The Miami Film Festival shows off quality international fare with 'Frantz,' 'The Unknown Woman, 'Maliglutit' and 'A Paradise Too Far'

ScreenerBlog

In Monday’s blog post, I talked about one of my two favorite films screening at the Miami Film Festival—The Dancer, a biopic that takes place mostly in turn-of-the-century Europe. Skip forward a few years and you’ll find my other favorite, François Ozon’s Frantz. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good period drama.

Frantz takes place in the immediate aftermath of World War I, at a time when all of Europe—specifically, here the small town of Quedlinburg, Germany—is recovering emotionally and physically from the trauma of the war years. Anna (Paula Beer) has abundant trauma to recover from, her fiance Frantz having been killed in the trenches. Needless to say, Frenchmen aren’t particularly popular in Quedlinburg, which means it’s a tense situation all-around when French veteran Adrien (Pierre Niney), claiming a close friendship with Frantz from before the war, rolls into town.

Poignant without ever skewing into melodrama, Frantz is an old-fashioned, somewhat mannered film. That’s true in style as well as content—the majority of the scenes are shot in black and white, with color leeching into the frame in moments where the characters begin to break free from their grief. And grief is the overwhelming theme here: grief of a lover, of a parent, of a country and of individuals for their own lost innocence. To that end, it’s a rather restrained effort, particularly when it comes to the ending, which (without going into the details) feels true to the subject matter. Performances are exceptional across the board, particularly from Beer, who turns in a star-making effort.

Old-fashioned in a different way is Maliglutit, an Inuit reimagining of the classic John Ford Western The Searchers. The updated setting—from the rust-red spires of the American West to the snowy expanses of the Canadian Arctic—isn’t the only change here, with director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) opting for a more stripped-down story than Maliglutit's predecessor. Instead of John Wayne as a Civil War veteran single-mindedly pursuing his niece’s abductors over a period of years, we get a smaller story of Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) going after the marauders who kidnapped his wife and child. This lends the film a more visceral, scrappier quality than its epic predecessor, and one that more directly—and with somewhat less nuance—addresses the danger of vengeance quests. 

Another Canadian effort was Denis Langlois’ A Paradise Too Far, about a pair of developmentally disabled siblings (Marine Johnson and Maxime Dumontier) who run away into the Canadian wilderness after the death of their mother, hoping to find the “paradise” that she’s gone off to. Moreso than Frantz and Maliglutit, A Paradise Too Far is at its heart a character piece—low-key and without much of a commercial “hook,” one can’t imagine it’ll make many waves outside of the festival and arthouse spheres. Still, it’s an affecting little piece, and one that deftly teases out the relationship, more complicated than it first appears, between the two siblings.

My final film of the Miami Film Festival before heading back to NYC’s cold environs (and seriously, watching A Paradise Too Far made me never want to go out into any sort of snow ever again) was The Unknown Girl, the latest from Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Adèle Haenel stars in this thoughtful meditation on guilt as Jenny Davin, a doctor who one inauspicious night makes the decision to turn away a patient. A completely normal thing to do—it was late, and her office was supposed to be closed. No harm, no foul... except the next day, the unidentified patient turns up dead, prompting Jenny to launch an investigation into who she was and how she died. Defined by MFF as a “social realist noir procedural,” it displays the compassion evident in the Dardenne brothers’ other films, with the mystery element giving proceedings an added zing.