Today may be the single best day of the festival. Here are reviews of movies from yesterday and reviews of films showing today at the festival — and they are nearly all worth seeing. For all our Dallas IFF coverage, go here.
The Invisible War (Repeats Today, April 18 at 4 p.m. Angelika 6)
Rating: Go See It
It is difficult to pick out what is the most disturbing statistic revealed in The Invisible War, a documentary about the prevalence of rape in the United States military. Is it that 20 percent of woman in the military are victims of rape? Or that since women were allowed into the military, an estimated 500,000 have been raped? Or is it the high percentage of soldiers who are believed serial offenders? Or is it the rates of PTSD among victims of rape that are higher then those soldiers who have experienced combat? In the end, the statistics show prevalence, but what really disgusts and enrages about The Invisible War is the culture it reveals, an ingrained chauvinistic dismissal that makes it near impossible for victims of rape to seek justice. This is because the military’s administrative structure creates a situation in which victims can only report rapes to their superiors, who are, more often then not, the rapists themselves or friends of the rapists. It is an environment that the military incubates and seemingly refuses to address.
The Invisible War introduces us to more than a handful of victims – both men and women – who live in the haze of the after effects of the crime. Through their stories the documentary refutes typical kneejerk reactions to the crime, that the women are somehow complicit or solicitous, that mixing the genders of soldiers creates an inevitable situation, or that, in the case of the rape of men, homosexuality has anything to do with it. Rather, The Invisible War paints a portrait of a culture of violence that attracts predators who know how to game the system to remain untouched, forever hunting. And because of the fraternal, brotherhood-nature of the military, various doctors interviewed liken the experience of military service rape to incest, rather than civilian sexual assault.
What is most difficult about The Invisible War is that it makes you feel helpless – personally helpless. Congress, law suits, reports, and promises to take action by the military: none of these seem to have any effect on an endemic situation. When the film ends, the credits urge you stage screenings of the film, to help get the word out. But the inclination is to simply despair. Maybe that’s the only first step the audience can really take, an act of empathy. Perpetual despair, after all, is all these victims know. If that is the case, then here’s step two: go see this film. – Peter Simek
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (Repeats Today, April 18 at 7 p.m. Angelika 6)
Rating: Go See It
Sometimes history offers up personalities that seem to float above the circumstances of their times, individuals that, by force of will or vision, do not live in history, they shape it. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel offers up Vreeland, a fashion editor, wit, and vivacious personality as this kind of character, a history-shaper, but also a woman who understood herself as playing that special role.
Writer and director Lisa Immordino Vreeland has a choice to make when approaching her subject, who is also her grandmother-in-law: do you tell a straight story of Vreeland’s life, or do you allow the documentary to take the shape of how Vreeland understood her own life, the “faction,” as the personality puts it in the film? The filmmaker goes for “faction, which means taking at face value stories about seeing Charles Lindbergh flying over her head on his famous flight to Paris, or the litany of personalities of La Belle Époque that Vreeland imagines remembering filing through her parents’ Parisian apartment when she was a little girl.
Perhaps none of this happened, but Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel makes the case that what is important is that Vreeland took these kinds of stretched truths and fantasies and built up her identity around them, allowing herself to live in a world more colorful, more possible, and more exciting than most of us will ever know. And it is the way that she lived, that more than anything influenced her work at Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, where she reinvented how the fashion industry saw itself. The documentary makes a strong case that Vreeland was a figure of historic importance, particularly to the fashion world. But that is not really the movie’s power. Rather, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel plays like a call to arms, a crying carpe diem. Life is beautiful, darling. Go live it for real. – Peter Simek
Elena (Repeats April 20 at 7:15 p.m. Angelika 7)
Rating: Go See It
A slow-building, strangely satisfying Russian film that tests and proves the maxim that blood is thicker than water. Middle-aged Elena is married to the wealthy Vladimir, whom she met when she was his nurse during a hospital stay 10 years earlier. She divides her time between Vladimir’s posh, pristine apartment and the crowded communist-bloc housing in which her son Sergei lives with his wife and two children. Though they are sometimes physically affectionate, Vladimir treats Elena more like his servant than his spouse. He resents being asked to help support the family of the lazy, shiftless Sergei even as he dotes upon his own ungrateful, hedonistic daughter. Elena loves Vladimir but is ultimately compelled to what feels like a revolutionary act of class warfare. — Jason Heid
Policeman (Today, April 18 at 1:30 p.m. Angelika 7)
Rating: Go See It
Writer/director Nadav Lapid’s wonderfully acted, chilling second film,Policeman, is a diptych that juxtaposes two intimate portraits of easily reducible characters. The movie’s first half follows a member of an elite squad of Israeli police officers. His wife is pregnant, one of his friends has cancer, and his unit is embroiled in a court case involving the killing of a handful of Palestinians during one of their recent raids. Unfolding the policeman’s character through a series of day-to-day vignettes, Lapid is more concerned with the back-slapping comradery and grunting masculinity of his policemen than placing their private lives in the context of any political setting.
That’s why the politically-charged second half of the film comes as a surprise, as we are suddenly thrust into the upscale apartment of a young woman who is plotting revolution with three young males, all of whom seem infatuated with the girl. It all escalates to a kidnapping, and the police unit from the film’s first half is brought in to rescue the billionaire victims. Lapid’s film’s strength lies in its moral ambiguity, and the way he submerges us in the intimate lives of his characters. There is a harrowing and deeply critical political subtext to Policeman, which likely plays better to an audience more familiar with Israeli’s social tensions, but the vividness of the movie’s characters and the excruciation of its moral situations are infectious and universal. – Peter Simek
My Way (Today, April 18 at 3:30 p.m. Magnolia 5)
Rating: Worth A Shot
Je-kyu Kang’s bloated, nationalistic World War II man-love melodrama feels like the child of Chariots of Fire and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. There’s lots of Spielberg in My Way, in fact, down to the reshot Saving Private Ryan D-Day sequences that flip the perspective from the Allies to the Nazis. How we got there comprises the rest of My Way’s often hackneyed narrative, which tells the tale of two star runners, one Korean (Jun-shik Kim, Dong-gun Jang), and one Japanese (Tatsuo Hasegawa, Jo Odagiri), who end up in the throws of the world war. When Kim is forced into the Japanese army after a disputed marathon win sparks a riot in Japanese-occupied Korea, he begins his lily pad hop from conscripted soldier to Soviet POW, to Nazi soldier. He continues to encounter his arch sporting rival, Tatsuo, who is a ruthless Japanese officer, but softens through the struggles of the survival through the war.
The storyline is patchy, with director Kang offering his full attention to the bombastic war scenes, which are as baroquely orchestrated as they are dull. There are handful of signature shots that are neat to look at, bodies bouncing off tanks, cameras falling with bombs, and tank shells setting soldiers a-fly. But My Way is an American-style blockbuster that unfortunately likewise mimics the Yankee preference for spectacle over substance. — Peter Simek
The Salt of Life (Today, April 18 at 4 p.m. Magnolia 4)
Rating: Go See It
In his second film, Italian filmmaker Gianni Di Gregorio plays a middle-aged man taking one last chance at a zesty, extramarital affair. He comes on to his mother’s endowed caretaker, lunches blondes with his licentious lawyer friend, and sips drinks with his hard-partying downstairs neighbor. Literally “Gianni and the women,” in Italian, The Salt of Life feels like a cousin to Di Gregorio’s debut (at age 59, no less), Mid-August Lunch. It is rich in the colors of lackadaisicalRome and salted by the details of life in the contemporary Italian city: young men are out of work, old men are taking their pensions early. You can’t help but root for the poor sap, whose romantic escapades seem doomed to fail, but at least churn up a series of buffo moments rounded out by a softly smirking existential malaise. — Peter Simek
Heleno (Today, April 18 at 7:15 p.m. Magnolia 5)
Rating: Go See It
Rodrigo Santoro turns in what is perhaps the best singular performance I have seen at this year’s Dallas International Festival as Heleno de Freitas, the title character in Brazilian director José Henrique Fonseca’s bio-pic. Shot by Walter Carvalho (Central Station) in exquisite and ethereal black-and-white, the movie tells the story of the rise and fall of the proto-Pelé, a Brazilian soccer star in the 1940s and 1950s that lead the country to a Copa America win in 1948, but whose life went into a tailspin, ruining chances for club and World Cup glory thanks to a potent and eventually fatal combination of sex, drugs, and pride.
We have seen this kind of character before (indeed, there is more in common between Heleno and Raging Bull than just beautiful cinematography), but Santoro ensures that what we experience through his character is a deeply-rendered sense of empathy, forcing a recognition of the relate-able flaws that find a bedfellow in heroics and excellence. Fonseca accentuates the exasperation of Heleno’s tragic fall by jumbling the chronology of the narrative so that the full focus of the film is not on the failure on the man on the field, but rather the failure of an oh-so-human heart that beats in the chest of a super-human talent. – Peter Simek
Biba! One Island, 879 Votes (Today, April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Go See It
On the island of Tinian, part of the US-controlled Mariana Islands, a mere 879 people participate in a heated democratic process to elect a local leader. Holding sway over a great number of jobs, not to mention the future of the island’s grasp at prosperity (a fledgling casino industry) the election is all-important on this little island, but through its sharp focus, it also paints a sharp picture of the stakes and mechanisms of the democratic system. The incumbent is supported by civil employees whom he feeds and boozes with copious picnics (whole-roasting pigs is an almost daily, mouth-watering occurrence on Tinian), while his challengers accuse the incumbent of corruption. Colorful and pertinent, there is something almost Monty Python-like in the quaint and quirky microcosmic satire of Biba!’s scope, only none of it is very funny. – Peter Simek
Dirty Energy (Today, April 18 at 9:45 p.m. Magnoia 4)
Rating: Go See It
In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, the government and British Petroleum rushed to clean up contaminants that threatened to decimate one of the world’s richest seafood habitats. But did they clean the Gulf, or just cover up the mess? That’s the question Bryan Hopkins’ Dirty Energy asks, but never quite definitely answers, by going to the people who know the waters the best: the fisherman. The stories that come out are disheartening, as an entire way of life seems on the verge of disappearing. Sickening are the insinuations that not only BP, but the US government, were colluding in a plan that sought to first get images of the spill of television sets, while taking measures to address the environmental catastrophe that may have worsened the situation, for example, by using toxins to sink oil to the Gulf floor. Dirty Energy is a canary, the first indication that the story of the BP oil spill is only just begun its second chapter. — Peter Simek
Girl Model (Today, April 18 at 9:45 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Go See It
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s wonderful Girl Modellooks at the underbelly of the fashion industry and its voracious appetite for new faces and talent. Former model-turned-agent Ashley Arbaugh goes deep into Siberia to warehouses full of poor, bikini-clad peasant girls hoping their sharp looks will offer them and their families a way out of poverty. Girl Model follows the story of one such girl, Nadia, who ends up entangled in a seeming scam that lands her in an agency in Japan, lonely, heartbroken, and broke, despite the promise of a glamorous career. But the film’s real emotional center is Ashley, whose job is the product of a lonely life in the trade, constantly traveling, living alone in an echo-y modern house, and still troubled by her own experiences as model — offered through video diaries she made – as well as the dubious workings of an industry for which she is a vital cog. — Peter Simek
Wolf (Today, April 18 at 10:15 p.m. Angelika 7)
Rating: Go See It
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding University of Texas at Arlington professor Ya’Ke Smith’s first feature, which debuted at South by Southwest last month and garnered Smith an Indiewire nod. If the film doesn’t completely meet expectations, it is not because it isn’t an exasperating, emotionally tense, well-acted social unpacking. Set in a suburban Texas community, the movie introduces us to a young, obviously emotionally troubled high school student, Carl (Jordan Cooper), who is ailing from lost love, haunted by dreams, and scaring himself. A suicide attempt is a call for help, roping his gruff, if affectionate trucker dad, night student mother, and church preacher, Bishop Anderson (with a show-stealing performance by Eugene Lee,) into the mystery of his soul’s unrest. Wolf pulls us tightly to its uncomfortable subject matter, blurring the kind of scandal easily reduced to a headline into a complex knot of personal suffering and emotional malice. The movie’s momentum is a bit uneven, some of its visuals are a tad overwrought, and its multi-last shot ending could find more punch with a few simple edits, but it is the characters that count here, and Smith finds their dimension in a way that makes Wolf a frontrunner in the Texas competition. — Peter Simek
ON THE FRONTROW STAGE:
Filmmakers will join FrontRow’s movie writers for interviews on a stage adjacent to the Magnolia Theater in the West Village each night of the festival, between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Here’s a list of upcomming guests. Come out and join us.
Wednesday, April 18
Biba! One Island, 879 Votes
Thursday, April 19
The Other Dream Team