Day two of the Hamptons International Film Festival started with an incredibly savory breakfast, courtesy of The Hedges Inn, a picturesque and plush locale here in East Hampton. The morning festival schedule left some time to catch up on writing and take in additional scenery in town. I hiked the antiquated brick paths into the village, passing landmarks dating back to the 17th century.
Located on the southeastern peninsula of Long Island, this opulent hamlet was originally home to the Pequot Native American tribe who sold the land to colonists in the late 1600s, making it the first English settlement in New York. The village became a large whaling community, using their bounties for food and oil. Their trade became so large that Herman Melville used this port as a point of reference in his classic novel, “Moby Dick.” One of the locations in East Hampton, Montauk, remains New York’s largest fishing harbor. While the Hamptons are widely known for the wealth that emanates from its residents, the history here remains vibrant and unmistakable.
From East Hampton, I was taken to Sag Harbor – John Steinbeck’s home from 1955 until his death in 1968 – for my first screening of the day: Olivier Assayas’ “Non Fiction,” starring Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, and Patrick Dempsey look-alike, Guillaume Canet. The film made its premiere in Venice before playing Telluride, Toronto, New York, and other such festivals.
“Non Fiction” dealt with a similar theme as “The Kindergarten Teacher” – that as a society, we are disconnecting from art and artists. While the latter focused more on poetry, the former came to the defense of novels, most notably in the form of books, and the struggle that publishers and authors are having as e-books take over the medium. While “The Kindergarten Teacher” approached the issue from a darker angle, “Non Fiction” depicts the tipping point for art through a more satirical lens, with Assayas clearly doling out his narrative with tongue-in-cheek. Through dinner parties, private luncheons, and bedroom excursions, the story evolves devilishly as we watch these people adapt to the changes in the book publishing industry as unsuccessfully as they manage the infidelities in their marriages.
“Non Fiction” is a witty caricature, as fun in spurts as it is long-winded in others. It’s a film worthy of checking out, and a nice counterpoint to pair alongside “The Kindergarten Teacher.”
“Non Fiction” is distributed by Sundance Selects and opens in theaters in early 2019.
GRADE for “Non Fiction” – (★★★)
I followed up one foreign language film with another – Sweden’s official entry into the Oscar race, “Border.” One of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen, “Border” follows Tina (Eva Melander), an unsociable customs agent whose unique heredity allows her a heightened sense of smell. She can detect people’s shame, guilt, and rage, which enables her to catch those trying to smuggle unauthorized items into and out of her country. When Vore (Eero Milonoff), a reclusive man with physical features similar to Tina’s, crosses her path, she is able to dive into her roots and discover why she is able to do things that others can’t.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, “Border” is a wildly outlandish tale of self-discovery. The movie is a bit too eccentric and off the wall, though, to fill the 101-minute feature length, and instead might have been more endearing as a short film. The Academy has shown a taste for the idiosyncratic before in the Foreign Language race – think Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth” (2009), which was nominated here – so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it still gets recognition from their committee.
“Border” is distributed by Neon Films and opens in theaters on October 26th.
GRADE for “Border” – (★★)
I wrapped up day two with the best film I’ve seen here so far, Steve McQueen’s “Widows.” McQueen’s first feature since his Best Picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” “Widows” stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carrie Coon as the wives of men involved in a heist-gone-wrong. When the men their husbands robbed come looking for their money, Davis is forced to assemble her team of ladies to finish the job their deceased spouses started. Stuck in the middle of a corrupt political battle, Davis and her makeshift crew must navigate the waters between two government rivals (played by Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry) to pay back the debt before they’re out of time.
“Widows” is a highly entertaining, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Daniel Kaluuya is the standout as Brian Tyree Henry’s menacing and nefarious brother. Viola is terrific, as is par for the course when she is involved. “Widows” seems less an awards player, and more a popcorn flick that people are sure to eat up. It’s one not to miss.
“Widows” is distributed by 20th Century Fox and opens in theaters on November 16th.
GRADE for “Widows” – (★★★½)
Day three agenda: Saturday remains up in the air, but I will likely see Columbia’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film, “Birds of Passage,” directed by Ciro Guerra (whose “Embrace of the Servant” was nominated in the same category in 2015); George Tillman Jr.‘s crucial crime/drama “The Hate U Give;” the U.S. premiere of Peter Hedges‘ “Ben is Back,” starring his son, Lucas Hedges, and Julia Roberts; and Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.