Americans in Paris

On Film / The Daily — Nov 14, 2019
Steven Maier in Saad Qureshi’s A Great Lamp (2019)

Before turning to the American Fringe series rolling out this weekend in Paris, let’s make note of a few stateside goings-on. This year’s AFI Fest opens tonight in Los Angeles with the world premiere of Queen & Slim, the feature debut of director Melina Matsoukas, who’s known for the music videos she’s made with Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez. Written by Lena Waithe, Queen & Slim stars Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya as a couple whose first date takes such a bad turn they’re forced to go on the run.

On Sunday, curator Michael Sicinski and filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary will present a program of experimental films from around the world for the Houston Cinema Arts Society. Chicagoans will plug into what Newcity’s Ray Pride calls “the gorgeous, obstinate delirium” of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971) on Sunday and Monday at the Gene Siskel Film Center after Saturday’s screenings of Nick Ebeling’s Along for the Ride (2016), the story of Hopper’s right-hand man, Satya De La Manitou, and Michael Almereyda’s first film, A Hero of Our Time (1985).


As usual, New Yorkers will be spoiled for choice. Starting tomorrow, the Museum of the Moving Image will present a Terrence Malick retrospective and a new restoration of Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi’s My Twentieth Century (1989). “Jaunting from Hungary to Burma and a half dozen stops in between, the film basks in the haloed light, both literal and figurative, of the nineteenth century’s romantic finale,” writes Screen Slate. “Enyedi balances the gauzy allure of the era’s electric light and early movie technology with a foreboding sense of all the carnage to come.”


Film Forum will be showcasing thirty Romanian films made during the thirty years since the overthrow and execution of iron-fisted dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. And Film at Lincoln Center will screen five features by Patricia Mazuy, the French director who’s worked with Agnès Varda, John Cale, Isabelle Huppert, and Sandrine Bonnaire. Writing for the Notebook, Evan Morgan explains why this series is “surely among the most essential film programs of the year.”

Just as some New Yorkers may be looking to France this weekend, Parisians will be given the opportunity to explore the American Fringe. Curated by Richard Peña, former director of programming at Film at Lincoln Center, and Livia Bloom Ingram, vice president at Icarus Films, the series, whose fourth edition runs from tomorrow through Sunday, aims to spotlight independent cinema in the U.S. As Peña and Ingram put it, these films fly in to the Cinémathèque française well and truly “under the radar,” which makes their selection all the more intriguing.

In Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s Swallow, a newly pregnant woman finds herself increasingly compelled to consume dangerous objects. “A bold and unconventional thriller made real by the evolution of lead actress Haley Bennett (a prize winner at the Tribeca Film Festival) from porcelain housewife to jagged-edged reactionary, this striking debut ignores the medical side of the eating disorder in favor of a far more radical psychological reading,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge. When A Great Lamp, a black-and-white experimental narrative focusing on three drifters in North Carolina, premiered at Slamdance in January, Connor Lockie wrote in Slug Magazine that much of director Saad Qureshi’s “absurdism and nonchalant treatment of oddity resembles the early work of Harmony Korine, but with a more nuanced and empathetic lens.”

Hammer to Nail’s Christopher Llewellyn Reed finds that For the Birds, Richard Miron’s documentary about a couple hosting so many ducks, geese, chickens, and turkeys in their home that the authorities are called in, “succeeds brilliantly in spreading our sympathies across all parties and perspectives, dividing our loyalties up to the very end. This is observational cinema at its very best.” Reed also recommends Matt Kliegman’s “alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking” Markie in Milwaukee, a documentary about a person returning to their evangelical Christian community even as they alternate between identifying as a man and a woman.

Four queer and trans friends have created a tight community in Brooklyn in Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli’s So Pretty. “At a time when so many films across the budgetary spectrum engage in woke cataloging, ticking off boxes that require perfunctory coverage, it’s genuinely refreshing to watch one that treats activist politics as a casually integrated element of its subjects’ lives,” writes Vikram Murthi at RogerEbert.com.


What the Film Festival programmer Peter Kuplowsky calls Armando Lamberti and Brian May’s Green House a “mannered cringe comedy” that “skillfully employs a stylish rhythm to its acerbic dialogue that diffuses the admittedly amateur air of its cast with a heightened sense of artifice reminiscent of Hal Hartley or Wes Anderson.” In Amber McGinnis’s International Falls, Rachael Harris plays a hotel clerk who dreams of breaking out of her tiny Minnesota town and into comedy and Rob Huebel plays Tim, a traveling comedian who’d rather be doing just about anything else. Stephen Saito finds that this downbeat comedy goes “deeper and darker than one would expect for a film that could so easily be content to poke fun at heavy Minnesotan accents and other regional peculiarities in a rural burgh just south of the Canadian border.”

Tim Tsai’s documentary Seadrift recounts an escalating series of events sparked by the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in a small fishing town in Texas. “It would be easy to devote an entire miniseries to the events and themes covered in Seadrift,” writes Matthew Monagle in the Austin Chronicle. “From immigration to cultural acclimation to devastation, the film's exploration of the two families involved in the shooting—and its recap of the national reaction to the trial, including the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan to turn Seadrift into a rallying cry for white nationalists everywhere—often feels like the beginnings of a much bigger story.” Screening with Seadrift will be Delaney Buffett’s The Spring, a thirteen-minute film about the women who play mermaids in an amusement park in Florida. At the Cut, Anna Silman calls it “a refreshing palate cleanser.”

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.