BYT film critics will cover films that are part of the AFI EU Showcase, a Euro-centric festival happening at AFI Silver. We’re covering this on a rolling basis, so check back soon.
The Belgian directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known for their social realist dramas about the lives of Europe’s most underprivileged. Their latest, Young Ahmed, continues their streak of modern fables with one of their most challenging and morally ambiguous stories yet. The movie follows the titular Ahmed, a young boy in his early teens brainwashed into radical Islam by a manipulative imam. Ahmed’s father recently passed away and his mother, a fledgling alcoholic, comes to represent everything Ahmed despises, so the imam’s teachings conveniently align with the boy’s deep-seated resentments. But when Ahmed takes matters into his own hands and attempts to murder his “apostate” teacher, he’s sent to a sort of reformatory school that challenges his strict beliefs. Young Ahmed is an incredibly frustrating film, and it might seem difficult to empathize with such a cruel little punk as Ahmed, especially if you consider yourself a so-called apostate. But so as Ahmed feverishly clings to his backwards interpretation of the Quran, his behavior is also clearly that of a vulnerable, gullible kid. You’re not rooting against him so much as you’re praying for him to change. –Beatrice Loayza
Young Ahmed plays on Saturday, December 14, at 5:15pm and Wednesday, December 18, at 7:20pm. Buy tickets here!
It is always a guaranteed success when a director from Asian or the Middle East sets their new film in the West. Sometimes you have a filmmaker with crossover success like Ang Lee, but sometimes there is a film like Everybody Knows, Asghar Farhadi’s entry into Europe that came and left theaters without much fanfare. Thankfully The Truth, a French drama by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, is a welcome transition with wonderful, understated performances. Catherine Deneuve plays Fabienne, an aging movie star who just published her memoirs. She gets a visit from her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), along with Lumir’s American husband (Ethan Hawke) and daughter (Clémentine Grenier). The visit is an opportunity for Lumir to talk about long-stewing slights and resentments, except it seems Fabienne is too self-involved to address them genuinely. Like Kore-eda’s Japanese films, The Truth unfolds gently, spending time with its characters before it reaches an emotional focal point. He deepens the context with a film-within-a-film, a sci-fi drama starring Fabienne as a woman whose mother does not age. There is not much at stake in The Truth, so it’s markedly unhurried about the journey the characters take. Maybe that will make audiences impatient, but on the other hand, it is a treat to see such high-caliber actors plays sophisticated, guarded characters who are still capable of surprising themselves. Catherine Deneuve recently had a stroke, so it is entirely possible The Truth might be her last film. She is a living legend, so if this film ends up being her swansong, it is quite a high note to end a career that’s lasted for over half a century. -Alan Zilberman
The Truth plays on Saturday, December 14, at 8:30pm, and Thursday, December 19, at 7:20pm. Buy tickets here!
The Painted Bird
At a sprawling two hours and 49 minutes, The Painted Bird is a sort of endurance test for cinephiles with a taste, or at least a tolerance for the macabre. You’ll know within the first five minutes whether Czech filmmaker Václav Marhoul’s film is for you: from the brutal opening scene involving the burning of a pet weasel, the remainder of the film pretty much snowballs into even greater depravity and violence. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jerzy Kosiński, this black and white movie follows the misadventures of a Jewish gypsy boy left to fend for himself after his aunt unexpectedly dies. World War II is in full thrust and, so are the antisemitic extermination campaign of the Nazis, which here plays out in rural areas of Eastern Europe. The film is comprised of distinct episodes titled with the names of the people who help and (mostly) hurt the boy along his journey, characters such as a kindly priest played by Harvey Keitel, and a merciful SS officer played by Stellan Skaarsgard (rapists, sadists, and murderers make up most of the other characters). The endless torture might seem pornographic and pointless to an extent, but the scale and specificity of the boy’s misfortunes chip away and sculpt his spirit and worldview in fascinating, devastating ways. The Painted Bird is certainly exhausting, but it is also a provocative meditation on the roots of historical trauma. –Beatrice Loayza
The Painted Bird plays on Sunday, December 15, at 6:05pm. Buy tickets here!