Philadelphia Film Festival 2014 Round Up

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The Philadelphia Film Festival completed another offering of debut, homegrown, and festival circuit successes.

Cannes winner Winter Sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s follow-up to his 2011 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is another slow-burner, awash in the director’s favored browns and tans. Thematically similar to both Anatolia and 2008’s Three Monkeys, Winter Sleep features a methodical style, long conversations, and as the title might suggest, a chilly atmosphere. It feels like something of Sartre or Bresson in its slow descent into ugliness and detachment.

Dave Boyle’s Man From Reno is a flawed but fun film, reminiscent of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s 6ixtynin9 from 1999. Intentionally overplotted, the film veers into unexpected Patricia Highsmith territory in its final 15 minutes – territory that seems to warrant its own film rather than a continuation of the narrative already at hand – but does have a second act worthy of the breakneck confusion of The Big Sleep.

The pleasant surprise of the festival was Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries, a tightly written, well-acted crowd pleaser that follows the Rear Window/Manhattan Murder Mystery tradition of sinister neighborly murder. Levine’s direction is crisp and swift: the jokes all land and the tension is real. An unnecessary ending monologue aside, this was an easy PFF highlight.

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The best film of the festival – and perhaps of the year – is Ruben Östlund’s follow-up to his underrated Play, Force Majeure. A titanic film, reminiscent of the very best of Roy Andersson, but still very much a unique Östlund, Force Majeure is so precisely and confidently directed, cringeworthy and hilarious, and despondently human. It’s intensely watchable for all of its long takes and unconventional framing; a gorgeous piece of work that marks Östlund’s true arrival if Play hadn’t already done that job.

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