Eating at film festivals can sometimes be a challenge. Grabbing a quick sandwich between screenings is sometimes the best you can do. But yesterday I had a really interesting sandwich: a dark brooding film from one of my favorite Romanian directors placed between two animated films.
Disney’s Moana will be in theaters November 23, but people at AFIFest got to see it a bit early. It had its premiere at the festival on Monday night with a reprise Tuesday afternoon. Moana is a Pacific Islander princess. She is a special child, who is loved by the sea, but her father the chief believes that the island they live on represents safety. Moana though feels called to leave the island in order to fulfill a part of her people’s creation mythology. So she sets off to find the demigod Maui to force him to return the heart of a goddess and restore balance to the universe. Maui isn’t so hot on the idea of heading out with this young woman, but (of course) in time they manage to appreciate each other and save the world. Music includes songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). I’m not that fond of movie musicals, but you have to appreciate Miranda’s style.
The other animation was very different. The Red Turtle comes from Japan’s Studio Ghibli. But unlike its previous films, this one is not Japanese. Directed by Michael Dodok de Wit, this is a multination collaboration. A castaway finds himself on a small tropical island. He tries to find a way off the island, but is stopped each time by a red turtle. He eventually kills the turtle, but when remorse sets in the turtle transforms into a woman. The film recounts the years they spend on the island. While the story of Adam and Eve quickly comes to mind, one shouldn’t get too caught up in looking for parallels. This is a story that reflects a universal aspect of what it means to be human. Like other Studio Ghibli films, there is a strong environmental sensibility here. Man and nature are at first adversaries, but in time we discover that man and nature are not just in harmony, but that man and nature are one. The Red Turtle opens in theaters this Friday. My fuller review will follow soon.
Between these two animated films I saw Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation. Mungiu is one of the key directors in what is considered the Romanian New Wave. His films reflect the moral issues faced in the transition from Communist rule to a more democratic setting. In this film Romeo, a doctor, is the father of Eliza, a promising student who has a chance to go to the UK for university, but she must do well on her high school finals. But the day before the tests begin she is attacked. Romeo tries to get special consideration for his daughter because of the trauma and injuries. Favors are asked, connections are made. But is this the way Eliza will best be served? Is all this honest? When Eliza discovers that Romeo is having an affair, she loses all trust in his moral judgment. Romeo believes he is doing what is right for Eliza—this is her chance to get someplace better in life. But is this an example of selling one’s soul to fulfill a desire?
Photos courtesy of AFIFest presented by Audi, Walt Disney Studios, and Sundance Select