This year was the 39th annual Miami Film Festival, a thing I had no clue existed, even though I was born and raised in Miami. How I missed this is a little embarrassing for me since Middleburg last year was my first ever in-person festival. It’s been held every year since March and has provided a platform for many international films as well as homegrown works from local directors. Several noted films have been shown here, such as Quo Vadis, Aida?, Sound of Metal, Twenty Feet From Stardom, and The Secret In Their Eyes. Being in the heart of downtown Miami, it was a surprise to me how much of it has been revitalized with a brand new cineplex and an art deco historical theater playing the roles as hosts.
In its week-long showing (March 4-13), with the amount of diverse films, I could only choose up to ten events, parties and screeners included, to attend to. Unfortunaetly, I missed out on festival winners Freda, Parsley, and One Second. I quickly learned that I should be more focused on more homegrown films rather than those with major studio or actor attachment because I am in Miami. In contrast to Middleburg, which I attended last year, the Miami Film Festival is really about the rising filmmaker and spices it up with major films in the middle. It will be something to keep in mind for next year. Anyhow, here are five films from the festival this year that garnered my attention.
Opening Film – The Good Boss
Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem) runs a factory that has won him every award except one, and now is a finalist for the last major business award he covets. Considering the workers as his own children, Blanco puts on his paternal persona instead of showing his ambition; willing to do whatever it takes to keep it afloat. However, in the week before the committee for the award comes to tour the factory, Blanco has multiple hurdles in front of him. A disgruntled ex-employee protests outside the factory demanding his job back, Blanco’s Head of Production and lifelong friend struggles with the reality of his wife’s adultery, and a pretty new intern catches Blanco’s attention – until he learns he’s the daughter of a family friend. There are many things Blanco has to juggle in order to win his most coveted thing yet.
Writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa (Loving Pablo) makes a sharp, dark comedy that wonderfully satirizes the love/hate relationship between employee and employer without overdoing it on one side. The Good Boss won Spain’s own Oscars, the Goyas, for Best Actor (Bardem), Best Director (de Aranoa), and Best Film amongst its record-breaking 20 nominations and was Spain’s submission for Best International Feature Film over Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers. Even though he does not have major name power, picking the dark comedy from a relatively unknown director outside of Spain over the beloved Almodovar shows the country’s own diverse talent and faith in others that the world should know of.
In the same vein as Quo Vadis, Aida?, Maixabel tells the true story of a the titular named-protagonist who lost her husband to an assassination carried out by Basque nationalists in Spain. A decade later, her husband’s killer is in prison, remorseful of his actions and offers the opportunity to speak to the woman. However, Maixabel’s decision to confront the assassin brings up tension against her daughter and those who were harmed by the assassination. It’s a difficult scenario of reconciling politics and violence, even years after it happened when the attacks cease. Yet, she wants to know why her husband was killed and how someone could be willing to do this, an answer any victim’s family always wants to know and to determine if the killer is sincere for their crime. Blanca Portillo and Luis Tosar, as widow and killer respectively, are both phenomenal and carry the burden of conflicting emotions in Iciar Bollain’s stirring drama.
The last film to be made by director Roger Mitchell prior to his death last year, The Duke is a true story about how one man (Jim Broadbent) fought injustice by doing the one thing that harmed the establishment: stealing a painting of the Duke of Wellington. Partnering with his son (Fionn Whitehead) to hide the painting from someone he fears more than the police, his wife (Helen Mirren), it is an entertaining piece of British life that seems inconceivable that a simple man for a simple cause – free TV license for pensioners – would go so far and baffle investigators. Broadbent is absolutely wonderful and gives his best performance in many years.
Canada’s submission for Best International Feature is a story of lost love far from home; in this case, from the compound of a Mexican drug lord to a farm in Quebec. Juan Antonio Guerrero (Roma) is Willy, a bodyguard who has a secret affair with the drug lord’s wife, but four years later, mixes in with other Mexican migrants on the farm of a French-Canadian family while looking for her in Montreal. It feels as if the story took place in the United States, dealing with the language barrier as well as the sense of freedom for a better life. Adding in the domestic conflict with the farm’s owners and the unhappiness of the more humanistic wife (Helene Florent), Drunken Birds gives a more global reflection of labor exploitation with the haunting memories of the past that cannot be returned.
The Phantom Of The Open
In the same vein as The Duke, another true story comedy takes root in the form of an unexpected figure who dared – foolishly – to take on the establishment in golf. Mark Rylance plays a former shipyard worker who, in his mid 40s, decides to take up the sport and enter The British Open just one year later. He becomes a cult hero to some, but a farce to the professionals who see his horrible performance as a joke to the world. Again, it’s a vein from British social lore of a blue-collar man sticking it to the hierarchy with a brazen charm of happy-go-lucky attitudes towards life.