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Candid Trans Sex Workers, Jerky Teen Boys, and a Really Nice Caftan: A Report From Week 1 of MSPIFF

Here are the 13 movies I've watched in the past eight days. Whew.

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Scenes from “Kokomo CIty,” “The Blue Caftan,” and “I Like Movies.”

Hello from the other side of MSPIFF week No. 1. I’ve hunkered down in the Main, for much of the past week, and I’m ready to report on the 13 movies I saw over the past eight days. (You can see my predictions—and how well I fared—here.)

Even if these films are no longer showing at the festival, several are likely to resurface in the months ahead, either at The Main or in wider release at area theaters, or, of course, on streaming. 

I'll be back again next week with my wrap up. And then I probably won't see a new movie for a while.

Kokomo City

Shot in stylish black and white, D. Smith’s documentary lets four Black trans sex workers speak their minds, and the resulting monologues swerve between hilarious, infuriating, and heart-rending. All four women are simply great speakers, with plenty to say about the men who hire them, the cis women who resent them, and race and gender in general. Also, I have to mention “Lo,” a cishet player who becomes obsessed with a trans dancer and has to navigate the unexpected shift in his sexual desire. And though the focus isn’t on the danger these women face, it’s acknowledged, and, as we’re reminded by today’s news about the murder of one of the film’s stars, Koko Da Doll, it’s very real.


NEXT SCREENING: No longer screening.

I Like Movies

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—an abrasive high school nerd gets in a tiff with his best friend, feuds with his mom, crushes out on an older woman, and learns a lesson about himself. But there’s plenty that sets Chandler Levack’s debut feature apart from other coming-of-age comedies. First off, she and actor Isaiah Lehtinen aren’t afraid to make moon-faced protagonist Lawrence Kweller genuinely unlikeable and cruel in the way only a bright teen boy can be. A film nerd convinced he’s headed to NYU, he thoughtlessly hurts his mom, his friends, and his co-workers until they lash back at him. Also helps that it’s really funny. More comedies should be really funny, if you ask me.


NEXT SCREENING: Friday, April 21, 9:45 p.m. 

The Blue Caftan

A traditional Moroccan tailor, dedicated to the handmade details of his trade, satisfies his closeted gay desires through anonymous bathhouse trysts. But his marriage is threatened when falls for his new apprentice. What initially seems like serious bordering on stuffy festival fare comes alive as we realize the characters themselves—the tailor, his wife, the apprentice—have been putting on a formal front with one another to mask their discomfort. Depending on how on board with this you are, the conclusion is either poetically apt or a little too on-the-nose. Either way, it’s not tragic, which for a film like this is an achievement.


NEXT SCREENING: Monday, April 24 at 1 p.m. 

Polite Society

When her art-school-dropout sister is roused out of her dirtbag phase by a marriage proposal from a rich, handsome doctor, aspiring stuntwoman Ria suspects some dastardly plan is afoot. Nida Manzoor (creator of the very fun TV comedy We Are Lady Parts) cleverly satirizes a British-Pakistani social milieu and throws in some nice action scenes too. (A little derivative, but if a man directed them we’d call ’em hommages.) I expected cute and diverting, but Polite Society is more than that, thanks largely to star Priya Kansara, whose big eyes and over-expressive face make her a natural screen comic.


NEXT SCREENING: No longer screening, but now showing in area theaters.

Falcon Lake

While his family is vacationing at their friend’s cabin, 13-year-old Bastian strikes up an intense friendship with the cabin owner’s daughter, Chloe, a ghost-obsessed 16-year-old. Things get complicated as older kids show up, including the son of Chloe’s mom’s new boyfriend, and also as Chloe pushes the boundaries of their friendship. Filmmaker Charlotte Le Bon captures one of those porous adolescent pairings where it’s unclear if the flirtatiousness is just a kind of practice run or an overture to something more romantic with possible romantic undertones.


NEXT SCREENING: Sat, Apr 22, 7:30 p.m.;Wednesday, April 26, 9:50 p.m.

Tori and Loketa

This isn’t top-shelf work from Belgian arthouse faves the Dardennes brothers—as they’ve aged, they’ve gotten more impatient with nuance (to be fair, focusing on injustice’ll do that to you). And this film ends essentially with a statement indicting the European asylum system, just to make sure you didn’t miss the point. Also there’s something a little questionable about white filmmakers treating the plight of an undocumented African as the stuff of what’s essentially a thriller. But Tori (Pablo Schils) and Loketa (Joely Mbundu) still emerge from this film as individuals, not symbols, and that’s a testimony not just to the young actors but their directors as well. 


NEXT SCREENING: No longer screening. 


In this darkly funny, genuinely icky Shudder production, a pathologist (Marin Ireland) decides to reanimate a dead child (A.J. Lister), but matters are complicated when the mom (Judy Reyes), an OB nurse, finds out about the scheme. How far will a mother go to keep her daughter alive? Well, it wouldn’t be much fun if the answer wasn’t “too far.” If the original Frankenstein sublimates the anxieties of motherhood into a gothic tale, writer and director Laura Moss makes that subtext the text with a style that’s grisly but hardly heartless.


NEXT SCREENING: No longer screening.

Before, Now and Then

Indonesian director Kamila Andini’s costume drama has drawn some fancy, high-level comparisons to Wong Kar-Wai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. But while this film does echo some of the former’s taste in lush cinematography and the latter’s obsession with showing buried history manifesting itself through ghostly dreams, Before, Now and Then is more rooted in the material world, and its story is relatively straightforward. At its heart is the moving and mysterious friendship between Nana (Happy Salma), the wife of a plantation owner, and his mistress, Ino (Laura Basuki). One to bask in.


NEXT SCREENING: No longer screening


This story of how two Canadian tinkerers created the most popular phone in the world only to crash and burn is entertaining enough at first. It’s fun to watch nebbishy inventor Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) waver between his good angel (Matt Johnson as goofy co-inventor Doug Fregin) and his bad (Glenn Howerton as belligerent corporate shark Jim Balsillie). And there are great turns from Cary Elwes as a fatuous business rival and Michael Ironside as a hefty drill sergeant of a COO. But the swoops and close ups of the handheld camerawork are beyond cliché by now, and once Mike loses his soul (or whatever) in the last act the movie can’t quite hide the fact the only real lesson to be learned from Blackberry’s fall is that people love iPhones.


NEXT SCREENING: No longer screening

Burning Days

Director Emin Alper transplants Chinatown to rural Turkey, where the need for water is creating massive sinkholes and dominating local politics. Enter a somber young prosecutor (Selahattin Pasali) with a slight contempt for the yokels, who turn out to be sharper than he believes. Alper sets the mood correctly, populating the small town with colorfully suspicious possible nemeses, and some of the cinematography is truly striking. But the middle weaves and drags and the conclusion seemingly explodes out of nowhere. 


NEXT SCREENINGS: Thursday, April 20, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 26, 6:45 p.m.

The Fishbowl

Noelia (Amaya Izquierdo) is a San Juan woman with cancer who has hidden the worst of her news from her family. When she visits her mother on a small island as Hurricane Irma approaches, she’s forced to come clean. Glorimar Marrero Sanchez’s debut feature is at its sharpest when it depicts how overprotective family members can be smothering rather than nurturing, encouraging the worst instincts of stubbornly individualistic people like Noella. But she also indulges a weakness for unearned poetic imagery that ultimately weakens the film.


NEXT SCREENING: Saturday, April 22, 5:15 p.m.


This sweet little movie about a very religious abuela learning to reclaim her sexuality after she accidentally stumbles across a porn site on her iPad was a little too cutesy-naughty for my tastes. And the plot is sketchy around the edges, stirring up a clash with the woman’s daughter just for the sake of conflict. But it was well-received by the audience around me, and Kiti Mánver doesn’t overdo things as the older woman experiencing her late-in-life reawakening. 


NEXT SCREENING: No further screenings. 

My Sailor, My Love

FIle under: What was I thinking? When a gruff old widower and his new housekeeper fall for each other, his daughter is jealous, remembering how he abandoned her as a child and left her to take care of her mentally ill mom. To his credit, Finnish director Klaus Härö wants to come up with something more than just another sentimental tale of old folks in love, but he does so by layering an equally overfamiliar tale of parent-child dysfunction on top of it. Filmed on the same island as a notable Irish Oscar-contender, so call it the Bland Cheese of Inshirin. 


NEXT SCREENING: No further screenings.

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