AFI Fest opens with 'Mudbound' and continues with a bounty of world cinema

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Also receiving high-profile gala screenings are Luca Guadagnino's sublime and passionate "Call Me by Your Name," with Armie Hammer and the sensational newcomer Timothee Chalamet, and Scott Cooper's brutal frontier western "Hostiles," starring Christian Bale. Along with "Mudbound" and "The Disaster Artist," these titles all premiered to much acclaim at festivals held earlier this year, as did Craig Gillespie's snarkily entertaining Tonya Harding biopic, "I, Tonya," and Guillermo del Toro's ravishing Cold War-era fantasy, "The Shape of Water."

Two of the year's strongest imports are making early stopovers in the festival's World Cinema section. "Loveless," Zvyagintsev's follow-up to 2014's "Leviathan," is a studiously grim but intensely compelling drama that hinges on an unhappy marriage and a missing child.

The same plot outline could be roughly applied to the very different "Foxtrot," a devastating three-act tragedy from the Israeli director Samuel Maoz, displaying an even more sophisticated formal command than he brought to his celebrated 2009 debut, "Lebanon."

You will get the chance to see these critical darlings when they hit theaters in the coming weeks, which doesn't mean you shouldn't try to snag tickets now. But you might also consider losing yourself in the less duplicable pleasures of seeing an Altman classic like "Nashville," "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" or "California Split" on the big screen, or attending Friday night's conversation with the great Agnes Varda before a screening of her lovely new documentary, "Faces Places."

Or you might steel yourself and surrender to "A Gentle Creature," a surreal, enveloping and ultimately terrifying plunge down the rabbit-hole of contemporary Russia from the gifted Ukrainian auteur Sergei Loznitsa. Writing about the film earlier this year at Cannes, I described it as "about as strange, perplexing and foreign an experience as any I've had" at that festival, which makes it all the more gratifying that audiences will get a chance to see it at this one.

If you favor a less confrontational immersion in a world we rarely see on American screens, check out "Western," a slow-burning, beautifully filmed drama about German laborers in rural Bulgaria, expertly navigated by the director Valeska Grisebach.


One of the sacred dictates of the international film-festival circuit is that you can never have too much Isabelle Huppert, who received a tribute at AFI Fest last year en route to her Oscar nomination for "Elle." That theory is put to the test here by the inclusion of no fewer than three Huppert vehicles: "Happy End," another master class in art-house severity from Austria's Michael Haneke; "Claire's Camera," a Cannes-set curio from South Korea's prolific Hong Sang-soo (who also has another film in the festival, the absorbing "The Day After"); and "Mrs. Hyde," a new work from the French auteur Serge Bozon that I'm looking forward to catching up with. Also on my list of hopefuls are buzzy festival favorites like Joseph Kahn's "Bodied" and Antonio Mendez Esparza's "Life and Nothing More," both premiering in the American Independents section alongside "Sollers Point," a compelling, tough-minded character study written and directed by the Baltimore-based auteur Matt Porterfield ("Putty Hill," "I Used to Be Darker").

Still more potential discoveries loom in the New Auteurs lineup, devoted to promising first and second features. One of them is "What Will People Say," a culturally specific, thoroughly accessible sophomore feature from director Iram Haq, about a young teenager forcibly ripped from the only home she's ever known. It begins in Norway, shifts to Pakistan and is screening in Hollywood; don't miss it.

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