Three Film Gems to Watch For: The Florida Project, Loveless, A Fantastic Woman
Report from the Edmonton International Film Festival
Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to attend the annual Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF), now among the 50 most prestigious film festivals in North America and generally featuring the best independent and foreign films of the year. I have watched 14 excellent films over the past six days (seven more films to go), three of which stand out as almost flawless gems that are not to be missed (if you enjoy independent and foreign films). They are reviewed below, in the order in which I liked them.
This is profound independent filmmaking at its very best.
The Florida Project
My favorite film of the EIFF, so far, is set in Florida, not far from Disney World. It’s a world of elaborately decorated box stores, restaurants shaped like giant oranges, and garish motels. The motels were initially built for tourists but are now also home to people living day-to-day, unable to afford monthly rents and security deposits. Many of those people are single mothers with young children. Among those, living in the bright purple Magic Castle Motel, are Halley (played by Bria Vinaite) and her six-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince).
The exceptionally precocious and poorly parented Moonee is the central character in The Florida Project. Through the summer, we follow her and her two closest friends, Jancey and Scooty (Valeria Cotto and Christopher Rivera), as they torment (in a cute way) all the adults they encounter. One of those adults is Bobby (Willem Defoe), the motel manager, who is constantly frustrated with the behavior of the kids (and with Halley) but does what he can to support them in their difficult lives, lives that will grow ever more difficult as the summer progresses.
The Florida Project, written and directed by Sean Baker, is an incredibly humane and humanizing film that perfectly captures the lives of people living on the edge, people who will do almost anything to keep a roof over their heads. The acting of Prince is so perfect and so utterly amazing that one must assume she isn’t acting at all. The rest of the acting is also superb, with Defoe giving one of his best performances in a role that is engaging and inspiring.
The gorgeously shot The Florida Project finds little pieces of beauty in an otherwise ugly setting in a way that mirrors the heartbreaking lives of those who live there. This is profound independent filmmaking at its very best.
Rated R for language and adult themes (ironic for a film about children).
Two years ago, Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev made one of the bleakest and most thought-provoking films of the decade: Leviathan. He’s back this year with yet another very bleak and thought-provoking film: Loveless. The title says it all, making you wonder whether lovelessness is a chronic problem in Russia today (and, based on the European films at the EIFF this year, maybe in all of Europe).
In a city in northern Russia, 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) overhears his divorcing parents argue about who should take him, because neither wants to do so. Indeed, they imply that Alyosha ruined their lives by forcing them into a loveless marriage. Heartbroken, Alyosha runs away. The rest of the film follows Alyosha’s parents (Zhenya and Boris, played by Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin) as they hunt for Alyosha. There is no real attempt to work together on this, only the endless blame directed at themselves and everyone around them.
As in Leviathan, Loveless is a story told on two levels: the family drama and the state of Russia today. The latter is made obvious in the choice of news excerpts the characters watch on their televisions, in the way everyone is constantly staring at their smartphones, and in the obsession with materialism in the midst of a society still ruled by strong traditions.
Well-structured, brilliantly acted, and beautifully filmed (in the middle of winter), Loveless is a cold, haunting film with lots to say about life in Russia today. Its only flaw is that it is too cold, with a general lack of empathy that makes it less engaging than it could have been.
Loveless is likely to be rated R for mature themes and sexual content.
A Fantastic Woman
The most sublime performance in the 2017 EIFF so far is that of Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, a young waitress and aspiring singer in Chile whose life is turned upside down after the sudden death of her older boyfriend, Orlando (Francisco Reyes).
At the heart of Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman lies the fact that Marina is a transgender woman. Because of that, she is treated abominably by most of Orlando’s family, who view her as a perversion, and by the various authorities she has to face because of the circumstances of Orlando’s death. It is devastating to watch, but Marina’s strength in the midst of grief never wavers, and this well-written film tells her story with great compassion.
Like the films reviewed above, A Fantastic Woman also features stunning cinematography. And while this heartfelt gem may have a flaw or two, Vega’s performance is so nuanced and electric that the flaws are almost impossible to see. Expect an Academy Award nomination for her.
A Fantastic Woman is rated R for language and sexual content.
While all three of these films are rated R, they contain very little violence and minimal sex.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.