

Well, unless you were paying $250 for me to see the opening night film "La La Land" I wasn't attending. I mean $250 for one movie (plus some parties)? That's pretty atrocious, especially since the opening/closing night films last year were like $25 a piece. A 1000 percent markup in one year. Philadelphia Film Society, kindly fuck yourself with a chainsaw for that one.

So my foray into the festival started on Friday, day two of the 11-day fest. I gathered my press badge (which gets me into all screenings save for opening/closing night and centerpieces), my knitting needles and yarn, water bottle and an open mind into the four films I had lined up for the day.

First up was "Things to Come", one of two flicks coming out this year that's giving Isabelle Huppert her first serious Oscar consideration (the other being "Elle"). Because I'm all about punctuality for start times, this film started 18 minutes late, and they didn't even cut out the short film that preceded it to make up for time. I was annoyed at that, especially since the last film I saw at last year's festival started 80 minutes late - no, I'll never get over that. I could have done without the short, but it had Huppert in it so it was a common sense segue into the main feature.

"Things to Come" was a so-so film about a middle-aged philosophy teacher who is dealing with her crazy mother, the separation from her husband, a friendship with her "hipster-like" student and a cat. It's impossible to disagree with any Huppert performance, and here she is so effortlessly this woman named Nathalie who is so matter-of-factly about life. She hurts a little, but carries on. She doesn't stop. She embodies the philosophy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's mother: "Be a woman. Be independent."

After this I went into the Golden Bear-winning "Fire at Sea". I missed the first 20 minutes of it due to "Things to Come" running so far behind. This documentary/narrative hybrid looks at the people who traverse the seas in search of a better life before landing in Europe. Simultaneously, it follows a young boy who lives on an island caught in the crosshairs so to speak.

Even entering the film late, I was instantly caught up in the raw footage of processing these new immigrants and finding out about the deadly conditions they endure on their trips. The end shows more graphic footage of (almost) dead persons lying on a rescue ship. It's not graphic in that we see blood and violence, there's almost no life and a complete loss at the hope for a better life in those bodies.

"Fire at Sea" puts a sharp focus on the European migrant crisis. The story with the boy was a mild, endearing distraction to the better story of these migrants.

Next was the Dardenne brothers' latest, "The Unknown Girl", a riveting portrait about ordinary people trying to achieve one task in a raw style that only Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne can do.

A doctor wants to find out the identity of a young woman who died as a consequence of not answering her call for help at her private practice after hours. Why? Guilt for her possible death and because the young woman seems to be unknown to all. No family, no ID. Just another person passing through the criminal justice system.

I love the Dardennes' barebones style, and "The Unknown Girl" is no different. We follow one person on the sometimes dangerous task she thrust herself into because she wants to be a better person, a common thread in the Belgian duo's films. Sure, it ping-pongs between a small group of characters, but I enjoyed how a new layer was peeled back each time. It was as true to exposing the process of unraveling guilt as anything else. "The Unknown Girl" was truly satisfying.

Ultimately, the day belonged to "Jackie", the new film starring Natalie Portman as the most iconic first lady in American history in the days following her husband's assassination.

Exquisite and powerful like the first lady herself, I was so intrigued by this carefully structured and paced look at Jackie O in one of the most grueling times of her life. At a methodic 100 minutes, "Jackie" is long enough to be immersed in this beautifully crafted film without feeling tired out by yet another JFK-related story.

However, Natalie Portman is no Jackie O. I'm torn on her performance because I see how hard it must have been to portray that always fragile, crippling defiance day-in and day-out appearance the real Jackie O must have put on. Portman has a constant gaze of glassy eyes and loss of self. She truly through herself into this role, but there were many moments, if not the whole film, where she has a gaze of pensiveness like she needs to figure out who to use Jackie's accent when delivering the next line.

Even though the film is meticulously built around her, Portman wasn't a standout in an otherwise sublime film.

On the plus side, I even managed to knit an entire dishcloth before and during screenings! (Picture TK)

Things to Come- Good
Fire at Sea- Very Good
The Unknown Girl- Very Good
Jackie- Very Good

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