“There is always something hidden. He does not give everything, no, something stays behind—behind his face, his skin, inside. It’s not resisting direction, it’s existing. And I knew this mystery in him would help me to get close” —Claire Denis about Robert Pattinson [x]
Wed. 4/27/22 was the kick off of 2022 Independent Film Festival Boston. It is my favorite film festival in Boston, in Massachusetts and possibly the world is Independent Film Festival Boston (read my coverage here). I have a special place for this festival: in 2014 my documentary Life on the V: The Story of V66 had its World Premiere at the festival, and in 2015 I was on the Documentary Jury. Due to the pandemic, the scheduled 2020 festival in April 2020 was canceled. In 2021 the festival came back as a virtual festival. So the fact that this year it was back in-person was a big deal.
Here is my lightning round recap of what I saw at the 2022 IFFBoston:
Wed. April 27:
IFFBoston’s famous theremin player on Opening Night
I stopped by the Somerville Theatre, which recently underwent renovations. It has that new-car smell and I highly recommend stopping by. There was a decent turnout but not nearly as full as some Opening Nights in the past. I think this year’s festival (like a lot of film fests), is about baby-stepping back into public gatherings. Majority of the audience was wearing masks and it felt safe, but since the pandemic is still going on, the idea of IFFBoston being a gathering place for the film community needs to slowly get back to the pre-2020 gatherings. But that’s exactly what this year is about after last year’s virtual fest.
The Opening Night Film was the crime drama Emily The Criminal. It stars Aubrey Plaza as Emily, a 20-something with mountains of college loans and minimal job prospects. She takes a “dummy shopper” job that involves buying things with fake credit cards. Plaza is always good and she adds a lot of nuances to the role of a tough woman who looks at a world that is asking if you are going to get screwed or screw others. It is cynical, but when the story goes off the rails in the last third, just keep a close eye on Plaza. She makes this movie!
Thurs. April 28:
A rare date night for my wife and I, going to the Brattle to see Claire Denis’ Both Sides of the Blade. Its about a couple (Vincent Lindon and Juliette Binoche) whose relationship changes when her ex / his former best friend comes back into their life. I found the dialogue to be very on-the-nose and the over-dramatic music made me feel like I was watching a made-for-cable movie. But what made this was Binoche, to say she elevated this movie is a colossal understatement!
Fri. Apr. 29:
The chair my producer and I purchased in 2006 is in the 5th row of the Brattle Theatre
I went to the Brattle to catch the Sundance hit Cha Cha Real Smooth. There’s a long history of movies about the central theme of post-college “now what?” malaise. The greatest movie to ever cover this is the 1967 classic The Graduate. But over the 50+ years since then, several movies of touched upon this (Reality Bites comes to mind as one of the better ones). Writer / director / star Cooper Raif has made his own “now what?” movie. It does not come anywhere close to The Graduate, but it is worth seeing! Raif plays Andrew, who returns home after college and while working fast food, begins a side hustle as a party-starter at Bar Mitzvahs in suburban NJ. He strikes up a friendship with an older woman (shades of The Graduate) played by Dakota Johnson and begins sitting for her autistic daughter. Going into this, I thought it was going to be some millennial rant about the lack of career opportunities for recent college grads, but I have to say there was so much heart and sweetness to this movie. You don’t see that too often, especially for a 20-something director. At times it was definitely trying too hard and it is aspiring to Garden State-type generational touchstones, but credit where credit is due to Mr. Raif for wearing his heart on his sleeve!
Sat. Apr. 30:
This was the rare day in which I caught more than one film in one day. In the afternoon I went to the Brattle to see Anonymous Club, the intimate documentary about one of my favorite musicians to emerge out of the 2010s, Courtney Barnett. Through this blog, I got to review her 2017 collaboration with Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice, her 2018 album Tell Me How You Really Feel, as well as her 2018 concert in Boston, and last year’s Things Take Time, Take Time. So going into this doc I was a fan of the singer-songwriter. Director Danny Cohen got intimate access to Barnett for this 16mm cinema verite and he even got her to record her thoughts on a Dictaphone over the course of the doc’s three year period (2018-2021 or so). I really dug the performances obviously as well as the interactions she had with her fans. At times it does border on For Fans Only, but the style of filmmaking here is something we haven’t seen in a long time and that made it feel fresh again.
That night I went to the Somerville Theatre for the Centerpiece Narrative film I Love My Dad. Director / Writer / Star James Morosini did an intro and a post-screening Q&A. Prior to this screening, it already had created a buzz and won some awards at SXSW. Morosini plays Franklin, who after being hospitalized for depression decided to block his estranged father Chuck (played by Patton Oswalt) on social media. This leads Chuck to catfish his son by impersonating a local waitress online and creating an online relationship with Franklin. This was hands-down the best movie I saw at this year’s IFFBoston! It is so awkward and so uncomfortable, but yet so funny and with so much to say about human connection in the digital age. At times in this movie you are watching it while covering your eyes and peaking through your hands, but yet you can’t not watch. The standout performance that people will be talking about for a long time is Oswalt. I’ve been a fan of his since Big Fan (no pun intended) and he even steals the show in supporting roles in films like Young Adult and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Here he adds so many layers to a sad sack Dad who is trying to do the right thing, but going about it horribly wrong.
At the Brattle I saw One Second, directed by Zhang Yimou. He is is one of the most exciting filmmakers around. Even when his films are disappointing, there is still something visually breathtaking and thought-provoking. His films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers deserve to be seen on the big screen! His new one (in Mandarin with English subtitles) takes place during the Cultural Revolution as a man escapes a labor camp with the one goal of seeing a newsreel screening at a local movie theater. Not going to get into why he needs to see it, but its important to him. This is the perfect movie to see at a film festival, because it is a love letter to the movie theater, the projectionist and the power of cinema.
Mon. 5/2/22 and Tues. 5/3/22:
I took these days off from the festival.
At Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Closing Night Film was Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, the feature film based on the web short films of the same name. Co-creator, voice, co-writer, co-producer and Massachusetts native Jenny Slate did an intro and a Q&A. Seeing Slate onstage at IFFBoston reminded me of 2014 IFFBoston, when I was there with my doc Life on the V. One of the highlights of several great films that year was Obvious Child. When I saw Obvious Child at the 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston, I said “Jenny Slate is going to explode after this movie comes out.” She was already a notable comic-actress and she got some attention for dropping an F-bomb on her first episode of SNL when she was a cast member for one season. But Obvious Child showed she was a comedic and dramatic force to be reckon with. But I digress. In this combination of live-action and animation, Marcel (voiced by Slate) and Grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and their pet lint Alan live alone in an AirBnB after a mysterious tragedy left them the sole survivors of their community of shells. A documentary filmmaker (played by the film’s director Dean Fleischer-Camp) begins documenting them. Because of the documentary approach, there is a very improvised feel to this. I kinda wish the structure was a little less all-over-the-map, but there was a positive message in this that is important in 2022: finding connections after being in isolation for so long.
Jenny Slate at the Closing Night screening at IFFBoston
This wasn’t even the best lineup of IFFBoston’s history, but I have to say it was one of the most meaningful festival years for me. I can probably count on one hand the number of movies I’ve seen in a movie theater in the last two years prior to this year’s festival, but then I easily exceeded that number at the festival. It got me going back to the movies theater and gave me that lift and sense of excitement that only a film festival can give a film geek like me. I have also been dealing with my own sense of loss in recent months and have been baby-stepping back out again. Bottom line, this year’s fest is what I needed!
Big thanks to all of the IFFBoston team and I wish festival programmer Nancy Campbell a speedy recovery as she was not able to make this year’s fest.