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AFI Fest (#110 of 30)

AFI Fest 2017 Let the Corpses Tan, On Body and Soul, & Hannah

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AFI Fest 2017: Let the Corpses Tan, On Body and Soul, & Hannah

Kino Lorber

AFI Fest 2017: Let the Corpses Tan, On Body and Soul, & Hannah

For Let the Corpses Tan, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani trade the giallo stylings of Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears for a wild heaping of spaghetti-western psychedelia. The married French filmmakers may be fixating on a new genre, but their deliriously abstract and meta approach to their craft remains intact. In fact, the shift in genre focus only gives them new objects and landscapes with which to play their formalist games.

Beginning with the sound of gunshots as paint splatters on a canvas, Cattet and Forzani announce their intent to elevate style above all else. What follows is a deliriously gleeful, rapid-fire montage of sound and image: extreme close-ups of burning cigars that threaten to set fire to the very image of the film, landscapes refracted through sunglasses or the flames of a lighter, the crackling of meat roasting over a fire, and enough creaking leather to make Kenneth Anger blush. Let the Corpses Tan is driven by sensory overload—its formal elements pieced together in rhythmic crescendos designed to titillate not with sex or violence, but through sheer cinematic inventiveness.

AFI Fest 2017 Sollers Point and Life and Nothing More

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AFI Fest 2017: Sollers Point and Life and Nothing More

The Hamilton Film Group

AFI Fest 2017: Sollers Point and Life and Nothing More

Director Matthew Porterfield’s Sollers Point follows Keith (McCaul Lombardi), a low-level drug dealer serving the last week of his nine-month home detention after a short prison stint. He’s stuck sharing a rundown one-story ranch house with his pestering father, Carol (Jim Belushi), in a predominantly white, lower-class corner of Baltimore. Graffiti and artwork cover Keith’s bedroom walls—relics from a past when his artistic prowess hinted at a career and distracted him from the rough, drug-dealing crowds he eventually fell in with. Though Keith is ostensibly free once he gets his ankle bracelet taken off, the economically depressed neighborhood that he wanders through for the remainder of the film offers much of the same hopelessness and lack of opportunity that stymied him in prison.

AFI Fest 2015 Anomalisa and Men Go to Battle

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AFI Fest 2015: Anomalisa and Men Go to Battle

Paramount Pictures

AFI Fest 2015: Anomalisa and Men Go to Battle

One of the chief pleasures of attending the AFI Fest is seeing major productions with all-star casts alongside independent ones from up-and-coming filmmakers. In some cases, you get both in the same work, as is the case with Anomalisa, directed by Charlie Kaufman and AFI alum Duke Johnson. Using stop-motion puppetry, the film follows customer service guru and best-selling author David Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, through a dark night of the soul while on a 24-hour business trip away from his family.

In Cincinnati to give a lecture inspired by one of his books, the lonely Stone quickly seeks out female companionship, first from a jilted ex-girlfriend, then from a frumpy fan, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), in town to hear him speak. Except for Lisa, everyone looks and sounds the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan), projections of Stone’s disenchantment with life.

The film continues Kaufman’s exploration of the existential confusion that accompanies the creative process and the anxiety that’s inevitably unleashed when it’s attended by honest self-examination. Like all of Kaufman’s protagonists, Stone is disappointed by the failure of his art to remedy his personal problems and provide the answers to life’s big questions.

AFI Fest 2015 The Club and Blood of My Blood

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AFI Fest 2015: The Club and Blood of My Blood

Music Box Films

AFI Fest 2015: The Club and Blood of My Blood

With Dolores del Río serving as the face of the 2015 AFI Film Fest, it’s fitting that this year’s lineup strikes an almost equal balance between American and international films, both independent and big-budget, with a healthy dose of Latin American filmmakers in the mix. Del Río was Hollywood’s first Latina crossover star, appearing in American films at the end of the silent era and in early talkies before becoming the leading actress of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Her 1933 RKO musical Flying Down to Rio, famous for being the first on-screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, headlines the festival’s Cinema’s Legacy section.

This spirit of fusion between American and international cinema is on display in many of the festival’s films, like The 33, a Chilean-American production that dramatizes Chile’s 2010 Copiapó mining accident. Directed by Patricia Riggen, like del Río a Mexican woman working in Hollywood, the film’s cast is a mix of American, Latin American, and international actors. Though The 33 opened to great fanfare as one of the festival’s five gala films, it’s another Chilean work, The Club, that will be generating buzz as Oscar season approaches.

AFI Fest 2013 The Selfish Giant, The Golden Cage, & We Are Mari Pepa

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AFI Fest 2013: The Selfish Giant, The Golden Cage, & We Are Mari Pepa

Pigment Movie Pictures

AFI Fest 2013: The Selfish Giant, The Golden Cage, & We Are Mari Pepa

Metallic blues and grays dominate the color palette of Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, the British writer-director’s fictional follow-up to her documentary The Arbor. It takes place in the same Yorkshire borough as that earlier film, and it’s similarly sympathetic yet clear-eyed in its examination of lumpenprole life at the precarious margins of postindustrial England. When hyperactive and scrappy Arbor (Conner Chapman) is expelled from school, he takes his exile in stride by wandering the streets and collecting scrap metal, dragging along his friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas), a gentler soul who has a way with the horses that haul the carts. Arbor’s entrepreneurship puts them on the radar of scrapyard owner Kitten (Sean Gilder), who’s introduced to us as an ax-wielding curmudgeon silhouetted by the early dawn, a giant king in this rag-and-bone world.

AFI Fest 2013: In Bloom, The Fake, & Bethlehem

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AFI Fest 2013: <em>In Bloom</em>, <em>The Fake</em>, & <em>Bethlehem</em>
AFI Fest 2013: <em>In Bloom</em>, <em>The Fake</em>, & <em>Bethlehem</em>

In Bloom is constructed in part from writer-director Nana Ekvtimishvili’s memories of childhood life in 1990s post-Soviet Georgia; she and co-director Simon Groß capture the essence of those memories not only in what we see and hear, but in other sense registers. It’s in the texture of dirt scraped off hard-crust bread and in the smell of tobacco from an absent father’s cigarette box. It’s in the muscle memory of a wedding dance performed by a girl not because she’s happy, but because in that moment movement feels like a necessity. The girl in question is Eka (Lika Babluani), and the film charts her adolescent friendship and bond with Natia (Mariam Bokeria) as they grow up in a moment that, from our historical vantage point, we know is marked by grand change. But in the daily lives of these Tbilisi girls, so much seems to remain the same: We witness the quotidian details of scrambling bread lines and dreary school days with draconian teachers before following the characters home to their embattled and dysfunctional families.

AFI Fest 2012: A Hijacking and Berberian Sound Studio

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AFI Fest 2012: <em>A Hijacking</em> and <em>Berberian Sound Studio</em>
AFI Fest 2012: <em>A Hijacking</em> and <em>Berberian Sound Studio</em>

The real world, or at least the attempt to transmit some finite aspect of it, has been the aim of many a film—that transcendental dream that the screen is a window to the world and a movie can provide an authentic experience of it. Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm searches for that authenticity in A Hijacking, a dramatic story of modern-day naval piracy that was actually shot off the pirate-prone coast of eastern Africa. Some of that verisimilitude finds its way onto the screen, and there are successes in conveying the harrowing experience of a crew in captivity. But as with any grasp toward the real, there are fractures and questions and facets of the story left unexplored.

The film traces the fate of a cargo vessel hijacked by Somali pirates through the eyes of the ship’s cook, Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbæk); we bounce intermittently from the ship back to the home office in Denmark, where shipping CEO Peter (Søren Malling) tries to negotiate for the release of the ship and its crew. We alternate between their perspectives as the days of the standoff drag on into weeks and then months. It’s a study in contrasts, as both men attempt to maintain their resolve under what the film regards as different yet connected kinds of tension.