Friday, September 29, 2017
The 40th Mill Valley Film Festival
In this 40th edition, the festival showcases 204 films representing 52 countries, including 73 narrative features, 26 documentary features, 89 shorts, and 6 music programs.
Located just north of San Francisco, the 40th MVFF takes place October 5-15, 2017 at Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley, Lark Theater and Century Larkspur 4 in Larkspur, and Century Cinema in Corte Madera.
(You may click on each still image for showtime and venue information.)
One of the dual opening night films is director Joe Wright's heroic portrait of Winston Churchill, "Darkest Hour" (UK 2017 | 114 min.). Featuring a passionate delivery of Churchill's famous speech, Gary Oldman's performance positions him as a front runner in the Oscar race in the Best Actor category.
The other opening night film is director Jason Wise's documentary about 94-year-old entertainer Rose Marie's extraordinary career, "Wait for Your Laugh" (USA 2017 | 85 min.), an unusual choice for a festival's opening night film.
In the middle of the festival, the centerpiece presentation is director Richard Linklater's new film "Last Flag Flying" (USA 2017 | 119 min.) about three estranged veteran friends reconnecting after the son of one of them died in the Iraq War.
On October 15, the festival closes with two films. One is Greta Gerwig's critically acclaimed directorial debut "Lady Bird" (USA 2017 | 93 min.), a coming-of-age comedy about a girl from Sacramento, California. The other closing night film is director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's drama "The Current War" (USA 2017 | 105 min.), a dramatic account about the competitions among inventors Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla.
The festival also shines spotlights this year on Academy Award-nominated actor Andrew Garfield, Golden Globe-nominated indie darling Greta Gerwig, and Emmy-nominated Dee Rees for their accomplishments. Each celebration features an on-stage conversation and celebratory reception with the artist following a special screening of Andy Serkis's "Breathe" (UK 2017 | 117 min.), Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" (USA 2017 | 93 min.), and Dee Rees's "Mudbound" (USA 2017 | 134 min.) respectively.
This year, the festival pays tribute to acclaimed director Todd Haynes, Academy Award-winning actors Holly Hunter and Sean Penn, and the brilliant Kristin Scott Thomas. Each tribute program contains an on-stage conversation with the artist and a celebratory reception thereafter.
Although the festival exclude several high-profile Oscar contenders from these big nights, it offers the moviegoers a sneak peak for those who cannot wait for these films' theatrical releases:
- The Golden Lion winner at this year's Venice International Film Festival, the director Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" (USA 2017 | 119 min.) tells a love story between an amphibious creature and a janitor played by the splendid Sally Hawkins.
- The top-award winner at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, the director Martin McDonagh's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (USA 2017 | 115 min.) tells a mother's quest for justice after her daughter was murdered. Will Frances McDormand get another Oscar for her portrait of an enraged mother?
- The Palme d'Or winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival, director Ruben Östlund's "The Square" (Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark 2017 | in English/Swedish/Danish | 142 min.) satirically tells a story surrounding an art installation in a museum.
MVFF's favorite Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda has been a regular at the festival in the past. It's a little surprise that his latest film is not included in this year's program. However, it's a little surprise that a regular at the San Francisco International Film Festival in each spring, the Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo (홍상수) comes to the Bay Area earlier than usual with "On the Beach at Night Alone" (밤의 해변에서 혼자 | South Korea/Germany | in Korean/German | 101 min.). That's perhaps because he has completed three films this year so he has the luxury to spread his films around in different festivals. It's remarkable that by slightly tweaking the flavors and textures, he can robustly stew a pot of soup (three for this year!) about man-woman relationship each year, and his loyal fans never fail to dig in then ask for more.
It's also a disappointment that Chinese blockbuster director Feng Xiaogang's touchy new film "Youth" (芳华 | China 2017) is absent from this year's festival. Instead, the Chinese writer-director Song Chuan (宋川) brings his sophomore feature "Ciao Ciao" (巧巧 | China/France 2017 | in Chinese | 83 min.) to the festival. The film is about a young woman's return to her hometown, a small village in Yunnan Province. She must choose between two very different men who represent two different classes in modern China.
After collecting couple awards at this year's Venice International Film Festival, the celebrity Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's (艾未未) timely documentary "Human Flow" (Germany/USA 2017 | 140 min.) powerfully visualizes the headlines about refugees and human migration. This impressive documentary vividly captures the unprecedented refugee crisis around the globe in more than 23 countries, and displays its massive scale and devastation.
Another related documentary at the festival is veteran filmmaker Barbet Schroeder's chilling "The Venerable W." (Le Vénérable W | France/Switzerland 2017 | in Burmese/English | 107 min.). The film's titular subject is Ashin Wirathu (ဝီရသူ), a 49-year-old Burmese Buddhist monk who is the prominent leader of anti-Muslim campaign in Myanmar. He candidly speaks his mind to the camera and preaches to his huge followers about his hatred toward the Rohingya people in his country. The film offers extraordinary insights about the crisis in Myanmar and serves as a snapshot about the growing intolerance and Islamophobic sentiment around the world. The film also provokes you to ponder about how many wars and conflicts around the world are not rooted in people's disagreements in religions.
There are two films featuring terrific performances by child actors.
"The Florida Project" (USA 2017 | 115 min.), directed by Sean Baker, unflinchingly reveals the life in poverty just outside the Disney World. With humor and compassion, the film skillfully unfolds a heartbreaking story about the daily life of a single mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her 6-year-old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who live in a shabby motel. The irresistible Moonee is too young to understand the hardship of being poor. Instead, she enjoys the summer with her friends roaming around the marginalized world.
Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela's feature directorial debut "Esteban" (Cuba/Spain 2016 | in Spanish | 90 min.) tells a story about 9-year-old Esteban (Reynaldo Guanche) who wants to play piano. Like Moonee, Esteban is also from a poor family but he falls in love with piano and is determined to take lessons from an old piano teacher. Although the film sometimes falls into the trap of clichés, especially during the latter half of the film, Reynaldo Guanche's natural performance will touch your heart.
A dozen films in this year's program are selected as candidates for nomination in the Academy Awards foreign-language category. If you plan to pick one film to watch at the festival from these countries, here is the cheat sheet for each country's Oscar submission at the festival (again, you may click on each still image for showtime and venue information):
- France — "Beats Per Minute" (120 battements par minute | France 2017 | in French | 143 min. | dir. Robin Campillo) about France's AIDS epidemic in '90s.
- Switzerland — "The Divine Order" (Die göttliche Ordnung | in German/English/Italian | 96 min. | dir. Petra Biondina Volpe) about women's suffrage struggle in the '70s in Switzerland.
- Chile — "A Fantastic Woman" (Una mujer fantástica | Chile 2017 | in Spanish | 93 min. | dir. Sebastián Lelio) about the aftermath after a transgender woman's partner passes away.
- Germany — "In the Fade" (Aus dem Nichts | Germany 2017 | in German | 106 min. | dir. Fatih Akin) about a woman's revenge after she loses her loved ones in a bombing attack.
- Lebanon — "The Insult" (قضية رقم ٢٣ | France/Lebanon 2017 | in Arabic | 113 min. | dir. Ziad Doueiri) about a court battle escalated from an argument between a Lebanese Christian man and a Palestinian refugee.
- Russia — "Loveless" (Нелюбовь | Russia/France 2017 | in Russian | 127 min. | dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev) about a divorcing couple comes together to look for their missing son.
- Ireland — "Song of Granite" (Ireland/Canada 2017 | in Irish | 104 min. | dir. Pat Collins) about the life and music of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney.
- Poland — "Spoor" (Pokot | Poland/Czech Republic 2017 | in Polish | 128 min. | dir. Agnieszka Holland) about a murder mystery in a remote region.
- Sweden — "The Square" (Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark 2017 | in English/Swedish/Danish | 142 min. | dir. Ruben Östlund) about an art installation in a museum.
- Spain — "Summer 1993" (Estiu 1993 | Spain 2017 | in Catalan | 97 min. | dir. Carla Simón) about a 6-year-old girl's transition to live with her uncle's family after her parents died.
- Norway — "Thelma" (Norway 2017 | in Norwegian | 116 min. | dir. Joachim Trier) about a girl's discovery about her superpower after she falls in love with another girl.
- Nepal — "White Sun" (सेतो सुर्य | Nepal/USA/Qatar/Netherlands 2016 | in Nepali | 89 min. | dir. Deepak Rauniyar) about an anti-regime soldier returning home to bury his dead father while trying to resolve the grudge with his brother.