Mill Valley Film Festival Preview, Part 1

Alfonso Cuarón returns to his roots, the Kronos Quartet take on the Vietnam War, Maggie Gyllenhaal gets obsessed with a five-year-old, and the Big Bad Fox can’t get a break.

Here are four films that will screen at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival, in order from best to worst…although they’re all pretty good.

A Roma

Director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) returned to his native Mexico and created an amazing film – a loosely-plotted study of Mexico City, 1970-71, through the eyes of an indigenous maid who works for a comfortable middle-class family. And no, this is not entirely about class differences, although that always lurks in the background. Roma is a study of a time and a place, a culture, a people, women who trust untrustworthy men, and one special person, who happens to be a maid. Beautifully shot in black-and-white scope.

As the Festival’s Centerpiece film, Roma plays the Rafael, Monday, October 8, at 6:00.

B+ The Whistleblower of My Lai

Don’t expect a conventional documentary about Vietnam, My Lai, or even Hugh Thompson – the helicopter pilot who was almost court marshaled for trying to stop a massacre and insisting on telling the world about it. Connie Field’s brief feature focuses largely on the Kronos Quartet, working with other musicians, to prepare and perform an opera about Thompson, dying of cancer, and thinking about the courageous act that changed, and to a large part ruined, his life. The film works best in the second half, when it’s less about the creation of the opera and more about its meaning.

  • Sequoia, Thursday, October 11, 6:30
  • Rafael, Friday, October 12, 6:30

B+ The Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal brilliantly plays the title character in this study of creative obsession. One of her young students is clearly a genius, pouring beautiful poetry out of his mouth. First, she steals his work, calling it her own to impress her gorgeous creative writing teacher (Gael García Bernal). Then she tries to take over the child’s life, putting her job, her marriage, her family, and her freedom at stake. But then, no one else cares about the boy’s talent.

This special Spotlight on Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the Rafael, Friday, October 12, at 6:45.

B The Big Bad Fox And Other Tales

Simple, limited, hand-drawn animation has its pleasures, and one of those pleasures is exaggerated slapstick with a perfect sense of timing. And that’s just fine for The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, a family movie telling three comic stories of barnyard animals. The only thing the movie wants to do is make you laugh, and it succeeds.

This cartoon feature played at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival in the original French. Mill Valley will screen the new dubbed version (preferable for young children), which I haven’t heard.