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There's A Lot At The Denver Film Fest, Here's Howie's Picks

Denver Film Festival
A still from 'Alleluia' a new Belgium film found at the Denver Film Festival, opening Nov. 12.

The 37th Denver Film Festival opens Nov. 12 and runs through Nov. 23 with a schedule that includes more than 200 films. Here are a few picks from the large menu.

One way to take in Alleluia, a new film from Belgium by Fabrice Du Welz, is to think of it as a warning about Internet dating. A young, shy, mother, Gloria (Lola Dueñas), is toying with an online date when her friend reaches in and clicks "yes." So Gloria has lunch with a slick charmer, Michel (Laurent Lucas) and by the time the two reach the dark clattery hallway of her apartment, she's jumping his bones.

It's too quick, especially since you don't trust this guy, and when he leaves in the morning, you don't expect him to come back. In a fury Gloria tracks him down and proposes an arrangement – she wants to be with him so much that she'll just hang around and watch him seduce other women.

Gloria carries a serious streak of wild jealousy, though, and she is not about to live up to the bargain. Michel neither. Decades ago, the surrealists called this kind of affair an amour fou – a crazy and destructive love. Michel and Gloria leap right into it.

At times, Alleluia falls into the clichés of recent filmmaking – too many too tight closeups, and a hand-held camera that pans and twitches so you can't tell what's going on. What Gloria and Michel do can be genuinely shocking and it's hard to keep your eyes off the depraved career of two people who bring out the worst in each other.

From a different place on the spectrum of movies comes a documentary, Joy of Man's Desiring, by French Canadian filmmaker Denis Coté.

In 2012, Coté made Bestiaire, a beautiful and provocative film about how people relate to animals. Joy of Man's Desiring is about work – physical work in factories, not attorneys in offices or farmers or artists.

The opening is enigmatic. A woman with her back to the camera talks over her shoulder about being open and honest. She wears a half-smile, yet she's threatening. She says to be polite and honest with her or she'll destroy you, although it's hard to know whether that "you" is the audience or a character not on camera.

At that moment, the film cuts to a long sequence of shots of machines – machines that spin, pump up and down, shake side-to-side, or spit out small metal objects. Some of the machines move fast and insistent; others plod along, heavy and relentless. The film holds on these shots; the camera doesn't move, and the effect is hypnotic. You begin to understand the motion, and feel the rhythm in the sounds the machines make. Eventually the film includes people, to look at how they relate to the machines, and how they're ground down and turned into something like the unidentifiable products the machines emit. But the film really just contemplates things. It gives viewers the chance to take in its sights, and to think about them and feel their power.

Joy of Man's Desiring is beautiful and terrifying, and it nods to two great earlier films about machines and work – a 1924 short by the French cubist painter Fernand Légèr called Ballet mécanique ("Mechanical Ballet"), and the 1936 masterpiece Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin.

The Denver Film Festival is full of good stuff to see: Two Days and One Night by the Dardennes brothers of Belgium, is a major film also about work. Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence is his second chilling documentary about the killers in the Indonesian death squads of the mid-1960s, who are still free and bragging about what they did then.

I have not yet seen Dutch-Australian director Rolf de Heer's Charlie's Country. De Heer can be incredibly nervy. In 2006, he made Ten Canoes, the lovely, funny story within a story within a story about Australia's aboriginal people. This one he co-wrote with Aborigine actor David Gulpilil.

I can't wait to see it.

The Denver Film Festival opens for its 37th year November 12, 2014 [.pdf] and runs through Nov. 23.

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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