« Denver Film Festival - A Girl Missing | Main | Christmas in July »

November 10, 2019

Denver Film Festival - A Final Roundup

Today marks the end of the 42nd Denver Film Festival. The following are shorter pieces on the films seen over the weekend.


Carlo Mirabella-Davis - 2019

In his feature directorial debut, Mirabella-Davis lays his themes clearly with the shot of a frightened baby lamb that knows its getting prepared to be slaughtered. We are soon introduced to Hunter, a young woman who has married into a family of one percenters. Dad has given the newlyweds a showroom perfect multi-million dollar glass mansion that emphasizes the isolation Hunter feels, while her husband, Richard, is at work as a top exec in his father's company. Unintentionally, Austin Powell as Richard, vaguely resembles Donald Trump, Jr. with his closely trimmed beard. Hunter, marginalized by her husband and his family, but unable to articulate her feelings, begins a habit of swallowing small, and increasingly sharp objects when she learns she is pregnant.

As one who prefers an over-determined visual style to a film with no discernible style, Mirabella-Davis' film makes extensive use of a set design with frames within frames, isolating the characters in their individual spaces. The film serves as a showcase for Haley Bennett, whose characters morphs from the overly pliant housewife who speaks barely above a whisper, to a woman discovering her own sense of agency. This is a psychological horror film where the sight of Bennett ingesting a push pin is among the least disquieting images.


The Wild Goose Lake / Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui
Diao Yinan - 2019
Film Movement

Diao's newest film since Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), again with Kwei Lun-mei, and contemporary film noir in China. Hu Ge is a member of a crime family that steals motorbikes. After shooting a rival gang member in the leg, he's on the run, from police as well as other gang members. Kwei has arranged to have Hu turned in to the police on his own terms, with reward money going to Hu's wife. The film takes place in an unnamed "Second tier city", with the characters speaking the Wuhan dialect of central China.

While the narrative is not as tight as as Black Coal, Thin Ice, Diao seems to have fun sneaking in visual references primarily from some classic films of the Forties. A slight nod to The Lady from Shanghai with a set of distorted mirrors, and big shadows on the walls of the pursuers and the pursued from several films by Carol Reed. Kwei may be the only other person to light two cigarettes in her mouth at once since Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager. There are also the indelible images of the splatter of blood against an open while umbrella, and the sight of a small army of cops seen in the distance, with only their florescent sneakers visible in the distance.


Alla Kovgan - 2019
Magnolia Pictures

I was interested in seeing this documentary on choreographer Merce Cunningham because it was shown in 3D. Previously, I had seen Wim Wender's 3D documentary on Pina Bausch (2011), and the British film, StreetDance, a narrative film by choreographers Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini. The use of space and depth perception is rarely in effective use by Kovgan. The film's strength is as a record of Cunningham's life and work between 1942 and 1972 using a combination of stills, previous documentary footage, recorded interviews, and recreations of several of Cunningham's works in atypical settings - including a forest, a pedestrian overpass, and a New York City high rise rooftop.

Where the 3D if most effective is for the recreation of the dance, "Rain Forest". The quartet of dancers move on a bare set, black, surrounded by silver pillows designed by Andy Warhol that float and bounce between them. Where 3D is most effective is when there are moments when there is the sense of an image spilling beyond the screen. Kovgan keeps everything at a polite distance, which may be fine for the balletomane, but is the antithesis of visually dynamic cinema.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2019 05:57 PM