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First-Time Directors Examine Childhood Memories, Aspirations and Perspectives

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By Roger Costa

H IS FOR HAPPINESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s been a while since happiness took off on a vacation, and it seems to be taking too long to return; But for some, it has never left, it has always been inside, and exploring the outside in attempts to spread its joy. That’s exactly how 12-year-old Candice sees life: colorful, optimistic, light, capable. Everyone around her seems to be confused about her expressions, considering her as a “special needs” kid, when in fact, she is only a very smart, talkative, organized, polite, naive and kind teen. She is constantly showing empathy to them, including the bullies in school, and her broken family. When she befriends an outcast kid, Douglas, who considers himself as being “from Another Dimension” she finds the perfect match, a great combination of a partner/friend, that gives her an idea to bring her family back together and restore their harmony and, ultimately, their happiness. Candice and her family are still grieving the sudden death of her little sister. While her mother is locked in the room, totally depressed, her father spends hours in his studio, staring at computers, trying to figure out a way to solve his financial bankruptcy. In the other hand, her “rich” uncle (who had caused her dad’s failure) tries to spoil her with gifts and Yatch hangouts. Candice is determined to accomplish her mission, bringing up brilliant ideas to reunite them and help them forgive each other and explore their sleepy happiness.

First-time director John Sheedy’s impressively crafted and executed Australian family dramedy is a feel good movie as it hasn’t been in a while, one that will leave you laughing out loud and will touch your heart at equal, satisfying levels. The actors are extraordinarily convincing, Daisy Axon who plays Candice wins our heart and affection, as well as Wesley Patten as the outer of space Douglas and the rest of the cast, which includes eccentric, inventive and utterly funny characters: the military-like relief teacher, the principle and her creepy eye malfunction, the cranky elderly watering his lawn, the punk-bully girls in school, and the relevant aspects in Candice’s parents’ individual crisis and how they cope with death. Luminously shot and precisely edited, the film also provides wonderful inspiring moments, such as the Country-themed dinner she makes for her parents, her encounters with a mystical pony in the woods, and the hilarious breast-adapter Douglas creates for Candice: it turns out to be useful and life-saving.

Winner of the Generation Prize at this year’s Berlin, Sheedy is definitely a promising filmmaker, proving here to be a master of family tales. Uplifting, adventurous and magical, it’s a delightful first time romance, a winsome comedy about rescuing family values and preserving the essence of happiness, even if times aren’t accordingly.

(Samuel Goldwyn Films. 9/18. On VOD.)

RESIDUE ⭐⭐⭐

Most of the time, we seek through memories and nostalgia a simple and personal valve of escape, healing and learning. Artists and philosophers go through their memories to share their point of view, their experiences, their traumas. Jay is experiencing a better-self journey as he returns to his neighborhood while working on a personal project. His intention to create a movie and tell the story of Q Street is always at risk as some of his childhood friends disagree with it and he faces a trail of racial conflicts. That is an African-American neighborhood in the Washington DC Area, increasingly being gentrified and re-occupied by White Americans, where redevelopment agents walk around offering cash for these people’s homes. But Jay finds console within his memories and smartly connects past and present giving him inspiration and the shapes of his artistic creation. Winner of two major prizes at Slamdance Film Festival, Best Feature and Best Actor, Writer-Director Merawi Gerima’s poetic debut is a triumphant manifestation of Black culture and pride, as it depicts the struggles of the community in acceptance and inclusion with incredible naturalism.

Merging his actual encounters with a girl, relatives, and acquaintances, his desperate quest for a missing friend and his melancholic memories, the film creates a profound and exquisite sense of longing, while subtly pointing to the urbane and racial issues.

The result is an absorbing and reflective analysis on identity and the power of community.

(Array Releasing. 9/17. In Theaters and On NetFlix.)

EXTRA INNINGS ⭐⭐⭐

Sometimes in life we must sacrifice for those we love, in order to practice our duty while in here. Albert Dabah, owner of the prolific video production company Simba Productions, makes his writing-directing-producing feature debut with this compelling autobiographical project, recounting his experiences with his dysfunctional family. In the first act, set in early 60’s Brooklyn, the film introduces little David’s passion and motivation for Baseball, while his strict Jewish parents discourage him, as they hope he becomes a successful businessman in the local business. Despite their different opinions, it beautifully demonstrates how important family values and tolerance are, as David serves as a guide for each of his siblings, as well as the definition of hope, among all the mental illness and suicidal tendencies they’ve been dealing with. Older sister lives an ambiguous, unsettled and precocious life, older literary-genius brother won’t leave his room and shows aggressive reactions, and middle sister operates as bossy and controlling, while parents scramble in the hopes of fixing them. In the second act, David is a young man in search of identity and career, experiencing first love and success, moving away to play for a professional team, while fighting religious prejudice and the archaic idea of belonging where he doesn’t want to be.

Winner of the Best Feature Award at both Jersey Shore and Manhattan Film Festivals, this efficient sports-drama tells the sacrifices and obstacles an aspiring and brilliant boy went through while growing up. As he deals with his own dilemmas of acceptance and professional ambitions, he must endure his family’s emotional failures with empathy and compassion. Part of the film’s appeal comes from the fabulous cast. As the narrative explores their struggles, they deliver convincingly dramatic and charismatic turns, including Aidan Brennan and Alex Walton, who play respectively young and older David, and Mara Kassin, in a tour-de-force performance as his older revolutionary sister. Her presence is ravishing, illuminating, provocative, feels like a volcano in eruption.

Addressing other relevant themes such as faith, women’s liberation, freedom of sexuality and opinion, and the parallels between love and virtues, Dabah, who also plays a version of his father, can certainly consult a little more of his memories and kindly transport them through his sensitive, captivating lenses.

(Breaking Glass Pictures. 9/22. VOD and DVD.)

GOD OF THE PIANO ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A strong personification of a woman’s determination and extreme measures, Anat is determined to achieve her goals at any cost. She had been on a long journey to find the right place for her genius pianist son, a master musician whom she had been teaching since he was born. In the opening scene, a very pregnant Anat is performing herself on stage, when her water breaks. At the labor room, she is devastated with the news her son is deaf. She then commits a crime, exchanging her newborn, for a healthy one. A bold take on the power of a controlling woman and a mother’s ambition, first-time director Itay Tal conceives a thought-provoking and seductive film that stirs up controversy in many topics: the fact someone’s talent could be related to genetics or early manipulation of practices and ideas; a subtle justification of a woman’s desperate actions; the absence of a male figure, and his role in such a case; the pressures on a child whose childhood is evidently taken away due to adults’ self interests. Presenting this fierce and audacious female character, caught up on a reckless action with permanent consequences, actress Naama Preis gives a superb performance, marked by intense complexity and mystery. She won the Best Actress Award at Jerusalem Film Festival for this incredibly unpredictable role. Observational, thrilling and highly dramatic, Itay Tal is a filmmaker to watch.

(Film Movement. 9/18. Symphony Space and other select Virtual Cinemas. Go to https://filmmovement.com/god-of-the-piano for details.)


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