There’s also more than what any human being can see. Over 300 films, total, counting shorts and 135 feature-length films from all over the world. I’ve seen a tiny percentage of what’s on the schedule, but here are a few suggestions:
I’m tempted to say that only a Polish film has the nerve to follow a bloody suicide with a cut to Ricky Nelson’s 1958 recording of the bubble gum song “Poor Little Fool.” Panic Attack, directed by Pawel Maslona has revived the kind of sardonic tone that used to be common in eastern European movies during the Soviet period.
Seven stories interweave; each one of them involves embarrassment and extreme selfishness. On an airplane, a boorish man arrives late to take the window seat. He talks too much and asks annoying questions. Suddenly, the plane shakes and dips; passengers are terrified. When things settle down, the couple next to him discover that the man has died, but they pretend nothing has happened .
In another story, a waiter at a wedding goes into a panic, grabs a cellphone, finds a quiet spot and calls his mother. His problem is that he’s been playing a tense video game at home and fears he will be destroyed. He instructs her on what to do – and the wedding be damned. The other five stories are also funny and horrifying, because we all know that this is us, in one way or another.
Pity is another film with deeply conflicted tones. It’s directed by Greek filmmaker Babis Makridis and co-written by Efthimis Filippou who also wrote The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, both movies made to leave you puzzled. Pity is a film to make your jaw drop.
A man’s wife lies in a coma in a hospital; her prospects are not good. Friends and neighbors treat him with what you might expect – pity – and he gets used to the attention and the lovely cakes brought by the neighbor. Then, the wife recovers and comes home, but the man tells no one about the good news. Just know that things do not end well.
A film from Turkey, The Wild Pear Tree by Nuri Bilge Ceylan runs for three hours and never feels long. A young writer wanders around the small town where he grew up and talks to people about things like work, love and theology. His conversation about free will with two young imams as they walk along has stunning depth – and it’s also good cinema.
Finally, Shoplifters, by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is an exceptional movie. A bunch of people live in a cramped space somewhere in a city. It looks like a family, with a grandmother, parents and children, but over time it’s clear they are not actual relatives. Except for a 40-ish couple, these people have all connected by chance. Early in the picture, two of them find a girl of maybe four shivering in the night cold. She seems abandoned, so they take her in and make her part of what they all refer to as their family.
One of the questions that drives the film is what makes a family – is it blood relations or something else? The movie opens with the father-figure giving the young boy a lesson in how to shoplift. It may be illegal and immoral, but it is also a bonding experience, a father and a son doing an activity together, like fishing, except this is theft. All through this incredibly intimate and kind movie, director Kore-eda puts out tough moral questions, and at the end, the possibility the film presents is just what you don’t see coming.
My basic advice for choosing films in the Denver Film Festival has always been to take chances. Find something you know nothing about and go see it. It may be good, maybe not, but a trip into the unexpected matters, and it’s what the festival does best.