I, Daniel Blake (UK/France/Belgium)
The winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year, I was really looking forward to the brand new Ken Loach film: I, Daniel Blake. Also having just watched Versus, the documentary on his work, my anticipation was even more heightened. The story follows the titular Daniel, a middle-aged carpenter who has been off work for a while due to a heart attack. He becomes increasingly frustrated with the government bureaucracy as they have cut off his benefits, forcing him back to finding work, even though his doctors haven’t cleared him. While having an altercation in the government offices, he meets Katie, a struggling single mother with two kids, and the two form a quick bond.
Coming from a low-income history, this film struck very close to home. To see both Daniel and Katie get continually shafted by a system that’s supposed to protect them from being forced out into the streets is both heartbreaking and angering. Again, Ken Loach takes a slice out of life and puts it up on the screen for you, a film that, at first, comes off as the comedy of getting put through the ringer of government forms and questionnaires but then it makes way for the serious consequences these characters must face due to a broken system. This movie left me reeling emotionally afterward and is the top of my festival movies at the moment. 5/5
The Confessions (Italy/France)
Taking a couple days break from the bustle of going downtown for screenings, I decided to start on more of my home screeners, starting with this film from Italy and France. It’s safe to say that The Confessions is undeniably an Italian arthouse film, taking place at a G8 economic summit meeting in Germany. The host Daniel Roche (head of the “International Monetary Fund”) has invited all the ministers of economy from around the world to figure out a new system. More intriguing than that, he also invited an Italian monk to the hotel in the purposes of making a confession. The mystery begins when Roche is found dead the next morning after committing suicide.
This one was kind of a tough one for me. The film looks beautiful, with a constant screen symmetry that flows with each scene and tells an underlying story, something that is very standard when it comes to these Italian art films. The cast is phenomenal too, featuring actors from around the world like Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Connie Nielsen and Romanzo Criminale’s Pierfrancesco Favino, and aside from some bumbling scenes with the American representative, the players make the story very compelling. This is until the end when the film decides to go almost against the grain, in my opinion, and heads to a resolution that is largely unsatisfying and a bit puzzling. 2/5
Harry Benson: Shoot First (USA)
Another documentary, another astounding must see film. Harry Benson is a photographer that may be the most important man in that profession living today. This film is a beautiful look at his work, from his days shooting with musicians like The Beatles and Michael Jackson to all the celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland and even presidential candidate Donald Trump, which is actually a story that will give a little more insight and make you chuckle. Benson also was present at many events and situations across the world, like the march in Selma, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and much more.
Not taking the linear approach to the subjects life, this documentary’s structure is very unorthodox. Even so, the film was absolutely astounding and to see and hear Benson talk about these exact moments in time which he captured on film was deeply intriguing. As the film progresses, it becomes evident that Harry Benson is responsible for hundreds of the most iconic images ever captured and in such a broad and worldly way. He was also known as an agitator to both willing subjects and ones that would rather not have the camera on them but at the center of it is a funny and soft-spoken Scotsman who is entirely endearing within his first moments on screen in this documentary. 5/5
In A Valley Of Violence (USA)
In addition to all the great documentaries that play the festival, I always look forward to the Altered States section, a focus on more of the genre films. This year one of those features has usual horror director Ti West doing a different sort of film, a western, which plays into my wheelhouse even more. In A Valley Of Violence is very much a revenge movie at it’s core, a film that has also been called a loose remake of High Plains Drifter.
What works best for this film is the cast that West has assembled. Ethan Hawke leads with James Ransone and John Travolta playing his antagonists. While the script may be a little rough, the story is what makes the film work, against a beautifully shot backdrop of the dust bowl which is the main setting of Denton. West uses his horror learnings to ramp the intensity up and, without giving too much away, puts you on side of the main hero within his first altercation of the movie. Western fans will certainly eat this one up. 3.5/5
For all the great film documentaries I’ve seen and all the heavy subject matter in some of the other films, it’s nice to have a soft and fluffy movie to sit back and just enjoy as pure entertainment. This is exactly what Kedi did for me, a documentary out of Turkey. The film is very simple, it just follows a series of different cats living in the city of Istanbul. No controversy, no issues, no battles for power, unless it’s two tomcats fighting for scraps given by a tourist.
This movie feels cute and satisfying, like watching a series of cat videos on YouTube but with some substance. Even greater than that, this was a film I could watch with my four year old daughter without concern, the only issue being the subtitles. This film was an interesting look at a city that has be filled with cats for a thousand years or more and embraces them as a part of their culture. Cat lovers will be as happy as a kitten with a ball of yarn. 4/5