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The Denver Film Festival is back. Here's what our critic recommends you watch

Courtesy of IFC Films

This year marks the 44th Denver Film Festival and the big change from last year is that it will take place in person. Tickets for the festival, which runs from Nov. 3 through Nov. 14, are already on sale. And so far, KUNC film critic Howie Movshovitz can recommend two films.

Plenty of films that matter would not show up in theaters in these parts without the Denver Film Festival. Streaming makes many available, but nothing compares to seeing a good movie, meant to be seen large, on a full-sized screen in a theater with other people. That’s what the Denver Film Festival has been bringing here for now 44 years — hard-to-find films that matter from all over the world in real theaters.

French director Jacques Audiard’s new movie Paris, 13th District will certainly fill the screen. There’s a lot of sex in the film, mostly in close-up, and it’s graphic. It’s kind of an Emilie loves Camille loves Nora kind of story with a good bit of angst and a ton of shifting jealousies.

The title comes from the 13th arrondissement of Paris, pretty much the southeast corner of the city, where the story takes place, and where nearly everyone who comes on screen looks to be about 25 years old. The three main characters all have jobs, but what they mostly do is think about and practice sex. Camille, the one man, and Nora sometimes sell real estate. Emilie works in a call center and is very bad at her job.

You might see in the film a vision of the sterility of contemporary life among the young, who relate to their phones more than to any human beings.

This sometimes-cynical, always over-20 film critic wonders if Paris, 13th District might be a comedy, dry but sometimes funny. Sober dramas about the sterility of modern life tend to be clichés, but comedies bring some life to the subject.

The sequence when Taiwanese Emilie acts as an interpreter for an older Taiwanese man trying to buy an apartment from Camille and Nora is hilarious, if you look through the right lens. Emilie and the man start talking about life in Taiwan and forget completely about Camille and Nora who sit there biting their lips as they wait. Whatever Paris, 13th District is, it’s interesting and alive. And director Jacques Audiard earlier films, The Prophet and Rust and Bone are exceptional pictures.

Andrea Arnold’s documentary Cow tells a very different story. Working in frequent stunning close-ups with cinematographer Magda Kowalczyk, Cow focusses mostly on a single very large dairy cow named Luna on a British farm. They say you can tell a lot about people or a society by the way animals are treated, and if so, Cow is not in praise of human beings.

As the film sees it, on this farm, cows are objects – they’re bred, calves are yanked out of them, they spend their lives surrounded by metal stanchions and gates, and electric milkers. They’re shoved and pulled all over the barn. The camera is often right up in the face of Luna, studying her look – and sometimes the film goes close in on her back side.

But over the course of the picture, you connect to this unchanging face. Luna is a living being. You learn to recognize her bellow of rage when her newborn calf is taken away, and a sequence in a meadow makes it clear that there is a level of feeling and intelligence in Luna – and by extension the several hundred cows who share space with her. The cows frolic into the pasture; they lick and nuzzle each other and lie in the grass. A long-held close-up shows Luna calmly chewing her cud as daylight begins to fade. Maybe Luna appreciates a sunset as much as people do.

Watch out, Cow might make a vegan of you.

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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