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Looking back at the first five days of the Milwaukee Film Festival. Highlights thusfar include "The Russian Woodpecker," "The Look of Silence," "Jaws" at the Oriental, and "Finders Keepers."

The first five days of the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival have elapsed (already one-third of the way finished!) and it’s off to as good a start as any that’s come before it. In lieu of reviews this year I’ll instead be giving you little recaps of what I’ve been able to check out in On the Marquee (meaning even more ground will be covered next week).

DAY 1

There’s no doubt that Youth was a big get for the film festival, a prestigious follow-up film from an Oscar-winning director (The Great Beauty’s Paolo Sorrentino) with a big name cast (Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano) and awards season aspirations coming fresh from its Toronto Film Festival premiere, but unfortunately the movie isn’t very good. Sorrentino can craft dazzling imagery and even create memorable sequences, but a consistently interesting film seems to be beyond his reach. You can read a bit more in my full review, but don’t feel bad if you missed out on this sold-out screening.

DAY 2

Luckily after that early disappointment, the festival provided me with ample opportunities to be refreshed. Friday morning saw The Second Mother, a winning dramedy about a live-in housekeeper named Val, the pampered family she tends to, and the absolute upheaval of their social dynamic brought about by the arrival of Val’s daughter for a brief visit. Director Anna Muylaert does a fine job of starting the film out with Val wedged between windows, doors and other frames and then opening up the frame along with her worldview (Plays once more – 4 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Sept. 30).

I followed that up with The Russian Woodpecker, a movie whose merits I’ve already flaunted for you in this blog before so I will simply state that its one of the best documentaries of the year.  After that came the U.S. premiere of the documentary Nicola Constantino – The Artefacta, a solid portrait of the Argentinean artist and her stunning work (animal cadavers pressed into perfect spheres, a handcrafted duplicate of herself, bars of soap produced with her own liposuctioned fat) with a welcomed focus on her hands-on process.

DAY 3

What better way to kick off a festival day than with the classic children’s picture Babe? It remains as expert a piece of children’s filmmaking as ever, a testament to the virtue of living a life where one looks for the best in others and treats them with dignity.  And on the opposite end of the treating-others-with-dignity spectrum came The Look of Silence, the absolutely magnificent and devastating documentary follow-up from Joshua Oppenheimer to his critically-acclaimed The Act of Killing. This was a shattering experience, profound and powerful, eclipsing the masterful Act of Killing thanks to this film’s emotional and moral base.

The following film The Great Alone, telling the amazing true story of Iditarod racer Lance Mackey while capturing starkly beautiful shots of he and his sled dogs traversing the desolate and treacherous Alaskan landscape, was a nice pick-me-up in the aftermath of emotional devastation. I wrapped up the day with Violet, a competition film about a teenager struggling to cope following the senseless killing of his best friend. This is highly calibrated filmmaking that places you directly in the headspace of someone disassociating from the world around them, and despite snickers from some in the audience, it is a film that absolutely rewards patient and careful viewing from its viewers.

DAY 4

A day of classics at the cinema: both Jaws and Safety Last! were absolute blasts to take in with packed houses at the Oriental. It’s impossible to see where cinema is going if you’re not familiar with where it has been, so I find it absolutely imperative to check out repertory screenings at every MFF and it was truly heartening to see so many Milwaukeeans do the same. I took in the Sports Shorts program (plays again 1:30 p.m. @ Avalon Oct. 3) to close out the evening, and as always they proved to be delightful and an exceptional feat of thematic curation.

DAY 5

Only one movie on Monday evening, but it was a hell of a film: Finders Keepers. The story of a custody battle over a decaying foot found in a grill won at auction, it manages to be as ridiculous as the premise sounds and approximately 1,000x more engaging and heartbreaking than you could imagine.  The story of the two desperate men at the center of this conflict is a perfect microcosm of many aspects of the American experience and this film manages to stay hilarious even when it treads into emotionally piercing territory.  You absolutely have to catch this during one of its other two screenings (1 p.m. @ Oriental 9/30 or 7 p.m. @ Avalon 10/8).

 

Quick Links

Read my full review of Youth here, and keep checking in for reviews throughout the festival.

My recap of the Michael Phillips ‘State of Cinema’ address is here.

 

On the Marquee

Wednesday, September 30: The Walk opens locally

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing

Wednesday, September 30 & Thursday, October 1: In the Basement

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 general admission/Free for members and students)

Thursday, October 1: Miami Connection (Rifftrax Live)

7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theaters (Click here for tickets)

Friday, October 2: The Martian, Sicario and Sleeping With Other People open locally

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing

Friday, October 2 through Sunday, October 4: Bluebird

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 general admission/Free for members and students)

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