The 33rd edition of Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival featured some strong movies, including at least a couple of films that this writer will remember by this year’s end as some of the best cinema had to offer in 2016. It might seem to early to recognize this, but when a movie makes you feel this way, it’s a rare and undeniable sensation. You just know when you see a masterstroke of cinema. That said, films that were not so inspiring were also easy to spot. Though, I can’t say I saw any all out stinkers this year.
Probably the most brilliant film of the final days of the festival was a documentary (to read about earlier films we’ve seen, check our previous article: The 33rd Miami International Film Festival – so far). Weiner follows disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, who was done in by his apparent compulsion to flirt and sext with young supporters. He resigned from his long-held seat in Congress in 2011, went into consulting work, but then made a bid for mayor of New York City, in 2013. The documentary looks back on this campaign, as it imploded due to the same kind of scandal that forced him out of Congress.
Weiner is a tragi-comic account on various levels. Filmmaker Josh Kriegman and his co-director, Elyse Steinberg, hold nothing back, while documenting the politician’s failed return to politics. It’s sad for the good intentions that inform his policy and for what he puts Huma Abedin, his wife and mother of their 2-year-old son, through, as the cameras relentlessly document every detail of the campaign falling apart, as yet another sexting scandal emerges. Yet Kriegman and Steinberg find the humor throughout. Every scene is brilliantly edited to heighten comic timing. In a Q&A after the screening, I asked Kriegman why he would use such a jokey tone to cut the film. He noted that he has known Weiner since before he married Abedin, a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton. Kriegman then went on to say the film’s tone was a reflection of his subject, noting Weiner actually has a sense of humor about it all. Although, Kriegman admitted, neither Abedin nor Weiner have seen the final film.
Thom Powers, the festival’s documentary programmer (pictured to Kriegman’s left on stage in the image above) said we were only the third audience to have seen Weiner, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year. It blew away critics and audiences at that festival, coming away with the Grand Jury Prize. Sundance Selects has since picked it up, and it will hit theaters in May.
Less likely to hit commercial theaters is The King of Havana, a rather grim story that unfolds in Havana (but was shot in the Dominican Republic) during the early ‘90s. It was known as a period of especially harsh destitution for the population of Cuba, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Agusti Villaronga’s adaptation of Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s novel follows Rey (Maykol David Tortoló), a young man who is sent to a juvenile prison after being falsely accused in the deaths of some family members. After he escapes, he embraces a hard scramble life on the streets of Havana and takes to his name (it means “king” in Spanish) despite it all, thanks to his only natural rich endowment: a large cock.
The gritty and episodic nature of the film recalls Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1981). There’s humor to be found, and the life and energy the lead actors bring to the film is incredibly charming, especially in the triangle of affection between Rey, his “wife” Magda (Yordanka Ariosa) and his transgender friend Yunisleidi (Héctor Medina). Some of the supporting performances, especially at the beginning, don’t measure up, however, setting up the film for an uphill battle to win over the audience’s suspension of disbelief. But it’s still a strong film, as it builds toward an inevitably tragic finale, punctuated by a disturbingly bleak end note for our hero.
Speaking of grim finales, the final film that I caught at the festival was Chronic by Mexican director Michel Franco, whose filmmaking style I fell in love with two festivals ago with After Lucia (Film Review: ‘After Lucia’ holds unflinching lens to bullying). With his first English language film, he stays true to his style, even opening the film from the view of a car dashboard. Though, here, the resonance of the shot is a bit diminished, considering the plot hardly involves a car, unlike After Lucia. The static, stationary shots focus on the complex personality of a nurse (Tim Roth) who assists patients in need of daily at home care. He seems to find great fulfillment in caring for these people, and the long shots capture that marvelously. However, there’s a profound loss of persona away from the patients, which oozes out of him in creepy ways. It’s a testament to both Roth’s performance and Franco’s style.
Franco was present at the screening, who spoke about getting to know the woman who took care of his grandmother in her final years. He said she inspired him to write the script. He said he met Roth at Cannes, when the actor was the president of the 2012 Certain Regard jury, which awarded its prize to After Lucia. He said Roth told him if he could make the nurse a man, he would be happy to play the role for free. And the rest was history.
There were two more films I caught at the end of the festival that were less interesting though I would not exactly call them bombs. The closing night movie, The Steps by Canadian director Andrew Currie, featuring James Brolin, Jason Ritter and Christine Lahti was as predictable as it could be for a family drama that begs for its characters to connect and come to terms with their differences at the end. That doesn’t mean the journey to the film’s conclusion wasn’t sometimes fun. There were some hilarious moments that kept the film engaging to its warm and fuzzy ending. But it’s still just one of those minor movies that one will forget having seen, come next year.
Then there was the Spanish “comedy about life,” Truman, featuring a pair of Spanish language cinema’s most well-known actors, Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara. It’s an over-long, meandering film, featuring a pair of friends who argue with a modest, even tone. It speaks to a friendship between guys that hardly scratches their emotional surface, even when faced with the fact that one of them is dying. It’s an admirable premise, but it begs for a more distinctive touch in writing and directing by Cesc Gay. It never seems to rise to what is supposed to be a climactic touch that speaks to the film’s title, which refers to one of the friends’ dog. It’s a sweet film, at times, but like The Steps, not quite as memorable a movie.
The awards were handed out on Saturday night. It concluded with a party in the posh Brickell area of Downtown Miami, where the audience award winners were tallied after the closing night film. The short film winner was “Tracks” and the feature film winner ended up being a tie between the Spanish comedy Spy Time and the Cuban drama The Companion. We’ll leave you with the breakdown of the other winners, from the festival’s penultimate press release, summing up one of the most exciting festivals I have seen or been a part of since I’ve been attending in the mid-1990s.
KNIGHT COMPETITION, presented by The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation
Jury members Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Selton Mello and Trey Edward Shults selected the winners.
- Knight Grand Jury Prize: Dheepan (France), produced by Pascal Caucheteux and Jacques Audiard
- Grand Jury Award Best Performance: Zhao Tao in Mountains May Depart (China)
- Grand Jury Award Best Director: Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster (Ireland/Greece)
KNIGHT DOCUMENTARY ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, presented by The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation
The Award winner was selected by the Festival audience.
- Queen of Thursdays (USA), produced by Jorge Alvarez, Orlando Rojas and Dennis Scholl
LEXUS IBERO-AMERICAN FEATURE FILM COMPETITION
Jury members Carlos Lechuga,Leticia Tonos Paniagua and Kenny Riches selected the winning film.
- Paulina (La patota) (Argentina), directed by Santiago Mitre
JORDAN ALEXANDER RESSLER SCREENWRITING AWARD
Jury members Rosa Bosch,Jorge Guerricaechevarria and Diego Lerman selected the winner. This special award recognizes and supports first-time produced screenwriters. Screenwriters from all feature films in the Festival that have a first-produced feature screenwriter credited, compete for a jury-selected cash prize of $5,000, courtesy of the family of the late Jordan Alexander Ressler.
- Lorenzo Vigas for From Afar (Venezuela/Mexico)
Earlier in the week, four other major Festival awards were presented:
The latest in films 30 minutes or less from around the globe, the jury-selected winner received a $2,500 cash prize.
- “The Man of My Life” (France) directed by Melanie Delloye
MIAMI ENCUENTROS presented by Knight Foundation
The winning project in post-production received the Achievement Award, which includes a $10,000 cash prize.
- The Candidate (Uruguay), produced by Micaela Sole and Daniel Hendler
Miami Film 2016 presented by The Related Group
Three prizes were awarded to Argentine films in development.
- Diego Lerman for A Sort of Family
- Gonzalo Tobal for Dolores
- Camilla Toker for The Death of Marga Maier
Jury members Carla Forte, Giancarlo Loffredo and Alouishous San Gomma selected the winner in the Miami student film competition.
- “I Want To Beat Up Clark Peters” by Joseph Picozzi (University of Miami’s School of Communications)
Except for the photos of Weiner director Josh Kriegman in conversation with Thom Powers, all images were provided by the Miami International Film Festival. The festival also provided tickets to all screenings.