New African Film Festival: Selected Trailers

NOTE: This film festival (now in its 15th year) runs from March 7-17 at AFI in Silver Spring, MD. Click here for more info!

Deep End (FRI, 3/8: 5PM & SUN, 3/10: 5:15PM)

This South African spin on Bend it Like Beckham substitutes surfing for soccer to explore the coming-of-age journey of Sunitha Patel (Carishma Basday), a young woman from a traditional Gujarat family in Durban who aspires to be a surf champion.

Nigerian Prince (FRI, 3/8: 8PM)

When troubled Nigerian-American teenager Eze (Antonio J. Bell) is sent away to his mother’s native Nigeria against his will, he quickly finds himself entangled in a dangerous web of scams and corruption…

The Mercy of the Jungle (SAT, 3/9: 3PM)

Set in 1998 at the outset of the Second Congo War, this movie (2018 TIFF Official Selection) about a pair of Rwandan soldiers lost behind enemy lines between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. When experienced soldier Sergeant Xavier (Marc Zinga, DHEEPAN, THE UNKNOWN GIRL) and fresh recruit Private Faustin (Stéphane Bak, ELLE) are accidentally left behind by their battalion just as Congolese militia begin swarming the area, they only have each other.

Pili (SUN, 3/17: 11AM)

In this BAFTA-nominated first feature, Pili (Bello Rashid) lives in rural Tanzania, working in the fields for less than $1 a day to feed her two children and struggling to manage her HIV-positive status in secret. When she is offered the chance to rent a sought-after market stall, Pili is desperate to have it.

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Nothing to Hide, or Le Jeu (2018) starring Berenice Bejo

It featured truly interesting characters, and dealt with a subject that most of us wonder about, but generally never act in…

Funny, realistic, well acted, emotional, and passionate in equal measure.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

To enjoy Nothing to Hide, you have to suspend your belief to enjoy the scenario. There is no way on God’s earth that a group of couples would agree to this game. -Daniel Hart (Ready Steady Cut)

Nothing to Hide certainly grows more and more compelling as the aforementioned game adopts progressively salacious qualities – which ensures that the picture’s midsection boasts a sporadically spellbinding quality that proves impossible to resist. –Reel Film Reviews

Le Jeu (“the game”) is a French film (on Netflix); it’s a remake of an Italian film. One of the ensemble cast is Berenice Bejo, the talented and gorgeous co-lead of The Artist (2015). FYI: The director of that Oscar-winning film is Bejo’s husband, Michel Hazanavicius. There is also a Mexican version of this movie- Perfectos Desconocitos (Perfect Strangers)- currently playing in limited release at U.S. theaters. To play the game, 7 close friends (3 couples) put their cell phones in the middle of the table during dinner party, and when an email, text, or call pops up, they MUST reveal who and what it was. Yikes!

The couple hosting the dinner party are a well-to-do/sophisticated professional couple in their 40s- a plastic surgeon named Vincent (Stephane De Groodt) and his psychologist wife Marie (Bejo). They have a 17 y.o. daughter- Margot (Fleur Fitoussi)- who is going to a party w/ her friends. Their marriage seems to have grown cold/distant. Somewhat neurotic businessman Marco (Roschdy Zem) and his (heavy drinking) wife Charlotte (Suzanne Clement) have been married 15 yrs; Marco’s mother lives w/ them and helps w/ their two young kids. Charlotte resents her MIL who is critical of her choices. A handsome taxi driver, Thomas (Vincent Elbaz), and his bubbly hairdresser wife, Lea (Doria Tillier), are newly married and seem VERY much in love. They can’t keep their hands off each other- it’s somewhat awkward for the others. The one single friend, Ben (Gregory Gadebois), is a gym teacher who recently lost his job and is dating for the first time (after his divorce). Though everyone was looking forward to meeting his new lady, Ben didn’t bring her (saying she had stomach flu).

We learn that the men have been friends since childhood (35 yrs); their wives seem to be close also. They drink wine, tell jokes (incl. insulting each other), and eat foie gras (which is a luxury food made from liver of fattened duck or goose) and different types of cheese. Marie proposes they play the game, which brings out secrets (big and small), lies, and drama! Ben, for a while, tries to be the peacemaker among the group. He hopes to get some photos of the gang (w/ the eclipse moon occurring that night).

This movie poses MANY questions! Are cell phones ruining interpersonal relationships? Should we accept out bodies as they are, or work to improve them (incl. w/ plastic surgery)? How well do you know your spouse/partner? If something is left unsaid, is it just as bad as a lie? How well do we relate to our children? In one (particularly touching scene), after Margot calls Vincent, he gives his daughter some GREAT advice re: her personal life.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) starring Jose Ferrer

I think MANY people already know the story: In 1640s France, Cyrano (Jose Ferrer), a swordsman/poet (who has a way w/ words and a VERY large nose) hopelessly loves his beautiful cousin Roxane (Mala Powers). His friend, Le Bret, urges him to tell her his feelings, BUT Cyrano thinks he’s TOO ugly and will be rejected. Cyrano is some years older than Roxane; they played together as kids and she trusts him totally. One day, at the bakery (owned by aspiring poet Rageneau), she confesses to Cyrano her love for the handsome/tongue-tied Christian de Neuvilette (William Prince), a new soldier in the Corps de Guards. Christian feels inadequate b/c he can NEVER find the right words to express his love. Cyrano sets out to help Christian woo Roxane w/ words (via letters/speeches). A scheming/older nobleman, De Guiche, is plotting to marry Roxane. Cyrano distracts the man while a priest secretly marries Roxane and Christian, right before the Guard are sent to fight (in war w/ Spain).

Each night, Cyrano (who is romantic and reckless) runs across enemy lines to deliver letters to Roxane. In time, Christian realizes that Cyrano loves Roxane, too. Of course, Cyrano denies it, saying that he has become emotional ONLY b/c he loves his own words. Rageneau brings food to the hungry soldiers; Roxane is w/ him (as she was desperate to see Christian). The couple is reunited before Christian is fatally wounded. As he lies dying, Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane ONLY loved him. Roxane finds a final letter peeking out off Christian’s pocket.

For the next 20 years, Cyrano continues w/ his poetry (and upsetting his enemies, incl. Cardinal Richelieu and De Guiche) and training of soldiers. One night, De Guiche’s men plan an attack (which looks like an accident); Cyrano is thrown to the ground and injures his head. The doctor tells him to stay in bed and rest, or he will surely die. Cyrano doesn’t listen and walks to the convent (Roxane’s home) to tell her the week’s gossip. She takes out a piece of paper from her locket and asks Cyrano to read it- Christian’s last letter. The words have faded toward the end. The daylight is also fading in the garden (where they sit), the nuns are gathering for evening prayers, while Cyrano recites the letter. Roxane finally realizes that he was the man who won her heart, NOT Christian! She rushes to his side, crying, and asking why he never revealed his feelings. Cyrano replies: “The words were mine, but the blood was his.” He gets up (sensing the end is near), pulls out his sword, and does “battle” w/ enemies (ideas) he hates before dying.

I’m a big fan of the 1990 French film starring Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano), Anne Brochet (Roxane), and Vincent Perez (Christian). The cinematography was amazing, as was the music. This film was made w/ a small budget; some of the action scenes are TOO dark. Though Ferrer (who was married for many years to actress/singer Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt) is VERY engaging in the title role, his co-stars (Powers and Prince) are NOT that interesting. It’s easy to buy Brochet as a sensitive/literary-minded woman; Perez is NOT only gorgeous, he brought depth to Christian. As for the swordsman-ship, Ferrer carries it off well (as do the supporting actors). Also, Ferrer has the trim figure of a soldier (unlike Depardieu). Ferrer’s voice is very confident and memorable; he really inhabits the role. In the final scene, you can’t help BUT become emotional!

Producer Stanley Kramer was VERY worried about the box-office prospects, complaining that no one would be able to pronounce the name of the hero/title or that of the lead actor (who came from the theater world). There are no huge sets or spectacular camera shots; it’s the play, performed (w/ added scenes in prose rather than blank verse translated from French). The film was a modest success, partly due to the low budget ($400,000) and to Ferrer’s (Best Actor) Oscar win. He was the first Hispanic actor (born in Puerto Rico) that won an Academy Award. Some of you may have seen his son, Miguel Ferrer, who was a highly respected character actor (and the spitting image of his father).

[1] …this film boasts what is certainly one of the greatest performances in the history of film–and especially American film. José Ferrer… gives the performance of his life as Cyrano. His portrayal is in every way the equal of Depardieu’s, and as far as I am concerned, even better. Depardieu relies on sincerity and subtle facial expressions. Ferrer also has these, but he has in addition one of the most beautiful, rich voices ever to come out of the theatre, and magnificent enunciation as well. His portrayal is more flamboyant than Depardieu, and he shows a heartbreaking sense of tragedy as he realizes that the beautiful Roxane will probably never be his. The “big moment” in the final scene is shattering in Ferrer’s hands.

[2] Jose Ferrer covers all the possible emotions an actor can in his role. He is comedic, brave, adventurous, romantic, self-sacrificing, elegant, pitiful, nimble-witted, gallant, prideful, humble, he fully recognizes his short-comings, and, most of all, he is true to his code of honor.

[3] Jose Ferrer delivers the performance of a lifetime that strikes deep into the heart. Anyone who has even been mocked, scored, or ridiculed, or simply felt unworthy of the affections of another will sympathize with Cyrano…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


Lured (1947) starring Lucille Ball & George Sanders

In this film noir (directed by Douglas Sirk), a serial killer in London is murdering young women he meets through personals columns of newspapers. He announces each murder to the police by sending them a poem. Research carried out by Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) reveal that the killer’s verses are strongly influenced by Baudelaire who saw a link between beauty and death. After a taxi dancer disappears, her concerned American friend/co-worker, Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), comes to Scotland Yard (the police), looking for answers. Sandra came from NYC to dance in the chorus of a London show (which closed early). After speaking w/ Sandra (a fiesty, sarcastic, and pretty young woman), Inspector Temple is impressed. He quickly enlists her to answer personal ads, in hopes of luring the killer. Sandra is given a police ID and a small handgun!

There are moments of humor in this movie (which is a remake of a French film). Boris Karloff adds humor to this (rather dark) tale, giving a brief performance as an insane dress designer. Officer H.R. Barrett (George Zucco) is the veteran cop assigned as back-up for Sandra; he and Ball make a fun team w/ good chemistry. While waiting for her mystery date at the opera, Sandra meets sauve and wealthy Robert Fleming (George Sanders). I think Sanders is fun to watch in ALL his roles, MOST notably in All About Eve. In no time, Robert and Sandra develop feelings for each other; she becomes less guarded and he drops his playboy ways. The streets are NOT safe; Sandra is put in danger more than once. Who is the killer? Could it be Robert?

[1] This is a very enjoyable film. What you get here is a lot of talk and character studies. Lured is a good, old-fashioned mystery yarn. The killer is painfully obvious about halfway through, but the actors go through the motions with obvious relish. 

[2] For a serial killer film, this one must rank as the most reserved and dignified ever made. No blood nor gore, just urbane and sophisticated dialogue throughout, and especially from the killer…

[3] The emphasis in making this film was clearly on producing an upbeat thriller which has many of the characteristics of a routine whodunit (e.g. numerous red herrings) and judged purely on this basis, it is very successful and entertaining.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


The Awful Truth (1937) starring Cary Grant & Irene Dunne/His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell

The Awful Truth

Before their divorce becomes final, Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) BOTH do their best to ruin each other’s plans for remarriage. They divorced (hastily) b/c they suspected that cheating was going on; Lucy learns that he lied re: going away to Florida and Jerry is VERY disturbed upon learning that she was stuck (overnight) w/ her (suave/French) music teacher. It’s up to the audience to decide IF they actually cheated! Lucy meets an earnest Okie oilman- Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy)- while living w/ her outgoing auntie at a fancy hotel. Jerry visits their pet dog (a fox terrier), Mr. Smith, as was decreed by the judge; the dog (obviously) doesn’t like the couple being apart. One night, while Lucy and Daniel are out at a fancy club, they run into Jerry and his date- a wanna-be actress named “Dixie Belle Lee.” She is young, blonde, and Southern; she reveals that she changed her name (b/c her family disapproves of show business). They all watch (w/ bemusement) as Dixie Belle happily screeches out a song; at certain points, her skirt blows up (a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). One day, BOTH the music teacher and Jerry show up at Lucy’s hotel and confusion ensues! Jerry seriously begins seeing a socialite- Barbara Vance- who is covered in the society pages. Jerry tells Lucy that he’s going to meet the parents; she barges in on them, calling herself Jerry’s “sister.” The Vances, a humorless bunch, look on w/ horror as Lucy does her own impression of Dixie Belle, complete w/ a burlesque-style dance.

Much of the film (adapted from a Broadway play) was improvised by its director, Leo McCarey, and the cast each day. This caused Grant much anxiety, BUT it became a big hit. After a time, Grant realized that McCarey was deliberately creating nervous tension in him to enhance the performance. By keeping the cast slightly off balance, the director was building scenes from spontaneous moments between the actors. There is clever/fast dialogue, physical humor (incl. w/ the energetic dog), and great chemistry between the leads. The supporting actors do a good job, too; they add to this screwball comedy.

His Girl Friday

It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the Newspaper game- When to a reporter “Getting That Story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of Today. Ready? Well, once upon a time… –Opening title card for the film

Having been away 4 mos, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), walks into the offices of The Morning Post, where she is a star reporter; her purpose is to tell her boss/editor, Walter Burns (Grant), that she is quitting. She got a divorce in Reno (from Walter- who admits he “wasn’t much of a husband”) and had a vacation in Bermuda. Hildy wants to “have a home” and “live like a real human being,” instead of chasing after stories. She plans to take the 4PM train to Albany, where she will be getting married the next day to an earnest/doting insurance agent, Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy- yet again the guy who doesn’t get the girl). Walter doesn’t want to lose Hildy, as a reporter or a wife, so he does whatever he can to delay her trip and convince her that she belongs w/ the paper- and him!

You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, ’til death do us part.’ Why divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. -Walter explains to Hildy

What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick... -Walter says

Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced. -Hildy retorts

Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. -Walter replies

He forgets the office when he’s with me. He doesn’t treat me like an errand boy, either, Walter. He treats me like a woman. -Hildy comments re: her fiance, Bruce

This (fast-talking) screwball comedy influenced MANY films that came after it, from rom coms to workplace comedies. There are jokes aimed at the behavior, looks, and speech of journos (who were almost ALL men that time). I’ve seen this film several times over the years; I recently learned that Hildy was first written as a man (in the play- The Front Page). For the film, the studio (producers) decided to change it to a woman, so there could be a romance (instead of bromance) element. In the middle section of the film, Hildy is at the helm of the story, and we see things from her POV. The other reporters covering the case admire Hildy for her talent (writing); they even bet on how long she’ll last as a housewife! The female Hildy was a rarity for Hollywood; she had a career, was confident, smart, and independent-minded. She wears cool hats, coats, and (menswear-inspired) skirt suits. Grant (then in his 30s) looks great (as usual); he projects charm, humor, and mischievousness in his scenes. Walter (who rarely shows vulnerability, BUT is still easy to relate to) is one of Grant’s MOST known/loved characters.