Thursday, May 05, 2016

IFFBoston 2016.02: Five Nights in Maine & Eyes of My Mother

I am going to fall so much further behind this year, it's not even funny.

Shall we start with the horrible photography? Sure!

That there is Maris Curran, the friendly-enough director of Five Nights in Maine who asked the audience not to be afraid to laugh, which was odd, because it never struck me much as a sad movie that nevertheless had moments of levity because people would go crazy otherwise and, besides, tragic situations are often kind of absurd. This thing is close to full-on dour. That's not a complaint even if the film had to grow on me a bit in part because I was expecting something a little different from the introduction, just an observation that viewers and flakes can get very different tones from a given film.

After that, I headed down the Red Line for my first IFFBoston After Dark show at the Brattle, both because it looked like the best thing playing and because I missed so much of the Underground Film Festival that going to the shows that they co-presented made up for it a bit. I didn't particularly love this one, but it's interesting enough that I bet it would be fun to talk about with other fans.

And now, a weird thing too hyper-specific to make it into the EFC review:


I'm kind of surprised that they didn't have a scene of Francisca milking Lucy, both for practical reasons (baby needs to eat) and because it would be a way to highlight how Francisca seems to have a hard time differentiating between people and animals at times. I can understand if the director figured it might come off as too nasty and exploitative, especially in a film where most of the main characters are women, which I get, but I also worry that he was trying to be just transgressive enough to get noticed but not enough to be crass or unsophisticated, leaving the movie more vaguely intellectually interesting rather than also visceral. Honestly, the movie seems to soft-peddle the cannibalism for the same reason.


And with that, I move on to the next day, and wave goodbye to those who saw the "independent" tag and expected tasteful reviews of classy movies.

Five Nights in Maine

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2016 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Growing up in Maine (though born elsewhere), I've heard variations of the "almost a Mainer" joke that one character tells all my life, although it seldom seemed as pointedly exclusionary as it does in Five Nights in Maine. Then again, I am not nearly so obviously "from away" as someone like this film's visitor is, even if the story doesn't always play into that as a mostly-quiet tale of grief.

The visitor is Sherwin (David Oyelowo), driving north from Atlanta after his wife Fiona (Hani Furstenberg) dies in a traffic accident. This will, apparently, be his first time meeting FIona's mother Lucinda (Dianne Wiest), although Fiona visited her recently - a trip which corresponds to Fiona backing off the couple's attempts to conceive a child. When he arrives, he's met not by Lucinda, but her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez), as Lucinda has been through some fairly aggressive chemotherapy recently.

Writer/director Maris Curran is telling a tale of how people grieve in different ways, and I suspect that one of the things she gets right is also a reason why at first blush the film didn't quite seem to gel: Sherwin and Lucinda don't work together, even when they have started feeling each other out and have had an experience or two that forms their own bond. That there's something missing in those scenes is an ovoid thing to say, but it's also literally true, and for as stilted as it sometimes makes the film, it highlights that the puzzle piece that would naturally connect the two is missing, and the very fact of Fiona's absence is not, in this case, quite enough to link the two. Curran doesn't ignore how their natural resentment of one another is a sort of relationship, but only briefly allows it to have anything close to the strength of what either would have with Fiona.

Full review on EFC.

The Eyes of My Mother

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston After Dark, DCP)

Festivals mostly program their horror movie sidebars to start or end at midnight, figuring that the long day will have the audience in prime position to have their weary heads messed with. Sometimes, I wonder if a film like this one might be better suited to an earlier hour, when those who come out are ready to talk about what was going on rather than just side on their way to the bed or the bar. Filmmaker Nicolas Pesce has put together an interesting look at what makes certain characters in the genre tick, even if it's just an average thriller.

Francisca (Olivia Bond) already has a somewhat unusual home life as the film opens, living on a rather isolated farm with her Portuguese-immigrant parents. Father (Paul Nazak) is a quiet man; Mother (Diana Agostini) was an eye surgeon in the old country and takes pride in illustrating the trade using the farm's cattle (she is not sentimental about livestock). One day, a predator (Will Brill) arrives on the farm, and the fallout from his attack is not simple or immediate. When a grown Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) starts venturing off the farm years later... Well, the two women she meets (Clara Wong & Flora Diaz) don't know what's coming.

Pesce jumps forward a couple of times in The Eyes of My Mother in order to allow the horrifying events that just occurred to become the new status quo, which would ideally leave the viewer a quivering mess by the end as he finds new depths to which people can sink, but it doesn't quite work that way; he has the same thing happen twice, and while the circumstances around it are different, it does mean he's repeating himself a bit. Since he's already opened the film with a flash-forward, there's not a lot of raw suspense to be had here.

Full review on EFC.

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