By Roger Costa
Following the determination of a group of teen activists fighting for students’ rights in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, directors Eliza Capai and Renato Manganello’s inclusive and inspiring documentary fearlessly capture the real turmoil between youngsters and police/government, conceiving an explosive and timely account on social conflicts. Spanning crucial moments in the last decade, the film is seen and told through personal experiences of these kids, as they face brutality, homelessness, abandonment and insecurity, but determined to fight for their future and the right to be educated. Gathering journalistic material, historical facts on how the movement started, and shockingly violent confrontations, the directors allow them to express their revolutionary perspectives, painting an essential and urgent canvas of this generation, and the never-ending battle against the system. (Screens 12/8, 12).
Undoubtedly one of this year’s best films, France’s official entry for the 2020 Oscars is a vivid, inventive and tangled dramatic thriller depicting police corruption, racial conflicts and humanitarian values through a multiple characters study. In a disturbingly violent atmosphere, the story connects the lives of a group of rebel kids, criminal Gypsies from a circus, a gang of Nigerians running drugs and prostitution, a restaurant owner who serves as leader and guidance, and a pair of corrupt cops training the “new naive guy”, all involved on the search of a baby lion that was stolen from the circus and could possibly lead them into war. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, director Ladj Ly’s feature debut puts him on the radar as a vibrant, promising filmmaker. Extracting convincingly raw performances from the entire cast, it observes the players’ expectations and struggles, with the same level of compassion towards their reasons and crimes. The reaction is the same for Chris, the impulsive hothead cop, who despite his violent behavior, finds a heart when returning home to his children and pregnant wife- actor Alexis Manenti (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a revelation as Chris, and his impressive cruelty techniques should get him an Award this season. Astonishing, thoughtful (listen carefully to Salah’s moral lessons) and suspenseful, it’s one of those amazing stories that you just can’t get enough, an accomplished modern-take on the “power to the people” genre. (Screens 12/6, 7. An Amazon Studios Release).
A triumphant look at family bond, director Olivier Coussemacq’s fourth feature film is a provocative, heartwarming, sad but feel-good story about the strong relationship between a mother and her son. They deal with sorrow, as the oldest son is trying a living abroad, and the other had suddenly died, forcing teenage Hossein to put on hold his dreams of going to France. They must rely on each other in order to survive the difficult times of grievance and financial trouble during a scarily unemployment crisis in Morocco. Dividing the focus between Hossein’s coming-of-age story and his mother’s fiercely determination to get things straight, the film grabs your heart, developing an immediate connection to the protagonists’ struggles, as they deliver enchanting, truthful performances. A delicate, humble and deeply touching observation on resilience and the power of overcoming. (Screens 11/30 and 12/12).
Veteran filmmaker Frieder Schlaich’s latest project follows a young student as she travels from Peru to Berlin to attend the trial of her late sister’s murder case. Investigative, profound and enigmatic, the director composes a haunting puzzle about moral standards, trust and cultural clashes, as well as a shocking violent tale (verbally in this case, as the lawyers spoils the gruesome details). Rising star Scarlett Jaimes gives a compelling performance in the title role presenting the turbulence of a fragile young lady with brilliant nuance. It’s a gripping, accurate courtroom drama. (Screens 12/9, 11, 13).
THE LAST TREE
One of the most celebrated British indie films of the year (it earned award nominations at both British Independent Film Awards and Sundance), writer-director Shola Amoo’s sophomore project proves him to be an exciting new cinematic force. Told in two parts, it depicts the emotional distress of a boy, as he puts up efforts to re-adapt to the mother who once abandoned him. Refusing to leave behind his friends and the “mom” who had taken care of him, he reacts harshly to the new neighborhood, the school and even more, to the complicated relationship with estranged mother. In the second act, the film explores his transitions from a teen to an adult, as he experiences love, greed, competition and inclinations to criminality. Sensitive, thrilling and stylized, Amoo scored a top-notch insightful drama about a dysfunctional family and a boy’s self-identity journey. (Screens 12/7, 9, 13).
An emerging voice in Dominican Republic’s effervescent industry, actor-writer-director Felix German gives Western a new wardrobe with this efficient revenge tale based on historical facts surrounding the cultural conflicts among Dominicans and Haitians. Escaping from a gang of murderers, a Haitian boy grows up under a new identity infiltrated in his neighbor nation. Making ends meet with a successful cock-fighting business of his own, he eventually crosses paths with his parents’ assassins and waits for the right moment to attack. He’s constantly defied by a mischievous captain who decides to hire him. Captain Marvel’s star Algenis Perez Soto is furiously fascinating as Guy, our hero dealing with love and racial conflicts, while preparing for an uncertain battle. Ultra violent and perceptive, German crafts an astonishingly shot and fast-paced, unpredictable thriller. (Screens 12/1, 10).
MADE IN BANGLADESH
An accomplished filmmaker, Rubaiyat Hossain’s award-winning drama is an inspiring tale about the courage and determination of revolutionary women. After a fire in the factory leaves one dead, a young woman providing for her unemployed husband, decides to organize a union to defend the workers’ rights and to prevent further accidents and negligence. They will face many obstacles, especially the constant, out-of-control prejudice and abuse against women. Superbly acted, intriguing and spontaneous, Hossain brilliantly addresses polemic issues related to the fight for equality and respect, proving her to be a major filmmaker. (Screens 12/4, 6, 10).
Honest, funny and uplifting, director Lula Ali Ismail’s modern coming-of-age tale centers on the adventurous experiences of three teenage girls, as they try to conquer freedom in school, at home and with the boys they have a crush on. Beautifully shot and convincingly performed, it’s a colorful, sensitive and energized look at this generation’s conflicts to find acceptance and identity. A crowd-pleasing. (Screens 12/3, 5).
(The 2019 African Diaspora International Film Festival runs November 29 thru December 15 at various locations in Manhattan. Go to https://nyadiff.org/ny-2019/ for Tickets and complete schedule.)