2022’s Cleveland International Film Festival hosted a variety of excellent screenings, both in person and online. Being unavailable to go in person, we covered this one virtually. Check out our full roundup of films that screened this year, including links to those we have previously covered.
Depicting a specific time period (expressly, 1991 Guatemala), aptly-named 1991 aims for that coming-of-age sweet spot. For this viewer anyway, the movie fails on purely a narrative level. It dives into the rivalry between the Antibreaks and the Breaks, which are described as being akin to preppy jocks vs. those who clean up after them. While we follow Daniel for the majority of the film accompanied by his minimal narration, only in the closing minutes does the viewer get into the hard truths the title had been aiming for all along. 1991 is too lighthearted for its own good to get away with the serious cultural implications that the ending leaves us with. It feels akin to being spat on in the face after having a lovely day: one may not recall the brightness of the day they had, but they will certainly recall how it concluded. Smoking weed, break dancing, and shooting bottles as war erupts all around them, the harsh realities were occurring in the background too significantly for my personal taste. Hundreds of young indigenous men were murdered by the Antibreaks during this time period and never faced a single consequence, which is far more upsetting than what was portrayed for about 95% of this movie.
(Written by Allison Brown) The narrative that unfolds in Dan Mirvish’s 18 ½ is not anywhere near what I expected, and I am sorry to report this was for the worst. Billed as a political thriller, the film lacks any form of tension or stakes until the final few minutes. In fact, it is set up more as a not-so-great comedy than anything else, depicting hippies protesting Wonder Bread, or an incredibly wacky and nosy middle-aged couple overperforming. 18 ½ spends so much time meandering between the quirky array of people at the Silver Sands Motel where our two leads, Paul (John Magaro) and Connie (Willa Fitzgerald), meet that we barely explore the crux of the plot until the final 25 minutes. I could not stand Lena (Catherine Curtin) or Samuel (Vondie Curtis-Hall), and I was impatiently waiting for their screentime to end until it became clear that their characters were more important than what was implied. The acting and chemistry between Paul and Connie works well, but sadly that is the only positive I can really provide about the film. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better if I had been more knowledgeable about the actual Watergate scandal details, but a good historical film should be both educational and compelling. This film hit neither note.
A LOVE SONG
This new romance drama depicting a beautiful night spent between two people out on a distant camping destination is a bit too small-stakes and slow for my taste. The intimacy of the story and characters does manage to shine through, particularly character actress Dale Dickey in a layered lead performance. With absolutely stunning landscape visuals, A Love Song is sure to delight seekers of breathtaking mountains and rich cinematography. For those who love movies such as Nomadland or 2014’s Wild, A Love Song may just be the movie of one’s wildest dreams.
A TALE OF LOVE AND DESIRE
Starring Sami Outalbali from Netflix’s Sex Education, I was relatively excited to watch this one, as I have an affinity for romantic dramas. Little did I know, French-language feature A Tale of Love and Desire from writer/director Leyla Bouzid would leave me feeling unsatisfied. While Ahmed (Outabali) spends the bulk of the film obsessed with Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor), a girl from his general literature class, his intense desire to be with her is what makes up this film’s bread and butter. The two obsess over erotic Arabic poetry, and Bouzid sprinkles the feature with sequences of masturbatory pleasures. The issue is that it never feels dangerous or lustful enough to really leave a mark. Nothing here can set A Tale of Love and Desire apart from any other run-of-the-mill romantic drama.
Anaïs in Love
(Written by Allison Brown) Filmmaker Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s debut feature, Anaïs in Love, is every bit as messy as its titular character. The film is fine, well-made, and pretty to look at with its vivid colors, but I didn’t particularly enjoy much of it. Perhaps those who can relate more to Anaïs might love it. However, I found her character, played by Anaïs Demoustier, to be annoying, scatter-brained, egotistical, selfish, and manipulative. At her worst, Anaïs provides an excuse for skipping out on her job by taking advantage of her mother’s cancer when she isn’t even with her. It is grotesque behavior, and she just gets away with it! Anaïs suffers no repercussions for her poor behavior whatsoever throughout the entire runtime. The narrative jumps quickly between her first two lovers without barely any time for the audience to get to know them. The only relationship that felt genuine was the film’s final, which to reveal whom would be a spoiler. Premiering at Cannes last year alongside similar title The Worst Person in the World, I didn’t hear much online discussion, and now I can see why. Anaïs in Love is forgettable, and doesn’t have much to differentiate it from other French romance films, aside from an extremely unlikeable lead.
My only interest in Candela was for support of LGBT+ projects and creatives, because I was unsure if I would like the unconventional structure and the meandering-sounding plot. Portraying three complete strangers in Santa Domino, their lives are intertwined on the night a huge hurricane is set to occur. Allegedly, the Ozama River will overflow, and there will be “sun” for us all. After this hurricane, “none of this will matter,” one of the characters says as if preparing for their own death. I found Candela bleak and boring with little in the way of satisfying resolution to any of the plot threads. From a strictly visual standpoint, the movie looks good, which makes the areas in which it lacks to be all the more glaring when juxtaposed against them.
(Written by Allison Brown) Cat Daddies, directed by Mye Hoang, is a genuinely sweet film I would thoroughly recommend, but it is not without faults. Although the title suggests a breezy watch, I’m not sure it works to fully encompass some of the more difficult subject matter. Hoang shoots her net a bit too broadly by including the homelessness epidemic in New York City, as well as the wildfires in California. These tragedies bring down the tone way too much, and detract from the overall light, cheerful mood. The documentary is at its strongest when depicting tender macro shots of adorable cats, and tuning in shallowly to the lives of their owners. Mye overshoots and includes innumerable owner portraits too, even adding multiple new families in the final half hour of the film. I would have loved to spend more time with Nathan “the Cat Lady” at the beginning, and the trucker family with Tora in the middle; they were my favorites! Although well-intentioned, the focus on Flatbush Cats’ mantra to TNR (trap, neuter, and return) can feel too much like a PSA at times. That said, Mye shows a ton of promise as a director, and her film is visually great despite the lack of a large budget. Any cat owner is sure to love Cat Daddies, and the film may convert some dog owners like me!
Dealing with Dad
(Written by Allison Brown) It is not often that a movie comes along that one can heavily relate to. Dealing with Dad is not only incredibly funny, but also moving as well. The film follows Margaret (Ally Maki), a working corporate professional and mother in an interracial marriage of which her racist parents disapprove; Larry (Hayden Szeto), a man-child and nerdy gamer still living at home at age 33; and Roy (Peter S. Kim), an emotional eater dealing with his crumbling marriage. Their mother, Sophie (Page Leong), is judgmental of Roy’s weight and constantly puts each child down. Their father (Dana Lee) is mean spirited, aloof, and barely shows he cares about his children. Margaret and Roy are forced to return home to help Larry retrieve their problematic father from his depressive, isolating funk. Like Margaret, I am a Type A perfectionist who holds a deeply troubled relationship with my depressed father. Thankfully, my father is a bit more redeemable than the Chang patriarch, but we still barely speak. Hearing each sibling recall their most traumatic and damaging moments made me think of a few myself. However, most of mine have been in adult life, and unlike Margaret, I generally had a positive fatherly influence as a child aside from comparable punishments if I misbehaved. The end lesson of the film preaches to accept our parents as they are, as they are unlikely to change. This is something my sister constantly tells me, and it is something I have found difficult to accept. The cast has fantastic chemistry, and are believable as a family; small roles from festival standouts Miya Cech (Sundance 2021’s Marvelous and the Black Hole) and Karan Soni (Tribeca 2021’s 7 Days) only elevate the already great material. It is rare that a movie with such a heavy impact emotionally is also hilarious, but screenwriter/director Tom Huang does a fantastic job weaving the threads together. Dealing with Dad will stay with me for some time, and I really hope I have an opportunity to share it with my own dad one day soon.
Full review at the link.
FIRE ON THE PLAIN
Having just recently watched an excellent crime/mystery/thriller (HBO Max’s Tokyo Vice) only serves to point fingers at the glaring flaws in richly filmed but narratively bereft, Fire on the Plain. It wastes far too much time devoting attention to the characters that it forgets to have a story along the way. In concept, two separate halves (the first being a coming-of-age tale with murders in the background, the second a straightforward adult drama) could work gangbusters. After a horrifying incident occurs about an hour in, the murders cease, and an eight-years-later flash forward happens that simply did not work for me at all. The first half features taxi driver blockades and rumblings of the true killer, but once that chapter concludes I had a hard time staying connected to what remained. As stated previously, Fire on the Plain is certainly beautiful to look at thanks to excellent cinematography. With a solid story to accompany that, this could have been an excellent noir mystery.
Previously reviewed for Frameline 45.
Previously reviewed for Sundance 2022.
FROM THE HOOD TO THE HOLLER
(Written by Intern, Megan Davis) There is no question that the American political climate has become increasingly polarized in recent years. From the Hood to the Holler visualizes that polarization, the events that have sparked national movements for change, and the issue of inaccessible voting in America (some of which could be seen as clear voter suppression). All the while, Charles Booker’s story renewed some of my hope for the future of America. From the Hood to the Holler is an utterly outstanding documentary that displays the behind-the-scenes of Charles Booker’s movement making his political campaign for U.S. Senate. Amazing visuals, heart-wrenching stories, and meaningful messages within the film make it a must-watch, in my opinion.
Full review at the link.
Homebody was billed as a queer body swapping film, which usually means both fun and bizarre. Writer/director Joseph Sackett certainly checks off one of those boxes, but neglects the other heavily. Little Johnny (Tre Ryder) is slightly obsessed with their babysitter, Melanie (Colby Minifie), and the news that she will moving away is almost too much to bear. The two watch videos together about a concept called “free spirit meditation” in which one’s soul can quite literally leave their body. Inhabiting another person’s body is a possibility for the process, along with inanimate objects and animals, leaving one’s remaining shell in a coma-like state. Naturally, Johnny practices this, and finds himself inside of Melanie’s body. Things get too weird for my taste, with one of the first things Johnny decides to do: watch a video of childbirth on Melanie’s phone. Before the day is over, accidental sexting with Melanie’s fuck buddy, applying makeup, questioning Siri as to why “there’s a white paper stuck in my vagina,” and awkward encounters galore have occurred. There is an eventual “life lesson” to be learned by Johnny, but I just did not connect with any of this. Frustrating matters even further, the only thing even remotely LGBT occurs in the final minute of Homebody.
Full review at the link.
(Written by Intern, Megan Davis) With Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine covering the digital news sphere, I was immediately drawn to watch Klondike, which tells the story of the Russian-Ukrainian war through the lives of a Ukrainian expecting couple. Being merely 13 when the war began, I went into this film with little knowledge of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine outside of recent events, and it presented me with the haunting reality of civilian life over the course of this 8-year war. It is apparent that Klondike is more of a commentary on the war than a story of the lives of Irka and Tolik, as the characters feel secondary to the violent events happening around them. Klondike is an extremely powerful film supported by amazing cinematography, slow and deliberate pacing, and a hard-hitting message.
Previously reviewed for 2022’s SXSW.
Previously reviewed for 2022’s SXSW.
MARTIN AND THE MAGICAL FOREST
Sometimes it becomes difficult to gauge just how far on the spectrum a family movie will lie—will it go full-blown kiddie, or will there be enough meat on its bones for an adult to appreciate as well? While Martin and the Magical Forest remains wholesome and sweet throughout with minimal conflict, I have to scratch my head in confusion when it comes to determining the film’s ultimate target audience. Far too childish and simplistic for older viewers, and the ecological positivity of the messaging will likely completely go over the heads of those young enough to genuinely care. I will say I thought Martin and the Magical Forest displayed impressive puppetry and animatronics that bring to life its many inhabitants, and as it stands I would have loved to see the magicality and darkness cranked up to 11.
MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE
Previously reviewed for 2021’s Atlanta Film Festival.
Previously reviewed for 2021’s TIFF.
Full review at the link.
PEACE BY CHOCOLATE
Previously reviewed at 2021’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Bullying soars to dizzying heights in Spanish horror/thriller, Piggy. After debuting earlier in the year at Sundance, it was quickly swooped up by Magnolia Pictures for theatrical distribution—it’s not hard to see why. Channeling the best elements of the coming-of-age genre, Piggy presents an unconventional revenge/slasher splatter flick with heart. The fact that it also easily doubles as a complex character study, and presents huge moral questions, is a testament to the lead performance from Laura Galan, and the creative script from writer/director Carlota Pereda. For those who crave cerebral torment and complex characterization, Piggy proves to have more than enough tasty bacon to go around.
Previously reviewed for 2021’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Those hungry for LGBT content often have to face the sad truth: there are sadly not enough genuinely great films out in past years to satiate one’s appetite. We should not have to settle for subpar productions content to deliver low-brow humor and simplistic over-sexualization. Movies that have broken the mold (such as Call Me By Your Name and My Own Private Idaho) are few and far between. In recent years however, the landscape of queer filmmaking has expanded and evolved more than ever before, as visibility reaches new heights. Private Desert may not accomplish anything noteworthy or new narrative-wise, but from a pure filmmaking standpoint, it is terrific, and beautifully filmed. For the majority of the film, I was left wondering why we are still not past these reductive types of stories in 2022. The angle that approaches bisexuality/homosexuality initially left me stupefied. When it eventually gets there, Private Desert makes this element well worth the wait.
Previously reviewed for 2021’s TIFF.
Previously reviewed for 2022’s Berlinale International Film Festival.
Previously reviewed for 2021’s Inside Out Film Festival.
Of the new films we watched, my favorites were Hatching and Piggy, whilst Allison’s were Dealing with Dad and The Path. We hope to cover next year’s iteration of the festival as well! For more information, please check out the official website for Cleveland International Film Festival.