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March 2021

Command Indecision

Tamás Dobos

Natural Light (2021)

“Natural Light,” set during WWII, often feels like classic awards bait. Its visual and thematic austerity is stark. The film appears to center on the moral awakening of Isvván Semetka (Ferenc Szabó), a photographer turned commander of the Hungarian force occupying Soviet territories – though it’s hard to tell from his perpetual stoicism.

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Dryasdust Memories

Jeonwonsa Film Co.Production

Introduction (2021)

So what’s the Korean Woody Allen to do when his American counterpart now resides on the blacklist? If “Introduction” is any indication, Hong Sang-soo is in no hurry to distance himself from the association even if it now conjures up the alleged predator of adopted daughters rather than the chronicler of the Central Park West bourgeoisie. “Introduction” isn’t just Allenesque, it’s monochromatic Allenesque – à la “Manhattan,” “Stardust Memories,” “Zelig,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” “Shadows and Fog,” “Celebrity” et al. (See also: “The Day After,” “Grass” and “Hotel by the River.”) Continue if you want to be spoiled.

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Power Play

No Ficcion

A Cop Movie (2021)

Alonso Ruizpalacios has pulled off something here that Christopher Nolan could only dream of. This is a movie about being in a movie, while simultaneously being a documentary about being a police officer in Mexico City. The Mexican police do not enjoy an unbesmirched reputation, and “A Cop Movie” is not going to change that. But what it does is show how ordinary people turn themselves into officers of the law, in the same way that actors turns themselves into their characters. It’s a neat metaphor, especially with a subject as complex as this.

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No Reservation

Sébastien Raymond

Beans (2021)

“Beans” is the kind of movie that will get passed around between teenage girls the way Judy Blume books did back in the day. It knows things about growing up that kids are eager to learn whether they are ready for it or not. It’s the summer of 1990 and Beans (Kiawentiio) is 12. She lives on the Mohawk side of a small town outside Montreal with her parents and little sister, Ruby (Violah Beauvais, the dictionary definition of irrepressible). Her mother, Lily (Rainbow Dickerson), who is eight months pregnant, has encouraged Beans to apply to a swank private school for grade 7. Beans is clearly smart enough, but she’s still naive. This is the summer she gets her real education.

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Secrets Stashed

Haut et Court - Abbout Productions - Micro_Scope

Memory Box (2021)

The layered memories of this film work surprisingly well, both as a historical document and as an uncovering of buried truths. The set-up is simple: Alex (Paloma Vauthier) is 14. She lives in Montreal with her mother, Maia (Rim Turki), after her father has left them to start a new family in France. Alex and her grandmother Téta (Clémence Sabbagh) are getting ready for Christmas when a large box is delivered; the grandmother pales and insists it should be hidden away. Alex, obviously, snoops. The box has been sent from the family of Maia’s teenage best friend Julie, who has recently died without Maia’s knowledge. It contains the extensive journals, photographs and cassettes that teenage Maia (Manal Issa) obsessively made for Julie, so they could keep in touch after Julie’s family left Beirut in the mid-’80s. Alex knows nothing of any of this – not of the war in Lebanon, not of her family history, and not of what her mother was like when she was young. So she snoops some more.

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Lies After Death

Amin Jafari

Ballad of a White Cow (2021)

“Ballad of a White Cow” is about a woman who, offered the choice of cake or death, rejects the cake every time. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and a bitter film to watch.

Mina’s (Maryam Moghaddam, who not only cowrote the screenplay with Behtash Sanaeeha and Mehrdad Kouroshnia, but codirected with Mr. Sanaeeha) husband Babak was convicted of murder and put to death a year before the main action starts. In all that time, she has been unable to bring herself to file for government assistance, instead living off her measly job in a milk factory. She has further been unable to tell her little daughter Bita (Avin Purraoufi), who is deaf, the truth about Babak’s absence; instead she maintains that he is studying abroad and will return soon. Bita acts out in school, and otherwise spends her time watching old movies, including those of Shirley Temple. Mina herself has neither family nor friends; instead her only contact is with her brother-in-law (Pourya Rahimisam), the messenger of her unpleasant (and unseen) father-in-law, who will not cede Mina control of her own life. His demands that Mina give up her job and allow herself to be protected/controlled by the family are firmly rejected, but they know as well as Mina does that her options are running out.

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When You're My Age

Lilies Films

Petite Maman (2021)

In 72 short minutes, Céline Sciamma’s new film manages to cover grief, complicated families, the sadness of children and impossible magic. It builds a world where little girls have to negotiate, alone, the feelings of others and the limits of their own understanding. And it suggests that the best way to cope with these awful pressures is to go build yourself a home of your own.

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The Cage of Innocence

Christos Kalohoridis

Night Raiders (2021)

The emotional stakes of “Night Raiders” are so high that it doesn’t matter the movie is a mash-up of “Children of Men,” “Young Ones” and “Leave No Trace.” It’s a bilingual Cree-English futuristic re-enactment of The Scoop – that is, the forcible removable of Indigenous Canadian children to residential schools where their connection to their culture was tortured out of them. (The most notorious residential school in Canada had its own electric chair.) Such tortures have been undertaken on indigenous children all around the world, including those currently happening on the American border with Mexico, and since this is a Canadian co-production with New Zealand, with Taika Waititi and his wife Chelsea Winstanley as producers, there are global points to be made. In a certain way the fact we’ve seen these miseries onscreen before is almost the point, because this shit keeps fucking happening.

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Gravity of Law

Guy Ferrandis

Drift Away (2021)

This is a movie for adults. In America death and suffering are for other people, and humans will go to any length, make any excuse, twist themselves into any knots in order to avoid it. If it’s inescapable, it’s treated with either self-pity or sarcasm, but either method is a refusal to accept it. But “Drift Away” is a French film that knows that suffering is all around and the best way to handle it is to confront it honestly. The French title of the movie, “Albatros,” is after a model ship Laurent (Jérémie Renier) is gifted from his mother. His family have lived on the Normandy coast for generations. Laurent can’t afford his own boat, but his friend Olivier (Alexandre Lefrancois) can, and they often go fishing. Laurent has a partner, Marie (Marie-Julie Maille, the director’s wife, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-edited the film), who works in the town hall, and together they have a daughter named Lucie, but who everyone calls Poulette (Madeleine Beauvois, the director’s daughter). The movie opens with Laurent proposing marriage, in front of Poulette, on Marie’s birthday; she accepts, but without enthusiasm. She is happy with the status quo, and she would rather their money go for the house they are renovating together.

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Solving the Puzzle


Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

What makes “Asako I & II” so immensely captivating is how its characters make spur-of-the-moment choices that generate life-altering reverberations. For his follow-up, writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has seemingly taken a figurative page from the book of Tomoka Shibasaki, from whose novel “Asako I & II” is adapted. Winner of the Silver Bear at the 71st Berlinale, Mr. Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” is a triptych of short films continuing the exploration of fate, impulse and doppelgängers that Ms. Shibasaki commenced. Except in these tales the rash decisions are triggered by anger or longing, which only make them truer to life.

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