Category Archives: Family Issues

SIFF 2024: Solitude (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

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Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ninna Pálmadóttir’s quiet drama concerns an unassuming farmer named Gunnar (Thröstur Leó Gunnarsson) who reluctantly sells his beloved horses and relocates to Reykjavik after getting pushed off his land by a hydroelectric project. He has received a generous settlement, which enables him to offer cash for a condo.

For Gunnar, moving to the city is tantamount to getting drop-kicked into the 21st Century; he is overwhelmed by the stimuli. He strikes up a sweet friendship with a bubbly 10-year-old paperboy named Ari. The boy’s parents are separated. While they try to share equal time with their son, squabbles arise over scheduling conflicts, frequently leaving Ari in the lurch. As a result, Gunnar becomes his de facto babysitter. Gunnar’s naivety eventually leads to a misunderstanding that could have serious consequences for him. A beautifully acted treatise on the singularly destructive power of “assumption”. 

SIFF 2024: The Missing(***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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Writer-director Carl Joseph Papa uses a combination of rotoscoping and hand-drawn animation for this semi-autobiographical drama (the Philippines’ first animated Oscars submission for Best International Feature). A young gay animator who has been mute since childhood suffers a break from reality after discovering his uncle’s body during a wellness check. As the young man comes to grips with suppressed memories, what ensues is an honest, raw, and emotional look at the effects of childhood trauma.

SIFF 2024: I Told You So (**1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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Set in Rome during a freakish January heatwave, writer-director Ginevra Elkann’s network narrative (reminiscent of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia) follows the travails of several characters in crisis: an alcoholic mother who has lost custody of her little girl, a faded 80s porn actress coming to grips with her mortality, a bulimic young woman who provides elder care for a woman with a shopping addiction, and an American ex-pat priest struggling with his junkie past. As the heat rises, so does the angst.  Episodic; despite a fine cast and some nicely played scenes, the narrative threads never quite gelled for me.

Tribeca 2023: One Night With Adela (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 17, 2023)

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Volatile, coked to the gills and seething with resentment, Adela (Laura Galán) is wrapping up another dreary late-night shift tooling around Madrid in her street sweeper. However, the young woman’s after-work plans for this evening are anything but typical. She has decided that it’s time to get even…for every wrong (real or perceived) that she’s suffered in her entire life. Galán delivers a fearless and mesmerizing performance. Shot in one take (no editor is credited), writer-director Hugo Ruiz’s debut is the most unsettling portrayal of alienation, rage, and madness I have seen since Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone. Definitely not for the squeamish.

Tribeca 2022: Deep Sea (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 17, 2023)

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Xiaopeng Tian’s colorful 3-D animation fantasy follows the dreamlike journey of a melancholy little girl named Shenxiu (voiced by Wang Ting Wen) after she falls overboard during a storm while on an ocean cruise with her father, stepmother, and baby brother. Shenxiu longs to reconnect with her biological mother, who she hasn’t seen or heard from since her parents’ divorce. Akin to the little boy in Where the Wild Things Are, Shenxiu encounters strange and wondrous characters that embody her troubled emotional state; anthropomorphic creatures that also serve as avatars for the people who are closest to her. An imaginative and family-friendly adventure in the vein of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

Tribeca 2023: The Future (**1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 10, 2023)

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A near-future tale about a surrogate mother-daughter relationship between an Israeli scientist (Reymond Amsalem), and a Palestinian college student (Samar Qupty) who has confessed to assassinating Israel’s Minister of Space and Tourism. The scientist heads “The Future Project”, which uses algorithms to predict terrorist attacks (shades of Philip K. Dick). The scientist has asked permission to conduct a psychological study of the young woman to determine why her crime eluded prediction. More “science-fiction” in tone than production design, writer-director Noam Kaplan’s economical film is essentially a chamber drama, bolstered by earnest lead performances but bogged down by its heavy-handed allegory.

SIFF 2023: Table For Six (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 20, 2023)

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Hong Kong director Sunny Chan’s colorful, sometimes raucous mashup of dysfunctional family melodrama with door-slamming bedroom farce is uneven in tone, but good-natured enough to be forgiven (if quickly forgotten). Three adult brothers live together in an inherited restaurant-turned apartment. The eldest is nurturing a broken heart, the middle is excited about a new girlfriend, and the youngest is set to get married. Complications and hilarity ensue. Not a masterpiece, but fun while it lasts.

SIFF 2023: Retreat (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 20, 2023)

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Movie rule: If a father picks up his young son, whisks him to an isolated location (in this case, a family cabin in the mountains) and casually asks something to the effect of “So-what’s Mommy’s new boyfriend like?”- you know there is going to be a lot of brooding. And unease. Swiss writer-director Leon Schwitter’s impressive feature debut contains a lot of brooding and unease (I was reminded of Roger Donaldson’s Smash Palace). The lovely Alpine setting belies a creeping dread. With two actors carrying the film, the story simmers on a slow boil, but nonetheless keeps you glued to the screen.

SIFF 2023: L’immensità (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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Emanuele Crialese’s semi-autobiographical drama about a dysfunctional family (set in 1970s Rome) combines the raw emotion of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence with the sense memory of Fellini’s Amarcord. Penélope Cruz portrays a woman in a faltering marriage struggling to hold it together for the sake of her three children, to whom she is fiercely and unconditionally devoted. Her teenage daughter Edri identifies as a boy named “Andrea” (much to the chagrin of her abusive father). Buoyed by naturalistic performances, beautiful cinematography (by Gergely Pohárnok) and a unique 70s Italian pop soundtrack.

SIFF 2023: Lonely Castle in the Mirror (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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The Breakfast Club meets Alice in Wonderland in Keiichi Hara’s anime, adapted from Mizuki Tsujimura’s novel. Seven middle-school students (all misfits) are given access to a magic castle via their mirrors. Once there, a “wolf girl” informs them the first to find a hidden key will be granted one wish. As they become acquainted, they become less competitive and more empathetic toward each other. Overlong for a simple narrative, but a lovely message for kids.