Cinema action in Mill Valley Film Fest

  • by David Lamble
  • Tuesday October 1, 2019
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Scene from gay director Francois Ozon's "By the Grace of God." Photo: Courtesy MVFF
Scene from gay director Francois Ozon's "By the Grace of God." Photo: Courtesy MVFF

There's a remarkable queer accent to the Mill Valley Film Festival, playing Oct. 3-13 at venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Larkspur and Berkeley. Here's a rundown of films playing at the 2019 Mill Valley fest, beginning with films labeled, "Focus: Queer-ish."

"By the Grace of God" Veteran gay director Francois Ozon returns with an expose torn from French newspaper headlines, the details of which are hauntingly familiar to a worldwide Catholic community. Ozon relates the struggles of a trio of adult men who fought for years to receive justice from a Catholic hierarchy that has steadily covered up the details of abuse inflicted by Catholic priests on boys and adolescents. Winner of the Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear Award Jury Prize; in French with English subtitles.

"Carmilla" British director Emily Harris delivers a 19th-century gothic tale concerning the fate of two young girls. Lara becomes obsessed with Carmilla, a youngster recovering at Lara's mansion home. Harris' drama will especially appeal to fans of ghost stories with whispers in the night. North American debut.

"The Conductor" The inspirational story of pioneering symphony conductor Antonia Brico. The Dutch-born immigrant overcomes a host of obstacles to realize her dream to conduct the New York Philharmonic. US debut; in English, Dutch and German, with English subtitles.

"Ema" Queer-friendly, world-class actor Gael Garcia Bernal ("Bad Education," "Y Tu Mama Tambien") stars in Chilean director Pablo Larrain's harrowing tale of a couple whose lives are upended by an accident. US debut; in Spanish with English subtitles.

"Pain and Glory" Spanish queer director Pedro Almodovar returns with one of his favorite male leads, Antonio Banderas, in the story of aging film director Salvador Mallo, who, in the grip of a creative slump, starts to review his 40-year career behind the camera. Winner of Cannes Best Actor Award; in Spanish with English subtitles.

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" Director Celine Sciamma presents an unusual bond that develops between two women — one a talented painter, and the other her unwitting subject. Winner of Cannes Best Screenplay Award; in French & Italian, with English subtitles.

"The Prince" Beginning with a teen boy in a cruel Chilean prison, Sebastian Munoz's unconventional male love story is reminiscent of Genet and Derek Jarman. At the center of this tale is an older cellmate who rules the roost with both tenderness and cruelty. North American debut; in Spanish with English subtitles.

"Song Without a Name" Director Melina Leon's film, inspired by true events involving a kidnapped baby girl born to an indigenous Peruvian mom, finds a closeted male reporter looking for clues that lead into some dark corridors of power. In Spanish & Quechua, with English subtitles.

Scene from director Nadav Lapids  

"Synonyms" A one-time Israeli soldier (spirited newcomer Tom Mercier) moves to Paris in an attempt to discard his old identity, including language and homeland. Israeli director Nadav Lapid, Golden Bear winner in Berlin, presents a complicated, nuanced, dramatic meditation on nationalism. In French, English & Hebrew, with English subtitles.

"Where's My Roy Cohn?" Director Matt Tyrnauer, whose "Studio 54" wowed queer filmgoers, zeros in on a homosexual attack-dog whose legacy survives in the presidency of Donald Trump.

"Why Can't I Be Me? Around You" Harold Blank presents the highlights of an ongoing, eight-year conversation with transwoman/auto mechanic Rusty Tidenberg about cars, drag races and life.

Among the non-queer highlights at Mill Valley:

"Just Mercy" While an adaptation of Harper Lee's pioneering novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" is packing them in on Broadway, Lee's hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, becomes the setting for a harrowing film drama. "Just Mercy" features a drive by a black lawyer (Michael B. Jordan) to save a poor black man (Jamie Foxx) from being railroaded onto death row in a case involving the murder of a white woman. This gut-wrencher is a must-see for those who have forgotten our racial past. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Opening night at both the Sequoia in Mill Valley and the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

"Honey Boy" One-time child actor Shia LeBeouf headlines this poignant tale of an adult film actor, his career stalled by addiction issues, who finds he needs to reconcile with his brutish dad in order to move on with his life. Alma Har'el directs a cast that includes Noah Jupe and rising 20something actor Lucas Hedges. Winner of Sundance Special Jury Prize.

"Motherless Brooklyn" Veteran film actor Edward Norton directs this noir-ish tale set in 50s Brooklyn adapted from Jonathan Lethem's late-90s novel. The cast includes Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones & Willem Dafoe. Mill Valley Closing-night film.

The 2019 Mill Valley Film Fest also includes tributes to actor Robert Pattinson, actresses Olivia Wilde, Alfre Woodard & Kristen Stewart, and UK filmmaker Michael Apted, who will screen the latest installment of his famed documentary series tracking the lives of a group of British schoolkids, "63 Up."