As magical as it can be, one of the unfortunate realities of True/False is that one bad experience can set your day off course. The festivals programs trend both heady and heavy, and while they’re (mostly) all entertaining in their own ways, the wear-and-tear of one particularly gruesome film has the potential to weigh on you for the remainder of the day. Think of it as a haymaker.
For me, Day Two seemed to be one of those days that felt like a fight. And unfortunately, I got knocked out.
It certainly didn’t start that way. For my opening feature Friday morning, I was part of the second screening ever of Lovers of the Night (Grade: A-) an intimate portrait of Cistercian monks in the Irish countryside. It’s the debut from Anna Frances Ewert, and if this film is any hint at what’s to come, she’s a star in the making. Lovers is both supremely confident and achingly compassionate filmmaking, as Ewert deftly plays the roles of director, cinematographer, and audience herself. I’m not always a fan of directors inserting themselves into films, but the way she does it is scant and thoughtful, leaving the majority of the slight 57 minute run time to the monks themselves. It’s a wise move on her part, as the monks are a joy to be around. But Ewert’s hand is ever-present, stripping away the romantic mystique of their pious lives. What she reveals is an elegant portrait of simplicity and inspiring humanity. As a follower of Christ, I found Lovers soul-stirring, convicting, and comforting. It’s a film that doesn’t bask in the spiritual glories of a life well-lived, but instead lets these eclectic beautiful lives speak for themselves. I found it, at times, to be transcendent.
Unfortunately, this is where Day 2 got off track for me, as we ventured into Caniba next. You’ll notice I didn’t assign a grade to this film. That’s because I didn’t finish it. I ended up leaving about a third of the way through the film.
I had some very hard, but good conversations about this film afterward. For context, it documents – in agonizing, explicit detail – the life of infamous murderer-cannibal Issei Sagawa. I’ve never been a person who enjoyed leaving a film unfinished, and I can’t ever recall doing so voluntarily before Friday. There’s a lot I could say about why it was the right move for me to make. But I’ll simply leave it at this: to reckon with the deepest darkness of humanity is, ultimately, a choice. At the time, it was a choice I couldn’t make. Perhaps this damages a sense of credibility I’d like to lend myself, but if that’s the case then so be it.
I ended Day Two with Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers (Grade: C-), a CNN Films production detailing life for three triplets, separated at birth and the years that follow their amazing discovery. I don’t want to wholly discount the idea I may have still been coming down from both a festival highlight and an incredibly difficult, frustrating walkout. But I never got in step with Wardle’s cut-and-dry mystery doc. The film is a narrative and thematic mess from about 15 minutes in, obscuring what could be moving character study beneath a cold journalistic, video-essay feel. Strangers never quite knows what it is or what it could be, and it feels less like a cohesive story as it does an interesting idea with four different styles, all tried on for size. It’s a shame too, since there is clearly a human story underneath all the confusion. It spoke loudly to my emotions, keeping this from veering into true disaster territory. Still, it’s hard to see a the subjects bare their pain for the sake of what ends up being a highly cynical, self-confounded feedback loop.
And so, with one walkout and one dud on my hands, I called it a night. Unfortunately, this means missing Our New President, the last film on my schedule, and one I highlighted in my preview. Sometimes, you have to know when you’re beat for the day.