Welcome to the 2021 edition of AFI Fest. Last year, the festival was all done virtually. This year is a hybrid with some films being available virtually and others only shown in the theaters at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. The festival is abbreviated from pre-pandemic years only covering 4+ days instead of the usual 7+. But there are still some exciting films coming here. My first day was a virtual day.
Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades, Paris 13e) is the latest film from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone, and The Sister Brothers). His films are often intense and challenging. Paris, 13th District is a look at the Millennial world of relationship that seem to be a mash up of friendship, lack of commitment, and sex (lots of it).
We open when Camille shows up at Emilie’s apartment to answer an ad for a roommate. Emilie was hoping for a woman, but after some talking, spark begin between them. But when Emilie is more committed to the relationship than Camille, they break it off. Nora, a second year law student is mistaken by friends as an internet porn star. In time Nora works with Camille at a real estate agency, and they connect. Nora also contacts the porn star and they begin an online friendship. There are various turns along the way, but it all ends up with people finding something special.
In Megan Mylan’s documentary Simple as Water, we meet various Syrian refugee families struggling to find a place in the world as they are separated from others. A mother with four children in Athens, hoping to be able to be reunited with her husband in Germany. Another mother in Turkey considering putting her five children in an orphanage because she cannot care for them. A man in the U.S. with a 9th grade brother who lost a leg in a bombing. A woman still in Syria hoping to get word of a son missing in Raqqa. All are in a kind of limbo. They have hope for reunification and a future better than they are living, but nothing is assured for them. Simple as Water will be available on HBOMax on November 16.
And let’s look at some shorts while we’re here.
In the Israeli film Her Dance from Bar Cohen, Aya shows up at her sister’s wedding Sabbath dinner uninvited. She hasn’t been invited because she is estranged from her Orthodox family because she is a trans woman. Her mother is afraid someone will recognize her and the groom’s family will cancel the marriage. Some terrible things are said (especially by Aya’s mother), but there is a touch of grace, even if we are left in an emotional emptiness. (22 minutes)
For H.A.G.S. by Sean Wang, the filmmaker was going through his eighth grade yearbook and decided to contact some of his friends from that time to touch base and see how everyone was coping with adult life. It is a rather phrenetic mix of edited conversations with yearbook pictures of the various speakers. They seem to be in one of those cusp periods of aging—not yet middle age, but no longer young adults. (9 minutes)