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Mill Valley Film Festival 38

The 38th edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival started up October 8 this year and will run through October 18 at various venues in the Mill Valley area. Filmgoers willing to make the trek up north will be rewarded with such delights as a personal appearance by Sir Ian Mc Kellen; highly anticipated films starring Eddie Redmayne, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hanks, and Cate Blanchett; and new films from such famed international directors as Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Pablo Larrain, and Jafar Panahi.

The festival opens with The Danish Girl, another biopic from The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper. Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne plays famed Danish painter and transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo the then new procedure of gender reassignment surgery.

A late addition to this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival is the new Charlie Kaufman film, the rapturously praised Anamolisa. It’s the story of highly depressed motivational speaker Michael Stone (David Thewlis). His speaking gig in Cincinnati does nothing to dispel his feeling that all people, even an ex-girlfriend, look and sound alike. However, an encounter with shy customer service rep Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) offers either a new start or a temporary halt to his depression. And did we mention that this story is told using crude stop-motion animation?

Director Andrew Haigh (Weekend, Looking) captures a straight marriage in crisis in 45 Years. Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) are approaching their 45th wedding anniversary. However, the stability of their relationship starts crumbling after the frozen body of Geoff’s old girlfriend turns up and uncomfortable questions about the earlier relationship start being asked. Unsurprisingly, Courtenay and Rampling received Best Actor awards at the 2015 Berlinale.

Another award-winning film screening at Mill Valley Film Festival is the Cannes Grand Prix winner Son of Saul. The titular Saul in Laszlo Nemes’ film is a World War II Jewish prisoner tasked with preparing corpses for incineration (and robbing the dead or the soon-to-be-dead of their valuables). The sight of the corpse of a young boy who may be Saul’s child shakes the Sonderkommando out of survival mode. Now Saul’s determined to arrange a proper Jewish funeral for the boy, including a reading of Kaddish.

Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks reunite for a dramatic tale set during the Cold War. In Bridge Of Spies, attorney James Donovan (Hanks) has been recruited by the CIA to conduct high-stakes negotiations for the return of a captured American U-2 pilot. Famed directors Joel and Ethan Coen helped co-write the script.

To celebrate the centenary of iconic actress Ingrid Bergman’s birth, the Mill Valley Film Festival will screen Ingrid Bergman–In Her Own Words. Interviews with Bergman’s children and recollections of the controversies that roiled her life are par for the course. But Stig Bjorkman’s documentary also features generous excerpts from Bergman’s private papers and incredible home movie footage of her family.

The more contemporary iconic actress Cate Blanchett essays the title role of Carol in Todd Haynes’ adaptaion of Patricia Highsmith’s landmark lesbian novel The Price Of Salt. It’s the story of the romance between married Carol and shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) in early 1950s America.

Blanchett does a two-fer at Mill Valley Film Festival with Truth, a dramatization of Mary Mapes’ behind-the-scenes account of the 60 Minutes report about President George W. Bush’s alleged preferential treatment from the Texas National Guard that cost both Mapes (Blanchett) and news anchor Dan Rather their jobs.

Assassination of a more literal sort can be found aplenty in The Assassin, legendary Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s decidedly different take on the wuxia genre. Incredibly skilled assassin Yinniang (Shu Qi) gets punished by her handler for showing mercy with an incredibly difficult assignment to kill a powerful governor. However, there’s a special tie between the killer and her target.

The priests who are the members of The Club also share a common dark secret which those familiar with recent Catholic Church scandals will be familiar with. Director Pablo Larrain’s follow-up to his life under Pinochet trilogy concerns another crime by the powerful which might actually lead to justice this time.

The Mill Valley Film Festival also pays tribute to the great African filmmaker Ousmane Sembene with two offerings. One is Sembene!, a frank and moving biographical portrait of the father of African film. The other is a screening of Sembene’s restored classic Black Girl, the tale of a Senegalese woman who will not let the drudgery of housekeeping for a bourgeois French couple destroy her inner voice.

Kent Jones’ documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut relates how conversations between French New Wave talent Francois Truffaut and the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock led to a book that revolutionized the way people regarded movies.

The newest cinematic adaptation of the classic William Shakespeare play Macbeth sees Michael Fassbender in the title role and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. It’s an attempt to re-stage the play for the Game of Thrones generation.

A film making a 180-degree turn in style, theme, and visuals from the Shakespeare adaptation is Taxi (Jafar Panahi’s Taxi). In this non-film, the still government-blackballed Iranian director offers a covert portrait of contemporary Iran while driving a taxi. A dashboard “security” camera captures conversations Panahi conducts with his passengers.

Legendary Italian director Ermanno Olmi’s Greenery Will Bloom Again is a recounting of his grandfather’s experiences with World War I trench warfare. A cold and miserable winter in the trenches makes a young soldier yearn for an end to the violence.

Actress Brie Larson is the subject of a tribute at Mill Valley Film Festival 38. Along with the actress’ in-person appearance is a screening of her new film Room. This highly anticipated adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s powerful best-seller concerns a 5-year-old boy named Jack whose world consists of Ma (Larson) and their dwelling, known as Room. To the boy, Room is the real world. Anything outside of Room is TV. Then Jack’s understanding of his world gets suddenly thrown out of whack.

(For further information about the festival, go here.)

About the Author

I'm a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film...but don't tell anyone.

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