INDIE CIRCUIT: I Believe In Unicorns

First love, rebellion, adventure, and the water works; I Believe in Unicorns has is all. The 2015 film is a beautifully crafted tale about a young girl in search of her prince charming. One thing to keep in mind is that Davina (Natalia Dyer) isn’t Cinderella and Sterling (Peter Vack) is no Prince Charming.

“I don’t dream. I live my dreams,” was the theme and one of the most captivating lines of this wild rollercoaster. This simple phrase captured the essence of a typical troubled bad boy, but also seemed to give purpose to our princess. While the simple girl meets boy fairytale plot is evident here, the magic of their adventure and the added push of self-discovery is the glue that holds the foundation of this film together.

The journey that Davina and Sterling take isn't anything spectacular, and at times is lackluster, but just enough happens to keep it interesting. The audience becomes aligned with, and roots for the lead, Davina first. Her sensitivity and thoughtfulness is admired throughout the first half of the tale, but soon becomes her own personal kryptonite. Although her dedication and will to endure the challenges that she faces with Sterling is admirable, her effort is only enough to draw in sympathy, rather than empathy from the audience as the film transitions.

Sterling, who is always shown in a raw and unfiltered manner, is softened by his interactions with Davina and because of this, the audience may root for him throughout the film. As the film progresses, the audience is quickly let down by Sterling and his blooming relationship with Davina. While the audience may see Sterling as a toxic force our heroine does not, which begins to raise a few questions concerning the realness of film. The realistic nature of the film is questionable because of Davina and Sterling's toxic relationship, as well as each of their actions and their constant state of dependency. Even though questions may arise at specific moments, these occurrences may be necessary because the apparent youth and naivety of the our characters shine through and continues to serve as a guide for this fairytale-ridden coming-of-age story.

From the first scene, it's evident that this film is the product of someone who appreciates film not only as a vehicle for stories, but also for its aesthetics. The film is beautifully shot to represent the nostalgia and fairytale state that the main character is longing for. Here dreams and feeling don’t overshadow her real life actions, but instead enhances them. Her daydreams further adds value to each scene, not only because of the added action sequences, but also because of the delicate and thoughtful details that are put into each symbolic cutaway.

All in all, the audience is challenged throughout the film and asked symbolically by the filmmaker to make connections between real events and imagined actions. As the audience uses their imaginations throughout the tale, they soon become accustomed to the idea of animation, a little fairy dust and of course the idea of unicorns. It isn't impossible to relate to the main character, as she is caught up in her first romance, but the audience is left bewildered and drained as her relationship with Sterling develops. The viewer should remember to enjoy the idea of youth through the eyes of a young woman, but also be weary of the typical happy ending. 

I Believe In Unicorns (2015)
Director: Leah Meyerhoff
Writer: Leah Meyerhoff
Stars: Natalia Dyer, Peter Vack, Julia Garner 
Run Time: 1h 20min

   More About: Indie Circuit   

The Indie Circuit explores and critiques films that are produced with a lower budget, that have been entered into film festivals, or that will never hit mainstream theaters. In the Indie Circuit you'll find a plethora of Post-Cannes film reviews!

Late Shift (Mini Review)

Late Shift, which has been dubbed as an interactive high stakes crime drama, is a new type of cinematic experience. The film hopes to breathe life back into the dying choose-your-own-adventure genre that was crafted in the seventies, but eventually became popular in the both the eighties and the nineties. Now instead of turning a page in a book to discover your fate, the audience is able to click a few buttons, and watch their decisions unfold on screen. This innovative story telling mechanism keeps the audience invested and personally tied to the film’s story and characters.

The interactive film follows a college student, Matt (Joe Sowerbutts), who gets wrapped up into a troublesome scheme during his late night shift at a parking garage. The story is not a new one, and it is often predictable, but the plot saves the film.  The process of how our hero gets in and out of the inevitable trouble is what eventually hooks the audience.

Overall the film’s visuals are very realistic, as it was shot on location and London. The cast of new, young faces were also very well prepared and fit each character that they were portraying. The writing was very thoughtful and engaging as well.

With over four hours of recorded film, there are one hundred and eighty decision points, and seven endings, but only one story. With careful manipulation and play, participants can eventually unlock all of the endings.

Late Shift (2016)
Director: Tobias Weber
Writer: Michael Robert Johnson, Tobias Weber
Stars: Joe Sowerbutts, Haruka Abe, Richard Durden
Run Time: Various

The Handmaiden: An Exhilarating Tale

The Handmaiden immediately aligns the audience with seemingly harmless Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) as she agrees to participate in an unbelievable ploy to become the handmaiden for Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), a wealthy Japanese heiress. Sook-hee, a professional swindler assumes the role only after she is promised a piece of Hideko’s fortune by a trickster posing as the respected Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha). The director of the film, Park Chan-wook, unapologetically creates an expressive thriller, that hooks the audience from the beginning. The 1930s period drama offers a distinctive aesthetic, as well as commentary on the various themes of the period which include the more predominant topics of gender roles and women’s issues.

Chan-wook’s choice to depict Korea during the Japanese colonial area is an interesting one. Both Sook-hee and Hideko serve as a symbol for the two opposing sides. Instead of suggesting or making commentary on the tension between the two sides, Chan-wook allows the two women to develop into their own person on the screen. The film’s separation of the story into three parts most effectively showcases this growth. Each part is told in a different perspective, revealing a little more about each character as it continues.

I began to understand and appreciate the multiple layers of the film and its characters the most during part two of the film. Our attention is slightly shifted from Sook-hee, and placed unto Lady Hideko. Unknown holes in the story are promptly explained, as Min-hee Kim, is allowed to shine in here role as Lady Hideko. We get a better understanding of how she is affected by Sook-hee and Count Fujiwara’s scheme. Her questionable relationship with her uncle, Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo), is slightly explained in further detail as well, but it is still a mystery by the third act.

The treatment and exhibition of women and their roles in the film are all over the place, but somehow Chan-wook successfully hones in and each one is divulged by the third act. For example, Chan-wook successfully tackles the topic of gender roles and abuse, with the Hideko and Kouzuki relationship. The plot point is placed on the back burner and is slowly developed in act one and act two. This plot point, like others covered in the film, is slightly revealed to be a part of a larger puzzle by the end of the film.

The biggest subject covered, and probably one of the more challenging ones, is perhaps the topic of lesbianism. While the film does an excellent job developing both Sook-hee and Hideko, there are a few injustices done to their relationship.  For instance, there immediate attraction to each other seems to be purely lustful. While the varying viewpoints of the built-up sex scene was clever, the extension of the scenes were both uncomfortable to witness and excessive. It also tipped towards more of a shallow relationship because of this unnecessary display of affection. It isn’t until the end, that we witness the level of depth that their relationship has reached. For example, Sook-hee’s destruction of the Hideko uncle’s library and her agreeance to be institutionalized symbolizes her dedication to Sook-hee. Hideko’s ploy to escape Count Fujiwara and her uncle also shows her loyalty to Sook-hee. The ending sex scene however contradicts this new found level of depth, and is completely unnecessary and ambiguous. The symbolism at the end is also completely inappropriate and a bit ironic. For example, there is a reminder of bells, the same ones that Hideko were punished with as a child, brought back up. Instead of being punished and pained, she now finds pleasure in the bells. I’m not sure if the audience is supposed to make something of this connection, or if it’s just an added, and therefore unnecessary symbol.

The film successfully establishes the friendship and strategically reveals the eventual complicated relationship that develops between Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko. Their relationship becomes the source of many symbols as the movie continues. Although their relationship is sometimes uncomfortable to watch, their growth together is without a doubt the most important element of the film. The triumph of the women, and subjection of the men was also a nice twist, especially for an era where women were thought to be inferior to men. Overall, the distorted vengeance turned love story has enough twists and turns to keep the viewer intrigued and onboard for the entire ride, despite the language barrier and lengthy runtime.

Agassi (The Handmaiden) [2016]
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Seo-Kyung Chung, Chan-wook Park
Stars: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo
Run Time: 2h 24min

Loving (Mini Review)

Loving follows the 1960s couple Richard (Joel Edergton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) as they attempt to build their family together, despite a Virginia law prohibiting interracial marriage. The filmmakers took an interesting approach in relaying the couple’s story to the audience, as topics such as race and political opposition are lightly touched on.

Interestingly enough, the movie steered clear of potentially controversial displays of the racial tensions that the couple most definitely faced during the time period. For example, there was a successful avoidance of violence and racial slurs. The minimalistic approach was most likely due to the target audience that the movie will be aimed at when it is eventually released.

It’s always hard to interpret and dissect biopics. It’s especially difficult to analyze Edergton and Negga’s performances in the film, because as an audience member we don’t know how the real Loving’s interacted and reacted to the events that they were faced with. This particular film did a great job keeping the audience out of the politics that were thrown at the couple and, instead focused on their home life. We had the opportunity to watch grow with the couple, as they ultimately made history.

Overall the film was not as developed as it could have been, and in my opinion, it missed the mark when it came to depicting some of the strife that the family had to endure. Nonetheless, it still positively and hopefully accurately portrays a historical moment in American history. The film could possibly serve as a positive history lesson for families in America and abroad.

Loving (2016)
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon
Run Time: 123 minutes

Elle: This is Not a Laughing Matter

Elle is not your average love story. In fact, I’m not sure if it should even be classified as a love story. There are optimistic, comedic, and slightly romantic moments sprinkled throughout the film. Glimpses of light peek through despite a series of unfortunate events as well. Even with that, it is not a love story. While there is a classic girl meets boy plot, it is not the main focus and it definitely becomes hard to appreciate it, as it quickly gets overshadowed by a bewildering cat and mouse game, that is combined with awkward, but necessary topics such as infidelity, rape and sadomasochism.

The film follows Michelle (Isabelle Huppert) an independent co-owner of a video game company, who’s life is turned upside down after she is attacked by an unknown stalker. The day in the life glimpses that we see are trivial compared to the opening sequence where we soon learn that Michelle has been violently raped. Instead of dwelling on the attack, she nonchalantly brushes it aside, and discloses the event to a few of her close friend. As she begins to receive harassing calls, texts, and gifts, she continues to move forward, refusing to seek out her assailant or contact the authorities.

Michelle’s traumatizing backstory only slightly explains her obsession with pain, and her refusal to get help, especially after she discovers who her attacker is. Not only did she bear witness to her father’s plan to cover up several murders as a child, she also unknowingly assisted with his scheme. This experience negatively impacted her well into her adult years. While she may hold it together for her son and peers at work, she is a wreck when it comes to her personal life. She is a divorced mother, who has a semi-respectable relationship with her ex-husband, and a rocky relationship with her own parents. She exhibits early on that she is ruthless as she vies for the attention of her religious neighbor’s husband, while also having relations with another married man.

This film not only informs, but it also seems to make light of sadomasochism themes as well as rape. It’s hard to decide whether the film did a good job of portraying the experiences of a shattered women. Viewers don’t have to be personally connected to the subject matter in order to feel empathetic towards Michelle’s situation and to feel a little unsettled by the offhanded decisions that she makes throughout the film. The female character wasn’t unlikeable because of these decisions, and at times her bold statements and jokes added to her character and made her more affable.

Infidelity was treated unsurprisingly lightly throughout the film. All parties involved seemed nonchalant that their stable, or maybe unstable relationships were shaken up by their cheating significant others. When the scandal was brought to light, the subject matter seemed to be swept under the rug. One of the parties involved was punished, but it wasn’t because of his unfaithful behavior. Each couple’s relationship was only slightly developed, and was only mentioned in order to advance Michelle’s storyline.

This film highlights sadomasochism from the perspective of a strong female lead, instead of a feeble supporting character. The media isn’t shy when it comes to talking about sexuality, especially female sexuality. In recent years, thanks to popular series such as Fifty Shades of Grey, BDSM, has become more widely known in the media. The problem with making such topics as S&M more public, which falls into BDSM, is that it must be “sexy”. Normally, pain is glorified in these films and the obsession is barely explained or touched on. With Elle, the leading lady is established as flawed, but a grounded older woman. Having an older, more established women, who unexpectedly appreciates S&M, from a masked attacker nonetheless, is a much needed twist.

How does one cover the topics of sadomasochism, rape, and infidelity in the same film without getting a few nodes of disapproval from critics? Although topics of rape and infidelity were touched on briefly during the festival, none were as intense and boldly expressive as Elle. Overall the film did an amazing job of establishing a likable strong female lead, with an equally expressive personality to match. I like that Michelle doesn’t pout or play the victim, which is completely acceptable, but the downplay of being raped is also a problem. This topic is not one to be made light of, but somehow the film gets away with doing so.

Elle (2016)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: Philippe Djian (based on the novel by), David Birke (screenplay)
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel
Run time: 2h 10min

Daily Scoop (Week 2 | Sunday)

The Appetizer: 

That One Kid Who Was A Little Too Bold

"That little girl just flicked me off!" I said in disbelief. I would really like to know what the French are teaching their children. After being flicked off by a 4 year old, and seeing a dog that was more disciplined, I could truly say I've seen it all while in France. 

The Main Course: 

The Movies I Loved!(a.k.a. The Ones I Didn't Fall Asleep In)

The movies below are the ones that I would recommend to just about anyone. They probably weren't on many people's radars during the festival, but I loved them and  I would definitely watch them again! All of the films below were foreign films and I'm not sure they'll ever make it to the US, but if they do, don't forget who told you about them first.

1. American Honey: I loved it because Shia, duh!! But also Sasha did an amazing job, as well as the supporting cast members. I still can't believe that most of the cast members had never acted before. The story was also very intriguing and the music is indescribable! It's even inspired me to create an American Honey Spotify Playlist.

2. The Handmaiden: This movie was a very twisted tale with a lot depth. It was really interesting to see the character development throughout this tale, as well as the development of the plot as a whole. I also loved how the audience was gradually made aware of certain aspects of the film. The three part breakdown was also a nice touch.

3. Late Shift: I still can not get over the fact that the audience held all of the power in this film. There were hundreds of possibilities and combinations, which means that there was a lot of thought that went into this film. The execution was brilliant and it'll be interesting to see how this filmmaking approach works out in the future.

4. Always Shining: I just love how this film kept me on my toes. I would need to re-watch this film to fully understand the symbolism and story that it's trying to tell. Both of the leading actresses did an amazing job, and I would recommend this film to everyone.

5. Pericles the Black Man: The protagonist in the film was a bit weird and out of place in his life. The actor did an amazing job of portraying this sort of loner-type character, who finds his way in the end. This story was about an underdog who breaks free, and that's one of the man reasons why I loved it!

Honorable Mentions:
- Elle
- Two Lovers and a Bear



So yesterday I lied! Today is actually the last day of the festival. After seeing about 25 movies (maybe more) and over 10 short films in 2 weeks I decided to relax and actually didn't see  any films today. I've seen an array of films (6 in competition films, 6 un certain regard films, and others) and I believe that now I appreciate the art of filmmaking a little more. I am also more willing to seek out different types of films in various genres. I'm also really excited about researching some of the previous work that a few of the directors from the festival have done in the past. Some people would like to know this: After spending two weeks watching and reviewing films, will I go out and make a film? Maybe not...or at least, not right now.

Although I didn't see any film, I still went into Cannes and attempted (but failed miserably) to get tickets to the closing ceremony. As always I ran into a few interesting people, and witnessed some pretty interesting things. The particular thing that shocked me the most was the man on crutches that we saw get denied from the red carpet. Hannah-Marie and I witnesses as a man on crutches dressed in a suit and sneakers, was turned away from the red carpet. Witnessing that just confirmed how crazy the red carpet rules are.

Over the course of the festival, I met a crazy amount of people, witnessed some intense things, and even made a few new friends! I loved experiencing everything, and I will be back!

Thanks Cannes!

Daily Scoop (Week 2 | Saturday)

The Appetizer: 

That One Guy Who Thought I Was From Cali

"Your're from Georgia really? You sound like you're from California." stated a guy at the train station. The theme for this trip has generally been that none of the Georgia kids actually sound like they're from Georgia. At least I finally know what state I "sound" like I'm from. I'm headed for Cali guys!! 

The Main Course: 

A Fetish and a Few Dogs

Film 1: Elle. I still can't believe the cat-mouse game that played out on the screen. After a women is stalked, she decides to take matters into her own hands and stalk her stalker back. I still don't fully understand why the protagonist decided to play along, but it did have an interesting story.

Film 2: Dog Eat Dog. I really had high hopes for this film. I was warned that it wouldn't be good and I should have listened. The movie followed 3 ex cons on a journey for justice. The close ups and artistic slow mo scenes were probably the only good parts about this movie. The acting was terrible and the story was unrealistic.

Short Film 1: Enamored. How much could really happen in a 7 minute short? A lot. This tale follows a girl who is completely in love, and then obsessed with a guy that she meets. It does a great job of throwing a wrench into the story. Loved it!

Short Film 2: Easy Girl. This story follows two roommates who are battling for the same guy's attention. I appreciate this story because while there are a few catty remarks, their friendship survives, and the guy becomes irrelevant in the end.

Short Film 3: Ambulance. When I finally got to this particular short film, I had watched so many bad ones, I was expecting this one to be bad as well. I was pleasantly surprised, as I watched. The film centered on a set of criminals pretending to be paramedics. The story was very intriguing, and I could see it becoming a full feature.

* I watched a large number of other bad short films that I have chosen not to highlight!


French Netflix & Chill

TODAY IS THE VERY LAST DAY OF THE FESTIVAL. Where did the time go? Seriously this is my 2nd week in France and it feels like I just got here. I'm not ready for it to be all over. I don't feel like I mingled enough, I definitely didn't see enough panels, and I'm working on catching up on all the short films I didn't get to see! There's so much to tackle at the festival and it's impossible to cover everything in just one visit! 

After a short day at the festival, I returned to my residence to watch some French Netflix (don't judge!) and Chill (by myself). Today ended up being a lazy day, and tomorrow may be as well. Now, we all finally get to catch up on our sleep! Until next time...