The Miami International Film Festival recently celebrated its 32nd edition, showing more than 125 films from 40 countries. From gritty documentaries and hard-hitting dramas to quirky Miami stories and independent films, this year felt more experimental than in years’ past. I saw nine films. Here’s a rundown of my favorites.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Director Brett Morgen got the keys to Kurt Cobain’s vault and created one of the most intimate portraits I’ve seen. With the family’s blessing, Morgen had unfettered access to Cobain’s artwork, notebooks, audio recordings, and home videos. For someone deemed the voice of an apathetic generation, what emerges is an artist who cared deeply about his craft and creating a family. His trajectory is uncomfortable to watch, but the film contains some tender and funny private moments. After the screening, Morgen announced that they were working on a soundtrack with Cobain’s unreleased music, including the dreamy, acoustic pieces heard in the film. Cobain’s daughter, Francis Bean Cobain (who was an infant when her father committed suicide) is the film’s co-executive producer. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck will air on HBO on May 2.
Sweet Micky for President
Exploring another musician, Sweet Micky for President tells the behind-the-scenes story of how Michel Martelly, a beloved (and controversial) pop singer, became the president of Haiti. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Haitian-American rapper Pras Michel of The Fugees is eager for positive change in the country. He convinces Martelly, the unlikeliest of candidates, to run in the upcoming presidential elections. The political novices turn a fledgling campaign into a strategic effort that propels a movement. Sweet Micky is fast-paced, entertaining, informative, and a must-see.
Los Hongos gives audiences a glimpse of the vibrant, burgeoning street culture in Cali, Colombia. The movie follows Ras and Calvin, two teen graffiti artists navigating between freedom and family expectations. Inspired by YouTube videos of veiled women protesters in the Arab Spring, the pair join an artist collective to spread a message of solidarity. At times, the movie seems more like a documentary than a feature film, as director Oscar Ruiz Navia paints a fuller picture of Cali, presenting various socioeconomic classes through neighborhoods, conversation, and rituals. The chemistry between the two leads is also natural and believable.
A family is torn apart in this Italian mafia film directed by Francesco Munzi. Lead actor Fabrizio Ferracane turns in a powerful performance as Luciano, the straight-laced older brother who struggles to keep his son out of the family business. One act of disobedience causes a chain of events that changes their lives forever, culminating in an explosive final scene. This film is intense and skillfully shows how an enterprise built on family and loyalty corrupts those very concepts.
If you like HBO’s True Detective, then Marshland is right up your alley. In this taut thriller, two detectives try to solve a series of murders and disappearances in the swamps of Southern Spain. The film takes place in the late ’70s after the fall of the Franco dictatorship. Young women seeking opportunities outside of the home become prey to a serial killer. Juan, the quintessential bad cop, is a holdover from the secret police and must go beyond using brute force. Pedro, his partner, is of the new generation genuinely interested in getting justice for the victims. Can they work together and find their man? With its suspense and plot twists, Marshland will keep you guessing until the end.
Scores: Here’s the movies I saw and the scores I gave. (I’d watch 5s again. I’d recommend 4s to a friend. I’m glad I saw the 3s but…)
- A Girl at My Door – 4
- Black Souls – 4
- Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – 5
- Ladygrey – 4
- Los Hongos – 4.5
- Marshland – 5
- Sweet Micky for President – 5
- The Strongest Man – 3
- The Lost Aviator – 3
Overheard: “I wanted to make a movie that was very silent. It’s a story about silence, betrayal, and guilt.” – Director Alain Choquart at the international premiere of Ladygrey, about a community in post-apartheid South Africa
Spotted: The Fugees’ Pras Michel (center) and Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto (left).
Confession: I watched a bootleg of the South Korean drama A Girl at My Door online. There was a conflict with another film on my schedule, but I still wanted to see it. It’s about a disgraced police official who’s transferred to a small town and bonds with an abused girl. I probably have five viruses on my computer now, but it was worth it.