Film Fest Opens This Week—With More Options Than Ever

film festival
A still from "Night Shift"

For the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF), which turns 35 this week, it is business as usual in one sense: The festival, known as much for its sprawling length as its cinematic variety, still spans its customary three weeks in November, and its slate of titles is as impressive as always, spanning 170 features, documentaries and shorts representing 37 countries. Everything kicks off this Thursday with the regional premiere of the star-studded “The Comeback Trail,” an inside-Hollywood comedy with Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones, screening at 7:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Savor Cinema, and followed by a party at nearby Riverhouse Vegan Village.

As in previous years, the films will screen in theaters—Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and Cinema Paradiso Hollywood—with socially distanced seating. What’s different this year is the bevy of pandemic-friendly accommodations for more-cautious cinephiles: Most of the titles are available on-demand for festival pass-holders, meaning you can screen them at home at any time during the fest’s duration, Nov. 5-22.

There’s even a couple of “boat-in” screenings—on Nov. 14, attendees with seaworthy vessels can choose between the Bond adventures “Casino Royale” and “Goldfinger,” courtesy of Coral Ridge Yacht Club; fans can also purchase “paddle up” tickets and view the movies from their kayak or canoe. The festival also is hosting six drive-in movie nights, including participatory sing-alongs to “Grease” (Nov. 12 at Coral Ridge Yacht Club) and “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Nov. 13 at Dania Pointe).

I had a chance to review five FLIFF titles in advance—all are worth seeing. Here are my thoughts; for individual tickets or festival passes, visit fliff.com.

Fidelity

In this steamy but disquieting Russian drama, Lena, a successful OB/GYN, discovers a potentially adulterous text on her actor husband’s phone. This, paired with the couple’s own increasingly distant love life, leads her to engage in an increasing pattern of revenge sex that threatens her career, marriage and even her criminal record. “Fidelity” is a compelling study in the way deceit can fester, and how guilt can rise like yeast. But deeper than that, it’s a stark comment on the gender double standards of marital straying—the moral slut-shaming and professional ostracisms Lena endures, while so many “playboys” earn but a slap on the wrist and a high-five at the office.

Screens 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, and 7:45 p.m. Nov. 16 at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale.

Into Dad’s Woods

What happens when a family’s chief protector becomes its central threat? That’s one of the questions posed in French writer-director Vero Cratzborn’s sensitive and moving debut feature. Jimmy Kremer (Alban Lenoir), newly unemployed husband and father of three, has begun to show signs of a psychotic break—impulsive outbursts, rash actions, delusions of invincibility. When the only solution appears to be institutionalization, his eldest daughter Gina (Leonie Souchaud), at times mirroring her father’s worst tendencies, will do everything she can to break him free. Some of the film’s sequences rhyme with poetry license, but not in a showy way. Cratzborn’s compassionate direction, free of easy answers and manipulative techniques, shows how mental illness can tear a family apart.

Screens 3:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, and 3:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at Savor Cinema Fort Lauderdale.

Night Shift

Anne Fontaine’s thoughtful, if low-key, police procedural tracks, in initially overlapping vignettes, a day in the life of four unhappy souls: Virginie, a married officer on the eve of undergoing a clandestine abortion; Aristide, the fellow officer who is carrying her child, from a one-night stand; Erik, their recovering-alcoholic police chief; and Tohirov, a glowering Tajik asylum seeker soon to be escorted to the airport, and potentially flown to his immediate demise, by the three conflicted cops. While not as gripping as last year’s French police drama “Les Miserables,” Fontaine’s subtly political work captures, in muted tones, what happens when following one’s orders clashes with one’s moral compass. And it appreciates the compounding stressors of a career in law enforcement—epitomized by three characters who, for all their differences, share their avoidance of going home, lest they bring their work with them.

Screens 8 p.m. Nov. 13 and 7:45 p.m. Nov. 17 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale.

Spring Blossom

This gentle wisp of a movie from first-time writer, director and star Suzanne Lindon reveals a filmmaker wise beyond her years. In a story that begs to be accepted as autobiography, Lindon plays an awkward 16-year-old, also named Suzanne, who feels out of step with her high school peers, and instead gravitates to a kindred spirit twice her age: Raphael (Arnaud Valois), a brooding actor in an avant-garde play. That’s pretty much all that passes for plot. Lindon, both in front of and behind the camera, captures a complicated combination of the intoxication of a first love with the trembling uncertainty of a plunge into adulthood. Just when you think you have a read on Lindon’s naturalistic style, she disrupts her characters’ tender courtship with, of all things, choreographed dance numbers that convey, in part, what Suzanne’s vocabulary cannot. Conjuring the formal playfulness of French New Wave forbears Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, these bold expressions of artifice are the film’s heartbeat, if not its soul.

Screens 7:45 p.m. Nov. 18 at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.

Trust Me

Like a companion piece to Netflix’s astonishing “The Social Dilemma,” “Trust Me” offers a parallel, and equally persuasive, investigation of social media’s toxic ramifications. The similarities between the films evoke a kind of déjà vu: Both allude to algorithmic “engineers” working behind the scenes at Big Tech companies to manipulate our behavior, and both include the same footage of that poor deluded soul driving to a Washington D.C., pizza parlor to expose a nonexistent pedophile ring. Exploring subjects ranging from anti-vaccine conspiracies to the deceptions of native advertising and the dark surrealism of deep-fake videos, “Trust Me” shows how craven fake-news arsonists can enable mob rule and destabilize societies. More importantly, it offers a path forward: a movement toward increased media literacy in a country that desperately needs it.

Screens at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at Savor Cinema Fort Lauderdale, and 11:45 a.m. Nov. 11 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.


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