Philadelphia Film Festival Recap

The 21st Annual Philadelphia Film Festival came to a close on Sunday, ending a strong 10-day run. Featuring a smattering of entries from Cannes, Toronto and SXSW among others, this year’s PFF lineup was one of the most diverse in recent memory.

Best of the Fest:

Beyond The Hills (Mungiu, 2012)

Cristian Mungiu’s follow-up to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a horror film that draws as much of its creeping dread from a jarring soundscape as from the events that take place during its pseudo-exorcism narrative.

A test of female friendship and possibly love, Beyond The Hills is also a test of audience endurance. Clocking in at a healthy 150 minutes, Mungiu uses every minute to ramp the tension painfully slowly. The only jump moment in the film is a joke at the fraught nerves expecting something different.

Barbara (Petzold, 2012)

Probably also the simplest film in the festival, Barbara is simply heartfelt filmmaking from an assured hand. Petzold always either knows exactly where to put the camera or fakes it quite well. No frame looks ill-conceived, and the rhythm of the film is entrancing.

The story of a doctor in East Germany in 1980 is a deeply realized character study that lingers even after a seemingly uncomplicated resolution has been reached.

Clandestine Childhood (Ávila, 2012)

One of the more surprising films of the festival, Benjamín Ávila’s film is poignant in every sense of the word. Keeping a consistent narrative and visual strategy, the film breezily avoids any violent pitfalls that its 1970s Argentina-set plot could easily slip into.

Instead, it operates as a gentle but dangerous story of growing up in a rapidly changing world.

Special Mentions:

The local Greater Filmadelphia section was particularly strong this year, with two standouts that deserve mention not only within this group, but amongst the festival films as a whole.

Detonator (Maulucci, Politz, 2012)

A punk-rock film that’s more punk than most films that claim to be about punk, Detonator smartly realizes that it’s the ethos that last long after chains and mohawks have become diapers and comb overs. The suburban-city comparison feels fresh again in this look at a man’s night journey back into his past.

Future Weather (Deller, 2012)

I can’t get some of the imagery from this film out of my head. It’s very pretty and has a message that it doesn’t slam down your throat. A strong performance from the 15 year-old lead doesn’t hurt either in Jenny Deller’s film about a young girl who copes with her irresponsible mother through a love of science.

– Neal Dhand

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