I play a very small part in programming the Mill Valley Film Festival. Every spring and early summer, I screen several obscure movies that will probably never see the inside of an American movie theater. Then I send in a report for each movie.
Most of these films are bad beyond belief. Some of them couldn’t make it to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Luckily, I’m allowed to give up on a picture after the first 30 minutes or the first third, whichever comes last.
I also find some wonderful, unknown gems every year. And yet, having done this for three or four years, not a single film that I recommended has ended up in the Festival. I guess that’s better than them programming a movie I panned.
Here are six films I screened this year that, in my opinion, were good enough for the Mill Valley Film Festival, even if Mill Valley didn’t think so. You’ll probably never get to see them.
God of The Piano
A fantastic film about a mother from hell. And no, it’s not a horror movie. The main character is a classical musician, living in a family of classical musicians. When she discovers, in the maternity ward, that her new child is born deaf, she switches babies so she can raise her son to be a great musician and composer. But as the son heads towards adolescence, she can’t quite control his world anymore.
In this study of PTSD set in the West Bank, the main character has just finished 15 years in an Israeli prison. He can’t adjust to anything. He gets angry easily. A young, attractive Palestinian-American filmmaker wants to make a documentary about him, but he keeps agreeing and then cancelling his interviews. He has trouble urinating – perhaps a symbol of the anger building up inside him. The feeling is very strong that he’s going to blow.
A very sad, calm film about a woman secretly facing her death by cancer, while the joy of her daughter’s wedding is all around her. The film is set almost entirely in the woman’s beautiful home. She’s the sort of mother who will open her daughter’s bedroom door, see that a young, naked man is in the room, and continue the conversation. All the film’s nudity is male, and the men in the movie are either romantic interests or simply lovers. It’s about time someone switched that convention.
Sorry, but I couldn’t find a still from this movie
The kindly, eco-friendly patriarch teaches his granddaughter about sustainable agriculture, while a couple of townspeople treat their elders horribly, hoping they will die soon. Meanwhile, a corporation is destroying nearby land. The patriach’s son, who works for the corporation, must choose between his parents’ intentions and the possibility of becoming rich. This Indian drama weaves multiple threads toward a King Lear-like tragic ending.
Una Great Movie
I loved this crazy movie, which tells one story inside another. The main, inner story, set in a small Mexican tourist island, is a romance that can’t end happily, but is set in a place of joy and beauty. The outer story, about a struggling screenwriter in LA, is broad, satirical comedy. As agents, producers, and everyone else tell her how to change her screenplay, the inner story constantly changes.
Race plays an interesting part. Black women play the protagonists of both stories. Almost everyone else in the inner story are Latinx. Of course, the producers in the outer story want more white people in the movie, and more Mexican stereotypes.
The Man with the Silver Case
Imagine a James Bond movie shot in sleek, silvery black and white. It even starts with an extremely impressive and expensive stunt that has little to do with the story. But this time, you don’t know if the “hero” is working for the good guys or the bad guys. He has substance abuse problems and a metal brief case handcuffed to his wrist. He’s not bothered by killing people. We root for him because movies do that to us, and because he’s not as evil as the people who are trying to kill him. And like a good Bond flick, it’s extremely entertaining – sometimes in a gruesome way.