Starz Denver Film Festival: Day 3 & 4

Day 2 of SDFF37 started with a bang and ended with a fire alarm. Halfway through The Clouds of Sils Maria, the fire-alarm went off and the theaters were evacuated (most likely due to a nearby beauty shop, which was flooding as I departed). The first full day of moviegoing ended with only an hour Sils Maria under my belt, but now it’s time to start the first of two weekends.

August Winds
Dandara de Morais in August Winds (2014)

A young woman lies on a rickety boat listening to punk music and rubbing Coca-Cola all over her body. Below, her boyfriend dives for squid, but finds a human skull.

A few days later, the couple finds human bones washed up on the beach. Another few days pass, and the boyfriend finds a cadaver, with the flesh still on. He becomes obsessed. It is August, and high tides and trade winds unearth the complicated and bring forth obsessions.

That covers the plot of August Winds (Ventos de Agosto), but August Winds isn’t about plot or story. The Brazilian narrative from director Gabriel Mascaro is more concerned with atmosphere and mood, and drives both across in spades. Easily one of the most picturesque of the festival, and the one you shouldn’t miss on the big screen. Brazil always looks good on the big screen, but when it’s 12 degrees outside, it looks enchanting.

Directed by: Gabriel Mascaro
Written by: Rachel Ellis & Gabriel Mascaro
Produced by: Rachel Ellis
Starring: Dandara de Morais, Geová Manoel Dos Santos
FiGa Films, Running time 77 minutes, November 14, 16, 19, 2014

Jennifer Lafleur, Lindsay Burdge, Aleksa Palladino "The Midnight Swim" (2014)
Jennifer Lafleur, Lindsay Burdge, Aleksa Palladino in The Midnight Swim (2014)

Written and directed by Colorado native, Sarah Adina Smith, The Midnight Swim is the story of three sisters (Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino) returning home to deal with the death of their mother, who was diving in nearby Spirit Lake and never returned.

Not sure how to deal with the death, the sisters all cope in their own way. One documents everything, another starts a relationship with a neighbor and the eldest tries to keep the other two focused on the task at hand. Things take a turn for the unreal when they jokingly decide to summon a spirit from the lake. Odd and strange things begin to happen, driving wedges that already existed even deeper.

Like many movies, what The Midnight Swim is about is nothing more for a jumping off point for a dark and murky exploration of the human psyche and soul. Smith explores several ideas and themes, the most prominent being the return to the womb (an aerial photo of the lake resembles a uterus). The Midnight Swim is structured like a found-footage movie, but even the form comes unraveled as the mystery deepens.

Written & Directed by: Sarah Adina Smith
Produced by: Mary Pat Bentel & Jonako Donley
Starring: Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino, Ross Partridge, Beth Grant
Running time 84 minutes, November 14, 15, 17, 2014

The Dinner
Daan Schuurmans and Jacob Derwig in The Dinner (2013)

This is the one dinner no one is going to forget.

A father, Paul (Jacob Derwig), and a mother, Claire (Thekla Reuten), are dining at a fancy restaurant with Paul’s brother, Serge (Daan Schuurmans), and his wife, Babette (Kim van Kooten). Their two sons have both been part of a crime, a crime that is public but the details and names have not yet come to light. The two couples try to talk about how to move forward with such a circumstance, but past rivalries and current sentiments stand in the way. Each one has their own hidden motives and agendas that cloud their judgement, and those factors reveal an ugliness that the others are simply not prepared for.

The Dinner is a pressure-cooker drama just waiting to blow. When it does, it rearranges our whole perception of each characters and what we though of them. It also does this for each character present in the scene, making The Dinner an excellent execution of ethics and morality.

Written & Directed by: Menno Meyjes
Based on the novel Het Diner by: Herman Koch
Produced by: Reinout Oerlemans & Maarten Swart
Starring: Jacob Derwig, Thekla Reuten, Daan Schuurmans, Kim van Kooten
MouseTrap Films, Running time 88 minutes, November 15 & 16, 2014

The Look of Silence
The Look of Silence (2014)

With The Act of Killing (2012), Joshua Oppenheimer tackled a subject few knew of, our thought possible. After becoming friendly with the military officials that perpetrated mass homicide in 1965-6, he asked them to recreate their atrocities for the camera, which they did with an atrocious amount of pride and glee, making The Act of Killing one of the most haunting and harrowing cinematic experiences I have ever been privy to.

With The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer has upped the ante by following Adi, a middle-aged optometrist as he travels to those officials still living in peace and prosperity. As he fits them for glasses, he asks them questions about the killings. At first, they answer these probing questions factually, but once they learn that they are personally responsible for the death and mutilation of Adi’s brother, reality becomes all too grim.

A brave piece of filmmaking where Oppenheimer once again confront pure evil with a camera. Not an easy sit, but an important one.

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
Produced by: Signe Byrge Sørensen
Final Cut For Real, Running time 99 minutes, November 14 & 15, 2014