Miami Film Festival kicks off its 34th year with 'Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer'


With winter squeezing its icy claws around the Northeast one last time before Spring finally hurries up and makes its grand entrance, March isn’t a bad time at all to be in Miami, Florida. Convenient, then, that the Miami Film Festival, hosted by Miami Dade College, takes place from March 3-12. The 34nd edition of MFF boasts a lineup of 131 films (narratives, documentaries and shorts) hailing from 40 countries.


Richard Gere was in attendance for opening night film Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, helmed by Oscar-nominated Israeli director Joseph Cedar (Footnote). It’s an unusual starring role for Gere, who over the years has built up a cinematic image of himself as suave and self-possessed. Neither characteristic applies to poor Norman Oppenheimer, a New York “fixer” whose nebulous job title translates to “follow more successful people around and try to get them to talk to him.” 


Norman is undoubtedly a unique film, one that blends aspects of political satire, thriller and comedy-of-errors. Nah-man, sporting a thick accent and a seeming inability to recognize when people want him to go away (more likely, he knows but just ignores it), eventually has a stroke of luck and finds an in with an Israeli politician (Footnote’s Lior Ashkenazi) who several years down the line becomes Prime Minster. Norman’s gone from being a schmuck to someone everyone wants to know… but that’s just where his trouble (and the political scandal) starts.


What really stands out about Norman is its uncannily amazing ensemble cast. Every 10 minutes, it seems, there’s someone new popping out of the woodwork: Steve Buscemi, Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Harris Yulin, Josh Charles, Isaach De Bankolé... It’s almost drinking game-worthy—take a sip every time there’s an “Oh, it’s __!” moment.


Also screening on opening night was Nnegest Likké’s Everything But a Man, a romantic comedy/drama about the efforts of a career woman (Monica Calhoun) to shed her tough exterior and find love. The movie itself isn’t for me—there’s a lot of stuff about how women should be submissive to men, and no thanks to that—but Calhoun (The Best Man, The Best Man Holiday) does turn in a noteworthy lead performance.


From America (New York and Los Angeles for Norman and Everything But a Man, respectively), MFF went to Mexico for a Sunday screening of María Novaro’s Tesoros. This pleasingly low-key kids' movie focuses on siblings Dylan and Andrea, newcomers to the small village of Barra de Potosí. As “gueros”—light-skinned people—they stand out from their new neighbors, and Andrea in particular is wary of adapting to her new home. But what better to bring Dylan, Andrea and their new friends together than a hunt for pirate treasure? The treasure of Sir Francis Drake, to be specific, who had hidey-holes all along the Pacific coast of Mexico and might (Dylan reasons) have left a little something behind.


Not a ton happens in Tesoros, which sets it apart from the often-frenetic pace of many Hollywood kids' movies. (No Goonies capers here.) For the most part, you’re watching a group of kids romp around Barra de Potosí, learning to catch crabs and playing with the local wildlife. (A scene with baby turtles is particularly awwww-inducing.) It’s cute, and the children in my audience seemed to really enjoy it. 


Back to Saturday, among my favorite films of the festival was Stéphanie Di Giusto’s The Dancer, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last September. The film, Di Giusto’s first, is a biopic of early 20th-century modern-dance pioneer Loïe Fuller, who moved from America to become the toast of Parisian society with her innovative “flower dancing” style. French singer Soko embodies Fuller with an intoxicating combination of strength and vulnerability, confidence and self-doubt—she’s obsessed with making her dance as beautiful as possible, often to her physical detriment, in part because she thinks she herself is not beautiful. It doesn’t help that one of her protégés is up-and-coming dancer Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp), all willowy grace and traditional beauty. 


Fuller and Duncan have an All About Eve thing going on in The Dancer (complete with sexual undertones—or overtones, here) that’s really fun…if only Depp has turned in a good performance. I’ve never seen her in anything else, having strenuously avoided Yoga Hosers, so maybe she has talent that Di Giusto just wasn’t able to pull out. If so, I didn’t see it. That said, the film as a whole, and Soko’s breathtaking performance, has enough vitality to paper over any rough spots. There’s a scene in the middle, where Fuller has her first real performance, that caused my audience to burst into applause. As Di Giusto explained in the post-screening Q&A, Soko did all her own dancing—and you can tell from watching the relevant scenes just how difficult it was. Amanda Plummer does a lot with a small amount of screen time in her limited role as Fuller's Temperance League mother, while Gaspard Ulliel gets his weird on as the dancer's dissolute patron/friend/lover.