Agnes Varda Goes To The Country & Other 40th MVFF Highlights

The 40th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) is upon us. From October 5 to 15 at various venues such as the Smith Rafael Film Center, the film programmers are bringing viewers treasures from such artists as Agnes Varda, Todd Haynes, Hong Sang-soo, and Guillermo del Toro. film lovers in the know are already looking forward to such titles as Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But besides what may be the last Agnes Varda film, here are some below-the-radar suggestions for your MVFF experience.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

This acclaimed French film delivers a rousing tribute to gay activism with its focus on the activities of the Paris ACT-UP group from 1989 on. But it’s also a moving love story involving the HIV-negative Nathan and the slowly worsening Sean. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes.


Meet legendary card mechanic Richard Turner. Despite being legally blind, constant practice with a deck of cards has made him so proficient that he can control the outcome of any card game he’s involved in. Yet even a master with cards like Turner needs to know when to ask for help… Winner of a SXWSW Audience Award for best documentary.

Faces Places

The new documentary from Agnes Varda is a collaboration with a street muralist named JR. Agnes Varda is a legend of the French New Wave. JR treats the street as his canvas. They’re mutually fascinated by human stories. Soon the two of them travel the French countryside and reflect on art as seen through the perspectives of two different generations. Winner of the 2017 Cannes Film festival award for Best Documentary.

Let The Sunshine In

For those who loved Clair Denis’ one-night stand film Friday Night, this new tale takes on the familiar theme of a forty-ish woman looking for love. Except in this case, lead character Isabelle is played by Juliette Binoche. And it’s not clear this divorced painter will find her happily ever after given repeated heartbreaks.

On The Beach At Night Alone

Just how much did director Hong Sang-soo draw from real life for his new film? Its protagonist is an actress trying to rebound from a failed affair with a married film producer. As with other Hong films, expect heavy drinking and bad behavior between men and women. But the new element here is that the lead actress actually had an affair with the married Hong. So how much is fakery?

The Sandglass

Wojciech Has’ classic of Eastern European cinema gets a digital restoration. It’s an adaptation based on the Bruno Schulz short story collection Sanatorium Under The Sign Of The Hourglass. The setting is a distant sanatorium where time has been disconnected from reality. Jozef, a sanatorium visitor, finds himself unstuck in time and literally reliving his youth and his troubled relationships with his family.

The Shape Of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s new film is a love story involving a very unusual couple. Sally Hawkins plays a mute custodian who works in a secret government laboratory. The subject of one such scientific investigation is a gill man captured from a dark swamp. Woman and gill man fall in love against the backdrop of Cold War era paranoia.

Snowy Bing Bongs Across The North Star Comfort Zone

The MVFF’s most unusually titled selection comes from the demented geniuses behind Swiss Army Man. It involves snow at the beach, lots of dancing and performance art, and even intergalactic adventure. Just don’t expect bland mainstream pablum.


Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31) steps into genre territory. Thelma looks forward to college as an escape from her religious fundamentalist parents. College life winds up giving Thelma a chance to heavily drink and pursue a lesbian relationship. But will Thelma’s manifestation of unusual powers end her hopes of escape?

Tip Of My Tongue

How would you celebrate turning 50? For avant-garde filmmaker Lynne Sachs, it’s by spending a weekend with friends around the same age reflecting on the events big and small that mutually marked their lives. The resulting film is a delirious mix of personal remembrances, period footage, and unexpected associations. But above it all, there’s the realization that though these people lived through the same years, they had unique experiences.

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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