Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
The Maine International Film Festival, now in its 17th year in Waterville, remains one of the region’s more ambitious cultural institutions, less bound by a singular ambition than a desire to convey the breadth and depth of cinema’s past and present. (This, and a healthy dose of music and human-interest documentaries.) On that account, MIFF ’14 is an impressive achievement, offering area filmgoers its best program in years. With so much to survey, let’s make haste with the recommendations. (Particularly emphatic suggestions are marked in bold print.)
NEW NARRATIVE FILMS
Sampling twelve years in the life of a Texas family, and shot with a game crew of actors (and children becoming actors) over the same length of time, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (MIFF’s opening night film) is the director’s latest conceptual feat, and perhaps his greatest achievement. By turns a pop-cultural time-capsule, a devastating chronicle of growing up with divorced parents, and a supremely relaxed and observant comedy, the film thrives on the cumulative power of its glancing profundities and its unique ability to depict the simple but unceasing passage of time.
The debut feature by a protégé and editor of Terrence Malick, A.J. Edwards’s The Better Angels lives up to its pedigree. Narratologically inert but fluidly composed and sometimes brilliantly cut, the film imagines the early life and surroundings of Abraham Lincoln. Sundance crowd-pleaser Frank stars Michael Fassbender as a musician always clad in a fake, cartoon head. (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy also headline a strong cast.) The prolific Frenchman Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers) returns to the festival with his latest, Jealousy. Louis (Louis Garrel, Philippe’s son and collaborator) abandons his family to take up with a fellow actress, and Jealousy elegantly and elliptically tracks their relationship.Love is Strange is the latest from Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On), and features John Lithgow and Albert Molina as lovers who run into professional trouble when they marry after a decades-long relationship.
Other scheduling priorities should include The Strange Little Cat and A Master Builder. The former, beloved at festivals around the world, is set at a family dinner in Berlin, and does feature a titular character. The latter is the latest from the great Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, Rachel Getting Married); Wallace Shawn stars in his adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play.
An intriguing feature with some local flavor, Raymond St-Jean’s A Chair Fit for an Angel tracks the artistic and cultural legacy of the Shaker community. Along with footage from New Gloucester’s Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, the film focuses on Shaker-inspired dance and music performances.
Other music films with potential include: Brasslands, a collective-produced film that applies the renaissance of Balkan brass music to the livelihoods of three subjects in various parts of the world; Finding Fela, a biographical effort and surefire entertainer from the inexhaustible, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side); and Alive Inside, the Audience Award winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The Forgotten Kingdom (dir. Andrew Mudge)
In the annals of unlikely follow-ups, Stray Dog deserves an entry: director Debra Granik’s first film since Winter’s Bone follows a Vietnam veteran and Harley enthusiast as he treks to Maya Lin’s memorial and engages with a changing America. The life-after-Superstorm-Sunday doc This Time Next Year should thrive in the capable hands of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaiman (Remote Area Medical, Gerrymandering).