Much has changed for this year’s edition of AFI FEST, which begins Friday. There’s an ace new director of programming—Robert Koehler—some new venues (Mann’s Chinese Cinemas and Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex), and tickets for all films free of charge to the general public. All that said, the festival’s core commitment to offering some of the major entries and discoveries in contemporary world cinema remains unchanged. Here are five films I am most anticipating:
With its primeval setting (a snowy, remote expanse of Alpine forest), sparse narrative (a stranger enters the life of a fatherless family), and pervasive darkness, punctuated by iridescent blurs and hushed voices, Philippe Grandrieux’s latest is a cavernous shadowplay of immersive, Romantic nocturnes.
The rise of Benito Mussolini and the (forced) decline of his first wife is boldly rendered in Marco Bellocchio’s baroque and starkly operatic epic, another surgical incision in the fabric of Italian society by this 69-year-old master. Click here for an interview with Bellocchio by Scott Foundas in Cinema Scope magazine.
Ne Change Rien
Portugal’s Pedro Costa follows French actress Jeanne Balibar in all iterations of her budding chanteuse alter-ego—rehearsing, recording, performing—with the same fixed, enduring gaze, and chiaroscuro shadings that charged Fontainhas with cosmic import. The film will be preceded by Le streghe, femmes entre elles, the latest short work from the indefatigable Jean-Marie Straub and likely the first Los Angeles screening of a new film from this forceful materialist in over three decades.
A plainclothes cop tails a young man through the terminally vacant streets of Vaslui and winds up lost in the tussle of language. Another momentous entry from the continually reliable Romanian stable of young directors, Corneliu Porumboiu's second feature is a procedural of sorts with a semiotic bite. Here’s a trailer.
Two bona-fide academics (Lucien Castaing-Taylor directs Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab while Ilisa Barbash is associate curator of Visual Anthropology at the Peabody Museum) helm this rigorously observant, astutely pictorial document of Westward sheep herding that not only tends to ovine mannerism but also the outer lives of the men who direct them. Here’s the official site.