The Palm Beach International Film Festival kicks off Thursday for a weeklong bonanza of movies, including more than two dozen world premieres and many more documentaries, shorts, and international and domestic feature films at four Palm Beach County theaters. Here’s a look at three of the titles I had the pleasure to screen in advance. For the full schedule of films and events, visit pbifilmfest.org.
In the brave and discomfiting issue movie “Lonely Boy” (8:45 p.m. April 10 at Muvico Parisian in West Palm Beach), protagonist Franky (Alev Aydin) is not in the best place. His parents are long dead, he has no personal relationships to speak of, and he’s just been fired from his job at a copy shop when his boss discovers his paranoid manifesto, which casts aspersions on his co-workers. And he lives in an unkempt hovel with three silent, unwanted houseguests – all of whom are recurring hallucinations from Franky’s schizophrenic mind. The only cure for his condition – aside from medication, which he refuses to take – is a good old-fashioned Manic Pixie Dream Girl named Alex (Natalie Distler), who materializes out of nowhere in a superstore and not only tolerates Franky’s eccentricities but seems genuinely attracted to him (shades of a less coherent “Silver Linings Playbook?”).
It may seem that there are portions of “Lonely Boy” that don’t add up, and others that seem so implausible that they undermine what is otherwise a sobering depiction of a crippling mental illness. But stick with it, because it gets better, and Franky grows more likeable, as the picture wears on, building backwards toward crystallizing flashbacks of Franky’s traumatic childhood. Dale Fabrigar directs the film with an uncomfortable, cringe-worthy magnetism, bolstered by Aydin’s own screenplay and his impeccable, volcanic acting. It’s a movie that never takes the easy way out, admirably confronting an unpretty subject matter – and concluding with a twist that even redeems its weaknesses.
Roman Polanski’s "Knife in the Water" and Alfred Hitchcock’s "Lifeboat" feel like signposts along the way to Italian director Corrado Sassi’s "Waves" (9:30 p.m. April 5 at Frank Theaters & Cinebowl in Delray Beach), a meticulous psychodrama on the high seas. Three men board a sailboat for a two-week excursion in the Pacific Ocean. Two of them seem to be conspiring against the other; their destination is unknown, but it surely involves criminal activity. Tensions mount as alcohol is consumed and turbulence worsens, and events take a surprising turn when a gorgeous woman jumps the plank of a nearby ship and takes refuge on their boat.
Sassi understands that less is more, eschewing a manipulative score and talky exposition and letting the suspense organically wash over the proceedings. His dialogue sounds authentic, but Waves derives its power foremost from his visuals. He often frames his characters against enormous, imposing landscapes of towering rock formations and bleak, endless seas – rendering them as tiny drops of paint on nature’s immense canvas. Like many a film noir from the past, "Waves" is grounded in the cosmic machinations of fate, one that its morally bankrupt sailors cannot escape. This film is nervy, cold-blooded, matter-of-fact and unforgettable – the best movie I saw for the Palm Beach Film Festival.
British director Julian Doyle bills his exhausting chamber drama "Twilight of the Gods" (8:30 p.m. April 8 at Muvico Parisian), which captures an 85-minute dialogue between Frederich Nietzsche and the ghost of his greatest frenemy, Richard Wagner, as “Superman versus Lord of the Ring.” I get the references, but this film has as much in common with a Hollywood blockbuster as Wagner does with the Anti-Defamation League.
A large chunk of this moody tete-a-tete – set in the Turin Lunatic Asylum where Nietzsche spent his last self-aware days – is little more than an deconstructed Masterpiece Theatre history lesson on the two titans’ biographies and worldviews, written with florid language better suited to academia or the critical essay than the spoken word. It’s difficult for anyone not already versed in the characters’ backgrounds to keep up with the ceaseless density of the dialogue, so don’t be surprised if your mind drifts.
Doyle adapted his own play for this film, and it never sheds its theatrical origins. Twilight of the Gods is best when Wagner and Nietzsche’s sophisticated veneers come off and they actually sound like people; as Nietzsche, Jud Charlton is a magnetic presence, channeling a wide-eyed sense of crazed inspiration at every exhorted soliloquy. And it’s always welcome when the movie becomes playful about its supernatural conceit, and doesn’t take itself as seriously as its subjects take each other. In the end, though it reserves justifiable praise for Wagner’s music, the composer’s moral failings mount so high that the movie comes across as a screed against an already hated figure; despite all of its highbrow intellectual banter, it doesn’t really teach us anything.