The big March event on the indie scene is the SXSW Film Festival, and an ecstatic reception in Austin can carry a movie a good long while – witness the fact that three of this month’s best indie releases (Krisha, Creative Control, and Hello, My Name is Doris) premiered there last year. Also this month: two foreign comedies, two documentaries, a modest comedy/drama, and another catalog release from a beloved international master.
Release Date: March 4 Directors: Dawn Porter Documentary
Midway through Dawn Porter’s powerful documentary, the owner of a Texas abortion clinic takes us through a Texas “ambulatory surgical center,” showing off the bells and whistles required by the state’s restrictive new reproductive health laws, which reduced the number of clinics in that massive state from 44 to 6. “I don’t know that we’ve ever used any of the things in the walls,” she shrugs, and proceeds to show Porter where the keep the soon-to-expire medication, and the surgical equipment they’ve never had to use. It’d almost be funny – if the hoops of these “TRAP” laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) weren’t preventing doctors from providing vital services. Yet Porter isn’t just making a political polemic; this is a film about people, those who run these clinics, those who work at them, and those who come to them. One woman prays with a clinic worker in the recovery room, and confesses, in a heartbreaking interview, that she’s afraid of her eternal “punishment” for having the procedure, and the trouble she’ll have “forgiving myself.” At another clinic, a 13-year-old rape victim may miss her legal window, due to the unavailability of the nurse/anesthetist required by the law; at another, the first patient on a day of fierce protest and counter-protest is a 14-year-old gang rape victim. So it goes.
Here Come the Videofreex
Release Date: March 9 Directors: Jon Nealon, Jenny Raskin Documentary
The first images of this fascinating documentary are of boxes of tapes and reels being unpacked and unspooled, and the entire film reverberates with that spirit of discovery. The Videofreex were a loose collective of activists and citizen journalists who seized on the first portable video cameras in 1968 and spent years chronicling the radical scene, capturing vibrant, tense images of women’s rights protests, student strikes, anti- and pro-war demonstrations, and even Woodstock. They covered Hell’s Angels and Yippies; they interviewed Fred Hampton mere weeks before his execution, which he eerily alludes to. The story of the organization – how they came together, how they nearly found a mainstream media megaphone, and how they went pirate after that fell apart – is interesting enough, though it’s rather flatly rendered in boilerplate talking-head interviews. The real juice here is the footage, in all its ugly, glitchy, black-and-white glory, reminding us of a period when it felt like information could change the world, and sometimes even did.
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Release Date: March 11 Director: Michael Showalter Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root, Kumail Nanjiani, Natasha Lyonne
Ms. Field – who, rather unbelievably, hasn’t led a feature film in a decade – is wonderful in the title role of a mousy office drone who develops a crush on a young, handsome co-worker (Greenfield) and decides to try some new things. Director Showalter and his co-writer Laura Terruso find exactly the right note to hit in telling her story, resisting the urge to sneer at her cluelessness; instead, they root for her, and admire her openness and curiosity. It’s a very sweet movie, where the most familiar characters are rendered with warmth and humanity, and even the jabs at artisan Williamsburg culture feel affectionate.
Release Date: March 11 Director: Benjamin Dickinson Cast: Benjamin Dickinson, Nora Zehetner, Dan Gill, Reggie Watts, Gavin McInnes
This five-minutes-into-the-future story concerns a marketing executive pushing “augmented reality” who falls down a dangerous psychosexual rabbit hole, with riveting results. Dickinson, who directs, co-writes, and stars, has a good ear for jargon (both Brooklyn hipster and tech dude-bro) and a dry sense of verbal and visual humor; the black-and-white cinematography is striking and stylish as hell. But the movie is, thankfully, more than its gimmick, manifesting an emotional intensity, wise to the desperation that’s always within reach of even the sturdiest relationship, and arriving at a philosophical conclusion that’s both undeniably true and inescapably cynical.
Release Date: March 11 Director: Robert Carlyle Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Ashley Jensen
Character actor Carlyle makes his directorial debut in this darkly comic tale of a nebbish barber who, altogether accidentally, becomes a serial killer. You can tell Carlyle was paying attention during his years of collaboration with Danny Boyle – he has a similar eye for crisp compositions and inventive photography, as well as a knack for grisly dark comedy. He repeats himself somewhat in the middle section, and the ending’s a bit of a (predictable) stretch. But it hums along with precision, thanks in no small part to strong performances by a bitter, no-fucks-given Winstone and (especially) Thompson, who’s a hoot with her sketchy old-age makeup and overcooked, borderline-indecipherable brogue.
Release Date: March 11 (NY); March 25 (Los Angeles) Director: Julie Delpy Cast: Dany Bon, Julie Delpy, Vincent Lacoste
Delpy’s fifth feature film – and her first in her native French – tells the story of a single mom (Delpy) and the kind man (Bon) she falls for while on a spa vacation. Delpy seems to set up a story of the complications of an urbane she and a provincial he making it work, and then she introduces the title character (Lacoste): the woman’s teenage son, whose subversion of the relationship first seems a charming affectation (playing out like a French Cyrus, perhaps) and then reveals him to be a genuine monster, bent on sabotage and destruction. Much of the second half is watching the tumblers of disaster fall into place, teeing up a total meltdown of this poor sap’s personal and professional life, and not all viewers enjoy that kind of slow-motion car wreck. But you’ve got to give Delpy this: there’s something wonderfully gleeful about her willingness to tug that thread until the whole sweater unravels.
Release Date: March 16 Director: Asghar Farhadi Cast: Hamid Farokhnezhad, Hediyeh Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti
Though it’s certainly taken long enough, slowly but surely, the great Farhadi’s back catalog is making its way into American theaters; we finally saw his 2009 masterpiece About Elly around this time last year, and now we’re getting this outstanding domestic drama a full decade after its initial Iranian release. It is, in some ways, a dry run for his 2011 Oscar winner A Separation, rooted in perceptions and misunderstandings, finding its story in the tensions between domestic workers and their employers, and between husbands and wives. As per usual, his morally complicated characters are fascinating and unpredictable, and the way he portrays his complex women dramatizes a world in flux. And the sounds of the titular fireworks – a background constant, as Persian New Year celebrations carry on through the narrative – viscerally underscore the domestic warfare onscreen.
Release Date: March 18 Director: Trey Edward Shults Cast: Krisha Fairchild, Alex Dobrenko, Bill Wise
Few wells in the indie world have been revisited more often than the dysfunctional family Thanksgiving, so it’s all the more impressive that writer/director Trey Edward Shults manages to create something as singular and haunting as this film, which recently won the Indie Spirit’s John Cassavetes Award, as well as both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at SXSW. He cast several members of his own family (including his extraordinary aunt, Krisha Fairchild, in the title role), which only increases the authenticity; you buy these relationships, and he savvily conveys the way family members talk and don’t talk to each other. A ruthless eye for composition, genius sense of juxtaposition, and an inventive (and unnerving) sound design combine to recast a family holiday as an anxiety nightmare and psychological horror story, yet the visceral sensation never overrides the deep empathy at the heart of this very special film.
Release Date: March 18 Director: Bob Nelson Cast: Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello, Patton Oswalt, Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson
Nebraska co-writer Nelson makes his directorial debut with a similar peek into the cozy houses on side streets of small towns, though this one doesn’t quite land with the same amount of emotional immediacy; Nelson’s film is so low-key it almost doesn’t register. And Clive Owen is badly miscast, wearing his construction worker character (and dodgy American accent) uneasily. But its portraiture of everyday alcoholism stings with truth, and the supporting players give nice jolts to their vignettes, while Owen and Lieberher get a good father-and-son chemistry going. It might not quite land overall, but it’s filled with small moments of real warmth and humor.