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Take A Chance, Take In A Hidden Gem At The Denver Film Fest

coutesy Denver Film Festival
A still from 'Supernova' which will be playing at the 37th Denver Film Festival

The Denver Film Festival will show over 200 movies this year. Even counting shorts, that’s too many. There’s a lot of good stuff to see though, and a lot of those films are way under the radar. The glitzy films in the festival are going to open in theaters soon enough. Look for what’s not so obvious. That’s where you’ll find unexpected pleasures.

A French-Israeli film, The Dune, by first-time director Yossi Aviram is what the French sometimes call an emotional film. It’s about how people feel, and how they act on those feelings. The Dune is about a son, probably in his forties, looking for his father, and the son is so overwhelmed that he’s found collapsed on a beach. Later, in the hospital he can no longer speak. On the other side of the picture is a cop in the missing persons division of Paris. Reuven is on the verge of retirement, but the case of this silent man grabs him.

The Dune is full of wide-open spaces with rich stillness and room for you to think and take in the force of what happens. It’s shot with patience and precision, so you can absorb the movie on your own terms. Reuven is played by Niels Arestrup, an actor with a tremendous sense of quiet understatement.

Credit Courtesy Denver Film Festival
Courtesy Denver Film Festival
A still from 'The Dune'

Reuven is gay; he’s lived with Paolo for about 40 years, but sexuality is not the subject of the movie. Like any couple who are good for each other, Paolo and Reuven draw the kind of strength from their love that allows them to deal with the other situations in their lives.

Film festivals exist to show movies like The Dune.

Another deceptively quiet picture is a Dutch film called Supernova, directed by Tamar van den Dop. The film’s tight-lipped and doesn’t explain much, but it slowly picks up strength and steam, and by the end you feel connected to it.

Supernova is one of those modest-looking films in which everything is just a bit bizarre. A family lives in a home that sits right on a sharp bend in a road, and at least once in the past, a car has missed the turn and plowed right into the house. So the possibility of doom hangs over the film, which makes you wonder why the family stays there.

The main character is a teenage daughter who wanders about alone, locked in her own head. She climbs the beams of a nearby bridge; she walks on the roof – and she thinks about physics – especially Newton’s Laws of Motion, because everyone in the family is stuck in some way. Something’s gotta give, and it does, but Supernova does not traffic in quick or obvious fixes. It’s better than that.

For more overt action, the festival is showing the 1959 Black Orpheus, which in 1960 won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. Every year the Denver Film Festival gives some attention to a national cinema, and for 2014 it is Brazil. Black Orpheus is an odd choice for this category because it’s a French film, by Marcel Camus, but it does take place in Brazil. The setting is in the slums, called favelas, which sit on the steep hillsides around Rio de Janeiro, and the time is just before and during carnival, when all these poor people are getting ready to dance in the huge celebration downtown.

In a way, Black Orpheus is just wrong because it projects a full dose of European exoticism and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice onto the darker-skinned people of Brazil. But it doesn’t ignore the original play’s concerns about poverty, and it shows some of the complicated stew of Brazil’s indigenous, African and European cultures.

Black Orpheus is also an absolute, ecstatic marvel of energy, movement, music, dance and color.

Film festivals aren’t for making safe, predictable choices. Take a chance; see something you’ve never imagined seeing before.

It might be worth it.

The Denver Film Festival opens for its 37th year on November 12, 2014 [.pdf] and runs through Nov. 23. Tickets go on sale Friday, October 31, 2014.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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