Sundance: Mi Amiga Del Parque, Cemetery of Splendour, & Morris From America

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Mi Amiga Del Parque

Mi Amiga Del Parque: In writer-director Ana Katz’s film, Mi Amiga Del Parque, post-partum depression leads the central character, Liz (Julieta Zylberberg), to make increasingly erratic, potentially self-destructive. While Mi Amiga Del Parque superficially plays out as a character drama, it veers, sometimes with little notice, sometimes with jarring frequency into psychological thriller and the hint of a crime drama. Liz’s bourgeois life (and lifestyle) – epitomized by a comfortably sized apartment, a flourishing career in publishing and as a novelist, and marriage to a documentary filmmaker – drifts into instability when she meets Rosa (Ana Katz) in the local park. Everything Liz isn’t, specifically her socio-economic status and attitudes toward civil society, Rosa sparks Liz to live a freer, fuller life, but for every positive adventure, an almost equal non-positive consequence appears, forcing Liz to question her biases, prejudices, and preconceptions about the lower middle-class. Katz smartly, however, veers away from turning class differences into out-and-out class struggle (with the threat of violence always in the air), instead letting Liz, a mass of contradictory neuroses, fears and anxieties, gradually find herself through hard-fought, reluctant self-realizations. As strong and compelling behind the camera as she is in front of it, Katz proves herself a talented, skillful filmmaker to watch.

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Cemetery of Splendour

Cemetery of Splendour: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work as a filmmaker defies labels. Calling his films “art cinema,” “arthouse cinema,” “experimental cinema,” or “slow cinema” (a recent critical choice that thankfully hasn’t caught on) misses the measure of what Weerasethakul has accomplished over the better part of two decades. Relatively unknown stateside until Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives launched him into the front ranks of international filmmakers six years ago, Weerasethakul’s long-awaited follow-up, Cemetery of Splendour, more than reaffirms Weerasethakul’s international status. As elusive, elliptical and allusive as Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Cemetery of Splendour unfolds at a methodical, meditative pace, focusing on a middle-aged, housewife who volunteers at a school-turned-hospital (an idea freighted, like so many others, with metaphorical meaning) dedicated to soldiers suffering from a “sleeping sickness” (more metaphorically freighted imagery) that seemingly resists medical explanation. While the doctors treat the soldiers with sleep apnea masks and colored lights, a psychic communicates with the sleeping men and their loved ones. Filled with sly, absurdist humor (one woman repeatedly quizzes the psychic over her husband’s presumed infidelity, children playing soccer on an excavated field) and magic-realist imagery bordering on the surreal, Cemetery of Splendour rarely ceases to be affecting, finding in the housewife a richly imagined, affecting character. It’s also just as spare, austere, and minimalist with Weerasethakul limiting himself to single, static takes, medium wide-shots, all of two close-ups, each one more poignant than the last, and a final triumphant shot of a woman finding a measure of wide-awake joy in the choices she’s made and the teeming life around her.

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Morris From America

Morris From America: Craig Robinson’s career as an actor has been defined by material elevating supporting turns, everything from The Office to Hot Tub Time Machine (the less said about the abysmal sequel, the better), and This is the End, delivering sharp-edged, sarcastic takedowns. Somehow, however, he’s managed to rare feat of non-alienating audiences, something many of his contemporaries have failed, even on occasion, to accomplish. In Chad Hartigan’s coming-of-age-in-a-foreign-country, Morris From America, Robinson once again takes a backseat, a supporting turn as Craig Gentry, an American-born soccer coach living in Germany, to his son, Marques Christmas, as the title character, Morris, an African-American stranger in a strange land, the only African-American (not counting his father), in the German city of Heidelberg. While Morris makes a decided retreat into the social and cultural signifiers of American hip-hop (e.g., clothes, music), his father convinces Morris to attend a youth program at a nearby community center. Almost immediately, the 13-year-old Morris becomes smitten with Katrin (Lina Keller), a 15-year-old blonde wise beyond her age. She takes an ambiguous liking to Morris, attention Morris, experiencing the first, hormonally charge of adolescence, happily reciprocates. While Hartigan mines Morris’ predicament (new country, new life, a potentially unworthy crush) for every practical complication imaginable, he repeatedly sidesteps Morris’ uncritical love of hip-hop’s misogynistic lyrics, excusing Morris’ hip-hop adoration as typically youthful error. Hartigan’s odd, disjunctive choice to embrace racial stereotypes (the blonde, fair-skinned Katrin as the epitome of beauty), even for humor, strongly suggests he needs to rethink (or just think) his approach to racial, social, and cultural interaction and integration.



About Author

Mel Valentin hails from the great state of New Jersey. After attending New York University as an undergrad (politics and economics double major, religious studies minor) and grad school (law), he relocated from the East Coast to San Francisco, California, where he's been ever since. Since Mel began writing about film nine years ago, he's written more than 1,600 reviews and articles. He's a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Online Film Critics Society.