Go to the Mill Valley Film Festival!

The First Weekend Was Great! And there was plenty to see.

By Meredith Brody

(Updated with Awards October 22, 2022 below.)

The takeaway from the first four days of MVFF45 was YOU CAN GET IN, EVEN TO FILMS AT RUSH!

And many of the movies I’ve seen will soon be in cinemas near you.

My impression is that, after over two years of pandemic behavior, people are not yet back in the habit of attending movies – much less film festivals – and Mill Valley does have the reputation of long lines and sell-out shows.

But this year PEOPLE ARE GETTING IN! I was in the RUSH line for both Living and Armageddon Time – two of the best movies I’ve seen so far – and I got in.

I had a dear friend who, when I’d see him after a screening or opera or play, would ask me “How was the audience?” And the audiences of the MVFF 45 have been SUPERB: attentive and responsive and improving the filmgoing experience.

It was exciting to see Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in a keyed-up Opening Night audience. Comedies, as we know, play better in a crowd.  The success of Knives Out seems to have spawned its own cottage industry, if the trailers for Amsterdam and See How They Run are to be believed. I enjoyed this sophomore effort from Rian Johnson more than Knives Out, partly because of the wittiness of its skewering of Big Tech and social media, and partly because of its Agatha-Christie-like isolated setting: an architecturally interesting huge mansion on a beautiful Greek island. I was also beguiled by the performances, especially those of Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, and most especially Kate Hudson, playing a wealthy, giddy, clueless, delightfully out-of-control influencer.

Happily Miss Hudson was part of the traveling band that accompanied Rian Johnson to the MVFF, along with the also delightfully-out-of-control Kathleen Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr., appearing together for a brief but juicy q’n’a onstage at the Rafael after the screening (and had done so before the movie played at the Sequoia Theater).  Hudson was stunning in a long embroidered pale green gown, and Hahn was in a sparkling black sequined number. A touch of the red carpet in downtown San Rafael.

I was so keyed up after returning home that I couldn’t quite settle down and watched another movie – the new documentary The Sound of 007 on Amazon Prime.

On Friday I only saw one movie, The Banshees of Inisherin, but it was the sort of peak experience that is WHY we go to film festivals.  The full audience was so quiet and engaged you could have heard a pin drop. I’ve always been a fan of Martin McDonagh, both as a playwright and director, but this one was perfectly pitched in its screenplay and also entrancingly beautiful, even when the words were painfully ugly. I was dazzled by the performances, especially Colin Farrell’s with his expressive caterpillar eyebrows, Brendan Gleeson as his friend-turned-enemy, Kerry Condon as Farrell’s loving but exasperated sister, and a woman who played an increasingly scary witch-like neighbor whose name I didn’t catch, either then or looking online later.

I had been sad not to get a ticket to Tar, especially as I passed several friends exiting it when I arrived at the Rafael, and they were virtually levitating with bliss. I might not have survived two such peak experiences when I returned home. (Although I’ve never been one of those who said after seeing a masterpiece – which I felt about Banshees – that I had to stop right there in order to absorb it. I’m a greedy girl. After one masterpiece, I want to see ANOTHER! Another reason to go to film festivals.)

So on my return home, still greedy, I watched the previous night’s The Late Night with Stephen Colbert, which featured coincidentally a giggly and charming Cate Blanchett – she was so delightful that the salt in the wound barely stung – and the handsome and charming Domhnall Gleeson, who it took me a second to realize was Brendan Gleeson’s son. (It was helped by the picture Colbert displayed of Brendan and his sons Domhnall and Brian in a wacky play together.) 

(The stars of The Banshees of Inisherin, Brenden Gleeson and Colin Farrell appeared on Colbert a few nights later.)

Afterwards I got caught up in watching Klute on TCM – a movie I’ve always liked, but that night in the mood I was in, it – and especially Jane Fonda – seemed miraculous.

On Saturday, if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have showed up at the Rafael and gotten in the RUSH line for Tar. But instead I only saw one movie again, Lady Chatterley’s Lover – which is at least the third version I’ve seen. This one, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, award-winning director of The Mustang (2019), stars Emma Corrin (Diana in The Crown, also in My Policeman at MVFF45), excellent and fearless in the part, along with the unknown-to-me Matthew Duckett, veteran of only two previous films, who was perfectly cast as Lord Chatterley, and buff, bluff Jack O’Connell as the irresistible gamekeeper Mellors. If you choose to adapt Lady Chatterley, an early example of the banned book which has to go through trials to be revealed as a prescient masterpiece, you have to GO THERE. And there was plenty of naked romping tucked in-between scenes of stately homes and gorgeous costumes.

In the q’n’a afterwards, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, a former actress, described working with Corrin, whose attraction to the role started, it seems, with wanting to perform the famous scene of the two lovers dancing naked in the rain – the ultimate expression of personal liberty, she thought. Clermont-Tonerre also discussed working with an intimacy coordinator on the movie, in both setting up boundaries for the actors and choreographing such scenes, and on-set as a supervisor and advocate for the actors.

I could have continued the conversation at 11 am on Sunday, when Laure de Clermont-Tonerre and her intimacy coordinator gave a Master Class about their work together at the Rafael.

But I started instead with Corsage, another movie directed by a woman, Marie Kreutzer, and shot by another, Judith Kaufmann. It’s a lush period piece, set in 1877, about the mid-life crisis of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, played by the estimable Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread, Bergman Island). There’s a bit of (very discreet) sex – Empress Elizabeth prefers verbal admiration of her beauty to actual carnal knowledge – but some nudity, so it was appropriate that my next screening was of Body Parts, a fascinating documentary about the history of the exploitation of women’s bodies and personae onscreen over the years. The clips were well-chosen (I love clip shows!), and the talking heads interviewed for the film included Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, Joey Soloway, and The Wire’s David Simon.

It ended with an ode to the future, featuring the recent rise of the intimacy coordinator, as well as films featuring the female gaze of women directors, writers, and actresses with agency. There was an onstage q’n’a with director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, producer Helen Hood Scheer, and intimacy coordinator, actress-dancer Srah Scott who is also featured in Body Parts. I’m not being snarky when I say that I was glad that they addressed the issue of the titillating factor of the film clips in Body Parts – if you show it, it’s there — which they tried to address in sensitive editing. But part of the pleasure in movie-going is, of course, seeing beautiful people and their beautiful bodies. It’s a relief to know that hopefully in the future we can be assured that these beautiful people will have the opportunity to decide in advance just how much exposure and intimacy they will allow to be shown onscreen.

Afterwards I trekked over from San Rafael to Mill Valley and got in the short RUSH line for Living, which is a reimagining, rather than a remake, of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru (To Live), starring Toshiro Mifune.  Set in London, also in 1952, it stars Bill Nighy as a buttoned-up government bureaucrat who responds to a crisis with unexpected actions that change his life as well as others. I’d never heard of the young South African director Oliver Hermanus before (nor of his four previous films), but his touch in Living was exquisite. Again the audience was rapt, engaged, moved.  I exited the theater again having experienced that peak moment of connecting with a film so deeply that I was reminded of why we go to the movies in the first place. And why art is so important to us.

The rest of the week I hope I will be surprised by ANOTHER masterpiece. 

The weekend is filled with promising new movies, some Awards Season hopefuls and many true discoveries you might never have another chance to see. It is fun to mix it up.

All of the films reviewed here will have theatrical runs over the next few months so go see them at your local independent cinemas.

See you at the movies.

The entire Mill Valley Festival program can be found here with both in-person and virtual screenings available. You can read more of Meredith Brody on the MVFF here

The Festival closed on Sunday, October 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.

MVFF Overall Audience Favorite
Audience Favorite | US Cinema
Audience Favorite | US Indie
Audience Favorite | World Cinema
Audience Favorite | World Cinema (foreign language)
Audience Favorite | Documentary
Audience Favorite | Family
Audience Favorite | Active Cinema
Audience Favorite | Mind the Gap
Audience Favorite | ¡Viva el cine!
Other awards given during MVFF this year include: 
MVFF Award for Debut Feature
Nikyatu Jusu  | NANNY
 MVFF Award Exceptional Performance
 Brendan Fraser  | THE WHALE
MVFF Award for Directing
MVFF Award for Acting
MVFF Award for Screenwriting
Noah Baumbach | WHITE NOISE
MVFF Power of Cinema Award
Mind the Gap Award Ensemble 
Mind the Gap Award for Creativity & Truth
Chinonye Chukwu and Danielle Deadwyler | TILL
Mind the Gap Creation Prize for Directorial Debut

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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