by Joe Nolan
The second day of the Nashville Film Festival felt like the event had finally hit fifth gear. By the afternoon screenings the lobby was bustling with ticket buyers, the bar was open outside, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams was giving away free scoops just off the red carpet, and people were talking movies.
Thursday night's sold-out screening of The Identical had a big buzz going, but word on the film was mixed. While some folks I spoke with praised its production values, its outstanding music and the lead performance of Blake Rayne, others pointed out plot holes that prevented them from fully believing this story about two musician twins separated at birth. The Identical is a Nashville production, so the great music comes as no surprise, and you can see the film's cast performing live at the Cannery this Monday night. Check out the Cannery's site for all the details.
I must have been subconsciously channeling the list of fest films that local musician/producer Tony Youngblood posted on Facebook, because we both showed up at the same screenings on Friday. Both films were full of surprises, but Youngblood and I were perfectly aligned when we traded our reviews outside on the patio after the back-to-back flicks.
Metro Manila was directed by Englishman Sean Ellis. The film tells the story of Oscar and Mai, the parents of a struggling young family abandoning their rural life in search of new opportunities in the bustling capital of the Philippines. The film was shot on location using Tagalog with English subtitles.
Youngblood informed me that the hard-luck story was originally written for a British setting, but funding problems found Ellis transplanting his tale to the new location. It's surprising that a film this seamless could've had such an origin. The story here is moment-to-moment compelling and the cinematography — also a credit for Ellis — captures the threatening, chaotic intensity of mean, hot Manila.
When Oscar gets hired by an armored truck company, he makes a new friend in his partner, Ong — but it's a friendship with strings attached. John Arcilla's performance as Ong is outrageously affecting, and it's the beating heart of this tense, funny, brutal, deeply human film. I gave it 5 out of 5 on my scorecard. The picture screened twice yesterday with no other dates on the calendar at this time. If more screenings are added, you'll find out here first.
Robert AA Lowe is the musician known as Lichens. In A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Lowe is cast as a character captured in triptych: First, he's living in a commune on an island in Estonia. Next, he's carving out a solitary existence in the wilderness in Finland. Finally, he's the guitarist in a Black Metal band.
Directors Ben Rivers and Ben Russell are shining stars in contemporary experimental cinema, so my expectations for yesterday's screening were high. The entire film features very long, static shots of people and places. In the first third of the film, life at the commune is captured with loving scenes of a little girl playing in the rain, and lingering dialogs about how people might better learn to live together.
I love “people talking” films, and the best moments here felt like a documentary. In the middle section, with only Lowe present and no dialog, the film becomes nearly silent, and the camera lingers over pebbles on a trail, the moss on a rock, plants, flowers and trees. We see Lowe reading a book. We see him again, rowing a boat. He also fishes from that same boat.
If this sounds boring, you're half right. To their credit the Bens keep everything paced pretty well — the lingering camera gives us moments to appreciate every nuance of each sumptuous frame, but moves on — mostly — just in time to keep the audience from too much seat-shifting. In a conversation with reps from the Indianapolis International Film Festival, we all agreed that the Black Metal third act was at least one song too long. We also agreed that the ravishing, gorgeous image of Lowe's house on fire in the night will be permanently burned in our minds. I gave the film 3.5 out of 5 on my scorecard. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness screens again on Monday at 9:45 p.m.
Today I'll be watching the Tom Hardy thriller Locke at 1:30 p.m. And You and the Night at 10 p.m. Which I'm most excited about for the short film that will precede it: Adan Jodorowsky's The Voice Thief starring Asia Argento.
The excellent hunger/homelessness documentary The Starfish Throwers will also premiere today at 1:15 p.m. The film charts director Jesse Roesler‘s exploration of how three of the world’s most fiercely compassionate individuals fight hunger and struggle to restore hope to the hopeless in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways.
Representing The Starfish Throwers, in attendance on the NaFF red carpet, will be 14 year-old Katie Stagliano, who as a third grader grew one cabbage plant into an entire non-profit organization dedicated to feeding her community. See you there!