There was a time, and not long ago, when the hotter months were a little cold at the art house — when indie distributors seemingly didn’t want to get flattened by the behemoths of the summer movie season. But a few years back, some of them seemed to realize that grown-ups also enjoy a nice air-conditioned theater, as well as a movie where flesh-and-blood people talk to each other. So the summer season has become nearly as crowded for indie cinema as for the mainstream; this month, we’ve got 11 recommendations for you, and this is just a handful of the indies, docs, and foreign films that will hit cinemas and VOD in June.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Release Date: June 3 Director: Roy Andersson Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Viktor Gyllenberg
Some filmmakers deal in the comedy of awkwardness; Roy Andersson’s specialty is the comedy of despair. Designated, in the opening titles, as “the final part of a trilogy about being a human being” (following Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living), it’s another example of Andersson’s by-now-set style: absurd little vignettes, drab people in drab rooms captured in long white shots by an unmoving camera, Bergman by way of Buñuel. There are recurring themes and running characters (wandering in and out of scenes are the saddest novelty gift salesmen in the world), but the real focus is the style, simple yet logistically complex, boxed-in yet deceptively performative (as demonstrated by the borderline kabuki makeup of his players), until he takes a devastatingly sharp shift into a tableau that reframes the entire film, to ask if we’ve made suffering into some kind of spectator sport. It’s an odd and funny picture, until the laughs begin to cut.
Love and Mercy
Release Date: June 5 Director: Bill Pohlad Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Few things in this world have grown as thuddingly predictable as the music-genius biopic, so kudos to director Pohlad for finding a refreshing way in to the oft-told but still fascinating story of the Beach Boys’ troubled genius Brian Wilson. Grabbing and intermingling two strands of Wilson’s life — the post-Pet Sounds fall and his late-‘80s reemergence — and playing them in different styles with different actors (John Cusack, very good, and Paul Dano, uncannily on-point), Pohlad ends up crafting a rich and deeply moving portrait, capturing a descent and resurrection while deftly avoiding the customary beats.
Release Date: June 5 Director: Saverio Costanzo Cast: Adam Driver, Alba Rohrwacher, Roberta Maxwell
They Meet Cute in a bathroom, fall in love, get pregnant, and have an adorable Coney Island wedding where everyone dances to the Flashdance theme. And then… the baby comes. Costanzo’s harrowing drama starts out like a charming, lo-fi New York romance, then shifts — in the mood, the look, and the sound — into something like a horror movie, all wild angles and wide lenses, as an average Joe (Driver) discovers his child’s mother (Rohrwacher) is misguided at best and deeply disturbed at worst. It’s all pretty upsetting (especially for parents) but unquestionably effective, even if falls apart a bit in search of a satisfactory conclusion.
An Open Secret
Release Date: June 5 Director: Amy Berg
Months after a controversial DOC NYC screening (one that almost didn’t happen), we finally have the opportunity to glimpse “the movie Hollywood doesn’t want you to see,” according to a rather ham-fisted bit of on-screen text in the opening credits. But that’s one of the few stumbles of note in director Amy Berg’s powerful, sensitive, and frequently gut-wrenching exposé of child sexual abuse in Hollywood. The world of kid actors is a little unsettling even in the best of circumstances, but Berg here cuts through (with the help of several victims) the layers of managers, publicists, execs, and filmmakers who formed, in the 1990s, a culture of pedophilia — and one hardly confined to that era. Berg’s construction is masterful, slowly unpeeling this very troubling onion, connecting the dots from obscure figures to marquee names, running the string carefully and deliberately from one pushpin to another. Their stories are complimented by disturbing home movies and even clips from shorts and films where art creepily imitates life. There’s a lot to get into here (from addiction to injustice to cover-ups), probably more than the single film can handle. And some of Berg’s choices, particularly musically, are dodgy. But it’s a brave and important film, and one that sadly may not change a damn thing.
Release Date: June 5 Director: Rodney Ascher
Director Ascher, creator of the witty and memorable Room 237, turns his skewed eye toward the increasingly common affliction of sleep paralysis via this story of eight people “and what waits for them in the darkness.” He combines stylized interviews with dramatizations and visualizations, deploying the tools of the horror trade — monsters, shadows, visual and aural jump scares — to create a cross between documentary and scary movie, often to great effect. As with his last film, much of the humor and humanity comes from Ascher leaving in what other movies might chop out, like an interview subject struggling to remember Christopher Walken’s name (“the one who was in that dancing video”), or a mouse closing a pop-up ad on a related YouTube video (for insomnia meds, of course). The film meanders a bit, seemingly unsure of its final destination, but it’s still a journey well worth taking.
Release Date: June 12 Director: Crystal Moselle
High up in a public housing unit on the Lower East Side lives the Angulo family: six boys and one girl, held — almost imprisoned — there by an eccentric father and the mother who fears him. They rarely venture out of their doors (once or twice a year, perhaps, though they recall one year when they never left at all), and only know the world around them via movies, which they watch constantly, quoting and referencing and, often, reenacting. Those reenactments have the giddy joy of something like the Raiders adaptation, but their giggly nature doesn’t negate the fact that this family is living a tragedy, hostages to the whims of a clearly troubled man. Yet the presence of director Moselle seems to empower them to push back; her camera sensitively captures an honest-to-goodness awakening, and one quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen onscreen.
Live From New York!
Release Date: June 12 Director: Bao Nguyen Cast: Documentary
It’s not as though we haven’t heard — via endless histories, memoirs, specials, even other documentaries — the story of how Lorne Michaels and a ragtag band of sketch players created a four-decades-and-counting comedy institution. And to his credit, director Nguyen knows that we know that story. So rather than constructing yet another chronological retelling of it, he devises a documentary that’s a free-form exploration of the themes that recur through the show’s history and broadcasts, looking not only at how SNL saw the world, but how the world saw SNL. It’s a refreshing approach, and makes for a breezy, entertaining, brainy film.
Release Date: June 19 Director: Rick Famuyiwa Cast: Zoë Kravitz, Shameik Moore, Forest Whitaker
The music and props in the opening moments of Rick Famuyiwa’s explosive action/comedy/drama make it look like a ‘90s story, and that spell holds until protagonist Malcolm (Shameik Moore) mentions Bitcoins, and we realize the movie isn’t a period piece — he is. Malcolm and his crew are obsessed with ‘90s hip-hop culture, and Famuyiwa’s unpredictable and energetic screenplay is also a piercing look at the cost of being a “geek” in the hood. (There’s also a bit of sad context, since the ‘90s was also the last time mainstream movies gave a fuck about these neighborhoods, but I digress.) What with the tonal shifts and hopscotching through the narrative, the Sundance-coined comparisons to Pulp Fiction are inevitable and somewhat accurate, but the thoughtful closing passages position this as far more than some warmed-over rip-off. It’s got a voice and a spirit of its own, and the result is pure pop pleasure.
Release Date: June 19 Director: Patrick Brice Cast: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman
Once you reach a certain age, it’s just a helluva lot harder to “make friends,” which is the dilemma faced by recent LA transplants Alex (Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) when they’re invited to a dinner party with the parents of their young son’s playmate. Throw in the kind of psychosexual tension that’s just under the surface of many long-term relationships, and the table is set for a playful, funny, and sometimes shockingly candid comedy of errors from writer/director Brice, who turns his small cast and (basically) single location from an indie standby into something that retains the power to surprise.
Release Date: June 19 Director: David Gordon Green Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine
David Gordon Green’s Great Actor Rehab program continues with this very modest drama about a Texas locksmith (Pacino) whose buried rage and inability to let go has alienated him from those who love him — and anyone else who might. The latter category is represented by a bank teller (played simply and effectively by Hunter) who is so open and kind to him that he doesn’t know how to deal with it. His relationship with his son (Messina) is tense and difficult; in fact, most of his meaningful interactions are with his cat, and with himself, in the long, searching, yearning letters he writes to his long-lost love. It’s a mighty muted piece of work — there are small films, and then there are films where a cat eating is an emotional high point — and that’s exactly the kind of low-key picture we need to remind us of the humanity and simplicity Mr. Pacino is capable of.
A Murder in the Park
Release Date: June 26 Director: Christopher S. Rech, Brandon Kimber
Everybody loves a good innocent-man-wrongly-accused documentary (particularly this viewer); Rech and Kimber’s fascinating documentary turns that feel-good premise on its head. They tell, in painstaking and often unforgiving detail, the story of Anthony Porter, considered by many the man who ended Illinois’ death penalty in 1999, when his conviction for a pair of 1982 murders was overturned thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project. But the usual question of judicial error becomes one of journalistic malfeasance, as the men in charge of that project were revealed, some time later, to have (irony of ironies) pursued a flawed investigation, ignored evidence, coerced false confessions, and put an innocent man behind bars for years. The filmmaking is mostly pedestrian — the deep-voiced narration couples with the flat reenactments to create the look and feel of a History Channel special — but the storytelling is riveting, with the twists and turns of a good thriller. And the questions it asks, about who you can trust on either side of the law, are messy, challenging, and provocative.