MIFF 2013 Films Bring It Home With Focus on Family, Loss, and Dysfunction

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By Justin James, Miami Future Cinema Critic

So far, family, loss and dysfunction are popular topics amongst independent filmmakers at the 30thAnnual Miami International Film Festival. As different as these films are, these stories particularly challenge us to better understand who we are as filmgoers and reassess our own ways of being when we leave the theatre. (Spoiler Alert)
The Boy Who Smells Like Fish
A “World Premiere” title that piques interest and an unusual concept, the awkward coming of age story of Mica, The Boy Who Smells Like Fish (filmmaker Analeine Cal y Mayor), is just exactly that. Despite abandonment by his father and death of his mother, the protagonist’s stinky problem hides behind a play-it-safe love story and a strange sense of humor. Although a finely impassioned cast, the comedic tone was expectant, and too often the jokes and dialogue felt flat. Without high enough stakes, the one true surprise is the “fairy godmother”-styled character Guillermo Garibai (Gonzalo Vega) with a larger-than-life song and dance to appease the ending credits.
Beyond a melodramatic surface, Swedish film Blondie explores different mental states of three sisters and their mother as their individual ideals conflict with familial expectations when they reunite at home. Ultimately, the film creates a portrait of women who prefer to escape the reality of their situations, whether through drugs, sex or secrets, but forces them to take responsibility for their selfish mistakes and settle their differences. Director Jesper Ganslandt is able to manipulate mystery and mood well; his use of contrast establishes the overall tone of the film, with special attention to choices for music, lighting, casting and the distinction of acts. Suffocating at times, certain use of close-ups beg the audience to interpret what the characters are feeling or losing in the process, whether it be their childhood, individuality, or minds.
The Discoverers
Quite a find, writer/director Justin Schwarz’s The Discoverers hits home away from home.Although the comedic mid-life crisis route has been taken, the story enters new territory as it comfortably adapts the cast to an outside group of Lewis and Clark inspired retreaters in the woods. Actor Griffin Dunne gives an honest performance as Lewis Burch, in need for a better relationship with his daughter, son and estranged father after he learns his mother has passed away. Well-developed characters and humorous dialogue emphasize family values, generational differences, and American tradition in a well-structured screenplay. Actress Madeleine Martin (Zoe) provides much laughter with her quirks. As well, scenic landscape cinematography reconnects the audience with the inner-self that longs for role-play, nature, and a sense of history.
Bite down before seeing Rufus Norris’ directorial debut Broken, in which a vicious cycle of melodrama builds around three neighboring families in a dead-end street in London. The opening image tortures until the very end the question of why a hospitalized young girl is in critical condition. A complicated story filled with misleading possibilities subjects the viewer to far worse outcomes as the dysfunctions of one family causes even greater extremes for the one next door. Well-knowns Tim Rothand Cillian Murphy provide some relief with equally authoritative roles. While the film does try to shed some light on its subjects as a reminder for the fragility of innocence, a series of very unfortunate events make the tone of this film almost unbearably sadistic.

Jaie Laplante

Jaie Laplante is the Miami Film Festival's executive director and director of programming. Learn more about Jaie on Programmers.