Narrative Features Forging Frontiers
by Alex Garcia Topete
One of the reasons we love films is that they have the power to transport us beyond borders to lands we have never visited, or take us on journeys we would never dare make. For this tenth DIFF, several films let us ride along for stories that unfold in faraway frontiers, both seen and unseen.
There are stories about crossing borders in the literal sense, from TRANSPECOS’s high-octane thrills with shades of Western because of its US-Mexico desert setting to the fugitive skateboarders and lovers from I PROMISE YOU ANARCHY coming to Texas from Mexico City. Other stories deal with cultural frontiers: DHEEPAN shows us a Sri Lankan migrant and former rebel soldier trying to adapt to his new life in France, while MORRIS FROM AMERICA presents the teenage tribulations of an African American boy as he and his father resettle in Germany, and A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS takes us to the time of the creation of Israel through the experiences of an immigrant mother and her son. Worst of them all, there are the barriers put up by other people, like those in the stories of DISORDER, about a PTSD-suffering soldier having to find himself again and some solace back home after combat; HALFWAY, with a protagonist who’s returning to his hometown from prison amidst racial tensions and problems that resurface from his past; and MR. PIG, in which an estranged father tries to reconnect with her grown up daughter while he travels through Mexico with his highly-valuable pig.
Yet, no matter the darkness of the trip, films like those mentioned above make for experiences that provide emotional journeys with some light at the end of the road.
Dir. David Luna
Eubanks (Danny Glover), an old-school pig farmer from Georgia on the brink of losing his family farm, sets off on a road trip with Howard, his beloved and very large pig. As they make their way across the border to Mexico to find “Howie” a new home, Eubanks’s drinking and deteriorating health begin to take a toll, derailing their plans. His estranged daughter, Eunice (Maya Rudolph), is forced to join them on their adventure. Driven by strong convictions and stubbornness in his old ways, Eubanks attempts to make peace through his devotion to Howie and desire to mend his broken relationships. Director Diego Luna tackles the old and new in an age of global markets, factory farming, and disposable relationships. Luna’s poetic postcard road film to Mexico, guided by a soundtrack evoking the South and old rock ‘n’ roll, is lyrically photographed following the gorgeously overgrown, winding roads of Central America.
Dir. Ben Caird
Should our past actions allow for prejudice against us? Can we expect to be absolved of all blame simply because we have served our punishment? Is a small, largely ignorant town capable of change? In HALFWAY, a recently released convict struggles to adapt to life on probation in a conservative Wisconsin farming community. Byron (THE BLIND SIDE’s Quinton Aaron) is indebted to his lawyer stepbrother Josh–who also happens to be his lawyer–when he manages to get him out of prison on parole with the caveat that he is sent to work on the dairy farm run by Josh’s aunt Beth and her two daughters, Eliza and Julia. After his arrival, Byron struggles to integrate himself into his new environment at a time of emotional deterioration for Beth, who sees him as just another problem to deal with at a time when she is mourning the death of her husband, and trying to save her family’s farm from financial disaster. Adding to this are racial tensions with local farmers who are opposed to Byron’s presence in the rural town. Featuring powerful, honest performances and stellar cinematography, HALFWAY reflects on the trials of a social outcast who struggles to gain acceptance in a society that rejects him. Ben Caird’s stunning debut feature is an emotional journey that captures the experience of being an outsider who, in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, has only one choice: to persevere.
Dir. Alice Winocour
DISORDER centers on a young ex-soldier, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), recently returned from combat and suffering from PTSD. Lost and aimless, willing to do any work that might come his way, Vincent takes a job as a security guard for a lavish party hosted at “Maryland,” a luxurious seaside villa. His eyes settle on the beautiful hostess, Jessie (Diane Kruger) — while his ears overhear matters that are none of his business. When Jessie’s husband travels to Geneva on business, Vincent is taken on as bodyguard for Jessie and her child. Far more than just an efficient, well-made thriller, DISORDER is a study of the trauma experienced by combat soldiers. Vincent is a silent volcano threatening to erupt, and Jessie may or may not be his lifeline out of this morass. In her second feature, Alice Winocour (AUGUSTINE) shows her mastery of nerve-wracking suspense and psychological drama alike as she guides us through the labyrinth of her story.
A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS
Dir. Natalie Portman
Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman makes her debut as writer and director with this adaptation of the best-selling memoir by celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz. In A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS, the years leading up to the creation of the state of Israel are characterized by escalating tensions between Jews and Arabs—conflicts that mirror the troubled marriage of Amos’s parents, both of whom were refugees who fled to Palestine for safety.
While the story is told through the eyes of young Amos (Amir Tessler), much of the narrative revolves around his mother Fania (Portman). An intellectual raised in privilege, she now struggles to accept her adult life as a poor newcomer in a fledgling land, married to a failed academic.
Portman’s deep understanding of her homeland permeates this touching film, telling the story of an immigrant family’s struggles even as it positions them within the larger context of a nation’s birth.
MORRIS FROM AMERICA
Dir. Chad Hartigan
MORRIS FROM AMERICA revolves around a hip-hop loving, 13-year-old boy named Morris, and the relationship he has with his father, Curtis, during the transitional period of adolescence. Complicating matters, they are new residents of Heidelberg, Germany—a city of rich history but little diversity. As he attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence in this completely foreign land, Morris befriends his German tutor-turned-confidant, and falls in love with a local German girl named Katrin. His tumultuous connection with Katrin takes Morris on a journey that ends in self-discovery and a new dynamic to his relationship with his father.
I PROMISE YOU ANARCHY
Dir. Julio Hernández Cordón
Lifelong friends Johnny and Miguel (remarkably played by newcomers Eduardo Martinez and Diego Calva) are skaters with a shady side-business of blood trafficking in Mexico City. Miguel and Johnny also happen to be secret lovers, although neither one of them has quite come to terms with that fact. Before they can figure things out, however, their blood trafficking connections put them on the bad side of the cartels, forcing them to flee for their lives. With finessed filmmaking, raw performances, and Maria Secco’s beautiful cinematography, Writer-director Julio Hernandez Cordon delivers a complex story in I PROMISE YOU ANARCHY.
Dir. Director Greg Kwedar
On a remote desert highway a makeshift Border Patrol checkpoint is manned by three agents: Flores (Gabriel Luna): with an uncanny ability to track; Davis (Johnny Simmons): joined the Border Patrol with dreams of romancing señoritas and riding on horseback; Hobbs (Clifton Collins, Jr.): one of the old guards who believes a college degree can’t stop a bullet. It starts out like most boring days, but soon the contents of one car will change everything. What follows is a journey to uncover the surreal, frightening secrets hidden behind the facade of this lonely outpost. The end of the path may cost them their lives along a border where the line between right and wrong shifts like the desert itself.
DALLAS STAR AWARDOscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s selected credits as a cinematographer include the Emmy nominated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce and films including DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and the Academy Award nominated film, CAROL.
DALLAS MAVERICK AWARDOur inaugural honoree, director, editor and producer Monte Hellman, has a career that spans six decades. He has exemplified cutting-edge filmmaking across multiple genres, working with budgets, from high-to-low, and with casts featuring stars to complete unknowns.