March is an odd month for studio movies — not quite summer yet, a little too early for blockbusters, but not the early-in-the-year burn-off period either. In other words, you’re sort of taking your chances at the multiplex, and the independent distributors seem to know it; this month’s indie slate is even more crowded than usual. Here are a few you won’t want to miss.
The Hunting Ground Release Date: Out now Director: Kirby Dick
Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering (The Invisible War) look at the horrifying and timely issue of rape on college campuses — and the systemic failure to do anything whatsoever to even acknowledge (much less solve) the problem. The stories from survivors are chilling and powerful; this is not like the TV news reports of old, with victims hidden behind shadows, scrambled voices, and aliases. These women — in an environment of terrifyingly hostile threats and retribution — show their faces, say their names, and tell their stories. And Dick honors their courage by thoroughly, methodically examining the issue from all angles, and arriving at an indictment of higher education that is simply irrefutable. (Read more here.)
The Salvation Release Date: Out now Director: Kristian Levring Cast: Mads Mikkelson, Eva Green, Jeffrey Den Morgan, Jonathan Pryce
A top-notch cast of our sturdiest character actors squint across the dusty, windy landscape in this bleak, visceral post-Unforgiven Western. It’s a revenge tale with the kind of modern evil that borders on nihilism (“Once you’ve all had your way with her, cut her throat”), a terrific, Morricone-esque score by Kasper Winding, and yet another scene-stealing turn by Ms. Green, who is becoming cinema’s most entertaining thief. It’s dark, darkly funny, and moody as hell.
Buzzard Release Date: March 6 Director: Joel Potrykus Cast: Joshua Burge, Joel Potrykus, Teri Ann Nelson
Deadpan writer/director Potrykus dramatizes a comically (at first, anyway) low-stakes “crime spree” with this chronicle of Marty (Burge), a nickel-and-dime scam artist who specializes in manipulating promotions and complaining for coupons until he stumbles into a check-forging scheme. But he’s not the kind of slick con man we normally see in movies — nor is he the lovable slacker loser the picture first seems to promise. In fact, Potrykus effectively implodes that trope, tracing Marty’s downward spiral from video game-playing, no-fucks-giving loser to sociopath, all the while maintaining an off-kilter visual style and wry sensibility.
Seymour: An Introduction Release Date: March 13 Director: Ethan Hawke
Seymour Bernstein is many things, concert pianist, music teacher, and wise Buddha among them; now he’s the subject of a warm, likable, and modest (in the best sense of the word) documentary portrait from director Ethan Hawke. Hawke has a good eye, a crisp style, and solid instincts (he chooses archival footage carefully and uses it sparingly), and he navigates between scenes and ideas with ease, effectively straddling the topics of this man in specific and creators in general. But he also manages to get close to his subject, capturing both Bernstein’s wisdom and his solitude. He’s just a lovely guy, and this is an appropriately lovely film. (Read more here.)
The Wrecking Crew Release Date: March 13 Director: Denny Tedesco
The key sound of The Wrecking Crew’s opening credit sequence is fuzz — the changing of radio stations, from the Beach Boys to Sam Cooke to Herb Alpert to the Chipmunks. It’s an excellent aural argument for the ubiquity of the titular crew, a loose group of Los Angeles session musicians who dominated rock recordings in the 1960s, yet remain largely unknown. They were grinders, workers, pros, coming of age at the same time as the music, part of a generational shift from the “blue blazer” pop and jazz instrumentalists who thought rock was beneath them, and paid dearly for it. Tedesco, son of one of the group’s key members, has been working on the movie so long that most of the talking-head interviews are in TV-friendly 4×3, and it must be noted that the filmmaking is pedestrian at best (particularly the cliché-filled, come-and-go narration). But that barely even matters when you’ve got as many candid interviews, great stories, and snapshots of creativity as you get here.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter Release Date: March 18 Director: David and Nathan Zellner Cast: Rinko Kikuchi
When she discovers a muddy, well-worn VHS copy of Fargo in a cave, Kumiko (Kikuchi, terrific) decides that she must go to Minnesota to discover the money buried by Steve Buscemi in that “true story.” This tricky comedy/drama plays, on one level, as a Coen tribute, with parallel characters and a score that cleverly interpolates Carter Burwell’s music from the earlier picture, creating a kind of dialogue between the two films. But it’s ultimately less about that movie, or movies in general, than about the power of delusion (she watches and rewatches that old tape, hypnotized by it, analyzing it, treating it like her own Zapruder film) and the crippling power of solitude — which, as one character puts it, “is just fancy loneliness.”
Jauja Release Date: March 20 Director: Lisandro Alonso Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Diego Roman, Ghita Nørby
Viggo Mortensen stars in (speaking Spanish, even) and produces this existential Western dreamscape from co-writer/director Lisandro Alonso. Thick with silent visual poetry, its 4×3 framing and period setting most immediately recall Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff — as does the sometimes maddeningly deliberate pacing, which requires a bit more patience than most moviegoers are likely willing to spare. Their loss; by turns lyrical, bizarre, and defiantly dull, Jauja reminds us of the refreshing freedom to be found in filmmaking that floats this far adrift from convention.
Man From Reno Release Date: March 27 Director: Dave Boyle Cast: Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura
For the first act of Man From Reno, co-writer/director Boyle seems to be channel surfing between two movies: a back-roads noir in the Blood Simple tradition with Senra as a small-town sheriff investigating a murder, and a quiet drama about a mystery novelist (Fujitani) who is drawn to an enigmatic man. But as with any good mystery, the two involving yet seemingly unrelated stories do intersect, and that’s far from the last surprise in this gripping thriller. Leisurely paced yet dizzyingly complex and endlessly involving, and utterly unpredictable — the rarest of qualities these days, in the art house or the multiplex.