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Five Films to Watch at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival 2020

Shiva BabyEXPAND
Shiva Baby
Photo courtesy of Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival is back this month with its 35th edition, offering a unique mix of films in both virtual and in-person form. That’s right: not only are most of the features and docs available for streaming in Florida through Sunday, November 22, but most screenings will also be taking place in person at FLIFF's venues Savor Cinema and Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.

With over 200 films set to screen through its run, the choices can be overwhelming. Luckily, New Times has a few recommendations to narrow down your choices.

Shiva Baby

Watching Shiva Baby is not dissimilar to watching someone balancing and spinning numerous plates and waiting until the moment they all come crashing down, as riveting as it is anxiety-inducing. Emma Seligman’s feature debut takes place at a shiva where Danielle (Rachel Sennott) must navigate every peril that comes with a family gathering. If it’s not her weight being commented on, it’s a reminder that she’s an unaccomplished student with no post-grad plans who just babysits and lives off the money of her deeply neurotic parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed).

But Seligman smartly doesn’t limit it to that: Danielle is also a sugar baby whose daddy just so happens to be a married man (Danny Deferrari), with a new baby and a successful wife (Dianna Agron), present at the shiva. And if that wasn’t enough, her ex-girlfriend, Maya (Molly Gordon), is also in attendance and being celebrated for her law-school success while everyone quietly talks around their sexuality.

Every ounce of Shiva Baby is designed to make one dread what comes next while laughing about it. Its ensemble embodies the exact level of passive aggression one might expect from people who are as uncomfortable around each other as they are invested in their growth. Though it is sometimes a little too reliant on close-ups to emphasize that sense of anxiety and it ties itself up a little too neatly for its own good, especially after creating a sticky web of situational humor, the film feels like something of an ideal capsule of what it’s like to be a queer person unsure of their path in life. – Juan Antonio Barquin

Streaming through Sunday, November 22. Screening at 1 p.m. Sunday, November 22, at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood) and Savor Cinema (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale).

Woman of the PhotographsEXPAND
Woman of the Photographs
Photo courtesy of Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Woman of the Photographs

There’s an excitement that comes with ingesting a debut feature that feels like it’s coming from a filmmaker with a concrete and unique vision. Takeshi Kushida’s exquisite Woman of the Photographs is one such example: A deceptively simple but engrossing tale of a silent photographer (Hideki Nagai) and the wounded influencer (Itsuki Otaki) who fell out of a tree and into his life.

Much of the wonder of Woman of the Photographs comes from its ability to navigate the way photography and identity, in particular, are inextricably linked. In many aspects, from eroticism and body horror to subtle drama and offbeat humor, Kushida’s work here is something of a direct descendent to David Cronenberg. He’s just as fascinated with the intersection of technology and the body and explores it by offering as much grotesquerie as beauty.

Nagai and Otaki play off each other delightfully, one as the silent prey and the other as the talkative predator. Kushida juxtaposes these performers not only with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet suite but with the recurring visual of a praying mantis devouring its meal. The soundscape of the film shifts between dead silence and a cacophony of grating noises, and the images it presents are constantly being retouched, retooled, and recreated, with characters musing on what the perfect vision of beauty looks like.

Where many contemporary features would instantly damn their figures for indulging in the digital shape-shifting that turns them into something they’re not, Kushida instead takes a playful but even-handed approach to the allure of tailoring our image to what we believe others want in us. Just as humanity switches between masks on social media, Woman of the Photographs refuses to allow itself to be defined in any concrete way, and that’s precisely what makes it so exciting. – Juan Antonio Barquin

Streaming through Sunday, November 22. Screening at 2:30 p.m. Friday, November 13, at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood) and 5:30 p.m. Monday, November 16, at Savor Cinema (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale).

Spring BlossomEXPAND
Spring Blossom
Photo courtesy of Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Spring Blossom

Spring Blossom, the debut feature from Suzanne Lindon, is a quintessential francophone coming of age romance where 16-year-old Suzanne, played by the 20-year-old Lindon, becomes infatuated with Raphaël, a 35-year-old theater actor, played by Arnaud Valois. What reads as a provocative premise is treated as a rather chaste romance. (The age of consent in France is 15.) One might imagine Lolita envisioned by Sofia Coppola or ponder what if Manhattan had been written and directed by Mariel Hemingway instead of Woody Allen to explain the allure of Spring Blossom.

In French fashion, Suzanne and Raphaël are drawn together by a shared sense of ennui with their current lives. Suzanne is a daydreamer out of touch with her young classmates, and Raphaël is numb to the repetition of his life in a theater. Lindon has found the intersection of coming of age and midlife crisis that infused a film such as Lost in Translation. Unlike that previous film, the writing seems more attuned to the female perspective. This is both the film’s strength and weakness, as Raphaël is underdeveloped as a character, and his motivations are cloudy.

Lindon’s Suzanne joins a long lineage of cinematic gamines. Her crisp white shirts and faded jeans convey a naturalistic and unpretentious je ne sais quoi. Her seemingly ethereal quality is matched with a concrete and grounded understanding of the world and her own situation that make her a compelling character to watch. The direction and acting are assured. Lindon incorporates dance and movement to convey characters’ states of mind in an unconventional and inspired way. To be fair, Spring Blossom is simple and slight but also enjoyable like a promenade on a Parisian street. However, its portrayal of female adolescent longing outside of a patriarchal structure is quietly revolutionary and makes you fascinated to see what Lindon makes next as an actress, director, or both. – Trae DeLellis

Streaming through Sunday, November 22. Screening at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, November 18, at Savor Cinema (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale) and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, November 21, at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood).

Marcel Duchamp: Art of the PossibleEXPAND
Marcel Duchamp: Art of the Possible
Photo courtesy of Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Marcel Duchamp: Art of the Possible

If you’ve ever suffered a trip to the museum with someone who spent the entire time looking at art and saying, “I could do that,” then Marcel Duchamp: Art of the Possible is the documentary for you. This is a dense exploration of Duchamp’s intellectual philosophy and artistic works that is, sometimes to a fault, scant on biographical details. You may not get the greatest sense of the man behind Marcel Duchamp, but you do get an exhaustive exploration into his mind and its impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Director Matthew Taylor uses an impressive cast of academics, curators, practicing celebrity artists like Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic, and even an out-of-left-field archival interview with David Bowie to structure a chronological retrospective into the work of Duchamp. Focused on specific works, like Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 and The Large Class, and particular periods of creation, the film interrogates the nexus of practice and thought. Art of the Possible firmly cements Duchamp as the father of conceptual art and a provocateur who consistently questioned, “What is art?” From his experiments in painting to mixed-media sculpture to readymades and replicas, Duchamp’s work is revealed to be united in the assault on the absolutes and intentionality of aesthetic principles and subjective taste.

This is directed toward the top of the art-history class and may require some additional research, but it creates one of Duchamp’s greatest motivations: questioning conventional thinking. An amusing tangent that posits Duchamp as the father of meme culture through the juxtaposition and recontextualization of image and text that will have you scrolling through your Instagram feed in a new light. It will most likely inspire a post-pandemic trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see its impressive Duchamp collection on display. – Trae DeLellis

Streaming through Sunday, November 22. Screening at 4:30 p.m. Friday, November 13, at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood).

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of TimeEXPAND
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Photo courtesy of Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

The cumbersome title of Lili Horvát’s latest film, Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, conveys a sense of uncertainty that makes this noir-ish romantic mystery so captivating. As if some kind of pared-down amalgamation between Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and a Douglas Sirk melodrama, the film investigates the collision of obsession and perception. It is as cerebral as it is desperately passionate and the wounds it opens give a glimpse straight into the artery that connects the brain to the heart.

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The film opens with Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork), a brilliant neurosurgeon returning to Hungary from the United States, waiting on a bridge. The man she is supposed to meet does not appear and she seeks him out, after meeting at a medical conference and having a torrid affair that was supposed to culminate in their bridge rendezvous. Upon seeking him out, he says he has never met her and a bewildered Marta faints.

What follows is a journey of obsessive love, or at least what our protagonist perceives as love. Horvát smartly creates an insular world for Márta, the 35mm film stock lending every empty apartment and lonely hallway a haunting texture. Every aspect of the film’s production, down to its costuming and the color palette it offers, creates the feeling of existing between fantasy and reality. The script frequently forces the audience to question whether or not the woman they’re watching is beyond the point of a nervous breakdown or being subtly gaslit.

What’s most captivating about Preparations is Natasa Stork’s performance, the kind of layered role that only an actress of a certain caliber can manage. It’s as distant as it is inviting, with Horvát and Stork humanizing a character that one could consider unfavorable in their actions and decisions. But that navigation of ambiguity is precisely what makes for such a seductive viewing experience. – Juan Antonio Barquin and Trae DeLellis

Streaming through Sunday, November 22. Screening at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, November 11, at Savor Cinema (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale) and 3 p.m. Thursday, November 12, at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood).

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