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Finding Triumph and Freedom On Family Ground at NewFest NYC ‘21

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By Roger Costa

JUMP DARLING

Destined to be a hit, this crowd-pleasing, hilarious transgenerational dramatic comedy follows the life-affirming adventure of an aspiring actor and diva drag queen performer who embarks on a life-changing journey as he visits his mentally-ill grandmother in search of a recharge for a break-up. Filled with sharp dialogue and thoughtful perspectives on the modern gay man condition, as well as topics of interracial romance and the inevitable effects of aging alone, writer/director Phil Connell’s winning and heartfelt film brings a contagiously affective duet performance by Thomas Duplessie as the youngster-in-crisis, and the late iconic Oscar-winning actress Cloris Leachman as his eccentric and bitterly realistic grandmother. Funny overall and effervescent in its musical numbers, the film will release the drag out of you with the same efficiency as it makes you analyze family relationships and rethink the essentials on how you’re spending your time. A triumphant smart gem.

(Screens 10/26 at SVA Theater.)

A DISTANT PLACE

Only for its imagery and lavish cinematography capturing the grandiosity of Korean natural landscape would be worth a watch. But director Park Kun-Young’s well elaborated and intriguing sophomore feature announces him as a new force in the Korean new wave of contemporary visionaries. Through the observational story of a lonely sheep farmer raising his daughter in peace until the unexpected arrival of his lover and his estranged twin sister, the director composes a preciously humane multi-character study: an elderly woman going through the difficult process of losing her senses in contrast with the innocence seen in the young child; the lover and his attempts to mingle in the community and become an essential part of them in contrast with the moral standards of the sister who intends to take the little girl away and raise her in the big city with its opportunities and experiences alike; and the lonely hero in emotional disorder reflected in the ambiguous connection to an equally lonesome neighbor. Surfacing many questions and issues related to raising a child, and forming a family, as well as preparing for the inevitable end of the cycle, this is a major dramatic storytelling display of the director’s ambitious and elegant aesthetic, a work of grand bravura. (Screens 10/19 at SVA Theater.)

DEATH AND BOWLING

A landmark in LGBTQ+ cinema, made mostly by a trans cast and crew, Lyle Kash’s feature debut follows the road trip adventure of a trans actor traversing a personal crisis of identity and artistic inspirations. When the captain of his beloved Bowling team dies, he is left with the important task of finding the right location to release her ashes. He partners with a mysterious visitor who crashes at the funeral, and they develop an intensely intimate relationship. Together they venture the Californian desert, in a grieving journey of self-discovery while analyzing their roles as trans representatives and important voices for the contemporary world. Exploring identity, comradeship, empathy and tolerance with focus on the strong community-bond family-like ties demonstrated among their community, Kash energetically conceives an Avant-Garde-influenced, experimental rom-com that is adventurous, bold, provocative, and lyrical all at once. (Screens 10/18 at Nitehawk Prospect Park.)

FIRSTNESS

A non-binary child explores identity, sexuality and social connections in this absorbing, provocative and thoughtful coming of age story. Brielle Brilliant’s confidant and ambiguous debut beautifully observes the rhythms of Tavi’s emotions and hormones with candor and honesty, while interacting with an eccentric, emotionally-fractured adult world, including a troublemaker father, and a possible first-time romantic interest who happens to be a much older man facing the troubles of the American Dream. Structured as a dreamlike experience, with charming and convincing performances from the entire cast, this is a magical and timely canvas on urban folks seeking restoration, and a young child following the instincts of the heart.

(Screens 10/18 at Nitehawk Prospect Park.)

MY BEST PART

The great Nicolas Maury directs himself as an actor in a personal crisis who goes back home after the death of his father and reconnects to his estranged mother in order to find acceptance and relief for his inner traumas. Utterly irreverent, precise and filled with a glamorous male cast, this is a delightful and strong showcase of his talent as an entertainer and now, as a commander behind the cameras.  Dealing with an attack of jealousy, he finds clarity when mingling with the other guests at his mother’s country house while figuring out his own condition and personality. Maury narrates the film with elegance and coherence, showing off his skills and brilliant eye for social critique on behavior and manners, crafting lovely games of seduction and social disruptions, including troubles at the house’s gathering and a scene made up as a homage to cinema demonstrating the “cleansing power of cinema” where Isabelle Huppert crosses the screen, as she leaves a screening room. An acclaimed selection at Cannes, it is a fabulously performed and inspiring comedy about finding yourself at unexpected circumstances and turns, and maintaining the style.

(Screens 10/24 at SVA Theater.)

UNDER MY SKIN

Emotionally involving and innovative, director David O’Donnell’s feature debut is a masterly crafted and executed meta romance about the impossible affair between a straight lawyer and a singer in conflict of gender. Sensitive, enigmatic and mysteriously seductive, empathic and filled with social metaphors, including casting four non-binary actors to embody the singer, this is a brilliant work of timely importance that deserves Awards attention for its depiction on the individual right of one’s personal choices. (Screens 10/19 at Nitehawk Prospect Park.)

POPPY FIELD

Based on real events, Romanian director Eugen Jebeleanu’s erotic and psychological thriller investigates intolerance, prejudice and toxic male behavior using a homophobic protest inside a movie theater as a core. Among them there is a closeted policeman who is interrupted of his pleasures with his long distance boyfriend, to participate on the riot as a law enforcement. What starts as a deeply observational love story, an incendiary look at passionate lovers, turns into a gripping, suspenseful and claustrophobic thriller set against some of our most obscure nightmares: sudden attacks at public places. Immersive and fast paced, it’s an important mark in the new prestigious Romanian contemporary cinema. (Screens 10/20 at SVA Theater.)

 

(The 33rd NewFest NYC LGBTQ+ Film Festival runs October 15-26 with In-Person Screenings and available Virtually nationwide. Go to www.newfest.org for details, tickets and schedule.)


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