Here's some brief reviews of AFI Fest screenings I attended.
Tuesday, November 10 - Chronic
Chronic follows a nurse named David (Tim Roth) who takes care of seriously ill patients in their homes. Roth is very believable as a nurse who brings compassion to the job without being cloying. Yet, David gets overly attached to his patients, even to the point of taking over their lives or imagining different relationships with them. It's uncomfortable and painfully familiar to see how the families have a hard time being natural around their sick loved ones, and their awkwardness forms a sharp contrast to David's easy-going demeanor. David is a broken man also trying to build a relationship with his estranged med student daughter. The film won best screenplay at Cannes, and it's quite intricate in the way the vignettes of different patients build to reveal more of David's character. There's no music in the film. It feels very immediate, intense and intimate. After the screening director Michel Franco and Tim Roth did a Q&A. Roth pointed out some nurses in the crowd who had helped him prepare for the role and coached him on the set. An elderly lady in the crowd stood up to say the film was good but she felt it was missing something, and she just couldn't really put her finger on it. The director took this criticism in stride and said perhaps he would show her his script before he filmed his next project. Chronic is a difficult film to watch, but it's worth the pain.
Tuesday, November 10 - The Lobster
I only got tickets for The Lobster because I thought my boyfriend would like it. The description in the AFI program of the film's dystopian future made me picture Logan's Run or THX-1138, and I am not much into sci fi in general. It turned out to be my favorite film of the festival. Colin Farrell plays David, a man whose wife leaves him at the opening of the film. In this society, everyone must be coupled. David and his dog are sent to a hotel where he is given 45 days to find a new partner - or else he will be turned into an animal and released into the woods. But it's not all bad, because he can choose the animal he will become! John C. Reilly plays a man he befriends in the hotel. The film is twisted but very funny and has a lot to say about courtship, how we tend to settle and the compromises we make to be in a relationship. This future world looks pretty much just like today's world, despite the insane rules of the society. Yorgos Lanthimos directed the film, and its quirkiness makes it totally fresh. Farrell gained weight for the role and uses his pudgy midsection to convey a lot about his character's passive, blah nature. The Egyptian Theater was completely full for this screening, and the producers did a quick introduction, but there was no Q&A.
Wednesday, November 11 - Sworn Virgin
Film festivals are a good opportunity to see films about somewhat obscure topics that probably will never get a wide US release. In Sworn Virgin, Italian filmmaker Laura Bispuri tells the story of Hana (aka Mark), an Albanian sworn virgin, who leaves a remote Albanian village to travel to Milan and experience city life. There she reconnects with a childhood friend and wrestles with questions of identity and sexuality and decides whether or not to keep her vow. Sworn virgins really exist in these remote Albanian villages, where women do not have any rights and are basically property of the men. Some women choose to live as a man in order to hunt, escape being a wife and mother, have jobs outside the home or have more status in society. This is allowed, but they must swear to the elders that they will remain virgins. The cinematography of Albania is breathtaking and the performance of Alba Rohrwacher as Hana/Mark anchors the film with believability. After the film, Bispuri did Q&A and she revealed the film took quite a few years to develop and she had to make multiple trips to the Albanian mountains to win the trust of locals who appear in the film. I hope this sensitive, thought-provoking film will find an audience.
Read AFI Fest Part I - Field Niggas, Baskin, and The Lady in the Van