FINALLY FEELING FESTIVE – Looking Forward to the 2022 Mill Valley Film Festival, October 6 through 16

By Meredith Brody

October 6, 2022

In the past I have written, once or twice, thinking it was something of a joke, that if you wanted to see a movie beautifully projected on huge big screens with a full attentive audience who were all watching the BIG screen instead of their little screens, you had to go to a film festival.

Sir Ian McKellen’s 2015 Tribute; Photo by Drew Altizer Photography

And now, after nearly three years of not going to movies, whether in theaters or at festivals, and becoming increasingly used to – but not happy about — seeing movies via streaming services at home, I find that my little joke rings increasingly true.

Especially after seeing Baz Luhrman’s Elvis in a big theater with only 14 other souls – 6 of whom arrived sometime after the movie began; after finding it all-too-easy to pause or turn off a streaming movie; after not being able to talk with people after a movie about their impressions; after impetuously dashing off on September 3rd, National Cinema Day, and seeing Three Thousand Years of Yearning, Nope, and Bullet Train in full messy theaters (but, alas, having to ask people to turn off their phones repeatedly); and especially after impetuously dashing off to the Toronto International Film Festival in September, seeing 47 movies in whole or in part over ten days, and falling in love with movie-going all over again.

It was the first time I’d been out of the country since October 2019. It was the first time I’d been back to Toronto, where I’d been a regular for decades, since September 2019.

And I saw a lot of great (and a few not-so-great) movies, beautifully-projected on huge screens, with full attentive audiences who were all watching the big screen. Although it must be said that people in press screenings are much more likely to feel compelled to check their little screens than audiences who have paid for their tickets. And there now seems to be a competition for who can turn off their little screens at the latest possible moment when a movie starts, edging into the credits or even later. One wonders what Roger Ebert, who once wrote an essay about a fight he got into with a guy using a lighted pen during a press screening at Cannes, would do.

The upcoming 45th Mill Valley Film Festival is an alluring hybrid of arthouse films and big star-stuffed commercial movies, some that will appear on your streaming services, and intriguing smaller movies that don’t yet have distribution.

 

Every one of them will benefit from being seen with fellow movie-lovers. It’s your first chance to see movies you’ve been reading about since they played earlier this year – months ago at the Berlinale in February or Cannes in May, or more recently in the consecutive fall triumvirate of Telluride, Venice, and Toronto, generating floods of want-to-see publicity and endless speculation about Oscar chances.

Of the dozen movies I saw in Toronto that are playing in Mill Valley, I am delighted to say I can recommend each and every one, for different reasons – first and foremost because you’ll be seeing them on the big screen with good audiences. 

At the Sequoia Theatre; Photo by Jason Henry

The gifted actress-auteur Sarah Polley adapted the dark – both literally and figuratively — Women Talking from a novel by famed Canadian writer Miriam Toews, based on an astonishing and true sex scandal within a religious community that results in a reckoning by the women affected. She assembled a stellar cast including Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Ben Wishaw, who wrangle over how to react to their predicament: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. There is no foregone conclusion, and the results are heart-wrenching. After her amazing documentary Stories We Tell (2012) and this film, Polley has become one of the world’s filmmakers willing to take on the most challenging material.

Canadian Director Sarah Polley Snags Frances McDormand For New Movie 'Women Talking'

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has often concentrated on complicated family dynamics in his previous films, including the justly-lauded Shoplifters (2018), which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year at the Academy Awards. In Broker, a stressful but delightfully funny story of a self-assembled family of Korean baby-brokers who bond with the mother of an infant they originally intended to steal, followed by relentless yet quirky officers of the law, Kore-eda finds a new tone almost Capra-esque and charming. Song Kang-ho won the Best Actor prize in Cannes for his role in Broker.

Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook is renowned for a series of dark, violent, passionate revenge-thriller films, including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and the suspense thriller The Handmaiden. His new film Decision to Leave is something of a classic film noir, with an upstanding, uxorious young detective drawn towards a fascinating femme fatale, leading him to betray both his profession and his marriage. Park Chan-Wook won the Best Director prize at Cannes for his characteristically elegant Decision to Leave.

Another dark dystopian film from Asia is Plan 75, directed by Chie Hayakawa, a word-of-mouth hit at Cannes that won a Special Mention in the Camera d’Or section. Struggling with an aging population, the Japanese government offers money to people over 75 who volunteer for assisted suicide. The program’s matter-of-fact implementation and progression results in a could-this-happen-here sensation that is both chilling and affecting.

I did see feel-good movies that are appearing at the MVFF. Chief among them was Stephen Frears’ The Lost King, re-uniting him with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, the writers of his earlier hit Philomena (2013), starring Judi Dench and also based on a true story. The Lost King reveals the events that resulted the amazing discovery of King Richard III’s remains under a car park in Leicester, spearheaded by a determined eccentric amateur historian, played by the brilliant Sally Hawkins, whose efforts were undermined by patronizing academics who seized credit from her. The Lost King is something of an overdue feminist correction to the official line.

Another movie that was pure catnip to this sentimental Anglophilic film buff was Sam Mendes’ written-and-directed Empire of Light, starring another justly-lauded English actress, Commander of the British Empire Olivia Colman.  It’s a dual love story: that of Colman for the gorgeous aging Art Deco film palace where she works in the British coastal town of Margate in the 1980s; and another unexpected one between Colman and a younger staffer at the theater. Stellar support is given by Colin Firth as the predatory theater manager, Toby Jones as the projectionist, and charismatic handsome newcomer Micheal Ward as Stephen, the troubled young staffer.

Another quintessentially British film is My Policeman, featuring hot-boy-of-the-moment Harrv Styles, in a heartbreaking triangular love story – among Styles, the policeman in question, torn between his vulnerable young wife (Emma Corrin: Princess Diana in The Crown; also appearing as Lady Chatterley in Lady Chatterley’s Lover at MVFF) and a charismatic museum curator (the intriguing David Dawson), told in two distinct periods of their lives. The actors who incarnate the older triangle are Linus Roache for Styles, Gina McKee as Corrin, and the eerily appropriate Rupert Everett for Dawson. Director Michael Grandage, better known for his theater work, notably at the famed Donmar Warehouse in London, undertakes a timely and ultimately hopeful narrative with both heat and delicacy.

Another romantic and sexual triangle is handled with both heat and delicacy in The Blue Caftan, by Maryam Toubani. In a noisy, dense Moroccan medina a husband-and-wife team operate a small tailoring establishment practicing the almost-lost art of hand-embroidering traditional caftans for a demanding, if often clueless, clientele. They employ a handsome young apprentice, who becomes essential to them both in the shop and at home as the wife declines from her terminal illness. Toubani’s 2019 debut feature, Adam, premiered in Cannes and was followed by The Blue Caftan, the international film critics’ FIPRESCI prize winner this year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section.

The Wonder, a historical film set in 19th century Ireland, comes as something of a surprise from the Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lello, many of whose previous films (Gloria, A Fantastic Woman, Gloria Bell) celebrate free-spirited contemporary Latina women.  Florence Pugh plays a nurse, veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean war campaign, who is hired to monitor an 11-year-old girl who has reportedly not eaten or drunk anything for four months. What she learns changes their lives forever. The strikingly beautiful film is based on a novel by Emma Donahue, who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Room (2015).

Florian Zeller, prolific French novelist and playwright, adapted his own play The Father (2020) with Christopher Hampton for his directorial debut, and it won both the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and the Best Actor one for Anthony Hopkins.  His second film is The Son, again adapted with Hampton and focusing on difficult family dynamics. Wealthy, successful Hugh Jackman, long divorced from first wife Laura Dern, has just had a baby with second wife Vanessa Kirby when he agrees to have his depressed adolescent son come to live with him. Everybody involved, even the volatile boy (an intense Zen McGrath), tries hard to cope with the complicated situations they find themselves in, but you’ll be squirming in your seat as even the best intentions go awry.

Family dynamics are again at the core of One Fine Morning, the latest semi-autobiographical installment by Mia Hansen-Love. Lea Seydoux, a busy freelance translator raising a sassy 8-year-old girl on her own, has to cope with finding an appropriate place to live for her beloved ex-academic father (Pascal Greggory), suffering from a neurodegenerative disorder that’s robbing him of his memory, sight, and physical powers. She also has to deal with her insouciant mother, long-divorced from her father (Nicole Garcia), and with a complicated relationship with Melvil Poupaud, an old married friend with whom she begins a passionate but frustrating on-and-off relationship. Perhaps besides the point (but never for me!), the everyday, non-touristic Paris looks great.

One of the reasons I went to The Good Nurse, MVFF’s closing night film (it happened, coincidentally to be the last film I saw in Toronto), was precisely because it was made for Netflix – and I wanted to see it on the big screen. Both Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne have expressive faces, and I wanted to see their emotions close-up on the biggest faces possible. As it happens, it’s an unusually contained performance for Redmayne, playing a nurse who befriends his hospital colleague Chastain, a single mom coping with fatigue and financial stress. Mysterious deaths begin to occur on their ward, and the homicide detectives who are assigned to investigate them are given short shrift by the hospital’s executives.  Chastain is drawn into the investigation as she, too, unhappily begins to suspect her friend and fellow nurse.  Based (alas) on a true story about what may have been one of the world’s most prolific serial killers.

There are many more movies showing at the MVFF that I am hoping to see. Tar, starring Cate Blanchett as a charismatic symphony orchestra conductor, won her the Best Actress Volpi cup at Venice. The first film in sixteen years from director Todd Field after the one-two punch of the Oscar-nominated films In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006) also played in Telluride, but not in Toronto.

Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, based on the Don DeLillo novel, played in Venice (to mixed reviews) but not Telluride nor Toronto. Local Manhattan boy Baumbach opened the New York Film Festival with it on September 30th – nine of his films have played there. White Noise is another Netflix offering that I for one would prefer to see on the big screen.

Opening MVFF this year is Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his successful murder mystery comedy Knives Out, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, again featuring Daniel Craig as the suave Southern sleuth, but with a new eclectic cast including Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monae , and Leslie Odom Jr. And there is no truer truism than it’s better to see a comedy in a laughing crowd.

So it follows that seeing Martin (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin – described as a pitch-black comedy — in a full festival audience would also be a good idea. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson go head-to-head in this tale of two lifelong friends who fall out and divide their village over their feud. Farrell won the Best Actor Volpi Cup in Venice and Martin McDonagh took home the Best Screenplay award.

Another crowd-pleaser in Venice was Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale; pictures of star Brendan Fraser with tears running down his face as he was greeted with a standing ovation after screening the comeback film in which he incarnates a 600-pound man were seen around the world.

Rumor hath it that Alejandro G. Innaritu has fine-tuned his autobiographical Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, about a Mexican documentary filmmaker, by cutting out some 22 minutes after mixed reactions to its first screenings at both Telluride and Venice. Still, Mexico has chosen it as its official candidate for the Best International Feature Oscar.

Two period pieces featuring lauded performances by superb actors intrigue: Corsage, starring Vicky Krieps as Empress Elisabeth of Austria on her 40th birthday in 1877, and Living, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Ikiru, also set in 1952, starring Bill Nighy as a mid-level London bureaucrat.

Arthouse auteur James Gray returns with Armageddon Time, billed as a “deeply personal coming-of-age story” inspired by his childhood in Queens and starring Ann Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and Anthony Hopkins.

Reading through the MVFF catalogue reveals more and more movies I’d love to see, including unknown quantities, documentaries, and oddities. To mention one of each: at the Ashland Film Festival in 2019, I was moved and intrigued by young filmmaker Ellie Foumbi’s short film No Traveler Returns. Her first feature, Our Father, the Devil (Mon Pere, Le Diable), about an African refugee in France confronting someone from her past, has received acclaim at film festivals all over the world, including the audience award at Tribeca this year.

Sometimes you feel like a movie has been made just for you, and that’s the case with the documentary The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher, about my favorite author since I was a child, the glamorous food writer who influenced my own career. (Editor’s note: Eatdrinkfilm’s Gary Meyer is an executive producer of The Art of Eating.)

And there’s the wild card EO, about a donkey, inspired by Robert Bresson’s classic Au hazard Balthazar, and directed by 84-year-old Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski, his first feature in seven years, with Isabelle Huppert among the cast.

And then there’s the classic festival surprise: the movie that you go to because it’s showing conveniently between two other movies you’re going to, or you take a chance on because you’ve never seen a movie set in Syria or made in Argentina or about Lyme disease, and it turns out to be your favorite film. Take a chance!

The entire Mill Valley Festival program can be found here with both in-person and virtual screenings available.

The Festival is October 6-16, 2022 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, Sequoia in Mill Valley, Lark in Larkspur,Roxie in San Francisco, and BAMPFA in Berkeley.

A selection of movies are available to stream and view at home.

The website is not the most user-friendly but with patience you can find what you need. Reportedly there are some TBAs but it isn’t easy to find them. 

At noon, on the day of the show, tickets may be released for at rush in-theater screenings (i.e. screenings for which the advance tickets have sold out). Should they become available, noon release tickets will be available for purchase online on the show’s page

The 236 page Program Book can be downloaded here.

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Past Festival Panels and conversations an be viewed on their YouTube Channel.

proxyMeredith Brody, a graduate of both the Paris Cordon Bleu cooking school and USC film school, has been the restaurant critic for, among others, the Village Voice, LA Weekly, and SF Weekly, and has written for countless film magazines and websites including Cahiers du Cinema, Film Comment, and Indiewire. Her writings on books, theater, television, and travel have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Interview. She also contributes to EatDrinkFilms including her“Meals with Meredith,” where she talks about food and film with filmmakers at restaurants in northern California, writes about vintage cocktails and where she eats during film festivals at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. A selection of her EDF pieces are found here.

One could describe Meredith as “hooked on cinema” as she attends four-five films a day at many bay area and international festivals each year.  Somebody has to do it. Read about her journey back to festivals after two years in pandemic mode.

 

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