33rd Miami International Film Festival Capsule Reviews

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Starting tomorrow, The 33rd Miami International Film Festival will take place in Miami, Florida. Motorbreath has been granted a chance to review many of the films that will screen in it in capsule form, making it the first Film Festival to be proudly covered by Movie Motorbreath (unless you count that post-Cannes ’14 post I did).

The Festival has a history of focusing on independent cinema, both native to the United States (especially Miami-based talent), as well as an excitingly large amount of Ibero-American cinema in addition to the rest of its international interests. The chance to sample this variety of cultural film as well as the various experimental and socially-relevant selections really hypes me up.

As such, I will be updating this particular post with the capsule reviews – as per their requests, based on the varying release dates of the films – of what I watch over its two weeks (and I’ve already begun making use of their online video library) and hopefully give you guys a run-down of what to look out for when it comes to a wide release stateside.

So tomorrow, expect us to begin with a few reviews and keep checking in up until 13 March to see this post updated again and again with more movies underneath!

Thanks to Miami International Film Festival and Miami-Dade College for facilitating this! And thanks to you guys for following up on Motorbreath!

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I’ve Never Not Been from Miami (2015/dir. Omnibus/USA)

Essentially a collection of 10 different short profiles commissioned by WPBT2 (PBS’ South Florida branch), all of them profiles of Miami-based artists in one way or another and all of them directed by a Miami-based filmmaker. And the result is as diverse as you would imagine, though like most anthologies or collections – while there is no short film I out-and-out dislike – the rub is that some are going to outright weaker than others. For instance, one early on that felt more like a video resume than any real insight into the artistic process of its subject (though it still retained an interesting energy that made it a quick and fun watch at least).

But the variety isn’t just in the subjects mediums – from fine art to dance to performance art – but in the styles and approaches the filmmakers make in depicting those artforms. Kareem Tabsch’s short insists on recreating his subject Farley Aguilar’s artwork with models, Tina Francisco’s segment on Bryan Butler parodies the PBS classic The World of Painting (probably my favorite segment with only Monica Pena’s piece of Deon Rubi competing with it). And in many cases, the style of the filmmaker is a perfect match for his subjects work – Swampdog’s stylistic choices in editing style for AholSniffsGlue absolutely helps put someone like me (for whom Ahol’s stuff simply isn’t my aesthetic) into the zone for the 5 minutes in which he is our focus.

Overall, the real rewarding part of this isn’t necessarily the versatility that Miami’s artists presents, but the overall personality of the city’s art culture that they paint – absolutely something more to be gained by watching all of these shorts in a row rather than episodically – one that takes influence from the urban, the raw, the energy, and all of the above into something that feels divorced from many other major art scenes in the US.

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My Big Night (2015/dir. Alex de la Iglesia/Spain)

Your mileage will vary on this exhaustively wacky Opening night comedy, especially with the variable of whether or not you have as little a pulse in the Latin community as yours truly. But there is no doubt there is a good amount to love and enjoy about My Big Night in its rapid 100 minute length. de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevaria drop us right in the middle of a disastrous New Year’s Eve telecast quicker than one of the cranes could intensely crush an extra and, as a result of that exact incident occurring before we can even register where the primary location is, our only surrogate into the bizarre world of hyper-pop gaudy colors and unrelenting screams and confetti is Jose (Pepon Nieto), an unemployed extra rushed on-set to replace the possibly dead man.

In the meantime, the movie rushes in and out of subplots within the story – Jose’s romantic connection with the extra seated next to him, Paloma (Bianca Suarez), and the certain doom it spells for his life; the vicious feuding between the married hosts (Hugo Silva and Carolina Bang); the potential sexual scandal teenage pop star Adanne the Fireman (Mario Casas) runs himself into; a union riot taking place outside of the shooting lit in smoky greys like out of an apocalypse; etc. – all flipped through with little apparent rhyme or reason so much as a character happened to be in frame as one subplot came to its break, with a devious insistence on suggesting how much worse the event will deforms into a loud nightmare like Pedro Almodovar watching a Robert Altman and figuring “I can do that”.

All the characters from punching bag Yuri (Carlos Arecas) to conflicted assassin Oscar (Jaime Ordonez) to everybody do a great job of carving their characters – whether repulsive prima donnas, schemers, imbeciles, or just sad sacks – into gargoyles of shallow glee, and while there’s a sort of loss of continuity that makes the ticking clock of the show hard to follow and many jokes I feel a novice Spanish-speaker like myself missed out on (much of them played up by legendary ballad singer Raphael in an unambiguously self-parodic role), it only ran out of gas for me within its final 20 minutes, until which I was onboard with all the insanity. And I’m sure if you’re significantly more familiar with Latin culture than I was, you’ll have a bigger blast than I had. The audience sure did.

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Truman (2015/dir. Cesc Gay/Spain & Argentina)

Truman has a reputation preceding its appearance here in MIFF. Not necessarily winning the Palme d’Or like Dheepan or nor coming on an overwhelming wave of praise like The Lobster. It did however win the Spanish equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar (the Goya Awards) and it does also feature Ricardo Darin in it, who is probably the Argentinian actor I am most capable of recognizing without a cue card.

Darin portrays actor Julian, the unexpected host to a visit from his old friend Tomas (Javier Camara). It takes no time for Julian to unearth the meaning of Tomas coming to Madrid from Canada: Julian will cancel his cancer treatment and accept his impending death and Tomas will spend the next four days with him, even if he (and many others in Julian’s life) have not come to terms with Julian’s decision. Julian’s primary concern is less with the fact that he’s going to die and more with who he will be able to trust to care for his Bullmastiff named Truman. In the meantime, Julian and Tomas’ time spent is based on them waxing nostalgic and the most surface philosophy on the lives they’ve lived and the life facilitated around them. Still that doesn’t stop Julian from opening up their conversations to the imminent end of his life and while, truth be told, Truman doesn’t make any brand-new revelations about death, the subject remains a heavy one carried with an amount of unmanipulative frankness and gravity. It helps with how much the Truman situation is pushed in the background, only to eventually come around at the end.

Darin and Camara lend this situation a lot of humor humanity that keeps things remarkably light despite the muted color palette and pointed dialogue throughout (My favorite: “People don’t know what to say to me. They smell death and they get scared”) to make this a somewhat rewarding watch, even if it doesn’t have as much meat on its bones as one would expect for a subject of this kind of severity.

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