Hamptons International Film Festival: Day Four Takes a Closer Look at the Foreign Language Oscar Race

When I plotted my schedule for what I would see at the Hamptons International Film Festival, I strategically positioned day four – my final day here at the fest – to give me a deeper study into the films likely to challenge Alfonso Cuarón’sRoma” (which I saw in Telluride) for the Foreign Language Film Academy Award.

Before I get into the reviews, I wanted to take a moment to thank the incredible people at FRANK PR – the agency responsible for the opportunity I’ve been lucky enough to experience. Their team here has been amazing to work with. Besides the terrific festival they pulled off – and I do mean really tremendous – they have catered to my every need while here. Each rep is charming, friendly, and down-to-earth. I couldn’t be more impressed with the women I’ve met, who all made me feel at home at the festival. So thank you, ladies, for making HIFF such a smashing success!

One of the ingredients that helped make HIFF such a great festival was their focus on not only showing films about women, but films directed by women as well. Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, was one such example.

“Capernaum” follows 12 year-old Zain, a weathered and tenacious boy who is suing his parents. Through flashbacks, we see how Zain escaped his neglectful and abusive parents’ tumultuous home, and watch as he maneuvers through the gritty slums of his village. Zain encounters multiple detestable and unpleasant characters, and is left to care for a baby when the mother is arrested. He is imprisoned for a violent crime, and held in captivity while he awaits the trial against his guardians.

One of the more remarkable achievements of “Capernaum” is that its cast is made up of non-professional actors who, as Labaki explained in her film’s introduction, are mostly playing characters whose lives run akin to their own. The desired impact of this detail can mostly be felt through the performance of its lead, Zain al Raffea, who is a behemoth onscreen. His performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen from a child actor.

For most of “Capernaum,” we are silent bystanders to the inhumane and disparaging routines of daily life in Lebanon. But as we work toward its crescendo, the vociferous conflict of the film reaches a reticent tenderness. “Capernaum” packs a jolting and turbulent wallop at its emotionally charged conclusion, the theater resonating with the sounds of sniffling and nose-blowing in response.

“Capernaum” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and opens in theaters on December 14th.

GRADE for “Capernaum” – (★½)

Next on the schedule was Japan’s official submission for Oscar, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The film depicts a light-hearted, low-income Tokyo family who finds ways to make ends meet by stealing goods from their local markets. Things become more complicated for the impoverished group of amoral outsiders when they take in a young girl who has been left out in the cold by parents that are neglectful and abusive. As the events of the film unfold, we see there is far more to this group of swindlers than we might have expected. Buried secrets are exposed, and we discover that groceries aren’t the only thing they’ve been pilfering over the years.

“Shoplifters” delivers a supple fable of what it means to be a family, and how love transcends bloodlines. The amiable prose is sweet and sincere, if not a bit long-winded (the just over two-hour run time somehow felt much longer). The end result, however, is a rich and wistful account of how compassionate the dynamics of a family can be, even in the harshest of circumstances.

“Shoplifters” is distributed by Magnolia Pictures and opens in theaters on November 23rd.

GRADE for “Shoplifters” – (★)

The eleventh and final film I was able to take in this long weekend was Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War,” Poland’s formal entry for the Oscar race. Pawlikowski’s “Ida” took home the Foreign Language Oscar for 2014, and like “Ida,” “Cold War” uses a stark black and white lens to add to the chill of his subject matter. The title refers to both the era the film take place (1947-1964), and the wintry yet passionate love affair our two leads carry on over the span of three decades and four countries.

Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) are musicians that fall in love in post-World War II Poland. When one fails to show up for their escape west into Paris, the pair separate and spend the rest of their lives in an on-again/off-again affair. The duo seems to enjoy making each other miserable, in what is often reminiscent of a Fellini-esque version of “Wuthering Heights.”

“Cold War” is not the type of film you see and instantly go write about, though sometimes this role requires just that. It is, instead, a film that should be left to simmer and marinate in the afterglow of its worth. It is gorgeously shot and beguiling in nature. Kulig is a star in the making, handing over a performance eerily evocative of early Bridget Bardot with a dash of Jennifer Lawrence. Should she desire a jump to American cinema, I have nodoubt she has the talent and the je ne sais quoi to be a major star.

This is a film I know I will think about for some time, and one I am not fully ready to give an official rating to. So we will say the grade I give it below has a margin of error of .5 stars, one way or the other. But I can leave you knowing it is a film that should not be missed.

“Cold War” is distributed by Amazon Studios and opens in theaters on December 21st.

GRADE for “Cold War” – (★½)

And that’s a wrap! Thanks again to Frank PR for the fantastic experience.

Here is my ranking of the eleven films I saw at the 26th annual Hamptons International Film Festival, with ratings listed:

  1. Green Book (★★★★)
  2. Widows (★★½)
  3. Cold War (★★½)
  4. Capernaum (★★½)
  5. Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow (★★½)
  6. The Hate U Give (★★)
  7. The Kindergarten Teacher (★★)
  8. Shoplifters (★★)
  9. Non Fiction (★★)
  10. Ben is Back (½)
  11. Border (★★)